last updated 11 February 2009
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 50

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

Clonea has it all

The Comhaltas weekend at Clonea Strand Hotel near Dungarvan, Co Waterford, 10–12 October, was one lovely weekend that had it all, all of what I like most: being greeted warmly, meeting lots of familiar people, close proximity, the strand, good workshops and teachers, a fine atmosphere, learning, enjoyable ceilis with great music to accompany our dancing—or is it that we accompany the music with great dancing? It is one weekend that folks come back to year after year. How many years? Mary Rossiter, chairperson of the Dungarvan branch of CCÉ, says it’s “ten and more.” Although she doesn’t dance much any longer, organising this weekend and listening to the music still gives her a buzz.

Of course, Mary is not on her own. There is Moll Shields, treasurer, Mary Duggan, secretary, and others working behind the scenes. And then you have John Creed and his wife Maura, who are also members of the committee. John teaches set dancing locally, but he might be better known for his old-style step dancing and the workshops he conducts across Ireland. Mary Rossiter called him “the Piper” as she addressed the crowd because, “He is the one who brings you all here,” and that is spot on. You can meet John everywhere at workshops and ceilis in Ireland.

After coming in the door for the Friday ceili, I spotted a lady I know from Switzerland who had come all the way for the weekend. She told me that although she hardly knew anyone she didn’t feel alone at all and she really enjoyed the weekend.

The first night started with Taylor’s Cross, whom I haven’t heard for a good while. Seamus Hynes from the Four Courts was with them on flute, and the music was “really sweet, isn’t it?” as one of my dance partners put it. We danced the Claddagh, Kilfenora and Antrim Square. For the first time I am conscious of how a set takes off, like an aeroplane, and lands on ceili dance floors all over, which is the case now with the Antrim Square. Lately I have had the pleasure of dancing it at nearly all the ceilis I’ve gone to. Most people seemed to know it well enough—at least I didn’t witness any major traffic jams! In the few years that I have been living in the southeast of Ireland, I got to know so many people in the set dancing scene—going to a local weekend like Clonea feels ever so comfortable and snug!

That night, I felt truly happy.

On Saturday morning Pádraig and Róisín McEneany started the full day workshop. They chose the Donegal, Monaghan, Ballyduff, East Galway, Killyon and Frère Nantais sets. Padraig’s teaching is clear and precise with attention to detail, helped by Róisín supervising individuals and sets on the floor. One particular way of letting something sink in was to do, say, the last figure of a set, and then straight after go over the second last and maybe more challenging one again, with only bits being called. I was able to memorise it quite well that way.

(At this stage, I would like to mention two ladies who hadn’t danced very long, and each had only danced as the woman, but one took the plunge, tried the man and, voilà, managed fine. Acts of bravery are committed everywhere, even in set dancing.)

At night, Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan played their uplifting tunes for us and there was fun, fun, fun to be had all ’round. Many a “yeehaw” and “woohoo” could be heard while simply floating around, forgetting the chores and trials of the everyday routine.

Sunday then brought Pádraig and Róisín back to the teaching grounds with a two-hand workshop, and then a gorgeous afternoon ceili was given to us by Brian Ború Ceili Band. (Congratulations, Joe Hughes, on your baby daughter! Is he tired? “No,” says he, “not too bad.” Long may it last!) The Derradda and West Kerry sets were called respectively by two well-versed teachers, Syl Bell and Timmy Woulfe. They certainly know how to hold the crowd and smoothly deliver the guts of the set to anyone who was uncertain.

And then, the ceili was over and the end of the weekend had arrived. We stayed chatting for a while, reluctant to move out of this particular zone. Some final hugs and goodbyes later, I found myself driving home, feeling wonderfully tired, with aching feet and joints that had been greased by the music, taking with me simply good recollections. Thank you, lads, I for one had a great time!

Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford

A northern twist

A friend from Carlow was to come to a ceili dancing weekend in Moville, Co Donegal, with me. I remember her text to me: “I thought set dancing keeps me sane. Then, I looked at the map!” I rushed to take a look at a map myself, and discovered that it’s hardly possible to go any further than Moville, diagonally across the whole country, passing through eight counties. After some internal debating and checking up on the state of my own sanity, the decision was made to go anyway, adding little bits to make the journey really worthwhile.

Leaving on Thursday, September 25th, and travelling as far as Carrick-on-Shannon, I joined a jiving class held in Roosky, Co Roscommon, by Gerard Butler. They had done three weeks at that stage, and this was their fourth and last session. I can’t jive, so grabbed the opportunity to learn how it’s done, and it clicked with me as Ger broke down the steps. This was good fortune, as I had always felt shy and inadequate (which was true) and thought I might be unable to learn it (which wasn’t true), and now am more confident and maybe will take the plunge!

On Friday I drove at a leisurely speed to bring me up to Sligo, and on to Donegal, and I was surprised at how good the roads have become and how little traffic there was. The weather gods were on the traveller’s side as well, and so a long trip was made really enjoyable, taking in the meandering rivers of the midlands, the lakes of Leitrim and Roscommon with all sorts of boats and yachts moored on them, the view of majestic Ben Bulben, the estuaries along the Donegal coast, a glimpse of Lake Eske and the hills around Donegal town. With the changes in landscape, the accents also changed, and often I was left trying to piece together what the hell someone had just said to me. The Donegal accent sounds melodious and also was hard for me to follow. For instance, instead of “house around,” they say something that sounded like “hays around.” Thank God, I copped on to that!

Arriving in Moville, a little coastal town north of Derry facing southeast, it was unbelievable how balmy the weather was. This was supposed to be wild and wet and windy Donegal, ragged mountains and rugged coastline, with sparse trees growing horizontally, and surfers catching big waves—well, there was no sign of any of that here. I installed myself in the Caiseal Mara where the weekend was held, a nice little hotel with friendly and helpful staff—so helpful in fact that when someone was needed to fill a set in Ger Butler’s workshop, he didn‘t have to do a lot of convincing to get one of the waitresses to join us. Then I took a stroll down to the shore where a specially created path leads along the coastline for miles, and everybody seemed to be out that evening. Very chatty folks they have here, in Donegal. I was embroiled in a number of conversations with complete strangers. One lady came up with a few cuttings of a hedge she had taken and asked me how she could make them grow—do I look like a gardener?

Back in the hotel, I read the papers and sipped mocha in the bar before getting ready for the first workshop. This was a jiving and two-hand workshop, given by Ger Butler, so I had a double dose of jiving lessons and felt that it wasn’t so bad any more. We also did the Back-to-Back Hornpipe, Spanish Jive, and Circle Waltz. People at the workshop seemed to be immensely interested to learn and enjoyed dancing them. Ger made people feel relaxed by cracking a few jokes, but foremost because he’s so relaxed and confident himself when teaching. That energy travels right across to everyone in the class. Alas, jiving is very tiring! Luckily, there was some time to recuperate before the ceili that night.

At about 10pm, we started a barn dance, which was a bit of everything. We even did the Connemara Set with Ger’s assistance, who quickly explained on the floor what people were supposed to do, as most were ceili dancers, interspersed with a few set dancers. And fair play to them, they picked it up no bother. When it came to dancing the Three Tunes, High-Cauled Cap and the Sweets of May, I didn’t do too badly at their game, as I had learned them before. And there were dances I hadn’t a clue about, but was dragged out all the same, and with the guidance of all the helpful people there managed to get through without making a complete ass of myself. Thanks, guys! Diane Cannon, who organised the weekend, was one of the band that night (vocals and keyboard) and ably provided music for all of us. With this night of mixed dancing, I felt myself easing into ceili dancing, a toe in the waters of the world of dancing with a northern twist.

The next day, there was an afternoon workshop with Joe Hegarty, a local ceili dancing teacher. I jumped at it, hoping it would help me to get around better, because that night there was a fíor céilí scheduled and I had never been at one. At the workshop, we learned the Antrim Reel, Morris Reel, Harvest Time Jig, Eight-Hand Reel, Cuchulainn Jig and Trip to the Cottage. Phew. So much to take in and no time to take notes—but the dances are truly beautiful. I wish we could mix a bit, introduce some ceili dances into set dancing and vice versa; maybe I am being naïve here. Next year, the ceili dancers with Joe will come to Dungarvan, Co Waterford, in autumn, and I hope we can organise a few local dancers to join in with them. It would be lovely if ceili dancing could spread a little down south too.

The fíor céilí that night will always stay with me. Ay, this was different. It was exhilarating, and the crowd got more excited as the night progressed, ending with people having naught but laughs and tickles and hopping around like wild things. As a rare treat, the Emerald Ceili Band from Fermanagh played, and they had Conor Woods, a young and gifted musician, as a stand in on the accordion. Their music was just right, spot on all the way, not too fast and the sound full and round. Dances like the Flight of the Earls (no, not the set), Sixteen-Hand Reel and Eight-Hand Jig were among the ones I ventured out to dance, not having to wait for too long to be invited! The few ceili dances that I was merely watching mesmerised me, so much so that I forgot to take photographs at times. Making contact with people was no problem at all, once my ears slightly adjusted to Donegalish and other northern accents. I was readily made a part of their community for the duration of the weekend, so I didn’t feel left out a bit although I didn‘t know anyone when I came there.

