There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
Joe O’Donovan changed my life on the 5th of July 1982. That was the date that I started to learn how to dance to Irish music under his direction and that of his wife Siobhán. This took place at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, and once that dance class had been established, the School would never be the same again. Joe and Siobhán went on to change the lives, directly and indirectly, of many thousands more, in Ireland and throughout the world, as they taught them how to dance, and also gave them the tools to teach in their turn.
For its first ten years the Summer School was a relatively low-key affair. Founded in memory of the much-loved local musician, the school’s original focus was on those skills in which Willie Clancy excelled: piping, obviously, but also flute, whistle and fiddle-playing, as well as singing. In those days the presence of the students hardly changed the appearance of the town at all. It was truly a “school” and could not have been described as a “festival”, as it has been in more recent times, to the dismay of the organisers. The daily round of classes, lectures, recitals and convivial gatherings could take place without seeming to disturb the pace of life in the town, and it was possible without much difficulty to find a place to share tunes or songs in any of the town’s many hostelries.
Of course, Willie had also been a dancer—he had learned steps from the famous Co Clare dancing master Thady Casey—and this may have been the motivation for the introduction in 1982 of the Summer School’s first dancing class, taught by Joe and Siobhán. This was an initiative whose time had come. The explosion of interest in the dance music was still young. Although Comhaltas was heading into its fourth decade and fleadhanna had become a popular phenomenon, it wasn’t until the early 1970s with the emergence of groups like Planxty, the Bothy Band and De Danann that the instrumental music gained a mass following beyond its customary geographic and demographic heartlands. It is worth mentioning that Breandán Breathnach—the chairman of Na Píobairí Uilleann who was closely involved in the direction of the summer school—had published the first serious research into traditional dance in Dal gCais, the journal of the history and traditions of Co Clare, and had in fact attempted around 1979 to organise his own set-dance revival at NPU’s premises in Dublin’s Temple Bar. He got a commitment from a group of Clare dancers to come and teach their set, and from Michael Tubridy and a few others to provide the music, and had identified several dozen members and associates of Na Píobairí Uilleann who were anxious for an entrée into the mysteries of set dancing. In the event the musicians turned up, along with around thirty prospective students, but none of the dancers appeared.
That finished for the time being Breathnach’s ambition to see the music and the dance re-united, but his interest fed into the decision, a couple of years later, to introduce a set dance class into the programme of the Summer School. The late Tom Munnelly, then one of the committee that ran the school, told me that he suggested the introduction of a set dance class and proposed Joe O’Donovan as the teacher. In the light of how successful the initiative turned out to be, it is easy to overlook the degree of anxiety that attended this decision. The School was being run on a very tight budget and any financial loss could have jeopardised its future. On the eve of the opening of the School in 1982, Tom told me, as the committee were sharing a pre-School drink, another committee member told him that he hoped that Tom would remember, if the set-dance class proved a liability, that it was his—Tom’s—idea.
Of course, he needn’t have worried. Not only was the class a success, but in its teacher/pupil (cost/revenue) ratio it established a pattern that persists to this day, in which the dance classes, with their greater student numbers, make disproportionate contributions to the School’s revenues.
The class was a success, of course, in more than financial terms. Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan were engaging and inspirational teachers. That first year there were around 50 students and the class took place in the upper floor of Tom Malone’s Hall—the space now occupied by Miltown Malbay’s Chinese restaurant. Perhaps knowing the kind of material they had on their hands, Joe and Siobhán took the entire week to impart a knowledge of the Kerry Set, albeit with a couple of sessions of céilí dances as leaveners. This may seem excessively slow progress in today’s terms, when a typical workshop-goer expects to have danced (not learned!) two or perhaps three sets in a session. But Joe was a real dancer, and he was working on the assumption that he was fitting his pupils to go out and dance in the real world—the world outside the workshop. He expected us to internalise the steps and movements of the set for the rest of our lives—not just long enough to dance it that day or that week. He also—another difference from much modern practice—spent a lot of time ensuring that each student picked up the different steps associated with the measures of the set: polkas, slides and hornpipes.
Joe wanted his students to dance well. Looking back, it seems clear that he was motivated by his respect for his art. He had learned to be a dancer—a step-dancer—from his father, who had established a combined dancing and boxing academy on the north side of Cork city in the aftermath of the Civil War. His father had done this in a conscious effort to heal the scars of that conflict and ease the rapprochement between those who had taken opposing sides in it. A dancing master himself with firm roots in the wonderful Munster tradition of traditional solo dance, he passed his skills and his repertoire on to Joe. Incidentally, Joe also became a champion boxer at the same establishment, so Michael Flatley was not the first to achieve renown in this rare combination of skills.
It is always risky, in retrospect, to assign a particular importance to this or that episode in a chain of events, but I think it is fair to say that Joe and Siobhán’s set-dance class in Miltown Malbay in 1982 was some kind of tipping point in the revival of the art. It is certainly true that there had been a revival under way for over a decade in contexts such as Scór competitions or ICA events, and also through the work of other individuals such as Connie Ryan, Marty O’Malley and Dan O’Connell. But these activities were isolated. If you weren’t a member of Comhaltas or the ICA, nor lucky enough to be a neighbour or friend of one of the few activists like Joe and Siobhán and the others mentioned above, then there was no way of knowing about them. The Willie Clancy Summer School, among other things, is a great knowledge exchange. Such is the number and variety of its activities and its visitors that, used well, a week spent there can provide exposure to just about every aspect of Irish music, song and dance. So when set dancing became public there, it quickly became public to the world. Many of those who attended that first set dance class went home to share what they had learned with friends, and the passion for the dance was suddenly and simultaneously seeded in different, new locations all around the country.
Members of Na Píobairí Uilleann in Dublin quickly became enthusiastic dancers, and Joe and Siobhán were found to be unfailingly helpful in supporting that enthusiasm. They would travel to Dublin for weekends or they would prove hospitable hosts in Cork whenever there was a need to acquire a new set or to expose newcomers to the source. Those Dublin dancers eventually became Brooks Academy, and have been teaching and learning sets ever since.
Our involvement with Joe and Siobhán continued over the years. In the 1980s we commissioned him to create a new set—the Pipers’ Set—which would be danced to tunes that pipers particularly like to play. He delivered a five-figure set with figures set to reels, jigs, single reels, slip jigs and hornpipes. The slip jig figure, which requires a special step, remains unique among all the sets that have emerged over the years. To celebrate the many years of association, and to acknowledge our indebtedness to them, in 2003 we held our twentieth Annual Ball in Cork and were delighted to have Joe and Siobhán and many of their friends in attendance. It was our way of honouring them. Greater honours were to come, however. The following year Joe and Siobhán were featured in an episode of the Sé Mo Laoch television series, which focuses on performers who have made distinctive contributions to Irish traditional music. This was followed by a special tribute concert at the Willie Clancy Summer School, and in 2008 the award of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil for lifetime achievement, as well as an award from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann.
Joe was a unique individual, and when someone like him passes away it is tempting to resort to the clichés—“we’ll not see his like again”, or “the end of an era”. But really, the passing of the generations is the factor that allows these traditions that we love to adapt and survive. No one can teach all they know. Something is always lost when a teacher dies, and that is a tragedy. But like the best teachers, Joe taught all he could and he left an enormous legacy of love, knowledge and enthusiasm. If Joe’s life was anything, it was the start of an era. He passed on his knowledge of step-dance in particular to talented students, Pádraig O’Dea, Donncha Ó Muíneacháin and others, who now take their places at the head of the chain of tradition. They will teach his steps, mixed with their own insights and skills, and they will be proud to say, “I learned this from Joe O’Donovan.” All who knew and learned from him will be proud to say the same.
To Siobhán and to all of Joe’s family and friends we extend our deepest, heartfelt sympathy.
Terry Moylan, Na Píobairí Uilleann, Dublin
Everyone remembers where they were when they heard shocking news, so none of the members of the Kilwee Set Dancing Club in Belfast will ever forget Thursday 13th March 2008 when we heard about the death of John Matthews, our wonderful friend and teacher. The set dancing world is a poorer place for his passing and our club will never be the same.
John was passionate about set dancing and the importance of preserving traditional steps. He disapproved of variations or improvisations and was always telling us to “keep your feet flat to the floor!” This doesn’t mean that he was a strict, serious teacher. On the contrary, he would join in with our helpless laughter as we blundered around the sets, too overwhelmed by nerves and giggles to think straight. He wasn’t laughing at us—he was laughing with us. That makes all the difference.
John Matthews made a difference to so many peoples’ lives. He was a gentle, supportive friend who seemed to know intuitively if you weren’t in good form and he wasn’t afraid to offer help. We will miss his infectious smile and his wicked sense of humour, and will remember him with smiles and tears. Thanks for everything, John.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Mary Vernon, Kilwee Set Dancing Club, Belfast
It was a wonderful St Patrick’s ceili weekend because our club, the Johnny O’Leary Association, invited Pat Murphy back to Torino (Turin) to teach. Pat Murphy, the contemporary Playford came back to Italy after a year-long absence. Dancers came from Treviso and Padova (five hours by car), from Milano, many from Piemonte and, of course, a great number from Torino.
