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).
A new idea for a workshop was tried in Belcarra, Co Mayo, on Sunday February 8th, when an afternoon workshop and an evening ceili were scheduled with supper in between. It seemed like a great idea, a mini-workshop weekend experience taking just a few hours, but as I drove to the village I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to learn sets at 4pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The journey was quicker than I expected so I was the first to arrive at the locked and dark community centre; Pat Murphy soon showed up to teach the sets and we wondered if it was really happening until organiser Maureen Cunningham came to open the hall. Even she wasn’t sure if anyone would come.
The tidy little village’s new community centre stands beside a small river and has a modest hall big enough for about a dozen sets. Waiting for the dancing to begin I admired a bit of a museum at the back of the hall where antiques from the village were on display in a showcase. Dancers streamed in all the while and kept coming after Pat began teaching us the Boyne Set. Amazingly there was a capacity crowd who were all quite keen to learn the newest set late on a February Sunday afternoon. After the set Pat concluded the workshop with a selection of two-hand dances. We first practiced them all heading in the same direction, which made for a crush of dancers at the top of the hall, but once we knew what to do Pat let us dance them in a circle.
Volunteers set up tables around the hall for the supper break. Fresh homemade vegetable soup, brown bread, sandwiches and cake were distributed to all, along with most welcome mugs of tea. Once the hunger was relieved people collected in an adjacent room for a singalong, accompanied on piano by Eamon Connolly from Westport.
Meanwhile Heather Breeze, with Pat Friel, Liam Grealis and Maria McHugh on box, fiddle and piano, had arrived to set up for the ceili. The gorgeous music began at 8pm and the hall was still full as everyone attending the workshop stayed on for the ceili. We had the pleasure of dancing the new Boyne Set once again, taking delight in its clever moves, plus plenty of familiar sets and two-hand dances. There was even more eating and drinking during the tea break. After we’d danced the last set, the band only just remembered to play for an entertaining display of sean nós dancing by young Martin Hughes. It was a satisfying three hours of music and dance which finished up soon after 11pm, letting everyone, myself included, get home at a decent hour.
This new idea—a concentrated blast of Sunday dancing—proved highly popular on its first attempt and I hope we’ll see more events like it.
With a copy of the Kilfenora Ceili Band’s new CD, Century, anyone can now share in the celebrations of their hundredth year and hear the beauty of their music. The recording collects together some of the tunes the band has played over the decades—some familiar, others delightfully new. None of the tracks are arranged for sets, though that needn’t stop anyone from dancing to it, and fans of two-hand dances will love the marches and barn dances. The CD is widely available in Irish shops and can be purchased on the Internet as a download or a genuine disk.
Always keeping an eye on the newest sets, Matt Cunningham has released the eighteenth volume in his series, Dance Music of Ireland, with five sets plus a special treat. The sets are the Ballyvourney Jig, East Mayo, Moycullen, Portmagee and Thurles (Seit Dúrlas Éile). Matt recorded the Ballyvourney in 1999 on Volume 11, but with gaps between the figures. As it’s always danced nonstop now, Matt has left out the pauses in the version on the new CD. Matt is famous at ceilis for his tin whistle solos, and everyone’s favourite is probably Róisín Dubh. For the first time he’s recorded it and it’s included as a bonus track. Volume 18 is available from Matt wherever he’s playing, and from good music stores.
The Annaly Ceili Band is one of the newest ceili band sensations on the set dancing circuit. In just a year and a half they’ve made a name for themselves and are firm favourites of many dancers. On February 22nd in the Longford Arms Hotel, their devotees came from far and wide for the launch of their first CD. Simply called Annaly Ceili Band, the disk has music for five sets—the Antrim Square, Kilfenora, Moycullen, West Kerry, and one which is simply called The Set. This is a three-figure set from East Galway which has been uncovered and revived by Frank and Bobbie Keenan of Co Meath. The CD also includes two waltzes and a selection of music for Sean nós dancing. Get a copy for yourself from the band at their ceilis, or contact them by phone or email to order one.