Things are a little different at a fíor céilí in terms of format compared to a set ceili. For instance, the band started late and then played on for a while, so the scheduled time was more of a guideline. The mc that night, Joe Hegarty, merely helped by announcing which group of dancers needed more hands, but no ceili dances were actually called, so we were on our own. And more rarely than in set dancing women were dancing the man‘s part. Also, steps didn’t seem to matter; some people did the rising step, others polka or reel steps. A house around could start on beat one or two and people took anything between two and four turns to complete one—there just didn’t appear to be an absolute as far as I could discern. When I asked Joe Hegarty about steps he said he didn’t mind as long as people were having fun and were able to keep up! Which made me feel completely at ease. I know now that ceili dancing has to become a part of my dancing life.

That fíor céilí experience in and of itself would have been justification enough to travel up. It certainly broadened my understanding and connection with dancing as a whole. Ay!

After a drawn-out Sunday breakfast and a last look at the sun drenched shore in Moville, I was southbound again. Back to Roosky, where I had started, to see a new ceili band that played for a charity ceili. Tico Tico they call themselves, a name of a tune. The band features Stephen Doherty (brother of Tommy from Swallow’s Tail) on accordion (Brendan Doyle was substituting for him at this ceili), Síofra McHugh (daughter of John McHugh, also from Swallow’s Tail) on keyboard, Ger Butler on drums, Brona Graham on banjo and David Doocey on fiddle. Their music was uplifting, rocky (drums), nicely paced and stirring (not shaken). Impressive for their first get together.

From there, I took the slow boat home (not to China) with all that had happened securely stored in the dancing history memory chest.

Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford

The Basingstoke boost

Carol Gannon and Kevin Monaghan organised an amazing event called the Setsmad Revival Weekend in Basingstoke, Hampshire, 19-21 September, aiming to dance 32 different sets over three days. They were inspired by the inaugural Manchester weekend in April this year created by Breffni O’Brien. With their excellent team of helpers, we were well looked after. We had a constant supply of tea and coffee, delicious cakes and a tasty lunch, and they even arranged for sunshine! The Old Basing Village Hall was ideal—roomy and light, with the high ceiling accommodating a balcony running the full length of the hall and providing a great vantage point.

Pádraig and Róisín McEneany taught at the workshop and, when necessary, called at the ceilis in their usual light-hearted yet precise manner. They kept the pace up, but with the best will in the world we didn’t quite achieve the 32 sets aimed for.

The Triskell Ceili Band, also from Co Louth, provided the fantastic music. I challenge anyone to sit still while they’re playing! On Sunday, all of my aches and pains suddenly vanished as soon as they started playing and energy was again in abundance!

I’ve been learning set dancing for about ten years and thoroughly enjoy workshops, appreciating the nuances of different sets and trying to acquire any special footwork for them. But so often these days we don’t even get to dance our newly learnt sets at that evening’s ceili, let alone at any other time. I’m finding this increasingly frustrating, all of these lovely sets, glimpsed and then never seen again. I’ve read with interest the letters to Set Dancing News about other dancers getting bored of dancing the same few sets at every ceili, wherever it is.

The Basingstoke weekend was just the boost my jaded dancing heart needed—a workshop catering for experienced dancers and three ceilis, with no set repeated! For the many of us with a few years of experience (albeit poor memories), aided by Pádraig or Kevin reminding and helping where required, it was magic! Judging by the excellent attendance, the smiling faces and the positive comments, I’m not alone in these views. I hope this is the second of many similar events.

Andi Beaumont, Ipswich, Suffolk

The Listowel phenomenon

Now there’s a weekend that’s been a phenomenon! It started with a bang five years ago, and has been a bumper weekend ever since. No need to gather momentum, to build it up slowly—it danced itself into existence and became an institution immediately in the annual calendar of events. The package has always included the spacious ballroom of the Listowel Arms Hotel, overlooking the salmon river and racecourse, a variety of workshops with great teachers, the best of bands and a wonderfully buzzing atmosphere that becomes a self-sustaining organism during the weekend. Run smoothly by a family team, Jerry O’Rourke, daughter Mary Philpott and son Michael O’Rourke, all you need to do is arrive and let things unfold.

And the first to unfold was a joint workshop by Edwina Guckian and John Cassidy. Edwina taught us some sean nós, and this is where we came across the Leprechaun (click your heels while leaping), the Horse (a toe-toe-heel-heel gallop), and the Scarecrow (wriggle hips John Joe Geraghty-style with arms held out)—hilarious stuff. The most enjoyable sean nós workshop I have attended so far. The new steps made me toss and turn later in the night trying to remember them correctly, and when I asked Edwina to show them to me again the next day and save my sanity, she did at once. In the second half John Cassidy taught steps for sets, and to watch him dance is a treat in itself. A young man, he is seen teaching now and again, and I hope he will conduct more workshops in the future. They are worthwhile to go to indeed!

Well-oiled after that dance session, everybody was ready for the first ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band. What a way to start, zero to one hundred in ten seconds! Some of the comments I heard suggested that they outdid themselves that night, and rightly so. Every instrument could be heard equally, and it made the music sound rich indeed. Ah, sleep was easy that night! If you have trouble sleeping, try dancing a workshop and ceili full throttle and see what happens. Of course, sometimes you may get wound up completely!

Next morning, I got the newspapers but no chance to read them; I breakfasted with a friend and then proceeded to Pat Murphy’s workshop. I was delighted when he announced the Moycullen Set, which I had done previously but was keen to see how Pat would teach it. A lovely set, four figures, all different and very beautiful. We got the opportunity to dance it later at the ceili with Pat calling it. The morning then finished with the South Kerry Set.

The way the Five Counties Ceili Band played was a big surprise in the afternoon. Their music was orchestral, dynamic, spacious and some of the best I have ever heard. They got me to be right there, right then, no room left for superfluous thoughts about other things—nothing mattered but gliding over the floor with all these wonderful people carried by this wonderful sound of music. I will remember them for the music they created this sunny afternoon in Listowel.

With little time to spare, dinner in the restaurant of the hotel was a short but delicious occasion, because the jiving workshop with Ger Butler was to start at 7pm. I couldn’t believe it when I counted nearly a hundred folks there! Obviously there is a need for it, and I for one am in need of tuition. Getting there, slowly, though! Ger showed us how it’s done (slow, slow, quick, quick, which he called numerically), emphasised upper body work (keeping elbows in and neck stiff!) and took time to go round the hall to people individually, for once sorting out arms rather than feet. He bagged a big round of applause at the end of his lively and stylish teaching, and we then had the chance to put it all into practice to the music of Martin Williams, who played waltzes and quicksteps for us.

I sneaked out before the end to go and get a chance to look at those papers, and ended up delayed again. Today’s papers rapidly became yesterday’s news.

Down again in time though for the night ceili with Swallow’s Tail. Gee, when they are good, they are really good. Another first time experience for me, when I stood dreamily absorbed in their music without any response in me to dance the current set—they were that good. Wow. Many happy campers on the floor made similar comments, and there were smiley faces everywhere. I ended up in a set with the barmy “five from Birmingham”—we were horsing around instead of housing around and my belly ached from laughing hard. Like little kids indeed! Moments to be cherished.

I was told that after the ceili there was a session with Seamus Begley; more sets were danced there and some fine singing could be heard. I heard a few stories, good stories that are staying with me, deeper stories that weave down from the highs, stories that have been facilitated by music, being told through verse and key. And maybe this happened because I was open enough to hear them, who knows. These contacts contributed to a sense of complete wellness. Thank you for sharing your stories with me.

Next morning I was tempted to stay in bed, but curiosity got the better of me, and Pat’s workshop was a fine one, so I am glad I didn’t miss it. He decided to do the Bonane Set, which has similarities to the Roscahill in some figures and originates from the Kenmare area in Kerry. And to finish the morning off, we did a few two-hands, the Cuckoo Waltz, the Charleston, which I love dancing, and the Waterfall Waltz, a very nice progressive four-hand dance.

On Sunday afternoon, it was time for the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. Lounging in the foyer beside an open fire trying in vain to read those by now updated, but still untouched papers, I saw people queuing at the doors forty minutes before the official start—magnetic Johnny! The air was tingling, and the band started us off with the Sliabh Luchra. From the word go, we went! It was the kind of ceili where the band gets stamps and claps and cheers on an ongoing basis. Starting on a high and staying right there throughout. The finest.