Many of them never having been to Ireland for set dancing and not having read the well informed Set Dancing News magazine, which is always up to date in whatever dancing news is available, were very curious to see and finally meet the author of the two set dancing ‘bibles’, as we call his books. Most Italian set dancers have these and they are of great help, particularly when we wish to resolve quickly any little doubts about the sets that may arise in our dancing events.
Of those who had never had the fortune to meet Pat before, everyone liked his way of dancing, smooth, soft and flowing, with a gentle batter, that emphasised his elegant way of moving lightly, giving the idea of ‘Christ walking on water’. In particular we noted his way of singing or lilting the music during the introduction of the set’s figures.
I have to inform the youngsters among the readers that this particular modulated and flowery way of producing music comes from very long ago, when their ruling ‘neighbours’ had forbidden the Irish to have any musical instruments in their possession. This was horrible—like forbidding a man from Naples to have an oven for making pizza! So the Irish people solved the loss of their musical instruments by singing the music in this manner, effective and attractive. But now as I start thinking—could it be perhaps that Pat Murphy is an Irish highlander?
Such good attention did we pay to the sets, the Antrim Square, East Galway, Flight of Earls and Limerick Tumblers, and danced them so well that at the end of the class we received the compliments of the teacher, who said we were like Irish set dancers! I swear on the head of my cat that we didn’t overpay him for this!
Thanks, Pat Murphy, for helping us to spend the Irish holiday so nicely and full of joy, and we apologize to the Irish set dancers for stealing such a good teacher during St Patrick’s weekend!
Silvestro Torre, Torino, Italy
Another winter season of set dancing has finished here in Kilmaley, Co Clare. Our venue was the Bogdale House in Lisroe every Thursday night at 8.30pm, with the best teacher in the county, Mary Murrihy, where we had up to five sets at times. We all had lots of craic and danced till our feet were sore. We can’t wait till next October to begin again. The final night for set dancing we had a small bit of a hooley—plenty of dancing, singing, sean nós dancing, brush dancing, etc. We would all love to see these photos in the next issue of Set Dancing News.
Kindest regards and keep up the good work,
Anne McMahon, Kilmaley Set Dancers, Co Clare
The usual setsHi Bill,
I’m a newcomer to set dancing but I am enjoying the sessions at St Kentigern’s in Manchester with Barbara Aherne. We have explored a few sets but I noticed in Set Dancing News that you use the phrase ‘the usual sets’ when describing various céilidhe. Please could you tell me which sets are the usual ones danced on a typical evening?
I enjoyed my first copy of Set Dancing News and especially the picture of Mike Lally, a fellow parishioner at St Charles’ in Hadfield.
Keep up the good work.
Terry Walsh, Glossop, Derbyshire, England
In your editor’s experience, the sets most often danced at ceilis in Ireland include a mix of Clare sets (Plain, Caledonian, Lancers, Corofin, Kilfenora) plus the Connemara, Ballyvourney and Cashel.
Warm west Cork welcome
Just had a wonderful ceili in Ballydehob [Co Cork, 29 March] with Johnny Reidy and would like to express our thanks to all those who travelled long distances to attend. We tried to extend a very warm west Cork welcome and I think we succeeded. Johnny has been booked to come back on 25 April ’09.
Janet Robertson, Ballydehob Ceili Club, Co Cork
McEneany on HughTubeHi Bill,
I participated in master teachers Pádraig and Róisín McEneany’s class on the Clare Orange and Green at the Comhaltas Convention in Parsipanny, New Jersey, on March 30. I am never disappointed in their classes when they visit the States. They bring enthusiasm, warmth and patience.
I love Pádraig’s footwork, although it’s a bittersweet love since I know I will never match it. None the less, it adds texture to the dancing, and a challenge. More important, as a teacher, I marvel at the way he can get the best from his student demonstrators. I know there is a pre-selection process from amongst the audience, but Pádraig and Róisín always manage to have the demonstrators do a figure right the first time.
I was fortunate to capture their class on the Clare Orange and Green on video. The next day I posted it on YouTube to share with my class in Virginia. Hours later I was contacted by a dance group in Vienna, Austria, that wanted all the particulars, especially about the instructors. I was happy to provide it.
Pádraig and Róisín will be returning to the States for the Greater Washington Ceili Club’s Cape May Weekend in October. I will be waiting with my dancing shoes and camera.
Hugh Conway, Fairfax, Virginia
Where is ceili dancing done?Dear Bill,
Some months ago, a writer from the UK wrote in these pages to express disappointment with the scarcity of ceili dancing in London and elsewhere.
Well, ceili dance lovers worldwide will be glad to hear that a large group of early risers took the floor for the ceili class at the Comhaltas Convention in Parsippany, New Jersey, in March. They came in all ages, from teens to senior citizens. They were from Boston, Canada, Philadelphia, Delaware and other areas where ceili dancing still flourishes. Almost all knew the footwork and it was obvious that even after a late night of dancing sets in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, they were eager to be up and out on the floor again by 9.30am for a two-hour ceili dance class.
As their teacher that morning, I was elated with the enthusiasm of this large, eager group who were obviously enjoying the opportunity to perform ceili dances and steps.
The word ceili in Irish means a social gathering where people play music, sing and dance. Ceili dancing, also known as figure dancing, was once enjoyed when dances like the Three Tunes, Trip to the Cottage, Sweets of May and others were featured regularly on the dance card.
“With the exception of the High-Cauled Cap, we don’t get a chance to do ceili dances any more,” sighed John, who attended my class that morning. Joan, another participant, asked why dances like the Duke Reel and Four-Hand Reel can’t be done side by side with the sets.
I had to admit that I didn’t know. A reason I’m sometimes given is that there’s no chance to stop and take a rest after every figure as you do in set dancing. But that explanation didn’t work for my group.
“Sets have several figures. Ceili dances only have two or three,” someone said.
“That’s true,” a dancer from Canada put in, “and when the music is played at a slightly slower pace, the feet have time to move and execute the steps of these lovely graceful dances.”
I think there are many ceili dance lovers out there and I would love to hear from them. I teach ceili dance in the New York and New Jersey area but I enjoy dancing the sets as well. I’ve been to the Fleadh Núa and Willie Clancy, South Sligo and Joe Mooney summer schools several times. Also, I regularly attend the January weekend in Malahide. When I’m in Ireland next, I want to go where ceili dance is popular. Where should I go?
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
Please note the new Tirconnell Fíor Céilí weekend in Moville, Co Donegal, 26–28 September. Organisers of ceili dancing events are welcome to advertise them in Set Dancing News.
Season’s first barbecue ceili
by Naohito Sudo."> Our group [members of Irish Dance Circle Clare, Kanagawa, Japan] enjoyed themselves at a barbecue ceili. The sets were danced to live music. We very much enjoyed dancing outdoors.
Naohito 'Sean' Sudo, Kanagawa, Japan
The most amazing weekendBill,
It’s Monday the 14th of April and I am trying to get my two feet to move in the same direction at the same time.
We have just had the most amazing weekend of set dancing I have ever experienced. We danced 32 different sets over the weekend and I am attaching the running order to verify. If we can get away with something like this in Manchester surely it is feasible in Ireland also.
It is quite some time ago that Matt Cunningham put pen to paper and questioned why set dance organisers do not vary the sets at ceilis.
So Matt, can I thank you for putting the idea in my head? I sincerely hope that more people will accept the challenge and stop repeating the same six or seven sets over a weekend.
We had a young group of musicians from Co Louth, Niamh McEvoy and her sister Mairéad and her brother Fergal with his arm in a sling and David Needham on the drums. They are known collectively as Triskell. Obviously Fergal was unable to play and we had to bring in multiple all-Ireland box player Adele Farrell. To listen to her you would have thought she was playing with the rest of them for years. Music as sweet and pure as the original Kilfenora Ceili Band and I do not mean to be disrespectful to the current band. If at some stage you had to take a break because the old legs just would not keep going you could sit and listen to music that was just enchanting.
Most of the dancers attending would have danced quite a few of the sets before but just in case we had forgotten the figure Pádraig McEneany was on hand to call 25 of the 32 sets we danced. His wife Róisín was always close at hand with words of encouragement to any set having a bit of difficulty. Thankfully there were not too many of them. My thanks to Beryl Brown and Kevin Monaghan who also helped out with a couple of sets.
Bill, if set dancing is to continue flourishing the onus is on all people teaching and organising ceilis to give dancers variety and not let some of our beautiful old sets be forgotten.
So we send you the challenge from the Caledonian Set Dancers of Manchester. Put your dances for your weekend on the back of your flyer and we will fly in to be with you.
My sincere thanks to all the dancers who travelled from Ireland and parts of the UK and made this last weekend so memorable. We will do it again next year with the help of God.
Breffni O'Brien, Prestwich, Manchester, England
An absolutely blissful changeHi Bill,
I thought I’d let you know about the fantastic weekend of dance that was had in Manchester over the 11th-13th April.
