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).
Helen Kilgallen and Vera Meehan have spearheaded a large contingent of Sligo dancers to the March workshop in Rathkeale House Hotel, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, for the past couple of years. It was only to be anticipated that Josephine O’Connor, of the local West Limerick Set Dancing Club, would suggest a returning of the compliment by the same means.
Obviously, the two feisty ladies took the suggestion on board and thus was born the Sligo weekend, held from June 13th to 15th. Sounds easy till one is faced with all the obstacles along the way; in any case it eased the conscience of the west Limerick club who travelled by car and bus to the picturesque and ultra-modern Sligo Park Hotel. It must be a daunting task to start up a new workshop weekend; however, there is a great pool of goodwill among the regular set dancers, especially for those who have supported similar ventures up and down the country. And so it was for Helen and Vera.
There was continuous sunshine in Sligo for the entire weekend, which facilitated the shopaholics among us and contributed to the enjoyment of all. On arrival, Helen and Vera, decked out in the club and county colours, greeted all effusively, though there must have been the apprehension you’d expect before any debut venture.
Nevertheless, all the clouds soon vanished as we were treated to a winging music session in the lounge. Vera herself produced her tin whistle and, with the number of musicians growing all the time till they numbered about ten, the spectators grew in numbers and some danced portions of sets.
The session continued long into the evening; indeed it still lingered on as crowds gathered for the night’s ceili. The Copperplate got the weekend’s dancing away to a flier with the brand of music which supplements their growing reputation, even down south. After the usual tentative start the crowd soon overflowed from the ballroom to the bar and so it remained till the ceili finished with the Plain Set.
Tired bodies dragged themselves to the workshop on Saturday morning. Ten o’clock is rather unearthly after the night before so Shay White eased the early birds into action gently with the Kilfenora. By this stage there was a sizeable gathering as he tackled the rather more demanding South Sligo Lancers. We got hold of it through his cajoling and in spite of our best efforts. As a warm-down exercise he finished with the Ballyduff set from Waterford.
Saturday afternoon, unusually, was free with many of the visitors sightseeing and shopping so everybody was refreshed for the night’s ceili with the Annaly Ceili Band. Again, the crowd spilled out into the bar area even more so than the previous night. Mary Doddy was all weekend at the box office, with Vera and Helen filling up the sets. This ensured there were no undue delays between sets, particularly with two who don’t always understand the negative! By the crowd’s reaction it was plain they thoroughly enjoyed the night’s entertainment and again we finished with the Plain Set.
There were complications with the Sunday programme over which the committee had no control so the day’s proceedings started and finished with an eleven o’clock ceili. In the event this was an inspired arrangement! Swallow’s Tail played, the floor was almost full, and there followed one of the most enjoyable ceilis imaginable. Their blend and brand of Sligo music requires only one word—outstanding.
The Sliabh Luachra set provided an opportunity for Nora Barrett and Liz King, two qualified octogenarians from our area, to take the floor and they drew rounds of applause for their considerable expertise.
We had to turn our focus southwards too soon with the usual nostalgic regrets. No regrets at the weekend’s activities, just genuine satisfaction that the programme spawned in the foyer of Rathkeale House Hotel had turned out so brilliantly for the two Sligo maids. (PS The Sligo Maid is the name of a well-known reel.)
Without exception all the southern contingent already look forward to Sligo’s next venture and its unstinted hospitality.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
On Sunday, July 27th, despite a worry about the weather, the sun shone all day while dancers from all over the southeast coast danced in the fifth Bray marathon set dancing event. Organised by Carmel Kearns of North Wicklow Set Dancers and Anne Blount of the Bray Lions Club, this highly enjoyable day has proved to be a very successful fund raising event. Last year over €5,000 was raised for research for the Children’s Hospital at Crumlin, and this year Anne expected to exceed that sum. This year the day incorporated an air show so the crowds were huge on Bray seafront.
The set dancing was on the Victorian bandstand and many dancers were there from 10am. When the Brian Ború Ceili Band played the last set at 8pm, P J Hanrahan, Mick Behan, Kieran Finch, Anita Prunty and Susan O’Shea had not missed one dance. In fact poor Susan did not even get a chance to light a cigarette!
It was a magical day. There was a gentle breeze and the sea sparkled in the sunlight. The music travelled up and down the seafront and became a centrepoint for many of the spectators. There is a large immigrant community in Bray and young Chinese, Polish and Indian onlookers showed a big interest in what was going on and even tried a few steps.
Happily Carmel and Anne will join forces once again and are already making plans for next year’s marathon. Pencil it into your diary.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
A few miles outside Tullamore, Co Offaly, which is again hosting the All-Ireland Fleadh this summer, you’ll find the small village of Rahan. For four years now the local branch of Comhaltas has held an annual festival in honour of the late Dan Cleary, a well-known fiddle player and teacher, co-founder of Comhaltas (1951 in Mullingar) and leader of the legendary Ballinamere Ceili Band in the fifties and sixties. No, I didn’t know any of that, but I am learning. His daughter Bernie, whom I met at this year’s festival on Saturday, June 28th, kindly gave me some newspaper clippings containing information about her dad. At the time of his death, he was president of Killeigh Comhaltas, an office that he had held for twenty years. He was also instrumental in reviving the uilleann pipes and the first man to teach Irish traditional music in Offaly. But it is his fiddle playing that left a very personal legacy: a style of playing it that is now known as the ‘Dan Cleary touch.’
The day started with us arriving early (a common occurrence), and so we went into the dining area to have a coffee after what was quite a long journey up from Co Waterford.
Ger Butler, who has a knack for choosing unusual, funky music, particularly for two-hand dances, expertly taught the Derradda Set first. Later, when doing the Moycullen Set, one of the dancers, Sean Gavain, told me that he was from Moycullen, a small village just outside Galway. Apparently he had learned the set from Marie Philbin, who revived it a few years ago, but hadn’t danced it since, so was delighted to get a shot at it again.
We broke for lunch and stayed in the venue as the organisers had prepared sandwiches and cakes, thank God, as we couldn’t have faced more travelling after the long journey up. In the afternoon we tackled the South Sligo Lancers once more. There is a step that is danced for the second figure and Ger had a lovely way of conveying it to everybody. He made it simple and broke it down gently, and at the same time not spending too much time on it. He seemed to say without words that we all can do this, and that it is simple enough, so the learning was stress free and relaxed. I always get a sense of ‘everybody being equal’ as the foremost quality that comes across when Ger is teaching, which is also evident when showing us the moves in the sets.
Oh dear, it seems that no matter how often I do that fourth figure, I can still get it wrong. It was one of those moments, afternoon slump, brains half dead, tiredness getting the better of us, and then we started to get the giggles—actually, that was probably the best part of it all. Just in time, we remembered that this is a hobby we do for fun.
When the workshop ended, my friend and I went into Tullamore and we ended up in the same place for a meal as the previous year. At some stage during the meal, a little old lady came over and starting singing at my friend—impossible to keep a straight face! We have no idea what she wanted or was trying to say, but it appeared that singing came more naturally to her than talking, although there was no earthly way to understand either.
So we were in good spirits when we returned to Rahan for the ceili. We were given the vip treatment and served tea and cake in the kitchen of the community hall. The Glenside Ceili Band was there too. Tom Flood was on the accordion, Moyra Fraser on piano, but Tom’s brother Aidan was missing because he was given time off due to the arrival of a baby girl! Congratulations, Aidan! So Aidan Vaughan stepped in to play the drums.
More than ten sets then commenced dancing and it was a real joy to hear the Glenside again ably rousing the crowd! We also were treated to some solo dancing by Aidan Vaughan, step dancing by Gareth Delaney, brush dancing by Valerie Foran, sean nós by Noel Cooney and another brush dance by Tommy Joe Mooney.
All the well-known sets were danced that night, and despite fatigue, we continued dancing till the end. Can’t waste good music! So after saying our goodbyes to the people of Rahan we are getting to know better each year, it was past one o’clock in the morning when we took to the road again.
What a friendly community to come to! It’s all hands on deck in Rahan, and it reminds me in spirit of Rathgormack, the village where I live in Co Waterford. I sincerely hope that these places will continue to offer workshops and céilithe and thrive as a balance to all the big weekends we have now.
One of the organising ladies told me that they meant to have a suggestion box. May I make a suggestion now? How about making a full weekend of it! The successful ingredients are already in place!
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford
In Cleveland, Ohio, at the Irish Cultural Festival, July 18-20, the weather was hot but the music was hotter. The Abbey Ceili Band brought highly energized tunes and sparkling rhythms to the dance area. Dancers from northeast Ohio, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Florida, Ireland and elsewhere had grand dancing at three monster ceilis. Additionally, the band was scheduled for two concerts which were quickly converted to dance opportunities. Band members wanted to play dance music so sets were organized.