Leaving Listowel wasn’t easy and I thought of ways to stay on to hear the Lough Ree Ceili Band for the last ceili on Sunday night, but no could do. Driving home along the shore at Tarbert, I was feeling lucky—lucky to be able to dance (as in having the use of my two legs), to travel, to meet with people enjoying something together and to just have had a great weekend packed with everything I came for. Listowel seems to bring out the best in all. A phenomenal phenomenon.

By the way, when I got home, my husband talked to me about some of the world’s events over the weekend, but I had been on planet Set Dance and all I could do was to look sheepishly at the still neatly folded papers that I had accumulated.

Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford

An agenda for novices

Dear Bill,

A few comments on the beginner’s workshop organised by the Owenabue Valley Traditional Group on November 8th [and led by Timmy]. This group, more appositely known as the Carrigaline Set Dancers, is an adjunct to the Carrigaline GAA Club, which itself epitomises what the ideal GAA should be about, in its espousal of all the cultural aspirations of that organisation. In other words, action rather than just aspiration.

All its activities are centred on the fine clubhouse and playing pitches. Indeed, on arrival there on Saturday morning at 9.30am approximately, I was astonished to see a minor football team training hard for a county final the following day—wouldn’t have happened in our day! I almost forgot: a gentleman was busy removing chairs after the previous night’s line dancing!

This is the third year’s promotion of a workshop for beginners and after an initial sluggish beginning, the promotional drive seems to be taking effect: over the two sessions at least nine sets must have turned up. Happily, the majority seemed to be in their twenties or under, with the ladies in the majority, as usual!

Its proximity to Cork city means that a cosmopolitan clientele seems to attend functions there, whether workshops or ceilis; this was no different. I encountered French, Spanish, Italian and Polish learners, all keenly interested in this phenomenon called Irish set dancing. Of course the first advice had to be that there is no great mystery about it and, sure enough, it soon became obvious there wasn’t.

It was a laboured process initially, with many requiring individual help and here tribute must be paid to the local committee members, Kitty Murphy, the two Anne’s (Moylan and O’Mahony), three generations of the Cogan family, and the usual few I have omitted, for their help in trouble spots! Three figures of the Sliabh Luachra Set before the lunch break was significant progress under the circumstances.

In the afternoon, when Sliabh Luachra was finished, attention was turned to reel steps and sets. By now, a new group of dancers had arrived, but progress was speeded up and almost three figures of the Claddagh set were finished by day’s end. The tutor had probably learned more than the students; however, the students were the weariest! Experienced workshoppers would be better able to conserve energy.

Reaction to the day’s endeavours could be summed up as follows:

Where can I find the next beginners workshop?

Why aren’t there other such workshops?

Where will I find the music?

I pen these lines to suggest that, at a time when numbers attending ceilis are diminishing, there are prospective set dancers out there who would gladly participate if appropriate classes were available to give them the necessary confidence. Unhappily, that consideration doesn’t seem to be on the agenda of most workshop organisers: the profit margin seems to be the main criterion! Anyhow, novices are uncomfortable when they are with experienced students.

Those who belong to the old school of set dancers bemoan the sidelining of learning new sets for extra ceilis, jiving classes, sean nos, brush dancing, etc. All these admirable activities curtail the time available for the original Connie Ryan prescription. As a result, set dancing had been downgraded in the pecking order of things, thus meaning that the contracting agenda for ceilis is disenchanting those who favour general evolution, which in turn, will lead to disillusion with the pastime of set dancing.

I would welcome comment, especially from those who disagree. Or is profit the only motive for promoting set dancing?

Happily, the Owenabue Group seems to have a broader agenda than most. To which I say: take a collective bow, Barry Cogan and your team.


Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

Killybegs weekend

Ireland’s busiest fishing port is the town of Killybegs on the southern coast of Co Donegal. The harbour is the real centre of town, with streets leading down to it and houses overlooking it. Fishing and pleasure boats are always coming and going, and even large cruise liners stop here—eleven are expected in 2009—thanks to the €50 million deep-water pier completed in 2004 which never has less than 12 metres of water. Killybegs treats their visiting cruise passengers very well—a dedicated committee looks after their interests and promotes on-shore activities in and around town. The people of Donegal think so highly of the Killybegs Cruise Committee that they were nominated for a Donegal Star Award. This award honours those making a valuable contribution to society and was presented on October 10th in Donegal town.

Meanwhile on the same night in Killybegs, the second annual set dancing weekend was getting underway in the Bay View Hotel, organised by Kathleen McGuinness. As I arrived into the ballroom for the ceili, I was surprised she wasn’t around to greet me and the many other visitors. She only strolled in after the ceili was underway, with a beaming smile on her face—she was just back from the award ceremony where she accepted the award as one of three members of the cruise committee. She gave all of us a warm welcome and a needless apology for the late arrival.

Two-hand dancing has long been the most popular type of traditional social dance in Donegal, though in recent years set dancing has become enormously popular—at least seven annual weekends are advertised in the county in Set Dancing News. Kathleen organised a weekend in Killybegs last year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Flight of Earls and it was such a success she had to do it again this year. It was based in the Bay Tree Hotel, where I was lucky enough to be accommodated in a room with a four-poster bed and a picture window revealing a bird’s-eye view of the harbour.

At the opening ceili on Friday night I was delighted to have a chance to dance to the Emerald Ceili Band, represented tonight by Matt Ward and Janette and Paul Mongan, and as much fun to dance to as ever. The sets included the Derradda and Mazurka, and local teacher Clement Gallagher called the challenging ceili dance, the Gates of Derry. The hotel was clearly pleased to have us present, as they supplied an enormous amount of cake, biscuits, sandwiches and hot food for the tea break; the manager was loudly cheered when he announced that the bar was remaining open till 6am.

Those of us travelling to Killybegs on Friday were confronted with so much relentless precipitation that I was certain I’d arrived in the Irish monsoon season. On Saturday there was good news and bad news—sunshine and blue skies swept the wet away and revealed the town in all its glory, but those of us participating in the set dancing workshop in the ballroom were only able to experience it in our imagination. Fortunately Pat Murphy distracted us with an entertaining selection of sets—the Tory Island, Antrim Square and Moycullen. The last of these was the day’s highlight, with its unusual techniques of partner swapping—someone referred to it as speed dating! In the Tara Hotel across the street there was another workshop where Edie Bradley taught a long list of two-hand dances, including the Charleston, Dinky Two-Step and Millennium Barn Dance.

We relived a bit of the workshop at the Saturday night ceili when Pat called the Antrim Square and Tory Island sets and Edie helped us through a sequence of her lovely two-hands. Matt Cunningham supplied perfect music for all the dances, played beautifully. At the end of the ceili, it was most unusual to find him and the band so relaxed and unhurried. Usually after a ceili they have to pack up and rush home, but tonight they were staying overnight like the rest of us and had nothing more to do than enjoy the benefits of the late residents’ bar. Matt shared laughs with dancers, and Larry Cooley, the band’s piano accompanist, demonstrated his encyclopædic knowledge of the latest jokes. I can only remember this one: “What’s the difference between a market trader and a pigeon? The pigeon can still put a deposit on a Ferrari.” Soon a sing-along started and no doubt was still in progress at 6am, though I was long asleep by then.

It was another bright morning on Sunday when Pat and Edie shared the microphone in a combined workshop of both sets and two-hands. When that concluded, Gearóid Mulrooney, who brought a coachload of fifty dancers from Galway, spoke for all of us in praising Pat, Edie and Kathleen for making such an enjoyable weekend. He was already thinking ahead and said he’d booked his group back into the hotel for next year! But this year wasn’t over yet, and Matt made more magic music for the last ceili on Sunday afternoon, sending us home feeling great and longing for a return to Killybegs.

Bill Lynch

The magic of Manchester

The annual Sean Dempsey Set Dancing Festival in Manchester, England, 24–26 October, was a weekend of sheer magic. This year the festival celebrated its 21st birthday. I travelled from Shannon Airport in the company of Timmy Woulfe and the members of the Lough Ree Ceili Band. Expectations were high and they were all surpassed. On arrival at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, the night began with a sumptuous buffet of a large selection of both hot and cold food.

This centre was also the venue for our first ceili. Colman Murtagh, the chairman of the organising committee, welcomed everyone and our first ceili got under way at 8.30pm with the superb music of the Copperplate Ceili Band. We started with the Clare Lancers and as the night progressed we danced a wonderful selection of sets, including North Kerry, Sliabh Luachra, and Ballyduff called by this correspondent, and two-hand dances called by Mary Murphy from Dublin.

The second half of the ceili began with the official launch by John Hennessey. No stranger to this festival, John was one of the key people starting it with the late Sean Dempsey and was involved for its first fifteen years. He was delighted to launch the festival and wished everyone a brilliant weekend. He said Sean would be proud to see the festival celebrate its 21st birthday. The second half of the ceili got into full swing with the exuberant music of the Lough Ree Ceili Band. Dancers seemed to have gained new energy. In total we danced eleven sets, including the High-Cauled Cap.