Breffni O’Brien organised a weekend in which no sets would be danced twice and so a total of 32 sets were on offer to be danced by those who attended the weekend.
Breffni’s stated aim was to revive the many beautiful sets that usually reside only in peoples’ memories but which rarely get danced at céilithe these days. It was an absolute joy to be dancing such sets as the Carragh Lake, Portmagee and Aran with dancers who were quick to learn, keen to dance and a delight to dance with. It made an absolutely blissful change to being thrown around the floor by enthusiastic but sometimes reckless dancers. There were no bodily aches and pains after this weekend; merely the knowledge that we had all danced beautiful sets, accompanied by accomplished, knowledgeable and responsive musicians, in the form of Triskell.
Pádraig and Róisin McEneany worked like Trojans, calling over twenty sets, dancing, and giving demonstrations and, by all accounts, enjoying the weekend as much as us ‘punters’.
I sincerely hope that this idea catches on, both in England and in Ireland; there had been mutterings that such a weekend was a little elitist, but for those who teach and dance with absolute beginners, it came as a joy to dance with dancers of equal calibre; no need for repetition, man-handling or crushed toes! This is not meant in any way to criticise those who are novices; we were all in that boat once upon a time, and set dancing is one of the most welcoming and friendly ways to pass the time and get some exercise; I have met friends for life through set dancing, and the experience of the weekend has further encouraged me to encourage others.
This was, in ten years of dancing, my personal favourite, by far. More, Breffni, more!
Carol Gannon, Readiney, Berkshire, England
Exhausted but elatedHi Bill,
Just back from Manchester, exhausted but elated. Three days of music, one workshop, a brilliant young band Triskell (and special guest), Pádraig and Róisín, the O’Briens and over thirty magical sets, no repeats, and only two concessions to the lovely reels of Clare—the Mazurka and the Caledonian! The remainder were a wonderful collection of the old and sadly all too rare, some seldom dusted down, the Portmagee, Aran, Glencree, Donegal, Caragh Lake, South Sligo, Black Valley Square Jig, Durrow Threshing, Televara, Doire Colmcille, Skibbereen, Connemara Jig and many more.
It was a fantastic experience and a wonderful reminder of the rich heritage we have a duty to preserve and pass on. Well done to Breffni for the courage and to Pádraig and Róisín for the stamina.
Most of all it was great craic! You shouldn’t miss the next one!
Kevin Monaghan, Tradley, Hampshire, England Since writing, Kevin has organised a repeat of the Manchester weekend in Basingstoke, Hampshire, 19–21 September. More information in the listings.
Back on heavy lifting duties
We were wondering if it was possible to print a thank you note in your set dancing magazine. We just want to thank everyone that helped us with our ceilis when Fergal, our accordion player, broke his shoulder. Geraldine Smith from Navan and Adele Farrell from Manchester and our brother Eoghan all joined us on various occasions and it was a joy to play along with them. Thanks also to everyone that helped lift and carry our equipment. Fergal is now back playing and nearly back on heavy lifting duties.
From us all in Triskell Ceili Band,
Niamh, Fergal and Mairead McEvoy and David Needham, Co Louth
First pair of shoesHi Bill,
My father Mickey Lennon has been set dancing all his life and it was a very funny moment for my sister Linda and I recently and all his friends to see him considering buying his first pair of set dancing shoes at the Lordship, Co Louth, weekend in April 2008.
It would be a very pleasant surprise for him when he opens the next issue of Set Dancing News to see the picture of himself trying on a pair of set dancing shoes after all these years. The funniest thing was that he actually decided to stick with his faithful pair of foot tappers and save the money! Mickey is an avid reader of Set Dancing News and as I live in the UK, he regularly updates me on ceilis at home in Ireland that my sister and I would enjoy with him.
Many thanks Bill,
Una Duffy, Plymouth, Devon, England
Expression of gratitude
As we celebrated our 25th anniversary workshop at the end of April, we would like to express our gratitude to all the people who attended our weekend to make it a success.
Firstly I would like to thank you and Mary from the Set Dancing News team for attending to ensure that we will have a written and photographic record of our very special event. Thanks to Gerry Butler and my wife Kathleen for the interesting workshops, and to the three bands, Triskell, the Glenside and Tim Joe and Anne (complete with trousers) for supplying wonderful music for our ceilis.
The group from Sean Treacy’s branch of Comhaltas in Dublin joined us again this year and we were very pleased to have you with us. As some 0f this group like to have a music session, one was organised upstairs on Saturday night by Lorraine Dunne (née McEneany) and we thank her for her valuable effort. Francie Duffy brought a group from their branch in Dundalk and they were joined by John McIntyre and his wife Zoe Conway, and a great night of music was enjoyed by all present. We are truly grateful to the participants for their support.
The organising committee of our club are to be complimented for making a special effort for this event and the ladies must come in for special praise for performing a miracle of biblical proportions for feeding the multitude.
Kathleen and I are very grateful for the very valuable presentation made to us by the committee in recognition of being involved in all 25 workshops since 1983.
Dermot who came from Manchester and Alice and her group from Germany gave an international flavour to our weekend and we thank you for being with us to celebrate.
Sadly on the Thursday after our workshop we learned of the death of the great dancing master, Joe O’Donovan. Joe and Siobhán conducted our first workshop in 1983 and continued to come to us for thirteen years. The foundations laid by them and their expert guidance and encouragement ensured that our workshops were successful. Now we have in the Cooley Peninsula a tradition of set dancing of which we are truly proud thanks to the unstinting effort of these people.
Ní bheidh a leithead ann arís go deireadh an domhain. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhilis le mór mheas.
Le mór mheas,
Michael McGlynn, Riverstown, Co Louth
Olive Lynch, dance teacher from Bantry, Co Cork, married Paulo Lupo on April 23rd in a wedding ceremony in Portugal. Celebrating the marriage service was Olive’s cousin, Father Michael McCarthy, and many friends and colleagues travelled from Ireland to be with the couple on the special day. Olive first met Paulo when he was a patient in Bantry Hospital where she works. Their son Renato Paulo was born there in May 2006 and now Paulo is also employed in the hospital.
Seven-month-old Aoife Sullivan attended her first ceili at the Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, Co Clare—no better place for an introduction to set dancing! She was in the company of her set dancing parents Gary and Bernie from Ballivor, Co Meath, who were enjoying the dancing at the Michael Sexton Memorial Weekend last Easter weekend. Gary is known for his laid back, economical style of dancing, which, judging from the relaxed appearance of the three in the photo below, probably carries through to his parenting as well!
Congratulations to Olive, Paulo, Renato, Gary, Bernie and Aoife!
More Hope from Cynthia NealeThe second novel by set dancing author Cynthia Neale, Hope in New York City, was published in April. This is an historical story for young readers continuing from Cynthia’s first novel, The Irish Dresser. The main character in that novel, Nora McCabe, leaves Ireland at the height of the famine for New York. In the new book, Nora and her family are living in a city full of injustice and violence, and she is homesick for Ireland. Her new adventures include a meeting with Walt Whitman, working as a newsboy and dancing in a multi-racial dance hall.
Both of Cynthia’s books have been published by White Mane Publishing of Pennsylvania and are available to purchase on the web sites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Cynthia has been writing continuing stories with a romantic theme for Set Dancing News since 2001. She has completed a third novel for adults and is at work editing it for publication. She is a keen set dancer who is a regular participant at classes and ceilis in the Boston area, and also makes yearly trips to Ireland.
Bill’s wild food cornerAn Irish beach, such as the one at Clonea Strand, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, sometimes offers pleasures beyond the natural meeting of sea and sand, wind and weather—it’s a great place to find a delicious free meal! Growing on a bank of rocks above the beach there I found luscious, thriving clumps of sea beet. This is a wild relative of beetroot, spinach and chard, which is common around the Irish coastline. The thick, glossy deep green leaves can be cooked like spinach and taste better than any greens found in a supermarket.
When the afternoon dancing finished on Saturday and Sunday in Clonea, I marched out to the beach with a bag, gathered enough leaves for a big serving for myself and went straight home to a friend’s house to cook it. I washed the leaves, steamed them and served them with scrambled eggs on a bed of brown rice. The colour of the cooked sea beet becomes even deeper, and it keeps its shape and texture when cooked, unlike spinach. It’s worth looking for whenever you’re dancing near the coast!
The Brandon Hotel and Conference Centre in Tralee in Co Kerry once more was the home of the Shindig Festival. The weekend got underway January 18th at 7.30pm in the Parkview Room with a workshop in Clare-style battering steps. The teacher was the young, exuberant and talented dancer, Ger Butler, who was weaned on dancing in his home in Co Roscommon. Ger has a wonderful sense of fun in his teaching methods and explains each tap of the foot and every move with simple but most precise instructions. I counted fifty dancers enjoying the class.
Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band gave us superb music in the Great Hall for the first ceili of the festival and we danced all the familiar sets.