The Irish Cultural Festival has been a venue for Irish entertainment for 26 years, with performers from Ireland, Canada and many places in the USA. Its reputation as a music festival is quite positive. Based partly upon input from the dance community, set dancing was added to the annual event a few years ago. Dancers are grateful.
The band played brilliantly all weekend. At the final ceili, the energy level for the dancers may have been a bit down due to the heat and exertion. The music had a wonderful way of re-energizing them, however. It is quite possible the Abbey saved their best performance for the final ceili. The dance floor was surrounded by festival-goers who stayed to not just watch the dancing but to listen to the fine music. Box player Ger Murphy graciously acknowledged audience members and played their special requests.
My wife Lenette and I again taught short dance workshops in the Heritage Hall of the festival. Interest in learning Irish set, two-hand and social dancing remains high. It is delightful to see the enthusiasm many new dancers have when they learn even a bit about Irish dancing. Just as we did when we began to learn the sets, many said something like “Where can I learn more?” and “Can I now get up and dance with you at the ceili?” Students have been willing to bear the heat and the concrete dance floor to get involved with dancing.
For the final dance of the festival, a Connemara Set, four dancers from our workshops earlier in the weekend delighted everyone by dancing for the first time. Our friend Kerry Coughlin paired each of the new dancers with an experienced dancer. After the first figure, dancers encouraged the new dancers with applause. All had a very fine time.
Only after I arrived at the festival did I learn I was to be the caller for two of the ceilis. A headset portable microphone wasn’t available to allow dancing while calling. We thus adopted a review-only approach. As necessary, I would announce the set and figure highlights before the music started. I called only a few times during the dancing using a cumbersome hand-held mike. Our sound man would leave the mike locked-on and I would put it in my pocket. He came by to report the sound of my keys and loose change was being broadcast. Those sounds were as distracting to the music as would have been my calling.
The next music and dance Irish Cultural Festival is scheduled for July 24–26, 2009. Consider the fun as you plan for next year.
Larry Taylor, Stow, Ohio
On Tuesday, 1st July, New York and Connecticut area dancers and musicians alike were stunned by the sudden loss of our dear friend Alfie Pakenham. He was tragically killed in an auto accident at the age of 55. Alfie was a set dancer and dance instructor, a kind, gentle, compassionate, spiritual, peaceful soul, an altogether wonderful person, a loving friend to all and loved by everyone whose lives he touched. We will feel his loss very deeply.
He was a loving husband to Kathy (née Hannigan), and a wonderful dad, step-dad and grandfather. Kathy and Alfie were devoted companions for many years, although they were married only last September 22. Alfie had many talents and interests in addition to set dancing. He was a carpenter and had an extraordinary gift in creating fine cabinetry (and dance floors!). Alfie was also dedicated to HOPe (Helping Other People), a small non-sectarian charity dedicated to helping people help themselves, and was its second chairman.
On Saturday, July 12, a memorial service and ceili were held to celebrate Alfie’s life. Both took place under awnings on the beautiful property of one of Alfie’s closest friends. The wooded, rolling foothills of the Catskill and Berkshire mountains provided a peaceful, serene backdrop for our grief at our loss and our smiles in remembering Alfie’s joyous spirit. As several hundred friends arrived (many of whom had never met one another), button accordion player John Whelan provided un-amplified background music. After the emotional, sometimes humorous memorial and a buffet dinner, the Green Gates Ceili Band provided dance music so that we could celebrate what Alfie enjoyed most. There were more than eighty dancers on hand to pay tribute to his love for people, dance, music and life! Most of the non-dancers stuck around, too, presumably to see what all this madness is about!
Some of Alfie’s ashes were scattered on the ground beneath the temporary dance floor, that spot marked only by a greyish blue piece of plywood, which was subjected to plenty of battering during the night! A table at the top of the dance floor held a few of Alfie’s personal items of significance to any dancer who knew him. There was his trademark old, beat-up white shirt, his sunglasses (most often worn on top of his head) and his dance shoes. During the ceili, Alfie’s long-time friend Gini McCauley sang Here’s to You, and Eileen Clune Goodman played a lovely air on the whistle. It would have been difficult to find a dry eye during either. However, as Alfie would expect, there was good craic and much love all around, and his overwhelming spirit was felt by all of us. He has touched many lives and will forever be remembered for his kind spirit and gentle loving ways. As Alfie so often said, “Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here, we may as well dance!”
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
We were very much saddened by the death on May 9th of Nuala O’Faolain, the internationally-known writer and broadcaster. Nuala was no respecter of sacred cows and was never averse to challenging the status quo, which meant that she was not always the most comfortable person to be around. Both honest and brave, she often voiced thoughts that others lacked the courage to speak aloud. She was a feminist, and the rights of oppressed women were always close to her heart. In fact Nuala resisted injustice of all kinds, wherever it occurred, and stood up for underdogs both at home and abroad.
She was a larger than life woman, and everyone who knew her loved her exuberance and vitality. As regular attendees at the Merriman summer school, we thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of her company for a precious week every year. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Irish traditional culture. She loved the Irish language, and all the music and dance associated with the resurgence of interest in traditional arts.
The world is poorer now that Nuala O’Faolain has died, but she enriched the lives of all who came in contact. She is badly missed by all who knew her or her writings, but we are very much aware that for her family and close friends, the loss is even harder to bear, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to them.
Diana Campbell and Frances Sullivan, London
Set dancers who ever attended céilithe in Dún na Sí, Moate, Co Westmeath, will almost certainly have met the gentleman who was Joe Ganley. As a Comhaltas committee member he was the principal organiser of the ceilis there and, with rare exceptions, would be seen working at the door during every event held in Dún na Sí. Indeed Joe was referred to locally as “the money man” because he was gatekeeper not only for events at Moate Comhaltas, but also for his beloved Caulry GAA Club and several other voluntary organisations. In addition he acted as collector for the offertory collection at Mount Temple church every Saturday night until his sudden, untimely death on June 5th last.
Although over 80 years of age, Joe led an exceedingly active life. Retired from FÁS in Athlone, he continued to spend regular time in his former workplace to help out in any way he was needed. It was there that befell him the tragic accident that was to end his life so unexpectedly. His former work colleagues, as well as the entire community of his home parish of Mount Temple and Baylin, will miss him enormously. His contribution to each of the many activities he became involved in was immense and thorough. There were no half measures with Joe—he was either completely committed to something or not involved at all. As Father Pat Kiernan of Mount Temple remarked at his thronged Requiem Mass, “Joe died as he lived—in a hurry!”
To his wife Nancy, his sons Joe and Declan, daughters-in-law and grandchildren we offer sincere condolences. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.
Brendan Doyle, Moate, Co Westmeath
A funny story about one of our dancers from Dulwich, Ena Maye. Ena and her husband Paddy are keen readers of your Set Dancing News. They love their dancing.
One night after dancing Ena washed her shoes and left them out to dry. When she went out to get them next day she only had one shoe. She spoke to her neighbour who told her the fox must have taken it. I believe it is quite common for the fox to take shoes. We all thought it was so funny I decided to write a poem. Ena liked it so much she asked if you might have space in your magazine sometime.
Sheila Carty, Streatham, London, England
The dancing foxA fabulous dancer named Ena
She could dance on a plate if you’d seen ’er!
She tapped heel and toe,
And by God she could go,
And her shoes they made music beneath her.
She travelled a lot, her feet they were hot.
Her shoes they were sweaty and smelly.
She washed them all out, and left them out,
Then she sat down to watch the old telly.
So the fox came along and tried her shoes on.
They fitted him just like a glove.
He took a few steps and a couple of leps,
And himself and the shoes fell in love.
Now he’d got her shoes and she’s not amused.
She’s always been pleasant and sweet,
But now she’s got grumpy and a little bit humpy,
As she had to dance in her feet.
So she sits and she waits at the door and the gate.
If the fox should come back he’ll get pardon,
And blimey one day she shouts, “Hip hurrah!
As the fox did a dance in her garden.
You might have heard of Gundagai, 400km south of Sydney—there’s an Aussie song about the dog who sat on the tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai. For the past two years there has been an Irish-Australian festival called the Turning Wave which embraces a wide forum within the folk arts genre, presenting a broad spectrum of both traditional and contemporary music, dance, spoken word and theatre with a Celtic edge. I’ve been travelling to teach a group of children (and a couple of mums) some traditional old-style step dancing and, of course, set dancing. For their dancing concert and because there were six couples I decided they would dance the Long Clare Set. They did a great job! They’re learning An Gabharin Buí now.
Margaret Winnett, Sydney, Australia
In October 2007, Kyoto Irish Dance Club had Eva Biedermann and André Lichtsteiner from Zurich, Switzerland, in our class. We danced the Clare Orange and Green Set.
In May 2008, we had Peggy Connolly from Melbourne, Australia, in our class. We enjoyed the Fermanagh Quadrilles.
On June 8th we celebrated the fourth anniversary of our club at a pub.