The dancing competitions got underway at the Longfield Suite in Prestwich on Saturday morning. The standard of the competitors was superb, most enjoyable and colourful, as was the music by four local musicians, Stephen Prosol, Eddie Farrell, Emma Sweeney and Sean’s son Brendan Dempsey. The adjudicators Mary Murphy, Michael Gunn and Jim Kelly had a difficult task for the day. In total, nine competitions took place. The big prize for the mixed open competition was a holiday in Ibiza 2009 sponsored by Gerry Flynn of Enjoy Travel, which went for the second year to the Atha Caoire dancers from Dunmanway, Co Cork, who danced the Borlin Polka Set. Their leader Joe Mannix was ecstatic with the win.

The ceili that night saw the Copperplate Ceili Band first on stage and the Lough Ree played for the second half. The Longfield Suite is a huge hall and the crowd was nicely comfortable. We danced a large selection of sets, with Barbara Aherne calling the Paris and Skibereen, Timmy Woulfe calling the West Kerry and this correspondent calling the Borlin. At the changeover of bands, the Atha Caoire dancers gave us a display of two figures of their winning set.

Sunday was to be a rest day, as there were no junior competitions held this year, but no one had reckoned on plans made by Timmy Woulfe and this correspondent. We spoke about the newly revived Moycullen Set from Co Galway, then a dialogue with Colman and Josephine resulted in finding a venue on the other side of town—a workshop was on the cards! Enda McGlone, the accordion player with the Copperplate, and Johnny Duffy, banjo player with the Lough Ree, came along to supply the magic music. We had a super afternoon workshop dancing the Moycullen Set with dance master Timmy. Next year it is planned to have workshops as part of this festival.

Sunday night our ceili was back in the Irish World Heritage Centre, again with the Copperplate and the Lough Ree. As was par for the course we danced eleven sets tonight. Julie Corrigan from Dublin called the South Sligo Lancers and this correspondent called the Ballycommon. It was marvellous to dance less familiar sets.

This weekend was a magical experience. The organisers epitomise the true meaning of a hundred thousand welcomes. It always feels like a homecoming each year I return to Manchester. Sean Dempsey, you can be happy that the custodians of your festival are top notch. Mark your dancing diaries for the October bank holiday weekend in Manchester 2009 if you too could do with some magic in your dancing world.

Joan Pollard Carew

Poolside pleasure in Portugal

Fleadh Portugal was enjoyed by over 1200 holidaymakers from October 2nd to 16th in the superb four-star Hotel Montechoro in Albufeira on the Algarve coast. On Thursday the 2nd I arrived just in time for the last sitting for dinner. Showered and changed, I just got the last few sets danced on the superb wooden floor on the tenth floor, our venue for our nightly ceilis. Danny Webster was in great form and played his usual lively music. Joe Mannix from Co Cork was our mc. I was delighted to dance the Sliabh Fraoch Set. Down in the ballroom on the ground floor, Finbar Black followed by Catherine Darcy and Images kept the social dancers happy.

Friday morning by the pool on the newly erected wooden floor we had our first set dancing workshop with Mickey Kelly teaching the Antrim Square Set. The floor was packed with experienced dancers and beginners. Mickey in his usual nurturing style coaxed and encouraged the beginners along. He concluded his class with the Waltz Country Dance. I counted fifteen sets all having a brilliant time.

At our welcome meeting with drinks and finger food, organiser Gerry Flynn addressed the crowd, welcomed everyone and spoke of the extra work involved in getting everyone to Portugal due to airlines going in to liquidation. He apologised to clients who had longer or more difficult journeys and said this was beyond his control, and hoped that this inconvenience would not effect their holiday.

We ate lunch by the pool in the brilliant sunshine. At 2pm Joe Mannix gave a workshop on the tenth floor. We danced the Sliabh Fraoch Set and sean nós steps in hornpipe time. Back by the pool under the canopy, the wooden floor got a real test as Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh played for our first outdoor ceili. The calling was shared by Mickey and Joe. We danced seven sets; included in this was the Derrada and Sliabh Fraoch.

The ceili tonight was packed with eager dancers all set for a good night. They were not disappointed as we had the brilliant music of the Copperplate Ceili Band and mc duties again shared by Mickey and Joe. When Joe announced the West Kerry Set most dancers let out a big hurray! It has become popular to dance a greater variety of sets and a good mix of polka sets at ceilis in recent times. It’s wonderful to dance all the lovely Co Clare reel sets but it’s a breath of fresh air to have some lesser known sets danced also.

Saturday morning by the pool Joe Mannix was back in action as our tutor. Conscious of the large crowd of beginners he decided to teach the Connemara Set and then the Sliabh Luachra. I counted twelve sets enjoying Joe’s gentle teaching style.

Each day on the tenth floor at 1pm there was a ballroom class, and in the main ballroom Seamus Melvin taught his jive workshop. Set dancers gathered back by the pool in the afternoon sunshine to dance to Danny Webster. Our ceili tonight was another brilliant one with the Annaly Ceili Band providing the classy music.

Sunday morning, like every other morning during the festival, began with Mass on the tenth floor. The set dance workshop started at 11am with Mickey Kelly at the helm. He taught the Derradda Set, the Waltz Country Dance by popular demand, and concluded with St Bernard’s Waltz. Joe Mannix gave the second workshop of the day, deciding to do the Caledonian Set. Our ceili today by the pool saw Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh back on stage. The Copperplate Ceili Band gave us another exuberant night’s dancing. We had a good variety of sets and once again we danced the West Kerry. Numbers were down at all the events as a large crowd had taken the day trip to Fatima.

Monday morning Joe Mannix danced the Sliabh Luachra Set at his class by the pool, then Mickey Kelly took over and taught the lovely East Mayo Set. Joe then concluded the workshop by teaching sean nós hornpipe steps. Danny Webster took the stage for our afternoon ceili and we danced the sets from the class. The tenth floor tonight hosted Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh and we had a tremendous ceili. Accomplished dancers and beginners mixed well and everyone was comfortable with the calling as necessary given by Joe Mannix.

Tuesday saw another day of brilliant sunshine and a shared class by the pool. Mickey began with the Ballyvourney Jig Set and then taught the Breakaway Blues. Joe Mannix took over and taught the Borlin Polka. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh provided the magic music for the afternoon ceili by the pool. The Annaly Ceili Band took the stage for our ceili at 9pm. We had a superb night’s dancing to their soul searching tunes.

Wednesday was the final day of the first week’s festival. We had another shared workshop. Joe danced through the Ballyvourney Jig, Sliabh Luachra, Connemara and concluded his final class with sean nós hornpipe steps. Mickey took over and we danced the East Mayo and Antrim Square sets.

This afternoon we had our talent competition and fancy dress parade, hosted by Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly assisted by Pat Jordan. It’s amazing the amount of talented people that this festival gathers! I would not like the task of selecting a winner, and I am sure quite a bit of deliberation took place before the winner Mary Costello was announced. She danced a lovely old step dance called the Mazurka. The fancy dress parade was both imaginative and colourful. The winner was Thomas Howley from Scotland; his theme was Her Majesty. Nora McCarthy from Bristol in England won the draw for a holiday for two.

The final ceili of the first week saw the wonderful Copperplate on stage. The usual sets were the order of the night with a few surprises like the Borlin called by Joe Mannix. Some holidaymakers were returning home in the morning but they still danced every last step before retiring.

Thursday of week two was upon us. Mickey Kelly held a workshop by the pool and taught the Antrim Square Set and a few of his lovely two-hand dances. Danny Webster was back on stage on the tenth floor for the night ceili.

As crowds gathered for Mickey Kelly’s workshop on Friday morning it was easy to see the new arrivals. With the miserable summer in Ireland and Britain the newcomers were a whiter shade of pale. Mickey Kelly got everyone dancing his beloved Derradda Set and the Antrim Square. Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band gave us a brilliant night’s set dancing on the tenth floor.

Sunday morning at 11am we had a new set dancing teacher, Bronagh Murphy from Co Waterford assisted by her sister Leeann. Bronagh taught the lovely Rathcormack Set from the area of Co Waterford where the girls grew up.

In the second week it became evident that we had a good gathering of ceili dancers and arrangements were made to hold fíor céilithe for them. Danny Webster, no stranger to any form of music, kept the 25 dancers happy on the tenth floor from 3 to 4.30pm. The Copperplate were back on stage for the night ceili on the tenth floor. Bronagh Murphy was mc for the night. Included in the usual list of sets was the Rathcormack from the morning class.

Back by the pool Sunday morning Bronagh Murphy taught the lovely Cúchulainn Set. I counted fifteen sets, with many beginners. I spoke with some of the class afterwards and they were loud in their praise of both Bronagh and Leeann. These girls have a lovely style of teaching, most relaxed and encouraging. Bronagh is the more vocal sister but Leeann gets a lot done in a quiet way.