Moyra Fraser plays piano for the Glenside Ceili Band with subtle perfection. Most piano accompaniment blends into the background, but dancers can’t help but notice the unique touch that Moyra brings to the Glenside’s music. She’s also a superb musician and singer in her own right, as you can discover on her three CDs, Let’s Dance, Music Music Music and The Best of Scotland’s Moyra Fraser. Moyra is from Aberdeen and sings a selection of Scottish favourites on the last CD, and mixes them with more popular favourites in the others. Moyra sells her recordings at the Glenside’s ceilis.
Last year’s nightly ceilis at the Merriman Summer School brought together four musicians who very much impressed the set dancers there. Led by Sean Murphy, a Sliabh Luachra box player based in Ennis, the group made such a good impression on Clare dancers as well as visitors they began to take bookings for ceilis, calling themselves the Merriman Ceili Band. Their accomplished fiddler from Broadford, Co Clare, Orla Harrington, has a new solo CD, Melting Snow. On some of the tracks Sean Murphy plays along with her, as do a few other Clare musicians. For more information see www.orlaharrington.com.
Fans of Cork and Kerry sets have always had a fondness for the powerful box playing of Seamus Begley, ever since he included tracks from a live West Kerry Set on his 1992 album, Meiteal, probably the definitive music for that set. At the Gathering Festival in Killarney, Co Kerry, Seamus released his latest album, Éirí go lá, which, while not recorded for sets, still has the same magic on a more relaxed and joyful level. The accordion is backed by the delicate guitar accompaniment of Jim Murray. See www.seamusbegleyandjimmurray.ie for more info.
The longest serving and most dedicated correspondent of Set Dancing News is Joan Pollard Carew, who announces that she has her own website at www.joanpollard.com. The site is a gallery of Joan’s photographs from recent dancing events which she has covered. Her images can be viewed, purchased and downloaded for printing. The current collection includes pictures from Ibiza, Portugal, a Mediterranean cruise and Malaga, with 465 in total. Many more are expected in the coming months!
Comórtas Chóilín Sheáin Dharach is the old-style solo jig competition held each January in Rosmuc, Connemara, Co Galway. Nine dancers competed this year, with a local woman winning first place, Christina Ní Mhainnín, a student at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. In joint second place were last year’s winner Paul Moran and Marian Ní Chonghaile. A separate junior version of the competition is also held; Colm Seoige from Rossaveel was one of the participants.
Calling all dancers! Your presence is needed on Sunday, 17 May 2009, between 2 and 4pm to dance the Siege of Ennis with as many as 10,000 other dancers in an attempt to break the previous world record. Music will be provided by the Kilfenora Ceili Band and by Larry McEvoy. All are welcome, experienced dancers and beginners. Dance tuition is by John Fennell and Michael Donnellan.
Folks kept saying, “It’s like a mini-Miltown!” The Sean-Óg festival in Longford has become a true November-blues treatment in a league of its own, yet with a buzz akin to Willie Clancy week. That’s big praise, lads, and well earned!
Dive in on Friday night, put your dance-tinted goggles on, check there’s enough sustenance to keep you going, and then enjoy the landscape. Float around a gorgeous seabed of colourful reefs of music, make first contact with new and exciting waves of sound and movement, feel the rhythm of the flow of the dance, meet the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit this biospace, revisit and swim with the familiar stream that winds its way through the weekend. Dance, laugh, eat at intervals, sleep little, dance, laugh, forget everything else, talk, enjoy music, dance, dance, dance . . . aaaahh!
Now, add a new dimension, one often talked about but little catered for: the next generation. The Lough Ree Ceili Band and their funky arrangements of tunes, teamed with strong percussion, really appeals to the young folk, and thank goodness some people have enough vision to attempt to attract them, which is notoriously difficult. Make set dancing cool, an ‘in’ thing. The second ingredient here was getting a band over from Scotland, Johnny Rocks, to play at the intervals and sessions, with the oldest band member being seventeen, wow, and their music being a blend of rocked-up traditional music and their own arrangements. The juxtaposition of trad and mod displayed at this festival created a beautifully unique and seamless link—there was loads for everyone, and it was enjoyed together.