Tamiko Oyama, Kyoto, Japan
Very happy sixtieth
Could you please wish Mary Bingham, my set dancing teacher, a very happy sixtieth birthday?
For her birthday, a surprise ceili was organised in Newton Abbott, Devon. Mary has been teaching set dancing for many years and is a dedicated and extremely entertaining teacher. Mary is looking forward to her first set dancing ceili in Ireland in August.
Una Duffy, Plymouth, Devon
Michael Sexton was leader and box player of one of the most popular ceili bands in the set dancing scene until his death in December 2003. Micheal’s son Micheál has followed in his father’s footsteps with his own ceili band in partnership with Pat Walsh. As a memorial to his father, Micheál organised a weekend of ceilis in the Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, during Easter weekend last March which was a great success.
All the proceeds of the weekend were collected for charity and a total of €6,000 was raised. Micheál and members of the Sexton family, from the village of Mullagh, wanted the funds to benefit local people. In May they presented a cheque to Ennistymon Hospital, a small residential facility for the elderly in a beautiful rural setting between Ennistymon and Lahinch.
Next year’s Michael Sexton memorial weekend is being planned for Easter weekend in Ennis. Full details are expected to appear in a future issue.
A selection of new music from Downunder and Donegal, Clare and Carolina
At the fiftieth anniversary of the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers, Margaret Winnett launched a new CD of music by the Coast Ceili Band titled Set Dancing Downunder. This is probably the first Australian recording of music arranged for set dancing.
There’s a strong antipodean flavour to the disk, with three Aussie sets, the Antrim Square Set and Southern Cross Set, both composed by Des Jackson, and the Australian Half-Set, which has long been danced in Sydney. Two universal favourites, the Plain Set and a waltz, are also included.
Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the CD is welcome to contact Margaret Winnett.
Two-hand dances have recently become more popular among set dancers, though they have long been practiced by dancers in Donegal. A new DVD called The Couple Dances of Donegal demonstrates several common two-hand dances of the county, including the Highland, Mazurka, German, Shoe the Donkey, Maggie Pickens, Cork Rigs, Palais Glide, Father O’Flynn and more. In the dvd they are demonstrated by one or more couples in cottages and halls to live music on fiddle or box. Some of the dances are introduced by a musician or dancer, but the dancing is shown without comment. One section of the dvd demonstrates the steps slowly, but main dance demonstrations are done at normal speed, with the camera concentrating on the feet the first time through. In some intriguing interviews, musicians mention a couple of lost dances, like the three-person Cotillon and Temple House, though they are still able to play the tunes for them. The video and sound quality are both excellent. Interviews are mostly in Irish; subtitles are provided in English. To order, see a preview and get more information see www.donegalfiddlemusic.ie.
P J Murrihy launched a new CD in July, I Won’t Up the Ante, with another selection of his original country songs. P J, from Mullagh, Co Clare, played for many years with Michael Sexton, and the new CD features the box of Micheál Sexton in several of the tracks. Traditional music fans will appreciate the song The Music and County Clare, which pays tribute to Willie Clancy and the Kilfenora and Tulla ceili bands and ends with a rousing session. Find it in shops or contact P J and Mary Murrihy.
For the first time, the Willie Clancy Summer School has issued a double CD collection of music recorded at its grand concert in 2007. The musicians featured are the cream of the Irish crop—the disk is the next best thing to attending the actual concert. One track of dancing is included as well, a half-set with Paddy Neylon and Aidan Vaughan and music by Donie Nolan. Only 500 copies were produced so don’t delay if you’d like a copy. Contact Harry Hughes and Muiris Ó Rócháin or see the website www.oac.ie.
Clare fiddler Martin Hayes is a regular visitor to the Willie Clancy and plays with the Tulla Ceili Band at two ceilis during the week. His new CD, Welcome Here Again, was released earlier this year, his first studio album in ten years. The recording captures the stunning depth and emotion of Martin’s music, and unusually, most of the tracks are devoted to a single tune, rather than ganging them up in pairs or threes as is common practice. The CD is widely available in shops and on-line.
There was a surprise for set dancers on Prince Edward Island when they gathered for their annual May bank holiday set dancing weekend, as mentioned in Adele Megann’s article Joining them while on her honeymoon was Rhiannon Giddens, who plays fiddle, sings and dances with the trio called the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Having never heard of them, your editor searched the web, heard a few sample tracks and immediately ordered their cd Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind. They play compelling, timeless American folk music which seems as old as the hills and as refreshing as a Carolina thunderstorm. Google them yourself to learn more.
The fabulous Sirenis Seaview Country Club in Port d’es Torrent, Ibiza, Spain, for the past eight years has been home to Fleadh Ibiza, a superb two week festival of music and dancing. This year’s festival got underway on Thursday 17th April, with holidaymakers arriving from British and Irish destinations. I arrived at 9pm and was quickly allocated my accommodation. I showered, changed, had a quick bite to eat and hit the main ballroom for the first ceili of the festival. The mighty Annaly Ceili Band from Co Longford were in full flight playing the Plain Set. I was thrilled when I saw that a timber floor had been specially put in place in the large ballroom. The ambiance was super as everyone tapped out each step to the wonderful music. I counted 25 sets and numbers grew as the night progressed.
On Friday morning the grey clouds of home seemed like they travelled with us. Undaunted by this, Mickey Kelly got the set dancing workshops off to a start with a beginners’ class on the Connemara Set. The second set was the Antrim Square. We had to retire indoors for this class because of the threatened rain.
We had our welcome meeting at 12.30pm. Gerry Flynn briefed us on the programme for the festival. The afternoon workshop was another brilliant two hours under the expert guidance of Mike Mahoney, from Co Clare. We once more danced the Antrim Square Set as dancers were anxious to learn the square. Mike then taught the Donegal Set and everyone forgot about the cloudy weather.
Outdoors at 4pm we had our first afternoon ceili. The sun had come out to greet us as we danced to the magic music of the Copperplate Ceili Band. Their banjo player Brian Ward was unable to travel, but Teresa Hughes from Brian Ború Ceili Band filled in. We had two hours of superb music and dancing.
Friday night from 9pm to 12am we danced to the Brian Boru Ceili Band. The Antrim Square was danced at each ceili, and we danced a High-Cauled Cap. In the ballroom of the adjacent Aura Hotel, Danny Webster provided music for a fíor céilí. The lounge area came alive with country singing, session musicians kept the craic going in the Aura Lounge and late nighters danced in the Cellar Bar.
Saturday morning was a bit breezy but dancers gathered in large numbers for Frank Keenan’s workshop on a version of an old Galway Reel Set. He taught three figures and said it was danced locally in the Ballinasloe area. Galway man Pat McKeigue demonstrated the original reel step for it. The afternoon workshop was held indoors. Mickey Kelly taught the lovely East Mayo Set. Set dancers gathered for the afternoon ceili as the evening turned a bit cooler and we had great fun dancing to the super twosome, Michael Sexton and Pat Walsh. Midway through the ceili the Slate Quarry Dancers led by Mick and Kay Doyle from Galmoy in Co Kilkenny gave us a demonstration of their local set.
Saturday night we were back on the wonderful boards of the main ballroom dancing to the Annaly Ceili Band. We danced a good variety of sets including the West Kerry which this correspondent had the pleasure of calling.
Sunday morning Mass had to be conducted indoors as the weather threatened rain. The afternoon ceili was also held indoors with Danny Webster providing the music. The evening brought brilliant sunshine and we had our 4pm ceili by the pool with Brian Ború on stage. Sunday night we had the Copperplate back on stage. The first set of the night was the Mazurka, and we danced the Claddagh and lovely Labasheeda.
With not a cloud in the sky on Monday morning Mike Mahoney gave a workshop by the pool on the Clare Orange and Green Set. The Copperplate played for another brilliant ceili from 4 until 6pm. We danced the Clare Orange and Green from the morning workshop under the expert guidance of Mike Mahoney as mc. Even the dancers who had missed the workshop easily followed Mike’s clear instruction.
Sheila Delaney, one of the Slate Quarry Dancers from Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, celebrated her birthday with a few fills of sangria. The night ceili with Michael Sexton and Pat Walsh was fabulous.
Tuesday morning as crowds gathered for the morning workshop Frank Keenan announced that he was teaching the Glencree Set in memory of the late Connie Ryan. This is a six-figure set that finishes with a waltz. I counted 25 sets all having a brilliant time under the blue Ibiza skies. Social and ballroom dancers had classes every day with excellent teachers Tom and Noreen Carter and John Farriter. Country and jive tuition was given by Seamus and Linda Melvin.
The afternoon ceili by the pool with the Brian Boru Ceili band was a dream and the night ceili saw the trio of the Annaly Ceili Band on stage.