Danny Webster played for the ceili at 9pm. A large crowd gathered and the sets were brilliant with good clear calling, just enough to keep everyone especially the beginners happy and comfortable. Bronagh, you did a super job.

Monday morning we had Mickey Kelly back giving his workshop by the pool. He taught the East Mayo Set to the ten sets who had gathered, then concluded with the Pride of Erin Waltz and Spanish Jive. The Copperplate gave set dancers a dreamy night’s dancing with mc duties shared by Bronagh and Mickey.

Downstairs in the ballroom things were hotting up for the first heat of the waltzing competition. The bands on stage were Sharon Turley, Pat Jordan, Eddie Lee and Catriona O’Sullivan. The night concluded with a tribute to Joe Dolan by Pascal Brennan from Athlone and a former member of Joe’s band. Dermot Hegarty in his introduction said that Joe Dolan said himself that Pascal sang his songs better than himself. Pascal has a wonderful stage presence and a brilliant voice and wore a white suit synonymous with Joe, but in his own words, there was only ever one Joe Dolan and he would never presume to replace him. He said he was very happy to sing Joe’s songs in his memory.

Tuesday saw the Murphy sisters back by the pool teaching the Claddagh Set. They spent considerable time explaining in detail the cross chain in the third figure of the set. Everyone was delighted, especially the large group of beginners.

By the pool this afternoon Danny Webster took over the stage for a fíor céilí and the night ceili saw Swallow’s Tail on stage.

Today Wednesday was finale day. Two weeks had flown by in the brilliant sunshine with magic music and dancing and the best of company as the top treat of all. Mickey Kelly gave the final set dancing workshop, teaching the Derradda and East Mayo by popular demand, then concluding with the Spanish Jive and Military Two-Step.

This afternoon was party time with the talent show and fancy dress parade, hosted by Curtis Magee and Michael Cleary. Like last week, the talent and contribution of the holidaymakers was spellbinding. The winner was Co Limerick man Joe O’Shea who sang his own composition written nine years earlier in memory of his late brother. The words tore at my heartstrings, and his rendition was most emotional. The fancy dress parade was excellent with lots of effort by everyone. The winner was Mary Webster (Danny’s wife) dressed as Michael Cleary’s new girlfriend. The grand prize draw winner of a holiday for two was Maureen Brady from Dublin.

The final ceili of the festival got under way at 9pm sharp. The Copperplate Ceili Band supplied the music and a brilliant night’s dancing ensued. Downstairs the grand finale included Curtis Magee, Michael and Breege, Limelight and Pascal Brennan with his repeat of the Joe Dolan Tribute. The final of the waltzing competition saw the prize won by Christine Cummins from Co Waterford and Liam Hall from Co Tipperary.

Fleadh Portugal 2008 had come to a close. All we had left to do now was bid adieu to our old and new friends. It was with a heavy heart that I double checked the notice board for my early morning flight.

Let your mantra for 2009 be “Albufeira here we come.”

Joan Pollard Carew

Jewel of a festival

The Diamond Coast Hotel in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, hosted its inaugural weekend festival of set dancing from 7th to 9th November. From the moment we checked in to the superb and beautifully appointed hotel on Killala Bay, it was evident that this was going to be a weekend to remember. The festival was the brainchild of Oliver Fleming to raise funds for the Mayo Cancer Support Association, in conjunction with the hotel and Gerry Flynn of Enjoy Travel.

Friday evening started off at 7pm with social dancing to music of the husband and wife team called the Duets from the Ballina area of Co Mayo. They are accomplished musicians and vocalists and their selection of songs was most enjoyable. Oliver Fleming then gave a class in social dances—old time waltz, jive, quickstep and foxtrot. Numbers at the class were large and everyone had a fun time. I was delighted to notice that most of the dancers were set dancers. Oliver has a gentle yet thorough style of teaching with the emphasis on fun. The Duets played for the duration of the class which went on until 9.30pm.

The first ceili of the weekend got under way at 10pm with the mighty music of Brian Ború Ceili Band. We danced all the usual Co Clare Sets tonight. I counted forty sets, all in jubilant mood stepping it out all night. The ballroom is huge and the maple floor pure magic. Midway through the ceili everyone was offered tea and biscuits compliments of the festival. This was a standard practice for the duration of the weekend. We also had tanks of cool water a-plenty for the weekend. When the ceili finished at 1am we had social dancing in the hotel bar to the music of the Duets. It was 4am before some dancers retired.

Saturday morning at 11am Gerard Butler started his set dancing and sean nós class. Gerard began by getting us to dance the Corofin Plain Set to warm us up, or perhaps I think to wake us up. We then danced the Moycullen Set. This is a four-figure set from Co Galway revived by Marie Philbin. There are some lovely moves and I would bet with anyone that it will be danced up and down the country in the near future. I counted sixteen sets all enjoying Gerard teaching. He then went on to teach sean nós steps. The dancers all remained and enjoyed the dancing up to lunch time.

During lunch I heard a Connemara reel being played and followed the magical sound. I was delighted to see five young musicians in a session in a corner of the bar. They told me they had been playing together for the past seven years and all go to secondary school together in Ballina. They call themselves the Bofield Ceili band. I think we will hear more from this talented group in the future.

Back in the ballroom, Gerard continued the afternoon workshop by concluding the sean nós steps then he taught the South Sligo Lancers Set. As Gerard said, “We can’t be in Sligo and not dance a Sligo set.” To conclude the class, we danced the Moycullen straight through with Ger calling for us. He is a first class teacher and a truly talented natural dancer. He just loves to dance, and his love of dancing is infectious. Our class concluded at 4pm as we had Mass in the hotel.

We had more social dancing at 5pm in the ballroom with music by Catherine Darcy and Images, and a guest appearance by Linda Welby, composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer. Linda hails from Loughrea, Co Galway, but is now living in Roscahill. We then had a waltzing competition when dancers put in to practice the tuition that Oliver had given them on the previous evening. The winners were Seamus Butler (Ger’s father) and his partner, Martina Nallen. The evening dancing concluded at 7pm with a delightful selection of quicksteps.

After a delicious dinner, dancers crowded in the ballroom for the exuberant music of the Copperplate Ceili Band beginning at 10pm. It was great to dance the Antrim Square Set and Gerard Butler also called the Moycullen for us. We had a superb night’s dancing and numbers remained steady at approximately forty to forty-five sets.

Sunday morning from 11am to 1pm we enjoyed a wonderful workshop in two-hand dances with Marie Garrity. Included in her list was the Highland, Military Two-Step, Circassian Circle, Spanish Jive, Whispering Foxtrot, Swedish Masquerade, Charleston and Windsor Waltz. I counted approximately sixty dancers all enjoying this workshop. Marie is an accomplished tutor and a joy to learn from.

The afternoon and final ceili of the weekend began at 2pm on the dot. Once more we were privileged to have the magical music of the Copperplate Ceili Band to dance to. All the familiar sets were again danced with the Claddagh and Antrim Square as the real treats. Numbers grew as the evening continued when lots of the local dancers arrived.

Just before the conclusion of the ceili there was a grand prize draw for two tickets to the second week of Fleadh Ibiza, courtesy of Gerry Flynn. The ticket was drawn by Philomena Flynn, Gerry’s sister and the winner was local lady Mary Hallinan from Culleens. Tom McGinley and Angela Kirrane, chairman and manager of Mayo Cancer Support Association, thanked everyone for supporting the weekend, Gerry Flynn for his generosity in sponsoring the big prize and Oliver Fleming and his team who had done Trojan work to ensure this festival was a success. This was greeted by a round of applause by everyone. Our ceili concluded with the Ballyvourney Jig Set followed by the Plain Set.

Many dancers gathered themselves for home. Those who stayed behind had a superb night’s dancing from 7 to 9.30pm in the ballroom to the Duets Band. Afterwards we danced until late to Gerry Duffy from Crossmolina, who played reels to die for in a Connemara Set. As we bade each other good night there was no doubt that this weekend was the biggest and best weekend festival in Connaught. Most dancers have already booked their rooms for next year. Mark your diaries for 6th to 8th November 2009.

Joan Pollard Carew

"Are you to be at the Nevele next time?"

Such references to a dance weekend have been passed between dancers for more than ten years. Gertie Byrne’s Number 1 Irish Weekend, held at a resort hotel in the Catskills Mountains near the town of Ellenville, New York, has long been just “the Nevele” for many.

Dancers wondered if the character of the weekend would change when Gertie moved the venue a couple of hundred yards from the Nevele to Honor’s Haven Resort. Would the rooms be as comfortable? Would the food be as plentiful and tasty? Would the same roomy dance floor be there? Would there be the same fine mix of music and other entertainment? We chose to attend the 2008 edition, October 31st to November 2nd, and were not disappointed!