On Saturday morning dancers had a choice of workshops. Pat Murphy and Ger Butler held a shared workshop in the Great Hall. Upstairs Róisín Ní Mhainín gave a Connemara sean nós workshop. I elected to go to Pat and Ger’s workshop and was not disappointed. We had a brilliant morning. Pat taught the Limerick Tumblers Set that Terry Moylan put together a few years ago. It’s an interesting set with some unusual moves but nothing too difficult and ten sets had good fun learning it. As usual Pat in his gentle and meticulous style had us all at ease with the set by the end. Ger taught the Roscommon Half-Set as danced in his own home and we had a great time dancing this. He finished with the Spanish Jive. This was the first time these two gifted and accomplished dance teachers shared a workshop. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be one of the dancers attending it.
We had no workshop in the afternoon to the regret of many of the dancers and had an extra ceili instead. This seems to be common practice at these weekend festivals in recent times. The ceili was fabulous with the Abbey Ceili Band in their usual brilliant form. Again the usual sets were danced, more or less the same line up as the previous night. I could hardly believe my luck when it was announced that we were to dance the Claddagh.
The evening session in the bar was in full swing when I arrived. Donie Nolan and friends were playing a selection of waltzes. Immediately after the floor cleared two sets gathered and we danced a fantastic Sliabh Luachra Set. The polkas were pure magic. Numerous sean nós dancers strutted their stuff and the atmosphere was electric.
Energised by this session I was all enthused for the ceili in the Great Hall. We had the Davey Ceili Band and another night of superb music. We danced our first West Kerry Set of the weekend, also the Newport Set, and Pat Murphy called the Clare Orange and Green Set. It was wonderful to dance some of the less familiar sets, as it added to the joy of the ceili for most of the dancers.
On Sunday morning dancers had the same workshop choices as on Saturday morning, sean nós or set dancing. Róisín Ní Mhainín had over fifty participants at her workshop and Pat Murphy and Ger Butler had a similar amount. Even though numbers for the set dancing workshop were small and dancers were slow to arrive, the enthusiasm of our two tutors was in no way compromised. We had a brilliant morning. Ger Butler began by teaching the Atha Caoire Set, which is danced in the area of Bantry, Co Cork. Pat Murphy then took over the class and taught the Flight of the Earls Set. I was delighted that it was getting an airing here. Pat then concluded with the Waterfall Waltz, another little gem of two-hand dancing. Ger brought the workshop to a close by teaching the Flirtation Two-Step, another fun dance and well-named.
The Sunday afternoon ceili began at 2.30pm with the magical Johnny Reidy Ceili Band on stage. Numbers were larger at this ceili. The sets reverted back to the normal selection, the music was fantastic and the atmosphere was superb.
The festival concluded with a ceili at 8.30pm. The music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh kept even those with tired and throbbing feet tapping until midnight. These two musicians are heavenly to dance to and the few non-dancers who came to just sit and listen were high in their praise of the talented duo.
Joan Pollard Carew
When I saw the advertisement in Set Dancing News for the Dubai Irish Festival which included a ceili in the Arabian desert, I was intrigued and immediately wanted to find out more about the festival. I can now say what a wonderful experience this was and am really looking forward to going back next year.
We arrived in Dubai on Monday evening, 21st January, and were taken by coach to our apartments. “Wow” was the first word that came to mind when we entered ours. It was just fabulous, a really large living room on the 48th floor with panoramic views of the Arabian Sea. Three big en-suite bedrooms with all the facilities you could ever want, a fitted kitchen, maid’s room and additional toilet and shower facilities. This indeed was truly a five star apartment. Even though we were tired after our travelling and Dubai was four hours ahead of Ireland, we went to the welcome reception for the Irish guests where there was lots of food and entertainment provided by Jason Fallon. This was a great start to the festival which got better and better each day. Organiser Eric Cunningham welcomed us all to the festival and gave an outline of the activities for the week. Then we danced the night away into the small hours of the morning.
Tuesday morning up bright and early (still on Irish time) we went to breakfast in the hotel across the road from our apartment. It was just great to look out at the beach and clear blue water first thing in the morning. “Wow” has to be the word again because whatever you wanted for breakfast, and I mean whatever, you could get it. There was so much to choose from, fruit, cereals, cooked breakfast, cheese, meats, croissants, to name but a few. I knew I would get around to sampling most things by the end of the week. We had some free time before heading off to the Arabian desert in the afternoon so we went to one of the many shopping malls in Dubai, the Mall of the Emirates. This was the start of the International Shopping Festival, so there were lots of bargains to pick up. The shopping centres are just massive, the one we visited was the size of fifty soccer pitches, so it is really a shopper’s paradise. There is definitely an extra empty suitcase coming with me next year.
The ceili in the desert was one of the things I was looking forward to. We headed off in the coach to the desert and when the coach couldn’t go any further, we were taken the remainder of the way by Jeeps. We arrived to a camp which was set up for all the visitors. We had some time to spare before the barbecue and ceili started so we went “sand bashing” and “sand boarding”. This involved going out in a Jeep. The driver let the air out of the tyres first and then we headed out, up, down, over, back, across the sand dunes. It was brilliant, although for some of us it was scary.
Out in the middle of nowhere in the Arabian desert the driver stopped the Jeep on top of a big sand dune and we all got out to go sand boarding. What fun we had sliding down the sand dunes! It was a great experience, and I have some great photos to prove it. Some of the braver ones actually went down standing on the board. Others also went out in the desert in small quads or went for a ride on a camel. People also had the opportunity to smoke water pipes or have a henna tattoo.
It was now getting dark and we all headed back to our camp for the barbecue and ceili. Music was provided by Seamus Begley and Jim Murray. Dancing the Plain Set in the sand was definitely a first and was great. We did actually have a floor to dance on but opted to dance on the sand just because we were in the desert. We had a great barbecue and were also entertained by a belly dancer who got lots of people involved in helping her out. We danced to the great west Kerry music all night and everybody joined in some ceili dancing and some sets. I am already looking forward to repeating this next year.
It was now Wednesday already and we were going on a cruise on Dubai Creek tonight. We had more shopping time today and went to visit some more shopping malls and went on a bus tour of Dubai, which is a great city to visit. There is a lot of building going on at present and Dubai will soon have the tallest building in the world, the longest unmanned train and the biggest shopping mall in the world. The bus tour is a great way of getting to know the city and deciding which places you might visit over the next few days. We returned to our apartment to get the coach which took everybody to the cruise ship. Music on the cruise was provided by the great Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and this was a real treat. We had a fantastic time on the cruise and seeing Dubai by night was something special.
Thursday I was really looking forward to as this was the day we were going to the races and had the use of one of the corporate boxes at the world famous Nad Al Sheba Racecourse. Gambling is not allowed in Dubai but we were given a race card and could place our horses. The well known Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh who was riding in three of the races gave us some tips for the night ahead. We had a scrumptious buffet, got some drinks from the free bar and then got down to the business of picking our winners. We were entertained by Jason Fallon and also danced some sets for all the guests. It was a really special night and everybody had a ball. For the golfers on the trip there was a day of golf at the world famous golf club.
It was now Friday and time was flying. We went to visit the Gold Souk today. This is where you have shop after shop after shop selling jewellery. It is an experience to visit this area. There are really good bargains to be got here, but you have to haggle and you also have to know what you want and have your homework done before you come to know the prices at home. On Friday night there was an open-air concert in the festival’s Irish village with appearances by Frankie Gavin and Hibernian Rhapsody and Duke Special. The concert was absolutely magnificent. I had not heard of Duke Special before, but I recommend that if you ever hear of him appearing in your area, go and see him. We danced some sets and ceili dances to the great music of Frankie Gavin and Hibernian Rhapsody.
Saturday night was to be the highlight of the week with all the Irish artists performing with the Dubai Philharmonic Orchestra. This alone was worth every penny of the trip. Duke Special, Frankie Gavin, Anthony Kearns, one of the three Irish Tenors, Seamus Begley and Jim Murray all performed with the orchestra and what a night it was. The best part of the concert for me was the haunting tune composed and played by Eric, our festival director. From there it was back to the Irish village for more music with Begley and Murray. Lots of set and ceili dancing, we danced the night away to the early hours.
It was time to pack and leave our beautiful apartment. There was a farewell barbecue on Sunday evening and regrettably the time to board the bus came all too soon.
I hope I have given you a flavour of the brilliant week we had at the first Irish festival in Dubai. I have given Eric Cunningham my name for next year already, for I am sure that word will spread about this great festival. The weather was just like a good summer’s day in Ireland and so it suited me very well. Roll on next year and I’m told that even more Irish artists will be performing.
Philomena Dooley, Newry, Co Down
Clear sailing it was, as I headed out on Friday, February 1st, to a weekend of set dancing in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh. There was a sprinkling of snow all around but the roads were good. Weather reports had led me to expect worse, but then I drove straight into the explanation—today all the winter weather was taking place exclusively in Co Sligo. I found myself in a white winter wonderland and conditions as close to a blizzard as I’ve ever seen in Ireland. Main roads were safely passable but small country lanes were hardly distinguishable from the surrounding fields. I plowed on thinking of the dancing pleasure awaiting me and ignoring any likelihood of cancellation. Lo and behold, the snow stopped falling as soon as I crossed into Leitrim and in Glenfarne I was lucky enough to obtain a room at the inn.