Wednesday, we had our morning workshop with Mike Mahoney and danced the Plain Polka Set from West Clare, which has similar moves to the reel Plain Set that we all are familiar with. Mike said he learned it from Ennis, Co Clare, teacher Pat Moroney.
At 12.30pm we had a fíor céilí with Danny Webster providing the music. The talent show got under way at 2pm and the talent and variety of the holidaymakers was stunning. This was followed by a parade of county t-shirts. Last year Mayo dominated this event but this year they had a run for their money as most counties had a good representation and proudly sported their colours. Then the crowd moved aside for another parade of people in fancy dress.
The winners were announced. Firstly, the talent prize went to Arlene McCarroll from Co Tyrone who has endless skill in recitation and dance. The fancy dress winners were Co Waterford duo, Breda Walsh and Betty Power, who dance every Monday night in the Bridge Hotel in Waterford city. The two girls won the judges’ hearts with their depiction of chambermaids. Colm Gallen from Co Donegal scooped the big prize of the week, a holiday for two in Europe.
The grand finale of the evening was Mickey Kelly’s Ibiza Set. Mickey and his group of Mayo dancers gave a demonstration of this imaginative and well compiled set. Mickey thanked his dancing partner Maureen Halpin for her assistance in compiling it specially for Ibiza. It’s a set that could catch on as it has only three figures, jig, reel and polka. The moves are simple enough although I can safely say they are different to moves in any other set I have danced. I can see some ceili influence with a small resemblance to the High-Cauled Cap.
The ceili tonight saw the finale of the first week and all musicians were on stage at some point during the night. Social dancers were engaged in some serious stuff tonight, as the final of the waltzing competition got under way with music by Sam Doherty. The winning couple was Josephine and Pat Mallon from Ballina, Co Mayo. They are also set dancers and pupils of teacher Michael Monaghan in Rehin’s Social Centre. All dancing came to a halt just before midnight and the huge crowd gathered outside for the fantastic farewell fireworks display.
New holidaymakers were arriving all Thursday and those returning home departed at different times. The second week’s dancing got underway in the morning when Mickey Kelly gave a workshop for beginners teaching the Kilfenora Set. I counted twelve sets by the pool. Mickey then proceeded with two-hand dances including Country Waltz and Back-to-Back Hornpipe.
We had our last ceili in the ballroom tonight with the brilliant Copperplate Ceili Band. Numbers of set dancers had dropped and I counted fifteen sets. The enthusiasm of the dancers was not marred in any way.
Mickey Kelly was our tutor for the Friday morning workshop when we danced the Antrim Square Set and two-hand dances including Circle Waltz and Military Two-Step. The afternoon was spent by the pool with social dancing and at 5pm we had a ceili with Danny Webster. Set dancers tonight danced in the lounge area to the music of Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band from Co Sligo, while social dancers enjoyed the wonderful wooden floor in the ballroom.
Frank Keenan gave a workshop on the South Kerry Set on Saturday morning. I was delighted to see it getting an airing in a workshop. Gerry Flynn addressed the gathering with his welcome meeting and briefed the crowd as he had on the previous week.
We had social dancing by the pool with Eddie Lee and Catriona O’Sullivan keeping us stepping it out. At 5pm we had a short but magic ceili until 6.15pm. With Frank Keenan as mc we danced the South Kerry Set from the morning workshop. The night ceili in the lounge with the Copperplate Ceili Band kept us happy.
Sunday morning the sun shone from a cloudless sky and the huge crowd gathered for Mass in the great outdoors. It was celebrated and embellished by hymns and music. One could almost touch the reverence that filled the complex.
When Mass had concluded we had the privilege of watching the demonstration by the winners of the top competition at the Sean Dempsey Festival in Manchester last October. This West Cork group, known as the Atha Caoire Dancers, danced two figures of their prize-winning Borlin Polka Set and concluded with the first figure of the Sliabh Fraoch Set, which was revived by Frank and Bobbie Keenan in Ibiza two years ago. It was a joy to see these dancers in their colourful uniforms and so foot-perfect, due in no small way to their teacher and leader Joe Mannix. They had just arrived for the second week of the festival, their prize for winning in Manchester.
Social dancing by the pool brought us up to 5pm and our ceili with Danny Webster. The ceili in the lounge tonight had Swallow’s Tail on stage. The ballroom was packed with social dancers, although I had a few waltzes with some of the set dancers.
The Monday morning workshop was geared very much for beginners. Mike Mahoney took a show of hands and decided that the basic steps were needed by the majority of the crowd. Mike explained each move from a walking step to a dance step and how to dance at home, breaking down the sequence of steps. He taught the third figure of the Caledonian Set to give beginners a chance to learn the reel step, he then showed the hornpipe step and both figures were danced. Mike and an experienced group danced the South Galway Set by request. He concluded by teaching the Spanish Jive and the Slosh. He took time to teach a small group of advanced dancers the Connemara step.
Our afternoon ceili had the Copperplate on stage and tonight we had a superb night’s dancing Swallow’s Tail.
Mickey Kelly had a good gathering for his workshop on Tuesday morning when he taught the Ibiza Set. It was nice to be dancing something different with a bit of a challenge. It’s a simple little set and has some lovely moves. The class concluded with Joe Mannix from Co Cork giving a lesson in sean nós hornpipe steps.
This afternoon our ceili with Danny Webster was fun and tonight’s ceili had Swallow’s Tail on stage.
Wednesday had arrived and there was a definite lull in the energy of dancers as it slowly dawned on us that this was the final day of the festival. Frank Keenan taught the Galway Reel Set once more and the twelve sets who had gathered for the last class had a great time.
Today was party day, with talent show, county t-shirt display and fancy dress parade. Just like last week the talent was superb and the judges had a difficult task in selecting a winner. Their choice was well-received when they announced Ita McQuinn from Newcastle West, Co Limerick. She danced the Priest and His Boots as taught to her by the late James Keane and Dan Furey from Labasheeda, Co Clare. The fancy dress prize went to the imaginative lady in a decorated wheelchair, Deirdre Eustace from Co Wexford. The grand holiday prize went to Mary Taylor who hails from near my own home place in Ballysloe, Co Tipperary, and now resides in London.
The ceili tonight was the best of the week. It was as if everyone had new energy to get rid of before returning home. Both the Copperplate and Swallow’s Tail took the stage and the job of mc was shared by our three tutors, Mickey Kelly, Frank Keenan and Mike Mahoney. The ballroom was abuzz with excitement with the final of the waltzing competition. The winning couple were Teresa Duignan and Paddy McGlone from Co Roscommon. Teresa is also a fabulous set dancer. More dancing brought the time up to 12am for the farewell fireworks display, then at 1.30am we had the artists farewell and roll of honour.
The festival surpassed all expectations. We had some of the best bands and artists in Ireland. Our dance and music teachers were of the highest calibre. The hotel complex was superb and the staff warm, friendly and eager to please. The food was excellent with hot and cold buffet to choose from and a varied selection each day. Book your place for next year as soon as possible. The year is not complete without this festival included in your calendar.
Joan Pollard Carew
The Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, Co Clare, was thronged with set dancers for the Easter weekend (22nd to 24th March) festival of set dancing hosted by the Sexton family in memory of the late Michael Sexton, the box player who led a popular ceili band for many years.
The first ceili of the weekend saw the Swallow’s Tail Ceili band on stage on Saturday afternoon. Micheál Sexton, Michael’s son, welcomed everyone and thanked them for supporting the weekend and the Armada Hotel for the use of the lovely venue. He said both he and his mother Betty were delighted to hold this weekend in memory of his father. The proceeds of the entire weekend he told us would be donated to cancer research. The afternoon ceili was brilliant. We danced mostly Clare sets with the Cashel and Ballyvourney as a bonus. The music and atmosphere were superb.
With a nice carvery dinner in the hotel bistro and a quick shower and change, we were back dancing to the exuberant music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh accompanied by Aidan Vaughan on drums. Micheál told us that Johnny Burke opened the Armada on this weekend forty years ago and that his father provided the music on the night. We danced more Clare sets for the night and a Claddagh Set.
The Sunday afternoon ceili was the highlight of the weekend. It got underway with Micheál and Pat providing the music for the first three sets, then P J Murrihy made a guest appearance and serenaded us through a few waltzes and quicksteps. P J played for many years with the late Michael during his years with the band called the Bannermen. Micheál then invited all the members of the Michael Sexton Ceili Band on stage and the atmosphere in the ballroom almost became tangible. We danced the Caledonian set to the magic music and it was almost bittersweet. As we danced and revelled in the music and we could almost feel Michael’s presence as the band played his familiar reels. Just seeing Jerry Lynch of the old Kilfenora Ceili Band playing the accordion where Michael usually sat in the band brought a lump to the throat of the dancers who knew and loved the Clare gentleman of music. I felt privileged and honoured to be one of the dancers present. The afternoon concluded with Tom Skelly, banjo player with Johnny Reidy joining Micheal and Pat on stage for the remaining sets.