Gerard Butler kept the set dancing going nicely. His Saturday workshop included the Moycullen Set, a bit of sean nós and the Spanish Jive two-hand. Sparkling dance music was provided by Michaél Sexton and Pat Walsh, Pete Kelly and the Lough Ree Ceili Band. Frustratingly for all, one of the keyboards misbehaved then finally quit late in the weekend. Ger demonstrated his versatility and talent by playing drums with Lough Ree. I particularly enjoyed the set of tunes they played for the final figure of the Plain Reel Set.

The first ceili of the weekend was very crowded. The smooth, portable timber floor just didn’t have enough panels. Gertie quickly recognized the error and had the floor enlarged before the next dance session. For the rest of the weekend dancing was on a spacious, comfortable floor.

During one of the mealtimes Gertie announced she was going to schedule a #1 Irish Weekend for 2009.

Let’s dance!

Larry E Taylor, Stow, Ohio

"London cocktail"

I really thought London would be like what I remembered from English lessons in school: Nelson’s grand statue overseeing Trafalgar Square; orderly queues in front of bright red double decker buses; a whiff of stiff upper lip in the air with gentlemen in dark suits hurrying along, the Financial Times pressed tightly to their sides with their elbows; very posh and civilised afternoon tea in pretty turn-of-the-century coffee houses (maybe that was Vienna, actually).

Instead, Nelson came home preserved in a barrel of brandy, because he died at Trafalgar and was kept intact for his homecoming by alcohol. The buses are bright red indeed, but the queues are not as orderly as in my seventies English school book. And yeah, there were some gentlemen in dark suits hurrying along, but more than that, a multicultural, vibrant, colourful cocktail of Asian, Caucasian, Arabian, Afro-American, Far Eastern and any other nationality and race you can imagine. Travelling in the Tube, listening, the concoction of languages becomes a concerto with different instruments playing in harmonious waves, waxing and waning. Laughter though is universal, and so, of course, is dancing. There was a Japanese girl in the Irish Centre in Camden Town who discovered set dancing first in Australia, and took it up again as she moved to London to study homeopathy. Rural Ireland seemed a long way away.

The most stunning thing though was breathing. Since the introduction of a congestion charge (vehicle toll) into central London, traffic, and navigating through it, is a piece of cake. Apart from black taxis, red buses, an odd Lamborghini, Merc or Maserati, the roads were silent in comparison to what we expected the streets of London to be. So breathing was not a problem. What was a problem was trying not to spend two arms and two legs in this metropolis. My long-suffering, non-dancing husband got dragged along with the promise of him being able to take in all the magnificent sights (the London Eye, Big Ben, the Zoo, the Thames and its bridges with the Tower thrown in, etc), sample a global cuisine (like Buddha’s Delight in a Vietnamese restaurant, awesome) and go see some really big motorbike shop somewhere in the south of London. (The good news is that there was a really big motorbike shop and total satisfaction ensued savouring Ducatis, MotoGuzzis and Triumphs—a rare opportunity for him indeed. Luckily, we had left the credit card at home, each thinking the other had carried it.) Two experiences though took the biscuit: the Science Museum, and tea of fresh spearmint leaves served in a little silver jug straight out of Ali Baba—I couldn’t resist rubbing it, but no genie. The Science Museum houses rockets, shuttles and the recreated moon landing pod complete with the ladder that Armstrong climbed down, and setting foot on the surface, uttered his famous few words. Impressive. But, phew, what a sensory overload on the first day! To chill, we got off the bus at Hyde Park Corner, and joined other people sunbathing in deck chairs on the green, watching joggers, bicyclists and horses go by and a couple of guys practising what looked like Tae Kwan Do. Thank goodness for the parks, great havens they are for weary sightseers.

But it all works with the twelve million or so people living in Greater London—if you know the rules. For instance, five o’clock in Victoria Station is a stampede of people in the direction of the turnstiles, and if you want to cross the hall from one side to the other, you’d better wait or risk being overrun. I know, because I foolishly tried and got lots of shoves and pushes as I manoeuvred across, but in another way it’s the city that knows how to queue. Queue, queue, queue. The Primark store on Oxford Street, for example. Women thought nothing of queuing for thirty minutes for the changing rooms, and then another thirty minutes at the cash points. Poor Rainer, my better half, had to have a large cappuccino after that experience, as he was put in the line to queue for cash by some mean woman he was with, while she was browsing the aisles. Evil knows no limits.

Wait for it, there was dancing as well!

Because on Saturday, October 25, in the Irish Centre in Camden Town, just a short Tube ride away from Victoria where we stayed, an all-day set dancing workshop and a ceili at night were held, all part of a ten-day Irish festival of music and dance called Return to Camden Town. Gerard Butler was in charge of the workshops of the initial weekend this year. Terry O’Donnell, who is on the organising team, said that they booked different teachers every year. Ger did a great job in his lovable mix of two-hands, sets and sean nós dancing, and in fact, people requested more sean nós at the end of the workshop when there was a little time left. Best of all, though, was him making a mistake and blatantly being annoyed with himself. We thought, surely, if he makes mistakes, so can we without feeling bad about it! Terry O’Donnell paid him a lovely compliment by saying that it had been his ambition for a while to get Gerard Butler to teach the workshop, because “this man was born to dance.” Agreed.

The set I enjoyed dancing most was the Seit Doire Cholmcille. Great variety and yet a beautiful flow to it. And I learned a couple of new sean nós steps à la Butler, which according to him is not about dancing them the way he does, or in a particular sequence, but making sean nós your own, being free in a freestyle dance. Ger said that once he danced to a single instrument playing a fabulous tune; the music carried him and his feet became the percussion for the music (wearing, no doubt, his trademark pointy shoes).

Lots of people filled the fine hall at night for a ceili with the Davey Ceili Band, and one of the special moments was realising that I felt harboured from that big and very bright world out there by the familiarity of music and dance. The sensory overload was calmed, and I returned to a state of feeling centred. Incredibly, I hadn’t been aware of how scattered I had felt before I turned to the dance floor.

Sunday’s workshop with the much loved South Sligo Lancers (much loved obviously by Ger) set me up for two more days of input, input, input London style. And we did spend two arms and two legs, but what the heck, now we’ve been to London, took in the craze that is Camden Town market (punk meets Count Dracula meets drag queen), looked down on a sun-drenched city silhouette from high up the Millennium Wheel, saw the homeless taking up temporary residence outside Her Majesty’s Theatre at nightfall (“Have you seen the old girl who walks the streets of London, dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?”) and smelled incense in every second doorway. What a melting pot of . . . everything! But with good Irish music and set dancing, I was able to weather it all.

Chris Eichbaum

"Laughing in Basel"

October 25, Autumn. The leaves had changed to orange and red and after a time-out the Basel weekend workshop and ceili was organised again in Riehen, a village just north of Basel in Switzerland.

Teaching us, with a watchful eye and a gentle humour, was Jim Monaghan from Dublin. While waiting for the last stragglers to register and change their shoes, we were taught the Britannia Two-Step. Then we got down to the Black Valley Square Jig Set, the Cuchulainn Set, the Killyon Set and the Antrim Square Set, a programme that was interesting for the more experienced dancers but also had something for beginners.

In the evening ceili we danced to the music of the Swaree Ceili Band, a group of young talented German musicians. As the dancing went on until late, we were all grateful that the clocks were put back that night.

On Sunday we started with the Cor Beirte (Two-Hand Reel), something easy to wake us up. This was followed by the Sliabh Fraoch Set and we finished with a fun set put together by Jim. He calls it the Kuss Set (kuss is German for kiss) and is composed of two polka figures—the fourth figure of the Mayo Lancers and the third figure of the Melleray Lancers. At times we were laughing so much that we almost forgot to dance.

In the afternoon there was another ceili with the Swaree Ceili Band. The time flew by and before we could turn around it was five o’clock and time to leave. Tired but happy, we took our leave of old and new friends, wishing each other a safe journey home and hoping that it would not be too long before we met again somewhere on a dance floor.

Geoff Nicholas, Basel, Switzerland

"People who play with heart"

For a second year the Ennis Trad Festival included the Great Ceili Band Competition in its programme, held at the West County Hotel at 7pm on Friday 7th of November. Thirteen bands were listed on a blue ballot I was given at the entrance, with a small but most appreciated pencil. This invitation to fill in the blanks in preferential order and cast a vote like everyone else in the audience gave me a kick more stimulating than the American presidential elections of the moment! mc Kieran Hanrahan, as famous for his fine banjo playing as his eloquent weekly vocalisms on RTÉ’s Céilí House, announced however a few changes to the list. Five bands couldn’t make it to the event—among them last year’s and this year’s All-Ireland winning bands, the Allow from Cork and Inis Free from Sligo. Knowing these bands had withdrawn from the competition could have been a relief for the others, but Kieran wouldn’t name them. Instead he was constantly careful to call only the letters corresponding to each band on the secret ballot. Indeed, four adjudicators had taken a seat behind four separate screens for the occasion, preventing them from seeing who would be on stage. Dubliner Mick O’Connor, flute player in the Castle Ceili Band in the ’70s, had first suggested back in 1972 the idea of putting up voting booths—his wish was finally granted. Also behind panels were piano player Pat O’Meara, Galway flute player John Skelton and concertina player from the Kilfenora Ceili Band, Tim Collins. The audience’s poll counted as a fifth adjudicator to make this event an innovative alternative to the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil ceili band competition.