Around 10pm I ventured into Belcoo for the weekend’s opening session at the Hair of the Dog Pub, where fortunately no dogs were to be found. Inside I met folks from Dublin, Galway and even Waterford, who shared my disregard for the weather where dancing was concerned. A three-piece band called Mountain Fever deftly played a selection of music to suit lovers of both trad and country. The tiny floor was jammed for jives and could only hold two sets, though a third set found space for themselves at the far end of the pub. The relaxed atmosphere and supportive audience encouraged several singers to entertain us, including eighteen-year-old Seamus McKeaney, son of Eamonn and Teresa McKeaney. The weekend was a memorial to Eamonn, who passed away at the early age of 49 last year and was in everyone’s thoughts during the events. Teresa continues to teach dancing and was an organiser of the weekend.
More snow fell overnight and on Saturday morning a few flakes still fluttered in the air as I went to the workshop in the Community Centre. As soon as the kettle boiled there was a warming cup of tea in my hands. Before long four or five sets were conquering the chill with an enjoyable review of the Claddagh Set conducted by our teacher, Ger Butler. He gave particular attention to the notorious cross chain in the third figure which is nearly impossible to do without first practicing it in a workshop. The main course for the morning was the South Sligo Lancers, a set with a lot of tricky moves and steps found nowhere else, making it enormous fun to dance. The Flirtation Two-Step two-hand dance brought us to the lunch break. Ger is a master of sean nós dancing and gave us an introductory taste of it in the afternoon. He was patient, thorough and obviously enjoying every minute, and most of us were picking it up without difficulty. Another two-hand dance, the Mayfair Quickstep finished the afternoon. Ger concluded by paying a warm tribute to Eamonn McKeaney, who helped him when he was first learning steps as a teenager.
The céilí mór that night was held in the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne, better known as “the Ballroom of Romance,” which inspired a novel and a 1982 BBC film by that name. A hall was first built on the site in 1934 and the present hall dates from 1952 when it was expanded and modernised. The ballroom was taken over by the local community in the seventies. Recently large grants have been awarded to update and expand the facilities. New construction is underway which has already doubled the size of the building. Fortunately the ballroom wasn’t affected by the work and the classic sprung floor was as bouncy as ever. It took me by surprise during the first figure of the first set, the Corofin Plain. I was dancing tops and it was only when I stopped to let the sides do the figure that I could feel the vibrations rising through my feet. I felt like I was still dancing! The lively floor and even livelier music of Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band made for some highly energetic dancing and immense fun. Two pairs of sean nós dancers gave a blast of entertainment between sets, with a gentle display routine from John Joe Brannigan and a friend, and a wildly exuberant brush dance by John Cassidy and Ger Butler. The night closed with a final Plain Set followed by another tribute to Eamonn McKeaney. Everyone applauded Teresa and her team for organising such a warm-hearted festival on a cold February weekend.
I visited Erlangen for the set dancing workshop weekend this year for the second time. Last year the workshop was marvellous, so I decided to come back again. Coming to Erlangen felt like going home because some of my best friends, Renate, Danny and Joe, live there. I arrived with my daughter on Wednesday, February 6th, to spend a few days visiting with my German friends and to do a little sightseeing and shopping.
The venue was the same as last year and the weekend was hosted by Andrea Forstner. The teachers for the weekend were Pat Murphy from Westport and Tony Ryan from Galway. On Friday at 6.30pm we gathered for the first event of the weekend. It was great to recognise the same friendly faces as last year plus some new ones too. I was surprised that so many people remembered me from last year and I felt really welcome. Andrea gave a lovely welcoming speech. The hall was filled to capacity with people from many different countries like Luxembourg, Switzerland, Ireland and even as far away as United Arab Emirates.
Pat and Tony gave us the history of each set before we danced them. We started with the Inis Oírr Set which got the night off to a great start called by Tony Ryan. Everybody was here for the same reason, the love of Irish set dancing and music. It’s amazing to think that from a small country like Ireland it can attract so many different nationalities to have one common interest. Next set of the night was called by Pat Murphy, the Black Valley Square Jig Set, and then we danced the East Galway Set (short version) called by Tony.
After the class the whole group moved to the local restaurant called Römming which served Bohemian meals. Of course with so many dancers in one room together it was inevitable that everybody would soon want to dance again. Andrea in her wisdom brought music to the restaurant and we pushed back the tables and chairs and danced a few more sets on a wooden floor. During a break a young student from Michigan called Nick played some tunes on a tin whistle, which was very entertaining and I felt more and more like home as the night went on.
The following morning we gathered again at the hall at 9.30am and the teachers took us on a tour of Ireland through the sets we danced starting with the Antrim Square Set. Pat told us that this is a new set from a man born in Antrim who has settled down in Sydney, Australia. It was a very enjoyable set as it was in a different style to the usual ones. Later we danced the West Kerry Set and ended the day with the Glencree Set from Wicklow.
After a little break at home in Renate’s flat we returned to the hall for the night time ceili. The music was provided by Greenfield, a local ceili band. Tony and Pat had a busy night calling the sets as well as dancing. During the break we were entertained by Irish step dancers from Nürnberg and also by a very strange dancing group dressed up in masks from Venice, green wigs and white suits. This caused a lot of interest—who were the faces behind the masks? One kept falling down and I’m not sure if this was a result of too much beer or what. Eventually they pulled themselves together and danced the Connemara Set. After this display which was very entertaining we continued with sets until midnight. It took everybody a few minutes to settle down after a great night’s dancing. Some went home to bed while others painted the town red in different pubs.
Sunday morning we all went back again to our morning workshop with the Derradda Set, following that the Fermanagh Quadrilles, and to finish we danced the very easy going and funny first figure of the Souris Set I never heard of before.
We broke then for a leisurely lunch at the local brasserie. Back again at 2pm to finish off the afternoon with a final ceili and music from Greenfield. Pat Murphy left Erlangen about 2.30pm for his flight to Dublin to much applause and cheers. We continued dancing until 4pm. Then everybody started to leave with many kisses, hugs and promises to meet again, hopefully in Erlangen next year, if not maybe at some other workshop perhaps in Ireland. I have met and made so many friends in Germany that I feel like I belong to a family. The next workshop in Erlangen is a must!
The few remaining diehards gathered at the oldest brewery in Erlangen called Steinbach Bräu. We all sampled fine beer and had a beautiful typical German meal. Of course the inevitable happened and we all wanted to dance once again. First we danced the Sliabh Luachra, then the Plain Set was requested and it just so happened that all the dancers on the floor were ladies. We danced the first two figures and then decided it was the boys turn. Someone suggested a buck set, and while the boys were a little reluctant, with a little persuasion and embarrassment they took to the floor. To much cheering, applause and encouragement they started to dance the fourth figure of the Plain Set. I called the set as Andrea was too excited to see a buck set in Erlangen for the first time. It was something special to see all the lads including Tony Ryan dancing together as lady and gent. In my opinion this was the highlight of the weekend! Everybody was relaxed and had such good fun.
I stayed with my friend Renate for two days more to relax, meet my other friends Danny and Joe and we all reminisced about the workshop and the funny events of the weekend. Everybody in Erlangen is so friendly and welcoming that I always feel I want to come back.
Kay Collins, Newcestown, Bandon, Co Cork
For a few hours on the weekend of February 9 and 10, the ballroom of the White House Hotel in the village of Ballinlough, Co Roscommon, was twinned with the deep south and became part of Sliabh Luachra. It’s a notable occasion when one of the leading lights of the culture of Cork and Kerry, Timmy McCarthy, arrives in Roscommon, so rarely does it happen. Timmy said the last occasion was twenty years earlier. Most of the dancers who assembled for the Saturday workshop had never seen him before, though there were a few who remembered him from years before and were eager to meet him again.
It was a day of beautiful polka and jig sets, beginning with one which is deceptively called the Ballyvourney Reel but bears no resemblance to a Clare set. Timmy taught us one of his favourites, the Sneem Set, and particularly enjoyed demonstrating its fourth figure, christened ‘Elephants’ by dancers at a workshop long ago. For eight bars, everyone takes hands over their shoulders with the dancers front and back in a way that’s rather like elephants in convoy holding tails in trunks, though much much quicker. Among others we danced the Sliabh Luachra, Jenny Ling and West Kerry. Timmy kept us entertained with plenty of dancing, with his simple, strong yet sensitive box playing and with a nonstop selection of stories and jokes. He never tired throughout the day and most of us hadn’t had this much dancing and fun at a workshop in a while!
At the Saturday night ceili with more than twice as many dancers as at the workshop we were back in more familiar set dancing territory, with three Clare sets, a Mayo set and two from Galway, including the Claddagh Set, which has managed to become part of the standard repertoire. Timmy was on hand to call the Sliabh Luachra Set for us, and danced opposite me in the Ballyvourney Jig Set for some genuine Cork-Kerry exhilaration. Matt Cunningham was enjoying himself as much as the dancers were and provided sparkling music all night long. The last set of the night in Ballinlough is traditionally the Connemara, and for the final Maggie in the Wood figure the sets open out into a big circle so we can dance with several partners before the end.