Sunday night we danced to the wonderful music of the Templehouse Ceili Band, a long-established ceili band from Dublin which together with the Michael Sexton Ceili Band gave set dancing a strong boost in the early days of its revival.
Monday afternoon crowds gathered long before the doors opened in anticipation of another brilliant ceili. Co Cork’s Abbey Ceili Band gave us an afternoon of exciting music. With great joy we danced the West Kerry and Borlin Polka sets. We danced all the usual Clare sets with gusto and the excitement mounted as the afternoon progressed.
This was the first time this festival was held and Micheál told us that the plan was to repeat it next year; he then asked the dancers if they would like this and the response was rapturous applause. The venue is breathtaking as the ballroom looks out on the Atlantic Ocean. Dancers travelled from all corners of Ireland, England and from many other countries in Europe. The weekend was well organised and the Sexton family can be proud of their achievement.
Joan Pollard Carew
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then there was lots of love in Nova Scotia this Easter. Circumstances prevented dance master Pat Murphy from joining us here on the east coast of Canada last year for this popular annual event. Imagine our delight when his attendance was confirmed for 2008. Given that this was our first Easter since our teacher Elizabeth MacDonald and her husband Dan Deslauriers returned from their four-year sojourn in Germany, it felt like a reunion all ’round.
The excitement was thick in the air during our first event, the Friday night ceili. Friends showed up from around Nova Scotia. As usual, a large party joined us from our neighbouring province, Prince Edward Island. We also had visitors from Ontario and even England. Despite the prevalence of chitchat, there was plenty of dancing accompanied by the lively music led by Kevin Roach and Jane Lombard. Sets included the Kilfenora, Cashel, Plain, Claddagh, Derrada and Clare Lancers.
We were gathered in a cosy Victorian mansion in south Halifax. Informally known as the Titanic House, it was bequeathed to the Local Council of Women of Halifax by George Wright, the only Haligonian to die on the Titanic. The house is beautifully appointed, with a sturdy wooden floor. The spacious front room where we dance is bordered on two sides by a roomy sun porch with comfortable seating. The porch is where we gathered later in the evening for complimentary sandwiches, cookies and tea. An environmentally-friendly innovation this year was the employment of reusable water cups. As people arrived they were given a plastic cup, and instructed to write their name on it. Most cups made it intact until the end of the weekend.
Easter was early this year, but we were still startled on Saturday morning to see snow powdering the ground. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold, and the reflections brightened up the room as we gathered for the morning workshop. Pat began with the Australian set, the Antrim Square. The pleasing movements of this set have made it a great hit with the Nova Scotia dancers. Although not hard to learn, it looks impressive. We have done it many times since then to great acclaim at our local, the Old Triangle Alehouse. We finished the morning with the long version of the East Galway Reel Set, when we obediently followed each other around like ducks in the first figure.
Lunch was a different affair this year. Instead of having to find their way to one of Halifax’s many fine eating establishments, participants were offered the option of staying in the comfort of the Titanic House for a simple but nourishing lunch. Entertainment was provided by the junior ceili band—not really a band at all, but a collection of newer (not necessarily younger) musicians who are working their way up to playing for dancers. Many of these players are themselves dancers, but some are not, so it was a delight to have more company with us. The set dancing took a break, but we were treated to some step dancing. This fall a group of us started studying Connemara-style sean-nós steps with Elizabeth MacDonald, and a few of us showed our steps, backed up by the session players.
After lunch, it was back to work. Some of us found the Limerick Tumblers tricky—especially women who weren’t used to turning men under!—but we had great fun during the freestyle figure, when each couple decides on their own moves. Everyone furtively planned their strategy, but since couples can’t repeat a movement used by another, “We were going to do that!” was the cry of the day. Plan B was quickly implemented, and everyone was duly impressed.
Saturday evening we returned to the Titanic House for the céilí mór. The Easter Bunny had dropped in, and we found little chocolate eggs in nooks and crannies all over the place. The band provided lively accompaniment as we showed off what we had learned at the workshops, as well as perennial favourites such as the Mazurka, Corofin, Kilfenora and Ballyvourney.
Sunday noonish (some people were more noonish than others) the locale changed to the Old Triangle, where many of us enjoyed a delicious Easter Sunday brunch. Then, having secured several tables, we moved them out of the way for the sets. Up to four sets squeezed into a space which usually accommodates one. Quadruple the fun! We are lucky to have live music every Sunday led by Kevin Roach, and even luckier this Sunday to have visiting players join him.
Monday was a day off, and sadly, some people had to move on to regular life. Others, though, took advantage of the free time to explore. One group headed to historic Lunenburg with our visitors from Ottawa and England. Glorious sunshine blessed our scenic drive along the coast, and was still with us when we arrived back for the evening’s activities.
Monday is our usual evening for classes, but since our usual venue is not available on Easter Monday, it felt extra special to be at the Titanic House instead. A small group began the evening early with a sean-nós step class taught by Elizabeth, rays of sun pooling at their feet. Then Pat led us through the Newmarket Meserts. We worked very hard at the unusual high gates, and cheers went up from each set as yet another trio successfully completed it. We finished up with the Dromgariff Half-Set.
As usual we tendered our goodbyes at the Old Triangle after the Monday night workshop. Here’s to next year!
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Only a handful of venues throughout Ireland offer dancing weekends more than once a year. Clonea Strand is a wide sandy beach on the coast of Co Waterford near Dungarvan, overlooked by an attractive hotel which is the popular setting for two annual set dancing weekends. The local Comhaltas branch has held their autumn weekend for many years, and more recently two local teachers, Helen Crotty and Paddy Kealy, have hosted more dancing in spring. This year I attended Helen and Paddy’s third annual weekend from April 4th to 6th.
Long before the Friday ceili’s scheduled 9pm start most of the seats around the ballroom of the Clonea Strand Hotel were occupied. Shortly before 9 o’clock Helen addressed everyone with her welcome, then the Brian Ború Ceili Band called the Cashel Set and within minutes the hall was full of dancers in motion. The music was inspirational and irresistible right from the first note. The tidy little room amplified the atmosphere, until it was buzzing with energy. It didn’t take much effort to move across the well-used timber floor, thanks to its good bounce and slip. Dancers, including enthusiastic groups from Wicklow and Amsterdam, had found exactly what they came here for. We danced a varied mix of the rare (Sliabh Fraoch, North Kerry and Borlin Polka) and familiar. There was no worry about which move came next, as every set was called either by Helen Crotty or by Carmel Kearns from Bray, Co Wicklow. The dancing may have stopped soon after midnight but we were all brimming with excitement about the rest of our weekend.
Saturday began with gorgeous blue skies and bright sun, and I was convinced that few would want to spend today in a workshop. In fact I was quite wrong—it was nearly as crowded as last night’s ceili with fifteen sets. The seats were filling half an hour before the start so these people were mighty keen. Our teacher was Carmel Kearns, who has a good following at her weekly classes but only teaches one workshop a year—and this was it! Her first set was the one everyone wants to learn this year, the Antrim Square Set. She gave clear demonstrations with a set of volunteers and then gave plenty of practice when we all danced it together. Dancing the square in close quarters demonstrated new possibilities—my moves were always perfectly coordinated with the lady in the next set and we managed to have fun in our brief meetings.
We spent the second half of the morning on the Limerick Orange and Green, and after a break for lunch, we danced the Flight of the Earls and the Fermanagh Quadrilles. Despite the continuing fine weather, everyone came back for the afternoon session, apart from a couple of sets, so Carmel kept us interested, enthusiastic and happy. I was most impressed by the voice-operated remote control she used to control the music—she only had to speak an instruction and Helen Crotty stopped whatever she was doing and ran over to start the right music playing. It reminded me of the enormous pride I felt when I served as Connie Ryan’s remote control years ago at the summer school in Tubbercurry!
The Saturday night ceili surpassed the workshop with a capacity crowd. Close to twenty sets filled the floor for just about every set, including a string of most welcome rarities—Sliabh Luachra, Labasheeda, Antrim Square, West Kerry, Derradda, Clare Orange and Green and Jenny Ling. In fact that left time for only two of the usual sets, the Kilfenora, and the only repeated set from last night, the final Connemara. Matt Cunningham, the musician with the biggest repertoire of sets, didn’t bat an eyelash at tonight’s selection and supplied superb music for every dance. He gave us a preview of his new CD when he played music for the Antrim Square Set; there was huge demand for the recording but unfortunately it was still in production. Following the final Maggie in the Woods for the Connemara, Matt played a round of Auld Lang Syne for a festive finish and then touched everyone’s heart with his version of Róisín Dubh on the tin whistle before closing the night with the national anthem.