Amongst the forty rules of this unique competition, rule number 5 was probably the most charming to my sensitive ears: performances would be entirely acoustic, bringing out the purity of each instrument within the group, and returning to a natural and satisfying sound without being amplified sometimes to excess or distortion. All bands consisted of ten members, the maximum acceptable in rule number 1, eight being the minimum. Thanks to rules number 5 and 8—stipulating that each band must contain a piano player, drummer or both—a second treat for my senses was standing upright on the right of the stage, its 88 keys ready to rebound under eighty agile fingers!

The Tribes Ceili Band from Co Galway was chosen first in a drawing and opened the competition. Under the influence of their previous success coming third in the 2007 All-Ireland, they made a sparkling entrance and created an appropriate dancing atmosphere. From the very beginning I relied on my natural “uplift meter”, basing a band’s score on the inner accelerations of my pulse and the outer hustle and bustle of my feet! I particularly liked the gorgeous fiddle and flute harmonies in two waltzes chosen according to rule number 13—each band had to present a selection of four sets, reels, jigs, marches being compulsory; each tune should only be played twice. Thus the Dartry Ceili Band from Sligo (placed 2nd in this year’s All-Ireland) distinguished themselves again by interpreting Pearl O’Shaughnessy’s barn dances. In the same vein, Templeglantine Ceili Band marked their first time in this competition as the only ones to perform polkas, which immediately ignited gunpowder-like cheers from the audience. Their piercing support doubled in volume when the key rose from O’Keefe’s Polka in G major to The Tourmore Lasses in A major. Coming from west Limerick, the band couldn’t fail to give us a Sliabh Luachra blast! The Boreen Ceili Band used the same enhancing key change in a nice arrangement of the hornpipe If There Weren’t Any Women in the World, transposed a tone higher for its second round—the audience responded in a spark! Both Ceoltóirí na Mainistreach (third in this year’s All-Ireland) and Corofin Ceili Band opted for a distinctive slow tempo for their hornpipes, bouncing deep into the beat. It was interesting to compare the style adopted in the march, rolling so gently in the multi-generational hands of the Haymakers Ceili Band (last year’s audience vote winners), so joyfully driven by Ceoltóirí na Mainistreach or light and dynamic by the Kinnity Ceili Band. Light also but fast and driving was The Geese in the Bog jig by the Haymakers; also enjoyable to dance to was Dominic Rooney’s jig interpreted by a fiery Tribes Ceili Band. Yet the reels every band performed as a finale may have been the most expected set. Boreen and Templeglantine offered original arrangements, one emphasizing on melodic variations, the other ending on a very neat and efficient rhythmic break. But the Corofin’s interpretation of The Enchanted Lady (played three times!) followed by The Shaskeen (played twice with a funny twist in the melody of the second part) and a well cheered up Sailor’s Bonnet (played once) flowed as only Clare bands know how to do, thanks to powerful sustaining drumming.

Kieran Hanrahan allowed the audience two or three minutes to refine their choice—quite a challenging musical jigsaw when every band displayed positive traits in their musicality and repertoire. I wished this could have been done in silence—background music immediately coming through the speakers after the last performance interfered with my memory cards! It wasn’t long before the official results were publicly announced. The audience voted Boreen third, Ceoltóirí na Mainistreach second and Corofin first. In the adjudicator’s vote Dartry came third and Ceoltóirí na Mainistreach and Corofin were tied for first and second. In this case the audience had the deciding vote, thus awarding first prize to Corofin. Rather than spend the long winter evenings practicing for the next competition, would it not be rewarding for the winning bands to undertake an All-Ireland tour of the dancing floors for the set dancers’ delight? Although the proverb says there is no accounting for taste (though it may be instructive to try), perhaps such competitions could educate and refine our musical palate.

Nina Watrelot

In their own words

As an adjudicator, it’s a different perspective. It’s hard to leave the criticisms behind and listen to it for what it is. You miss part of the enjoyment as you try to be attentive. It can feel quite lonely sitting behind the panel for two hours! The one thing I miss about it is the visual aspect to the music, how musicians interact in the band as well.

I would first and foremost listen to the balance—it’s most important as a musician to sit back and find your space in the band. Then I’d be going for more dancing music as opposed to music to listen to; other adjudicators tonight may like more polite listening music, more legato. The tuning makes a difference too, especially the flutes and fiddles in the high register—it’s your responsibility as a musician to tune up, even once on stage.

So such an event is very brave—it never happened outside the Comhaltas. It allows more creativity, like harmonies, a wider variety of instruments. The audience enjoys having a little bit of power also. But at the end of the day music is very subjective!

Tim Collins

I have a methodology. I take as many notes as I can and keep comparing in a constructive way between bands. I carefully listen to the musicality, the balance, the overall performance, the good rhythmic, the choice of tunes. I would appreciate someone brave enough to try and take tunes outside the box. I pay particular attention to reels—the Clare bands have a great structure for the reels. The Kerry band has a great gusto for polkas. Somehow I’d value a band’s repertoire which came from their own community.

Mick O'Connor

I’m delighted that people who play with heart won the competition.

Siobhan Peoples, fiddler, Corofin Ceili Band

It’s a complete surprise. We got together as a band especially for this just a month before the competition and had a few rehearsals. Really, we did it for the fun!

Padraic O'Reilly, pianist, Corofin Ceili Band

I like the fact it’s different from the Fleadh. There is a bit of sport in the event with the audience participating.

Michael O'Connell, drummer, Corofin Ceili Band

Galway Bay birthday

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

Just a quick note to say how much we both enjoyed the Galway Bay Set Dancing Weekend on 7–9 November. Both of us were celebrating our birthday on 8 November and Tony Ryan made us very welcome. The workshops, by Séamus Ó Méalóid and Pat Murphy as well as Tony himself were great, as were the ceilis and the venue, the Clybaun Hotel. Many thanks to all, including Celine Molloy, our B&B lady (no room left at the inn when we tried to book the Clybaun) for a great weekend.

Ursula Byrne and Ian Hughes, Glandyfi, Wales

Keeping the dancers happy

Dear Bill,

I would like to take the opportunity to thank most sincerely all the set dancers who came to the Galway Bay Set Dancing Weekend in the Clybaun Hotel, Salthill, making it a most memorable and enjoyable weekend. Also I want to thank guest teachers Pat Murphy, Séamus Ó Méalóid and Seamus Melvin for their excellent tuition and good humour, and Matt Cunningham, Heather Breeze Ceili Band and the Glenside Ceili Band for their great music and keeping the dancers happy.

Plans are in progress for next year’s festival and full details will be published in Set Dancing News in the coming months.

Thank you once again and I look forward to seeing you all again.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Ryan, Newcastle, Galway

Great mix for a first ceili

Dear Sir,

My wife Audrey and I started set dancing in December 2007 under the care of Paul Smith of the Adelaide, South Australia, branch of Comhaltas. On our return to Scotland in April we teamed up with Frank O’Neill of Glasgow.

Our dancing improved slowly but surely and in November 2008 we decided to expose ourselves to the outside world of set dancing and headed for Hilltown, Co Down. We had heard caller Joe Farrell on cd with the McElroys and been introduced to Fódhla Ceili Band by Paul, so it was a great mix for a first ceili.

After a flight to Belfast we had a drive down the beautiful coast to Dundrum for B&B. Then it was off to the ceili. We arrived a bit early and were one of the first there but were made very welcome. We watched Fódhla setting up then Joe Farrell arrived and the place started to fill up. We started at 9.30pm and did a Kilfenora Set, then sat out a Fermanagh Set (we’d never even seen or heard of it), then did the Clare Lancers, a Waterford set then two sets of Pride of Erin waltzes to cool down a bit before supper.

At supper I was standing at the bar ordering a cool beer when I heard a voice at my shoulder, “Ian?” I looked round and there was Billy Donnelly. I had last seen him while learning set dancing in the Irish Club in Adelaide in March this year. We had a good chat and then the dancing started again—a Cashel Set (Audrey’s favourite and she got to dance with Joe Farrell which made her night), Williamstown Set (we sat out, again, same reason), Connemara Set (my favourite), Antrim Square Set and finished with a Plain Set without a pause between figures. The last two bars instruction Joe said was, “Turn to the band and clap.” Then the national anthem and a wee chat before we set off to drive home at 1.15am. Breakfast had been arranged for 10am so we weren’t too concerned [about the time].