Timmy taught a gem of a set on Sunday morning, Hurry the Jug. It’s five and half minutes of the most complicated dancing you’re likely to experience, a bit like a Sliabh Luachra version of the High-Cauled Cap. No one else in the workshop had seen it before but we managed to dance it well. I’d consider it total bliss to dance it repeatedly all day long, but was content that we managed to repeat it four times. This left enough time to dance the Waltz Cotillion, a dance which Timmy said was 300 years old. When we finished, organiser Mildred Beirne expressed her pleasure and appreciation for Timmy’s dancing, music and good humour. She had never met him before he arrived in Ballinlough and was delighted to have invited him for her annual workshop.
Matt was back for his second ceili on Sunday afternoon, clearly well rested because he was sounding better than ever. Half the sets were ones we hadn’t danced yesterday, including the most welcome Williamstown Set from just six miles down the road. The traditional Connemara with its highly sociable Maggie was a good end to a weekend of most welcome Sliabh Luachra dancing.
I have to write to let you know what a great time we had here at the set dancing weekend in An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth.
Starting on Friday 18th January, there was a great welcome from the members of the Termonfeckin set dancing group, led by John and Sheila McEvoy and Jim and Margaret Finegan, who organised the weekend so that it seemed to run on oiled wheels! On arrival before nine in An Grianán the welcome was so reassuring in the comfortable bar of this wonderful venue. You and your readers will know that An Grianán is the headquarters of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, and is a beautiful period house in wide grounds. The hall in which the ceilis and the workshops take place is large and airy, and tea was served in one of the elegant reception rooms. But I haven’t come to that yet.
Triskell is the band that played for the ceili, and they got our energies going! They provided marvellous music and great tempo throughout the evening. After the Caledonian, Cashel and Kilfenora there was a hush as a huge birthday cake was brought in with a flourish from the band. It was for Liz Hand who with Syl Bell teaches set dancing in Naas. There was a great attendance from Naas at the weekend and we were told that these two are wonderful teachers, and very popular. It was such a big cake that there was a slice for everyone in the very large crowd who were present at the tea interval. I met people from Naas, Dublin, the Shetland Isles, the US and from Germany, along with dancers from Wicklow, Carlow, Tipperary, east Clare and Limerick. The Louth border village of Omeath and the north were represented too.
The Newport followed, to be just admired by the hoi polloi like me and done with joy by those who knew it. People who know the Newport often say that it is their favourite set. It is certainly a lovely set to watch being well done. After some more dancing the evening ended with the Connemara and the Plain set, or rather the dancing ended then at midnight. Stories from Dick Murphy, storyteller from Donore, poems and songs kept people up, I was told, till 2am and beyond. However this didn’t stop a really very big crowd attending Pádraig and Róisín McEneany’s set dancing workshop in the morning. The advice to mind the dresser was never so needed! We learnt steps first, so necessary, and then we were taught the Black Valley Jig Set. Pádraig told us that this is from the south of Ireland. He followed it with coaching in a northern set, the Monaghan. This was intriguing, new to me, and the music for it was most enjoyable. It was from a CD by Matt Cunningham. An equally big crowd attended the sean nós class held by Kathleen McGlynn in another of the beautiful reception rooms of this wonderful house. Step dancing was taught by Céline and Michael Tubridy. The classes mingled at the coffee break and the whole atmosphere was very friendly. A large group of the attendees led by Ann and Noel Devery went for a long refreshing walk on the beach nearby after these strenuous classes!
Music for Saturday night’s ceili was provided by the Swallow’s Tail and mighty was the only word for it. Those tired from dancing or looking for something different joined in the brilliant music session in the front room.
On Sunday there was a great morning session where all kinds of talents were demonstrated. Our friends from the Shetlands gave us a wonderful display of their own dancing, and the local Macra na Feirme were not outdone, giving us a selection of song and dance from their recent variety show. We had a lovely harmonic song from our German friends, and recitations, song and dance all followed.
The weekend ended with what can only be called a rousing ceili on Sunday afternoon, music played by the Copperplate. Included in the afternoon’s dances was the Cúchulainn Set, called by none other than Michael McGlynn, the very well-known dancing teacher from Lordship, north Louth. The weekend came to an end with an especially enthusiastic round of applause for the band.
I look forward greatly to this sparkling weekend in dismal January next year which will take place from 23 to 25 January ’09.
All the best for Set Dancing News,
Margaret Costello, Drogheda, Co Louth
Spring may not have come early this year, but Milwaukee’s Midwinter Set Dance Weekend, February 22–24, lightened the spirits with dancing to the music of three bands, and workshops taught by Ger Butler. This winter has been a long and hard one in the American Midwest, with Milwaukee already having received more than five feet of snow and some very cold temperatures. Visitors were greeted by tall snowbanks along the sides of the road, and thick ice in less-traveled alleyways.
Events kicked off at the Irish Cultural Heritage Center (ichc) downtown with the Friday evening reception and dance. The musical guest for the evening, John Whelan, was unable to play for the dance because a snow storm had hit the east coast earlier and left him unable to travel to Milwaukee. Organizers were able to recruit a local band, the Cream City Ceili Band (Brett Lipshutz and Maria Terres), to provide music for the evening. This band has a long history of playing for Irish dance events and they did a great job on Friday. They kept the tunes coming, so eight sets were danced by the crowd of over fifty dancers.
The Saturday workshops were held at Long Wong’s, a Chinese restaurant that has been very friendly to the Milwaukee set dancers in the past. The tropical themed murals on the walls added to the festive air of the event. The highlight of the morning workshop was definitely Ger Butler teaching the South Sligo Lancers. Folks really liked this set. The buffet lunch break gave people a chance to rest and even catch a quick nap. Following the break Ger demonstrated and taught some sean nós steps, as well as taught a couple of two-hand dances, including the Spanish Jive.
John Whelan made it in for the Saturday evening set dance at the ichc and played beautifully even though he’d been through a rough 48 hours. In fact, he announced during the dance that he couldn’t think of a better place to be than playing for this event. John’s playing is always great to dance to, and this evening he was accompanied by Amy Richter from Áthas on the bodhrán. Attendance at the Saturday dance was astonishing, with many dancers making the trip from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and elsewhere. At times there were ten sets on the dance floor, with other dancers still sitting out on the sides. Also that night, the ichc featured a concert by the David Munnelly Band, and while the two simultaneous events made parking difficult, it also brought some concert-goers upstairs to be exposed to the set dance scene.
Sunday was quieter, with the workshop reviewing the Derradda and the Fermanagh sets. Everyone worked together to set up the tables and chairs for a light lunch, and then to get the dance area ready afterwards for the afternoon’s dance. Another Milwaukee band, Áthas, played for this dance, with Ger showing off some sean nós dancing during the break.
Carol King, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
With Christmas and New Year just out of the way, it was a marvellous thought to have a trip to Germany to look forward to. Winterbach was the exact location, a compact, tidy, independent town with about 7,800 citizens. It is one of the oldest towns along the river Rems. By train, Stuttgart is thirty minutes away. Stuttgart has a population of 590,000. My first impression of the city centre was the sense of space and cleanliness. It can boast of having the world’s first tv tower which is 217 metres high, weighs 3000 tonnes and opened to the public in 1956. When we had completed our city tour our guide, hostess and mentor, Rykarda Heim, suggested that we visit this masterpiece. As luck would have it we arrived at 5pm, giving us an opportunity to see it in daylight. By the time we had finished our meal in the restaurant at the top, the lights in the city were switched on giving us a spectacular view of Stuttgart by night. And yes we did find an Irish pub there, Biddy Early’s, and we were afforded a céad míle fáilte by Sharon and her staff, with food and drinks on the house to help us settle in for a good night’s dancing.
We travelled to Winterbach as guests of the Stuttgart Dance Group who are celebrating ten years in existence. The dancers meet each Wednesday to rehearse not only their own Transylvanian dances but also to learn many other European routines including Irish set dancing. We were honoured and excited by the idea of joining with them and learning from them on the Wednesday night during our visit. They were delighted to dance our Connemara Set and Ballyvourney Jig.
During our six-day visit we were also afforded the opportunity to visit Schorndorf where Gottlieb Daimler, the brainchild behind the first petrol motor, was born. To quote from his notebook on his journey to Russia in 1881, “I detested the overcrowded trains in the summer and the limitations imposed by the railways, which made me think of independent driving.” A walk through the mountains in beautiful bright and crisp weather conditions was most enjoyable. It was followed by a splendid traditional Transylvanian lunch prepared for us by Rykarda’s family—sauerkraut with cream and homemade custard for dessert.