Dancers could have opted for time on the beach in more gorgeous weather on Sunday morning, but instead most were back in the ballroom for Helen Crotty’s two-hand dance workshop. Among others we danced the Peeler and the Goat and Killarney Waltz. Spirits remained elevated for the final ceili on Sunday afternoon with the Abbey Ceili Band, when once again every inch of the floor was filled with dancers. We began with the Plain Set, its only appearance all weekend, finished again with the Connemara, and in between danced the Antrim Square, Mazurka and South Kerry sets, among others. By the end of our weekend our joyous exertions had achieved for us a kind of set dancing nirvana, and we were able to leave for home with a beautiful feeling of complete contentment.
The man who put Derry on the set dancing map of Ireland was Frankie Roddy. He was an inspiring teacher who loved dancing with an influence extended beyond his home city. Following his death in 2004 Frankie is still fondly remembered by the Derry dancers at their annual dance workshop. For the first time the workshop expanded to a full weekend of dancing and moved from a country hall to a big hotel on the edge of the city. It was held in the Everglades Hotel beside the River Foyle from April 11th to 13th.
I arrived mid-afternoon at the smart looking hotel and was treated to tea by the fire in the comfortable lounge while my room was being readied. I had time after that to visit the city centre for a walk along the top of its famous 17th century walls, a look inside St Columb’s Cathedral and a trip to the shops.
After dinner in the hotel, I went down to the ballroom for the 9pm ceili and was amazed to meet people from Carlow, Limerick, Dublin, London, New York and other distant places who had travelled north for the weekend. The room had the benefit of three separate floors—the main timber floor in the centre, temporary parquet flooring laid on the carpet and a large area of well-assembled boards borrowed from a local dance group. This gave plenty of room for dancing and there was still ample seating and tables. The Copperplate Ceili Band began the dancing with the Connemara Set, which was dedicated to an active member of the club, Markus Karcher. He has returned to Germany with his family after seventeen years and was sorry to miss the weekend, just as his friends here were sorry to miss him. The ceili featured the mellow calling of Pat Murphy and a selection of enjoyable sets including the Labasheeda and Sliabh Luachra.
Pat was back again on Saturday morning for some practice with a few new sets. The first of these was the Antrim Square Set from Australia, which has taken the workshop world by storm since Pat introduced it at workshops in January. For me, the set of the day was the Limerick Tumblers, which Dublin dancer Terry Moylan created in 1997. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin of Limerick University had composed a slide with that name and commissioned Terry to devise a dance for it. Terry made a full set in the Sliabh Luachra style, with inventive differences that make it unique. The first figure is somewhat like a standard ‘show the lady’, except that you can do whatever you want in sixteen bars, as long as you don’t repeat what the couples before you did. A figure with built-in messing! The other figures combined familiar and unusual moves and all involved changing partners. I particularly liked the movement in the fourth figure where top ladies quickly cross and house with the opposite gent in eight bars, rather like the cross and dance at home in the third figure of the Plain Set, which has long been one of my favourite moves. The third set of the workshop was Seit Doire Cholmcille, or just the Derry Set, created by Frankie Roddy.
All three floors in the ballroom were well occupied at the Saturday night ceili, and there was even an occasional set dancing on the carpet. The caller on duty tonight was the ever popular Joe Farrell, who puts as much energy into calling sets as the four members of the Davey Ceili Band put into their superb music. He called six sets, including the Fermanagh, and there was no mistaking his signal for the end of a figure—an eardrum-shattering blast from a whistle! Pat Murphy took over from Joe to give us another go at the Antrim Square. A local step dancing group led by Pat Henderson-Bond performed the Gates of Derry, the Three Tunes and an original piece of choreography. Following a waltz and quickstep, the ceili ended with a rousing Plain Set.
A choice of two workshops was offered on Sunday morning—two-hand dancing with local teacher Angela Gallen and traditional step dancing with John Creed from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. While Angela’s workshop had about fifty or sixty dancers in the ballroom, John taught just a dozen people in the adjoining bar. I was one of John’s dancers and enjoyed another chance to do the Priest and His Boots. The hotel laid a small piece of temporary floor on the carpet with just enough room for everyone. Even though it’s a gentle dance, by the end of the two hour session the floor had imperceptibly drifted to a new position, a dancers’ version of plate tectonics. John finished up by dancing a hornpipe, showing what I could do someday if only I were as dedicated as he is. Meanwhile, Angela taught a wealth of two hand dances nonstop during the session, including two I witnessed at the end—a clap dance and the Polly Glide.
Well-educated now in the skills of dancing, there was one last chance for pure fun at the afternoon ceili with the Oriel Ceili Band. Joe Farrell supplied plenty of unusual sets, including the Mazurka, Skibbereen, Labasheeda and Williamstown. Bernie O’Neill and her sons Hugh and Shane made music which was full of life and fun. The day was warm and sunny and the doors to the hotel garden were opened to exchange the hotter atmosphere inside with fresh air outside. Following the closing Plain Set, heartfelt thanks were offered to everyone who made the weekend such a pleasure. Frankie would have been delighted!
The weather during the second weekend in April proved to be perfect for set dancing in Maine, just a bit drizzly, not too much so, but also not nice enough to want to be outdoors after a long winter. And we had the best cast in the world to pull together a great weekend of workshops and ceilis. Tony Ryan flew over from Galway to lend his expertise, our local Killa Ceili Band never played better, and dancers came from all the surrounding states to take to the dance floor—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
We had a full house for the Saturday afternoon workshop, where Tony taught the Antrim Square Set which we all took to immediately, and on Saturday night for a ceili. Both of these events took place on the wonderful suspended dance floor at North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Maine. Sunday we had another great ceili—the Killa Ceili Band did it again! This time we were at the newly opened Empire Dine and Dance in Portland. They have a great dance space on the second floor and, once again, we had a full house.
The best compliment to the success of the weekend was the oft-posed question: “Will you do it again next year?” Don’t have an answer to that yet . . . but we are surely thinking on it!
Cathy Gavin, Yarmouth, Maine
Our thanks to the organisers of the Omagh set dancing weekend, 25th–27th January ’08—the ‘Irish in Scotland’ had a great time at the workshops and ceilis. This was our second year to attend and we couldn’t believe it could get any better, but it did. There were so many people who remembered us from last year and made us feel very welcome, greeting us with warm, heartfelt hugs.
Once we got checked in to Silverbirch Hotel, there wasn’t enough time to get downstairs for 10pm for start of the ceili—we missed the first set unfortunately. Music was by Copperplate—what a band! The buzz and excitement was tremendous. Being a wee bit late, we were initially a bit disappointed when the break was announced but the lovely home baking soon compensated. And it was great to hang about after the ceili catching up with everyone.
The weekend went like a dream—everything was timed to perfection, workshops started and finished on time, lunch break just long enough to allow the feet to cool down and savour the lovely home made soup, sandwiches and home baking again. I’m now wondering did I do more eating than dancing? Maybe.
We had two fantastic workshops in Dún Uladh Heritage Centre hosted by Pat Murphy and attended by visitors and locals—thirteen sets in all. We learned Flight of the Earls and started the Antrim Square Set in the morning, followed in the afternoon by remaining figures and then the lively Limerick Tumblers Set. Nothing felt rushed as Pat seemed to have it timed perfectly. There were some figures that needed a demonstration and the rest we managed with just getting talked through the movements. Dún Uladh is a great venue for set dancing—lovely floor, kitchen facilities, bar, balcony, display boards with local information, events, history and photographs.
We had a lovely Mass, everyone moving the seats out into the floor when the dancing was finished and gathering to give thanks for the lovely weekend. Organisers had arranged for visiting and local set dancers to take part in the readings and prayers, finishing appropriately with Lord of the Dance.
Many set dancers met in the hotel for the evening meal, another opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The Scottish group would like to thank the regulars from Mayo for the bus runs to Dún Uladh. They were very kind and we had great craic, with a few songs on route.
There was great excitement about the Saturday night ceili, as Brian Ború Band had played on the Sunday afternoon last year to tremendous applause. Could they repeat that exciting performance? They sure could! I didn’t miss one set—I left my Mum sitting in the balcony all night! (By the way—the balcony is a great new addition to Dun Uladh. We had a few non dancers in our group who were given free admission, cups of tea and had a great view all weekend.) There were a few people in our group who managed to visit the Saturday night seisiún; the bar and the music was so good that they missed a few sets.
Sometimes you wonder where people get their energy reserves from—but they do. The Sunday morning two-hand workshop was packed and, as everyone had been to the yesterday’s Mass, there were only a few latecomers. Copperplate had just returned from playing at a ceili in Galway to play for the workshop—icing on the cake. Everyone must have been very alert as Marie Garrity managed to get through six two-hand dances—Circassian Circle, Spanish Jive, Windsor Waltz, Swedish Masquerade, Millennium Barn Dance and Gordon Two-Step.