Apart from Miltown, the Sean-Óg festival drew in the biggest crowd of young ’uns I have seen anywhere so far. If Longford began to have a reputation of attracting younger people, then now it’s settled and established: this is the place to go to that has managed to make it easy for everybody, every age, to enjoy set dancing, together. There is hardly anything more creditable than breaking down barriers and bridging gaps. In Longford, they have done it. And not only set dancing was enjoyed. We had country and western, two-hand dancing, jiving, and Cape Breton-style dancing, as well as great session music, a special singalong on Sunday and a hooley after the last ceili, including the cowboy hats!
But I am ahead of myself . . .
Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy, the main movers and shakers of this magnificent weekend, worked hard in every way, even to greet personally as many people as they could from the great crowd that came together in Longford from all over. The first item on the itinerary was a three-hour shared workshop of two-hands with Marie Garrity followed by jiving tuition with Seamus Melvin. Marie eased us into the action-packed weekend with lovely dances like the Festival Glide and Circassian Circle, and also included a fun dance called the Swedish Masquerade. After this lovely warm-up, Seamus put us through vigorous jiving, suitable for everyone. At this point, I made a mental note to next time simply pack all my tops. I am continuing to get more confident with the jiving (thanks to Linda, Seamus’ wife, in particular, who showed my dancing partner the ropes of one particular turn) and the only problem left to work on is my tendency to want to take control when I am unsure of what the gent wants from me. I keep telling myself to surrender—ugh, a hard nut to crack.
The first ceili then with the Lough Ree Ceili Band sent the place rocking. Including disco lights and an ever growing rapport between banjo and box, the atmosphere was superb. People were as ready to dance sets as sprinters are to run just before the shot. There was hardly any let up at the break—with country and western music playing the folks simply continued dancing. This was the case throughout the whole weekend anyway! People just didn’t stop. Wanna get really fit? There’s nothing like set dancing, it seems. Looking in on the session after in the bar of the hotel, I found it packed, no space to swing anything in, and I had the pleasure of listening to my favourite banjo player, Brona Graham who played alongside Leo Logan on guitar and James Donoghue on the accordion. Smashing stuff.
Saturday came and I got up in time to go to the workshops, starting with Pat Murphy, who conducted fourteen sets. The Moycullen was taught again, and my hopes are rising that this gem will also make the grade and join us at ceilis. Pat was in fine form, and I was torn to stay or leave, because in the Annaly Hotel, sister hotel of the Longford Arms, another workshop started with Cape Breton-style dancing. I did nip over finally and found a full circle of people going through basic Cape Breton dancing steps under the expert tuition of Sabra MacGillivray, who was invited over from Nova Scotia in Canada with her husband Iain. Never had I seen anything like it, and simply to be exposed to another form of Celtic dancing was worth the effort of getting them to come to Ireland. (A mention now that in the main ballroom in the Longford Arms we danced under the flags of Ireland, Scotland and Canada.)
The Cape Breton steps reminded me of sean nós, and then again not. I struggled as I always do when learning new things, but perseverance paid off and I managed to get the basic ones, including variations, to slow music. Once the music was double pace though, I lost it! My feet would simply revert to what they know best. I chose laughter instead of annoyance with myself as an appropriate reaction and so relaxed and soaked up what I could. Some of the moves Sabra called would be similar to what we dance here, just with different words of description. For instance, what is a “one, two, three” here, she would call a “step, ball, step.” Once I realised that, it was easier. Best thing was that Ger Butler was there beside me for a while, Marie Garrity was also trying it out, and Pat Murphy took part in Sabra’s Sunday morning class. And fair play to Sabra for trying set dancing as well! She showed us a good few steps before finishing with the first figure of a square dance. And then she gave us a demonstration and boy, that was something else. Was I in awe? Yes.
A hurried lunch and change of clothes brought me down again in time for the launch of the Lough Ree Ceili Band’s cd. They played for one hour, and I reckon it was their finest hour so far. Truly beautiful, a coming together of tunes, musicians and dancers, that lent itself to energies rising that became tangibly exciting. It definitely had an elusive X-factor, and I (head) couldn’t stop myself (body) from constantly moving with the music, and continued to do so to a two-hour stint of social dancing with music provided by Robert Mizzell and Patrick Feeney afterwards. I hadn’t heard Robert before, and yeah, he has this very strong Louisiana accent that I would associate with country and western (the spaghetti Sergio Leone-type). So I danced some waltzes and quicksteps with the image of Yul Brynner (love you bald guys) in my mind and thought that this was spot on after the Lough Ree, changing tempo and rhythm for an easy afternoon.