Saturday was spent dancing with workshops in the morning and the anniversary ball in the evening. For the workshop the dancers chose to learn sets and sean nós dancing. What an experience it was to attend their anniversary ball! The dancing commenced at 8pm and with the exception of a slot for food and performances of sets, sean nós, etcetera, the band played until 3am. The attendance was approximately 400, the atmosphere magic and the warm welcome for our Irish group was truly genuine.
As we travelled to Karlsruhe airport to catch our flight back to Ireland, the consensus among the group was that the time we spent with Rykarda and her dance group was very special and the opportunity to spend some time sight seeing and socialising made it a very memorable event.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
The thrill of a good festival isn’t limited to just the days when the dancing takes place. It builds up over the preceding weeks when all my partners are talking about it, asking if I’m going to be there and even booking sets days in advance. The excitement explodes on the day of departure when the cares of the world vanish, anticipation mounts with each mile travelled and the pleasure of music and dance takes top priority. And when all is over the dancing high lingers long afterward and the leftover thrill is a nice enhancement to ordinary life.
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the Gathering Festival held from February 20 to 24 in the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry. It started off in a small way on Wednesday night the 20th with a ceili in Scartaglen in the depths of the Kerry countryside. Only a small number of the keenest overseas visitors had arrived at this time and together with a madcap crew of locals we did our best to release all our pent-up energy. Helping us along in this endeavour was accordionist Jerry McCarthy, playing as the Curra Ceili Band together with Liam Healy on piano and banjo player Liam Forde, one-time member of the Abbey Ceili Band. Jerry sounds as though he studied his music at the same conservatory as Johnny Reidy, who was also playing tonight at his regular weekly ceili in Killarney. Some overseas visitors went to experience Johnny’s ceili, while a few of Johnny’s regulars were supporting Jerry tonight. Even with the competition in town, eleven sets filled the hall in Scartaglen. The Gathering awards polka and jig sets full equality with reels, and caller Anne Keane said she and her fellow organisers had made up an alternating programme of polka and reel sets for the festival with reduced repetition. I was most grateful for the Borlin Polka Set tonight, and would like to nominate it for increased repetition!
Thursday was a day for recharging the batteries, for seeing the sights and for meeting up with friends. The ceili began after 11pm in the hotel ballroom following a concert of local musicians, and we were ready and waiting. Another top box player from down the road near Macroom, Tim Joe O’Riordan, played for us accompanied on piano by his wife Anne. Tim Joe’s good humour not only came through his lively and improvisational playing, but also through the helpful calling he provided from time to time. Compared to last night the crowd was close to twice as big and the pace a bit more relaxed—two satisfying hours that made me eager for more.
A refresher workshop provided a welcome bit of dancing late on Friday afternoon and some practice at a couple of the sets expected in tonight’s ceili. Anne Keane noticed that some sets experienced difficulties in the Mazurka Set at last night’s ceili and so taught the two most difficult figures, the third and sixth or high gates and line-up. The Aubane Set is danced regularly in a weekly ceili in a hall in the place of the same name near Millstreet, though it is a rarity elsewhere. Anne said it was like a user-friendly version of the Jenny Ling—less repetition so much shorter. We were ready—bring on the ceili!
Doors to the enormous INEC (Irish National Events Centre) opened about half past nine. Normally it’s used for major concerts and sporting events, and when they roll back the seating and clear the floor, it’s the biggest set dancing venue I’ve ever seen. The space is breathtaking—it was hard to imagine there’d be enough dancers to fill it, but if any band could attract such a big crowd, it was the Abbey Ceili Band. At its peak after 11pm following the end of the concert in the ballroom there would have been in the vicinity of eighty sets on the floor, without any crowding! In addition to the expected Mazurka and Aubane sets, my wish for another Borlin came true. The real treat was the huge crowd who travelled from everywhere to be here. There were friendly faces everywhere, so many that I would have had to keep dancing till dawn to give a set to everyone I wanted to ask. As it was, I had nine sets, a waltz, ten delightful partners and some of the most inspiring dance music raising my spirits as high as they go!
The INEC is rather too large for a set dancing workshop, so when Mick Mulkerrin first taught here a few years back, he had the bright idea to split the floor with a line of chairs to keep the dancers together in one half. This has now become a tradition, so one of Pat Murphy’s first jobs as he was setting up on Saturday morning for his workshop was to arrange the chairs with the help of numerous volunteers. Pat began at home with the South Kerry Set, and then shifted to Antrim via Australia for the second. The workshop set of the moment is the Antrim Square Set, composed by Des Jackson in Sydney who named it after his birthplace. It’s danced regularly down under and last year won an award for his set. Its main feature is the ingenious square danced simultaneously by tops and sides both forward and backward. In fact the square is so much fun it’s danced twice in each of the three figures! The morning session was the biggest workshop I’ve seen at this festival—two dozen sets enjoyed learning the sets. In separate workshops, eight sets danced with Timmy McCarthy, Paraic Ó hOibicín taught 150 in his sean nós workshop and a children’s workshop had thirty kids.
At the lunch break the hotel bar hosted a session of five musicians playing in front of an inviting section of timber floor. One fellow mad to dance stood up for some reels but others were reluctant to follow, but when the session switched to polkas the set was ready, myself included, before too much music was wasted. We started to sit down after the first figure of the Sliabh Luachra, and the second and third as well, but the band insisted on continuing. We stopped after the fourth so as not to be late returning to the workshop. Pat finished the Antrim Square, continued with another popular new set, the Flight of the Earls, and then by request taught the Ballycroy, a fun Mayo set which made the rounds a few years back and hasn’t been seen since.
Ceili bands usually don’t come any bigger than ten pieces; any more and it would have to be labelled an orchestra. The Five Counties is a band of ten young musicians from several counties (five, in fact) though mostly based in Cork. After trips to Ibiza and Manchester their fan base is on the rise, and it made a huge leap tonight at the Saturday night ceili. This was my first time dancing to them. From the first figure of the first set I knew this was a band to be reckoned with—the energy behind their music was remarkable. They were fast and full of fire and kept it up all night long! About the same number of dancers came out again tonight as were here last night, all with the same high level of enthusiasm.
Murphy and sixteen sets of dancers were ready to begin dancing on Sunday morning, but the all-important sound man was nowhere in sight. Pat said he was tempted to get a box and play for us in the middle of the floor, which sounded great to me, but after half an hour music finally emerged from the hall’s giant speakers. We danced the Ballyduff Set, and Pat made sure to leave time for the Killarney Waltz, a dance he took great pleasure in teaching here.
Last year’s All-Ireland ceili band champions, the Allow Ceili Band from Freemount, Co Cork, played for the Gathering’s final ceili on Sunday afternoon. They were nine musicians this time, whereas there were eleven at their ceili here last year—so that averages out to ten! Despite their size they were as nimble as a much smaller band at polkas, reels and jigs. My challenge for the afternoon was to dance with some of the partners I’d missed at the earlier ceilis, and after asking a few ladies and a few ladies asking me, I had no trouble filling my mental dance card. Of all the sets I was impressed with the Claddagh, which was danced by hundreds today without the benefit of calling. It went very well, apart from the usual glitches in the third figure from those who hadn’t learned it yet. You can fake the rest of the set, but the third figure’s cross chain has to be learned and practiced properly before you can dance it with enjoyment at a ceili. As afternoon turned into evening we danced the final Plain Set which concluded with warm applause and smiles all round.
Many of the visitors weren’t departing until Monday and so were able to relax and enjoy the final concert and late sessions. A few sets and sean nós steps were danced late each night in the hotel bar accompanied by willing musicians. The main floor of the hotel is full of nooks and crannies conducive to sessions, and there were plenty of musicians keen to play wherever they could find an unclaimed seat. The Gathering is a full-service traditional festival with something for everyone—and quite a lot to offer dancers! Long may it continue.
While Kilfenora may be famous ’round the world for its music and dance, fans of classic Irish comedy consider the north Clare village to be exceptionally hallowed ground indeed, for it was here and in the surrounding area the sitcom Father Ted was filmed. The hilarious series about three wacky priests in their isolated parochial house has achieved cult status in the ten years since it was completed and its star Dermot Morgan passed away aged only 45.
In February the streets and pubs of Kilfenora were once again filled with dysfunctional priests, nuns, bishops, a pope, a cardinal, housekeepers and other distinctly odd characters when TedFest ’08 arrived for two days. The annual gathering for fans of the series came to the village for the first time, starting with a “Chinese reception” in Vaughan’s Pub, which was decorated like a Chinese restaurant. The place was crammed with priests and nuns, and away in a corner six Chinese musicians played a session of Irish music—really! I spoke to a visiting young Japanese lady who bought the series at the airport and used it at home to practice her English. She said she watched it many times with the subtitles before she began to understand the jokes. Then the crowd moved outdoors for a welcoming and inspirational sermon by a priestly-looking lad who managed to get everyone chanting “Drink!” and “Feck!” a lot.