It was a wonderful introduction to set dancing and we were made very welcome. We now have no fear of dancing in public.

Thanks to all at Hilltown and to Joe and the Fódhla for our great night.


Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland

Obviously a very popular lady

Hello Bill,

Just like to tell you of a fantastic ceili I attended on Sunday November 2nd. It was at Kilcoona Social Centre, near Headford, Co Galway, and it was my first visit. A beautiful homely hall which was full with happy dancers. Then to add to the atmosphere there was a surprise birthday party and cake for Del Maye who is obviously a very popular lady. She’s a set dancing teacher and teaches at Kilcoona on Monday nights.

The ceilis at Kilcoona are organised by Matt Cunningham and the hall committee, who did a great job and we had a beautiful tea break. Superb music was supplied by Matt who in my opinion is the best in the business at working a crowd.

I travelled seventy miles to the ceili, especially as it was Del’s birthday, but I will definitely be back. Thanks to all involved for a beautiful afternoon.

Mary Brett, Lanesboro, Co Longford

Read it every Friday night

Dear Mr Lynch,

Just a note to thank you for your fine magazine. We here in south Florida read it every Friday night at our Irish set dancing held in a local church when someone brings in a copy. Your published story of Anthony and Carol’s trip (our dancers) was well received. I’ve only been dancing six months but now that my family moved to Dublin, it will be forever.

Great work,

Robin Siegel, Boca Raton, Florida

Without any shin pain

Dear Bill,

Thank you for the terrific website! I recently attended my first set dancing ceili weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware see page 5. I had a great time! I went to the conference with some friends from the Lancaster School of Irish Dance, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I primarily do step dancing and hardshoe, but some of my friends in the adult class can no longer do the leaping and hopping due to back and feet problems. They want to start set dancing and I figured I might learn it as well for the inevitable day when I can no longer do the other dancing. I was surprised to do so much dancing without any shin pain! Anyway I found your website very helpful in finding teachers and in getting information about upcoming ceilis in the tri-state area, as well as the instructions for the steps.


Beverly Weaver, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Not one repeated

Hello Bill,

I must write and tell you about the great weekend we have just spent in Basingstoke see page 17 dancing 32 sets and not one repeated. Pádraig and Róisín delivered the goods in their usual relaxed manner. It was a pleasure to be able to work our way through a repertoire that have all been learnt in workshops and never danced at a ceili. This makes the event more challenging and interesting and is something different.

Thank you, Kevin Monaghan and Carol Gannon, for all the hard work put in to the preparation to run the event successfully.


Margaret Morrin, Cheam, Surrey, England

Our mad venture

Hi Bill,

This is a quick letter to express publicly out sincere thanks to everyone who attended the weekend Kevin and I organised in Basingstoke in September. We know everyone enjoyed the weekend, as we have received so many lovely emails from several dancers, and this is our chance to now thank them.

Our first debt of gratitude is to Breffni O’Brien who inspired us back in April with his original idea to dance thirty different sets. His support through the whole organising of the weekend has been amazing. He drove a minibus load of dancers from Manchester to attend our event, and has encouraged us all the way.

Many thanks also to George Hook and Linda, who skilfully and almost imperceptibly supplied the sound system for the weekend, driving down from Birmingham, and without whom we would have been totally lost.

The lively and original music was supplied by Triskell from Louth, and their enthusiasm and dedication to our mad venture was as encouraging as that of the teachers. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany entered into the spirit of the adventure and were charming and clear as usual in their instruction, despite being challenged by Kevin’s choice of sets to be danced!

Of course, we have not forgotten the marvellous dancers who travelled from all over Britain and Ireland to be with us. We even had an intrepid Japanese visitor who was holidaying in Ireland, and came over specifically for the weekend.

We hope to put on a similar event next year. Watch this space.

Thanks once again to everyone,

Carol Gannon, Tadley, Hampshire

Going great over there

Dear Bill,

Enclosed are a couple of photographs taken see above at our recent visit to San Francisco—Shannon Ceili Band who play in the Plough and the Stars pub every Thursday night, and some of the dancers at the same venue.

I would also like to say a big thank-you to Josephine Brogan and the two Michaels (Murphy and Reimer) for making us so welcome. They are all members of the Cooley-Keegan Branch of CCÉ in San Francisco and set dancing is going great over there. They also find Set Dancing News a great help in keeping in touch with the dancing scene here in Ireland and the notes of a set in every issue is great too.

The dancers are so welcoming. I would say to anyone going there to check in with Josephine as she is public relations officer of the branch and she will inform you of everything that is going on.

Many thanks, Bill.

Mai and Shay White, Staleen, Donore, Co Meath

My eightieth birthday

Hi Bill,

I should have sent you a thank-you note a long time ago but better late than never.

You did a lovely job in the Set Dancing News for my eightieth birthday. Your work was highly praised—thank you. Fidelma Brannigan and John Cassidy looked after the snaps. Des McGartland and his staff looked after the cash. Mary McCann and the helpers she rounded up looked after a lot of the organising. Brian and Mary McCormack of Armagh City Hotel did a tremendous work. Both Brian and Mary are set dancers, lovely people. The way Joe Farrell called the sets was highly praised by my friends from Dublin and Kildare. The music for the big occasion was provided by the Oriel Ceili Band.

A number of dancers are asking me to run a ceili there every year, they were so pleased with Armagh City Hotel. We’ll give that some thought.

Anyway thanks to you for an excellent job. See you around from time to time.


Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone

Very special thank-you

Dear Bill,

On behalf of the Sean Dempsey Set Dance Club I would like to say a very special thank-you to all the wonderful people who travelled from all over Ireland and the UK to our 21st festival in Manchester; a massive thank you to the brilliant Copperplate and the Lough Ree ceili bands for the superb music at all three ceilis; thanks to our local musicians for their magnificent contribution to the weekend. We are grateful to the dedicated adjudicators; we appreciate their task is not an easy one. Thanks to our loyal sponsors who support us year after year; their generosity is never taken for granted. We are indebted to several other people who are not on our committee but whose contribution to the success of the festival was paramount. Thank you all very much for making the festival the success it was and with your support we will do it all again next year.

Josephine Murtagh, Sean Dempsey Set Dance Club, Manchester, England

The greatest success of all

Dear Bill,

In June 1999, to perpetuate the memory of the late, great Set Dance Maestro, Connie Ryan, the first Gathering of his many legions of friends, admirers and fellow set dancers took place in his native Clonoulty, in Tipperary. In June of this year 2008 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the very first gathering. In the intervening years this annual set dance festival has gone from strength to strength, culminating this year with the greatest success of all in our new venue in Cashel.

The festival committee would like to thank everyone that made the 2008 weekend such a success. We would like to thank the management and staff of Halla Na Féile, also the bingo organisers for finishing so promptly to make the hall available on the Saturday night. We say thanks to our loyal sponsors for various donations towards running the weekend. To all the bands who played fabulous music during the weekend and to Pat Murphy, Betty McCoy and Maureen Culleton for the great workshops, we say thanks. Lastly but most important we thank most sincerely the set dancers who travel from far and wide to attend the Connie Ryan Gatherings. It is the energy generated by yourselves on the dance floor and the enjoyment we witness that gives a small committee like ourselves the impetus to continue running the Gathering and from what we witnessed this year the Gathering has a great future. Thank you one and all.

Connie Ryan Gathering Committee

Joan's dad


Please allow me through the medium of your magazine to sincerely thank all the numerous set dancers from all over the world who sympathised with me on the recent death of my dear father, Jackie Pollard.

I especially wish to thank those wonderful people who attended my dad’s funeral. Many travelled long distanced to be with me and offer their sympathy.

I would also like to thank Gerry and Susan Flynn and staff of Enjoy Travel, artists, and musicians on the Mediterranean Cruise and Fleadh Portugal for their support and understanding when I travelled on these events just a short time after my dad’s passing.

My dad loved his dancing and traditional music. With my mother as his dancing partner he travelled the length and breadth of Ireland dancing in competition, always bringing home some accolade. He especially loved the Cashel Set. We danced at home most Saturday nights. It seemed so fitting that so many dancers and musicians were in attendance at his funeral. My sincere thanks to each and every one of you.

I thank the many dancing friends and musicians who remain in contact and have been a comfort to me over the past few weeks. Each day something reminds me of my dad and at times I feel so sad. Then I get a call or text message and my world is a better place for knowing and having the support of such unselfish and big hearted people.

Through my years involved in set dancing and working as a correspondent for this magazine I am privileged to be part of this community of special people.


Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Tullamore correction

Hi Bill,

Well done on the coverage of the All Ireland Fleadh in Tullamore. Just to say the set on the front cover of the Set Dancing News is not a Westmeath set but an Offaly set.

All the best,

Barbara Gaffey, Rahan, Co Offaly

Articles continue in Old News Volume 49.

There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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