A brief lunch break (yes, more home baking) was followed by the farewell ceili, and what a farewell from Copperplate! I danced so much the heel of my shoe fell off! Eamonn in the band spotted it flying across the floor. I kept on dancing, he kept on playing and we had a good laugh about it afterwards. After a quick run to the car to change shoes, I managed to miss only one set; it also gave me time to do a quick visit to the balcony to say hello to our spectators. We had a lovely sean nós display from John Joe Brannigan and Gillian McElroy followed by Kathleen McGlynn dancing to Miss McLeod’s Reel. That allowed everyone to catch their breath ready for the final sets of the weekend and for the Mayo group to take their leave. Thankfully our flight home was at 9.30pm so we were able to stay to the end, have a quick wash, say our goodbyes to family and friends before the journey to Aldergrove and on to Glasgow.
Patricia Marshall, Glasgow, Scotland
Once you start dancing, it’s awfully hard to stop. The set dancing club on the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth began holding annual workshops in 1983. This year on the last weekend of April they held the 25th workshop in the long continuing series. With careful counting, you might notice that this year should have actually been the 26th—they reluctantly cancelled the event in 2001 because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle in the area. It took a major agricultural crisis to stop the dancing, but they’ve been going stronger than ever since.
On my last visit here in 2002 we danced in a little hall high up in the mountains, which is still in use for monthly ceilis. Two years ago St Patrick’s Community Centre opened in the village of Lordship at the foot of the mountains and makes a fine home for the festivities. The Friday night ceili occupied a smaller, upstairs hall with a bar.
It didn’t matter that there were only a few here at the appointed hour of 9pm—right on time we made up a couple of sets and danced the Plain Set while the rest of the dancers arrived. Music was by Triskell, a local four-piece ceili band staffed mostly by sons and daughters of John and Sheila McEvoy, who also organise set dancing events in Co Louth. One of the sons, Fergal had his arm in a sling thanks to a broken shoulder and was unable to perform his usual duties on accordion. His brother Eoghan covered for him on concertina. By the time of the second set the hall had filled nicely with groups from Germany and a visiting coachload from the Sean Treacy Comhaltas out of Dublin. The tea break took place at one end of the vast hall downstairs, where four long rows of tables seated everyone with room to spare, and still left many acres of open space. We were promised the use of it for the rest of the weekend’s ceilis. We came back from the break to find the floor liberally dusted with talc, which made a nice improvement despite the dust.
The most impressive dance of the night was not one of the sets, but rather a bit of sean nós dancing. When our mc Michael McGlynn announced the sean nós dancing just before the last set, I was expecting a display from his wife Kathleen and a couple others, and was pleasantly surprised when instead the floor filled with nearly everyone dancing the steps together! I had witnessed what for me was a new concept of sean nós dancing, done not for performance but purely for the pleasure of dancing it together. The few of us spectators were vastly outnumbered and were left feeling as though we should be up there with the rest of them!
At the start of the Saturday morning workshop Michael McGlynn paid tribute to the teachers who had taught here in the past. The first of these was Joe O’Donovan, who began the workshops here and taught for thirteen years. Other teachers included Mick Mulkerrin and Declan Morris. Ger Butler has taught here for the past seven years, except on one occasion when he was held up in Europe and his brother Colin filled in.
Ger warmed us up by throwing us in at the deep end—we quickly ran through the Claddagh Set with extra time devoted to the third figure. We repeated the cross chain until everyone could do it correctly, at least four times! We spent the rest of the morning on the South Sligo Lancers and still had time for a few two-hands before lunch.
The tea breaks at ceilis here are legendary for the generous quantities of home made goodies. During the workshop it was nearly an all-day tea break! It was served before the workshop, over the lunch break and in the breaks, all included in the reasonable fee.
After lunch, Ger taught the Moycullen Set for the first time. This comes from a village northwest of Galway city and has been recently revived by Marie Philbin. I had once danced it without the benefit of learning it and was totally baffled, so I was grateful to Ger for teaching it to me properly and making the baffling moves easy. We finished up the day’s training with another couple of two-hands and by popular demand, a repeat of the elegantly complicated and mentally challenging fourth figure of the South Sligo Lancers. We’d already danced it several times but it’s one of those figures which would still be enjoyable after a dozen repeats.
We had the honour of christening the main hall on Saturday night—it was the first time a ceili was held in it. The floor was perfect—well cushioned beneath and no talc required. The music of Glenside Ceili Band sounded better than ever thanks to the careful attention paid to acoustics in the hall. Curtains lined all the walls and special sound-absorbent panels were installed on the ceiling. Even with the tea tables at the back and rows of chairs on all sides, there was always enough space to dance, even with twenty sets! The programme was similar to the previous night, with all the same sets and a far bigger mass display of sean nós dancing. Michael McGlynn continued with his relaxed calling and revealed some very happy news—the Glenside’s box player Tom Flood became a father two days earlier! Michael claimed that Tom had already enrolled young Thomas Joseph Flood in button box lessons, claiming that Tom told him, “I became a millionaire playing the box, so I want him to become a millionaire as well.” Tom’s delight was plain to see, and clearly infected his music and all of us dancing to it!
At the Sunday morning workshop in the upstairs hall it was plain to see why there are so many sean nós dancers at the ceilis here—Kathleen McGlynn makes it easy and fun. She went through ten different steps, one after the other, numerous times during the two hours, so the forty dancers had plenty of practice. She even passed out a handout with all the steps described and encouraged us to practice them at home. We’ll also be taking away a bit of her love of sean nós.
Sunday afternoon gave us a taste of summer with warm temperatures and blazing sun. Many of those freshly returned from their week in Ibiza appreciated the combination of sun and sets; in fact the sand and sea were just a short walk away but everyone preferred to ceili indoors with Tim Joe O’Riordan. In honour of the musician from Cork, we deviated from the standard programme to have a go at the Sliabh Luachra Set, which Tim Joe called for us. He asked for a round of applause for his piano accompanist “Anne”, who today was in the form of John Davey of the Davey Ceili Band; Tim Joe’s wife Anne was looking after the family at home in Cork.
A waltz was called just before the break, with Tim Joe announcing that it was going to be led by Michael and Kathleen. They made a round of the floor, then everyone followed. Afterward, Jim McEneany made a presentation to them on behalf of the club’s committee, congratulating them on their 25 years of dancing, with warm applause from all. In the second half the increased enthusiasm for sean nós brought plenty of newcomers onto the floor. Michael announced the Cashel Set to end the ceili and the weekend, but Tim Joe kindly provided an overtime rake of reels to let us finish with a Connemara Set.
The joyful atmosphere lingered long after the music stopped, even as the chairs and tables were being taken away. Michael and Kathleen enjoyed the congratulations and thanks of their dancers, friends and family. I’d say the smiles never left their faces for at least a full week afterward.
The Glens of Antrim were again alive to the sound of music and dance for the set dancing weekend in Carnlough from 25th–27th April 2008. We were blessed by another beautiful weekend weatherwise, giving visitors the opportunity of seeing the glens and the coastline, at their best.
The set dancing workshop weekend restarted in Carnlough in 2007 after a gap of eleven years, Connie Ryan having presided over the last one in 1996. There continues to be great interest in set dancing with classes in Belfast, Waterfoot, Larne and Portrush, as well as Carnlough, throughout the year.
The opening session for the weekend took place in the Glencloy Inn with an informal gathering of local musicians and singers. We were delighted to welcome so many visitors arriving for the weekend from as far away as New Jersey, Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare, and nearer home from the Moy, Dungannon, Derry, Belfast, Larne and the Glens. A couple of figures from the Cashel, Clare Lancers and Plain sets were danced, with every spare inch of floor space being taken up by the dancers. The Wicklow and Kildare group kept us entertained with P J O’Leary taking over as fear an tí in between some solo dances!
The Saturday workshop with Pat Murphy was again held in the Community Centre and by 10am there were seven sets on the floor. Pat took us through the Clashmore Set from Co Waterford to start with and followed this, to the delight of all, with the Antrim Square Set. In the afternoon, Pat taught the Dromgariff Half-Set and finished with the South Sligo Lancers Set, where some fancy footwork was required.
Local ceili band Trasna, with Denis Sweeney on fiddle, Sean Quinn on accordion and Johnny McCrory on drums, provided the music for the ceili on Saturday night, and Pat called most of the sets, which was helpful for the beginners as well as those of us getting a bit forgetful! A feature of the night was the raffle, as Bill and Chris Steenson, jewellers in Glenarm and members of the Carnlough group, had designed two pieces of silver jewellery, a pendant and cuff links, with a set dancing formation and donated a choice of one or the other as first prize. Every woman at the ceili and workshop had her eyes on the pendant, but the lucky winner was the Trasna fiddle player, Denis, and he chose the cuff links. The good news is that the pendant will be raffled again next year, so this might encourage some people to come back to try their luck.
Pat was unable to take the workshop on the Sunday morning due to a family bereavement, and at very short notice his place was ably taken by Tim Flagherty, Belfast, who took us through two lovely sets, the Rosscahill and Williamstown.