Meanwhile the “Ecumeniceili” with the Four Courts Ceili Band was underway in the Barn. The regulars were dancing the Caledonian as the hall filled up, and then Geraldine Greene from Kilnamona took a microphone to teach a few simple dances to the holy folk. The spirit moved most of them in very funny ways as they did Shoe the Donkey, the Two-Hand Jig, a fling, a clap dance and even a brush dance. The band pointed out the names of some of the tunes they specially selected to play for the occasion, like Some Say the Devil is Dead. Strawboys invaded the Barn in their brightly coloured costumes and fearsome masks to dance more of the Caledonian, while the visitors felt at ease seeing people dressed even more outrageously than themselves. As soon as the band finished playing a disco started up and the floor was jumping. The remaining set dancers were blessed that the first several minutes of music were reels, and we quickly assembled to do a few joyful, nonstop figures of the Plain Set.
There was more fun the next day as the famous milk float from the series arrived in Kilfenora, close to the end of an 800-mile charity tour of Ireland, pushed every mile by volunteers. As it went along the village’s main street it was followed by a half-dozen dysfunctional cars (donated by the local garage) spray painted with witty slogans and jokes, with motive power supplied by priests and nuns. The convoy negotiated a special commemorative roundabout placed on the street, recreating one of the best loved incidents in Father Ted. Other memorable moments from the series were relived during the day, such as the priests-only Elvis competition and the Lovely Girl beauty pageant. A coach tour visited Father Ted’s house and other landmarks elevated from obscurity by the series.
After its visit to Kilfenora, TedFest ’08 moved on to the Aran Island of Inishmore for the main celebrations. I hope they enjoyed their time here, because we sure enjoyed having them. Kilfenora has seemed very quiet ever since.
If you’ve never seen Father Ted, you have a treat in store. A boxed set of DVDs containing all the episodes is available in Irish DVD shops and from www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk.
West Limerick Set Dancing Club hosted a brilliant weekend of workshops and ceilis from Friday 29th February to Sunday 2nd March. The venue was the friendly and cosy Rathkeale House Hotel in Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
On arrival at the hotel I was greeted by Josephine O’Connor and she invited me to join her in the bar where she was having a beverage with Betty McCoy. I spent a delightful half an hour chatting with these two most entertaining and warm-hearted ladies. Josephine was taking a well-earned break from assisting committee members laying extra flooring in the ballroom to give more space and comfort to the dancers.
The weekend got off to a good start with a ceili in the ballroom at 9pm. Crowds gathered from 8.30pm as dancers organised seats for their bags and water containers. Club chairperson Ann Curtin welcomed everyone and said it was wonderful to see old and new friends. Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross provided the music for the night. It was great to start the weekend with a nice selection of sets. Donie Nolan is famous for his polkas and it was good that our mc John Joe Tierney made sure that we enjoyed some polka sets, including the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry and Cashel. Also in our list of sets were the East Galway (long version) and the lovely Claddagh.
Saturday morning the ballroom began to fill up with dancers keen to begin the workshop. Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy were ready to go, and the workshop began at 10am on the dot. Pat decided to start the workshop by bringing all the dancers onto the floor in a circle and he spent time teaching the proper steps for the Kilrush Caledonian Set. Pat told us that he knew two slightly different variations of this set. Aidan Vaughan gave him one and Michael Tubridy gave him the version we were about to dance. We then got sorted in set formation and Pat called the four figures and everyone had a lovely time dancing it. It has a nice bit of dancing because there is no standing and observing as with the Caledonian we are all familiar with.
The second set of the day was the Antrim Square Set, one of the newest sets to hit the set dancing scene. Pat and Betty and six other gifted dancers demonstrated each figure. This is a set that will definitely take off at ceilis as it only has three figures. The square is completely different to any other square in any other set, but quite simple once you get the hang of it. Pat spent time explaining the exact format of this square and broke it down for each dancer until it became as easy to us as ring-a-rosy.
The third set was the Fermanagh Quadrilles. Pat mentioned that this was one of the first sets Connie Ryan taught. Pat also acknowledged the presence of Connie’s sister Margaret at the workshop. It was great to see another good little set getting an airing at a workshop. The large crowd that had gathered for the workshop were privileged to have the expertise and coaching of Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy, two brilliant teachers who work extremely well together.
The second ceili of the weekend began at 2.30pm with the Davey Ceili Band on stage. We had a rare treat as Pat Murphy was our mc for the duration of the ceili. We danced the West Kerry to begin and the Clare Lancers and some of the rest of the usual sets. We also danced the Sliabh Fraoch, the Antrim Square from the morning workshop, the lovely Kilfenora and the Labasheeda. Pat is a very clear caller and explained the Antrim Square meticulously for dancers who had not been at the morning workshop. This meant that there was harmony on the floor and everyone was comfortable and happy.
At 6pm there was great activity in the main bar of the hotel as the bodhrán competition got underway. Last year was the first time that this was held at the weekend. It was great fun and a real experience. Competitors of all ages took part. We even had a few set dancers beating the goat skin. Vera Meehan from Co Sligo had her maiden attempt. Vera didn’t even know how to hold the stick but she mastered the craft with ease. Great stuff, Vera, and congratulations on winning a prize.
The Abbey Ceili Band provided the superb music for the Saturday night ceili. The one and only Timmy Woulfe was our mc. The ceili began with the West Limerick Set, then some of the usual sets followed by the Claddagh, Newport and Sliabh Fraoch. Pat Murphy called the Clare Orange and Green and by popular demand the Antrim Square.
On Sunday morning the ballroom was buzzing with eager dancers for the workshop, which began at 11am. Today Pat and Betty taught the Limerick Tumblers Set, and then the charming Killarney Waltz. The workshop concluded with Pat calling the South Galway Set and the first and last figures of the East Galway Set (long version).
The final ceili of the weekend was packed and at 2pm we danced the first set of the afternoon. The selection was not too ambitious as our mc Timmy Woulfe said he was asked not to have too many unfamiliar sets. We still had great fun. Timmy called the Flight of the Earls and Mike Mahony called the Derradda. The ceili was magic and the music of the Glenside Ceili Band superb. The last set of the evening and the festival was the Plain Set.
Dancers were tired but happy with the weekend. The hospitality and friendship of the kissing sisters Ann and Josephine, two of the organisers of the festival, are renowned, but the whole West Limerick Set Dancing Club is made up of the friendliest and sincerest people I have ever met. They epitomise the true meaning of extended family.
Joan Pollard Carew
The Park Inn in Mulranny, Co Mayo, was the new home to a terrific weekend of set dancing workshops and ceilis. In the past this weekend was held in Pontoon but with the attendance growing each year it was decided to move this year. The hotel is stunning and located on a 42 acre woodland estate overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The event was run under the baton of Mickey Kelly, well known Newport, Co Mayo, set dancer and teacher. Our workshop teacher for the weekend was Jim Barry, who has been synonymous with this weekend since its inception.
The weekend got underway with music in the hotel bar by the Burrishoole Band. We danced a Connemara Set and a few figures of the Caledonian and concluded with the Ballyvourney Jig. We had plenty of waltzing and jiving also.
The ceili started at 10pm. We had the magical music of the Copperplate Ceili Band. The crowd was huge and the atmosphere great. All the usual sets were danced. Jim Barry called the West Kerry Set to the delight of the dancers.
Saturday morning the workshop began at 10.30am. A big number of dancers gathered for the workshop, full of energy in anticipation of a good day’s workshop. We were not disappointed. The sets taught by Jim Barry in the morning workshop were the East Mayo and Antrim Square. Jim is a good teacher with attention to detail and of course he is well known for his native Kerry sense of humour. In the afternoon we danced the wonderful Caragh Lake Jig Set. Though this set has seven figures everyone had a fun time learning it. Jim concluded his lesson by teaching the Killarney Waltz. Jim and his dancing partner Liz Mulhare divided the ladies and gents and each taught the relevant pivot steps. We then took our partners and danced this lovely two-hand dance. The workshop concluded with Pat and Maura Lyons showing the Slosh, and most dancers had a go at dancing this.
Saturday night we had the wonderful music of Matt Cunningham. We danced some of the more familiar sets but our selection included the Newport and Derradda. Jim Barry called the East Mayo and Antrim Square from the workshop. The hall was packed and the floor was super for dancing. The hosting committee had extended it with a lovely smooth removable one. This added to the comfort and safety of the huge crowd that had turned up for the weekend.
Sunday morning at 11am the workshop got underway. Today Jim taught the Mayo Lancers. The workshop was well attended from the start but numbers grew at about 11.30 and we all had a fabulous morning’s dancing. By popular demand Jim went over the Killarney Waltz again and concluded with the Waltz Country Dance.
The ceili on Sunday afternoon was brilliant with the superb music of Heather Breeze Ceili Band who had come out of retirement for the event. We danced more of the usual sets but Jim Barry called the Antrim Square and Mayo Lancers. The ceili concluded with the Ballyvourney Jig.
For those of us lucky enough to be staying in this beautiful county for another night the Amethyst Trio gave us a good night’s dancing in the lounge. We had entertaining contributions from some of the dancers and a few locals.
This was a super weekend in one of the most beautiful venues in Ireland. Next year it will be held on 20th, 21st and 22nd March 2009.
Joan Pollard Carew
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
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