The weekend finished in glorious sunshine, with Carnlough and the Glens looking resplendent and dancers, although tired and foot-weary, exhilarated from the dancing and the friendships made, with all looking forward to a repeat in 2009.
Emer Gallagher, Carnlough, Co Antrim
The seventeenth annual set dancing weekend took place in Portmagee, Co Kerry, from the 2nd to the 4th of May. It was a resounding success for everyone who took part. Portmagee is on the edge of the Atlantic with Valentia Island just over the bridge and in the most beautiful surroundings. Dancers converged from all quarters of the globe for the event and the craic and dancing, singing and music were out on their own.
Two local lads, Paddy and Séamus, played on the three nights in the Bridge Bar, which is the central venue for the weekend, and the dancing was almost nonstop. The Friday night session began at 9.30pm and many of the usual sets were danced, including the South Kerry and the Valentia Left and Right. It was great to see the local sets being danced at the weekend and of course the local musicians are the real experts for these. Sets were danced outside also to accommodate everyone. Many faithful dancers came from Bray, Dublin, Carlow, England, Corsica and Holland, and the craic was infectious.
The workshop on Saturday with Betty McCoy began with the Fermanagh Quadrilles, also the Antrim Square, which is a lovely short set and quite a favourite already, and finished with the South Galway Set. Timmy Woulfe did the two-hand dances from 4 to 5pm and a great number remained for these.
The night session in the Bridge Bar was at 9.30pm with the usual sets plus Caledonian and Cashel. This finished at 11.30pm and all adjourned to the community centre for the ceili with the Mort Kelleher Ceili Band, who played some tremendous music. Besides the usual sets there was a request for the Sliabh Fraoch and the Antrim Square, which was called by Carmel Kearns from Bray. A group of Corsicans who came especially for the set dancing weekend danced one of their native dances ably assisted by Anita Prunty and Frankie Moran from Bray. The ceili finished at 2am by which time everyone had danced their fill.
On Sunday at 11am, Mairéad Casey conducted the sean nós class. There was a great attendance, both young and old. All seemed to enjoy the class as there was no pressure and everyone could take it at their own pace.
At 1pm there was a rousing session at the Bridge Bar with a great number of musicians, singers and dancers. A group of men from Wigan enjoyed the craic and took part in the singing. A band of ladies from Holland joined the 3pm session of sets and waltzes with Jerry McCarthy and Liam Healy and were so impressed they intend coming in 2009.
Harmonix, a singing group, took over at 7.30pm and kept everybody entertained for two hours including many younger patrons who hip-hopped and bobbed to their hearts’ content. Paddy and Séamus played at 9.30pm for another lively night of sets, waltzes and the odd quickstep.
This weekend was action-packed from start to finish and great credit is due to Gerard and Pat Kennedy, owners of the Bridge Bar, and also to Beryl and Julian Stracey who give their all to this annual event. It was the ‘Best Yet Weekend’ in my opinion and enjoyed immensely by everyone, visitors and locals alike, and may it continue for many years to come.
Chris Gleeson, Kilfinane, Co Limerick
What a great idea, I thought, when I read of this new weekend in Blackpool, Set Dancing by the Sea, 9 to 11 May, with music by the dynamic Lough Ree Ceili Band and workshops by Gerard Butler. However, all was not to be as expected, because on the Wednesday prior to the event the advertised venue, Norbeck Castle Hotel, ideal for such an event because of its size, said it was cancelled. Calls to the organiser proved difficult for some attendees and even those who spoke to him on Thursday were not told of the new venue, the Ambassador Hotel. So when they arrived at the Norbeck on Friday they were told it was cancelled. Others like myself received letters on Thursday confirming the new venue.
On arrival at the Ambassador, my first impression was one of astonishment and bewilderment—it reminded me of that tv series Fawlty Towers. In fact, several humorous events which occurred over the weekend—leaking ceilings in the “ballroom”, no hot water, multi-tasking staff—made you feel you were in the middle of this comedy sitcom. However, the Ambassador Hotel must be thanked for trying to make our stay comfortable; after all it was not their fault.
The “ballroom”, technically the bar, had a dance floor which just was able to accommodate two sets maximum and the small stage was unsuitable for any band. Despite this, all 25 people booked turned up and the weekend got off to a great start with the ceili starting about 8.30pm. The Lough Ree played magnificently and if you closed your eyes you could imagine twenty or thirty sets on the floor instead of two. Their enthusiasm did not falter all evening despite the heat coming from the radiators which apparently could not be turned off. New friendships were forged and everyone was obliging to ensure no one missed a chance to dance to this great band.
Saturday morning was Gerard’s workshop. Some new attendees arrived from Berkshire and Leeds. We warmed up with the Claddagh Set and then Gerard taught a revived Galway set, the Moycullen—an interesting four-figure set consisting of two reels, a jig and polka, given to him recently by Marie Philbin. After lunch, dancing continued with steps, two-hands and the South Sligo Lancers.
Saturday night we were back on the floor with the Lough Ree. Once again we had a tremendous performance and got to dance the sets taught at the workshop. Unfortunately due to hotel restrictions about nonresidents, our new arrivals decided to return home. We also lost a few others who were dissatisfied with the venue and facilities.
Sunday’s workshop included the Gillen Set and sean nós.
I know we weren’t happy with the venue but we must sincerely thank Gerard and the Lough Ree Ceili Band for their commitment and dedication and for the enjoyment they gave us. They helped make the best of a badly organised weekend. It was an unique occasion and one I am glad to have been part of, but hope never to repeat.
Tracy Mullen, St Albans, Hertfordshire, England
It had its own brilliance
Friday, 9 May: Arrive at Manchester airport; manage to locate a guy that has been hired to drive us to Blackpool.
Norbreck Castle Hotel? No, the Ambassador Hotel. Change of venue. Also four star? No, no stars. Rien de rien.
Looks like Fawlty Towers, feels like Fawlty Towers, must be Fawlty Towers. Ah well, as long as the floor is okay to dance on. Can’t say it wasn’t. Bit small perhaps. Would hold two sets. Which is no problem as there are hardly more people at the weekend.
What is there to do? Head down and chuckle with laughter as one comical episode followed the next. So many things were fawlty that in the end it had its own brilliance, though I’m still not sure that there weren’t any hidden cameras.
The music? Lough Ree Ceili Band for three nights in a row. Boy, I could have danced and listened to them for another three nights, no problem. They are bound for greatness. Two solos by Brendan Doyle (accordion) and Brona Graham (banjo) were truly magnificent.
Ger Butler’s teaching then almost injected a bit of normality—South Sligo Lancers, Claddagh, the new Moycullen Set. Lovely, that last one, with mathematically amazing ways for ladies to get back home when they have been away. And then the Charleston, Spanish Jive and Flirtation Two-Step and some sean nós.
Sunday, 11 May: Mustn’t forget to mention that the organiser showed up Sunday evening and got an earful from lots of people.
With so few people attending, the atmosphere can be best described as cosy, and for once ladies were scarce. So the whole thing was memorable. I am still chuckling.
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford
Usually my mobile phone provides me with a morning wake-up call but no necessity for this at the set dancing weekend in An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, February 29th to March 2nd. Brian O’Kane of Fódhla Ceili Band provided all participants with a musical morning call with tunes like Beautiful Dreamer, Teddy O’Neill and even a rendition of Jingle Bells played on the corridors. It’s a bit like Santa Claus—you hear the music but you don’t venture to open your bedroom door to catch a glimpse! Brian’s wife Pat must accompany him along the way to open all the doors but next time I’ll peep through my door and satisfy my curiosity even if it’s only 7am!
The dancing was magic at this friendly, relaxed weekend. Michael Loughnane and I shared the teaching of sets and two-hand dances. On Friday night we thoroughly enjoyed the music of the O’Kane family and as usual, Michael included a few new sets to keep everyone literally on their toes and some two-hand dances also. Saturday was spent learning sets including Flight of Earls, Sliabh Fraoch and Antrim Square. Our ceili on Saturday night was refreshing, lively and thoroughly enjoyable. The music of Fódhla Ceili Band brings me back to the super céilithe we had in Seapoint Ballroom, Salthill, Co Galway, all those years ago. Their music has remained steady, joyful, melodic and thorough, giving all dancers an opportunity to dance their steps and movements gracefully. Míle buíochas and continued success to Fódhla!
When the ceili concludes, the participants, although exhausted, retire either to the bar or the drawing room where songs, music, dances and recitations last at least two hours. The comfort in An Grianán is truly amazing, with tea, coffee and biscuits available continuously and food to die for served up right through the weekend. Sunday morning was devoted to two-hand dances which I certainly enjoyed teaching and the dancers were loud in praise of their simplicity, inclusiveness and entertainment—very suitable for the conclusion of a super weekend. We earnestly look forward to next year already. Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís!
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
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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