Next up was Johnny Rocks from Glasgow, a six-piece band that played to a full house in the Annaly Hotel bar. I absolutely loved them. Here were these teenagers who managed to amaze me and expand a rather narrow-minded image I had of a teenage generation with, I thought, little else in their heads beyond gadgets and computers, inanimate creatures who have lost the ability to come together and produce something creative. Well, these young guys were very alive and creative, and working together with a purpose, and I have no doubt that these experiences will stand by them. Guys, I wish you well and may you continue to grow and prosper with your outstanding musical creations!
Still not standing still, I listened until about 9pm, and then went to the Annaly ballroom for the ceili with the Annaly Ceili Band. After all the newness, this was a returning home to familiar grounds, just what I needed at that point, so this facilitated probably the most enjoyable time so far to hear and dance to the Annaly. Indeed, whether by intuition or fabrication, the dancing throughout the whole of the festival followed a tidal ebbing and flowing that made it sustainable almost without me having to wise up and pace myself much.
Over then to the Swallow’s Tail, who started playing in the Longford Arms an hour or so after the Annaly had started across the road. That night, they had a couple of extras (one of them was Brona Graham on banjo), and I liked the result very much. An extra bit of body to it, like a vintage wine that acquires a deeper fullness with age, their music travelled right into my veins and again I was unable to stop dancing on the spot. At some stage during the ceili, Gabrielle Cassidy presented a bouquet of flowers to a newlywed couple who happened to stroll in—nice touch!
A deep breath and I was off to bed early that night, in order to be semi-recognizable the next day for all that was on offer, starting with a joint workshop by Sabra and Pat. First up was Pat teaching the Bonane Set from Kenmare, Co Kerry. This was the second time I had the pleasure of dancing it, and came to like it more. The good news is that, no matter how tired or absent-minded one is, you can completely rely on Pat to guide the sets along, sure-footed and sure-handed! Pat, you’re such a marvel. After an hour, Sabra took over to teach us the Inverness Square Set, which she said is usually danced in three circles. But we did it in one big circle, which meant that doing the grand chain took a little while—Martin, my dance partner, said as he tugged at my right hand, “See you in half an hour.” The set also included line-ups, splits and a swing in an unusual hold with the ladies’ hands on her partner’s shoulders and the gent’s on the ladies waist. At the end of the hour Sabra went over some of the steps she had shown us the day before, and of course we were treated to another demonstration of her skill—brilliant.
Johnny Rocks then played for lunch in the Annaly bar, and Ger Butler gave us the brush dance—always an indulgence to watch!
With no time to spare, Johnny Reidy was playing for the afternoon ceili straight after Johnny Rocks. My God, it was pure heaven. Such a crowd puller, such a brilliant band, music that makes me jump all over the place. The weekend got better and better, just when I thought it was already at its best. So, other than poor Mick Jagger, who can’t get no satisfaction, lots of people surely had total satisfaction!
Then after some dinner I was on to a singalong with Fergus Harman in the Longford Arms bar. Softly, softly, he helped me relax with songs like Amazing Grace, but then changed tempo and this girl beside me, Shirley, said, “I’ll jive ye.” And that she did, forcefully and determinedly and any other word you can think of to describe a leader—earth shattering stuff. What a memorable dance!
No let up then as we headed along the corridor to where Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were setting up for the final ceili. It’s been a while since hearing them and, like when you have a favourite dessert that you haven’t eaten for some time, this was particularly delicious. Trancelike, body-self kept dancing, head-self switched off. Awesome experience. That’s why I love it so much. Micheál really rose to the occasion of finishing the céilithe with a clatter and a bang—including a power cut. This was the time for a series of sean nós wizards to strut their stuff, and for Sabra MacGillivray to perform her Cape Breton dancing and also Scottish Highland dancing, which I loved seeing. I think this might have been the only time where I simply sat down and watched and actually had something resembling a break. Without delay at the end of the ceili, music for a hooley was played, and those of us still wired to the moon donned cowboy hats, line danced, jived, quickstepped, waltzed and rock’n’rolled around the ballroom like kids, hurray! All that young energy around must have leapt across to everyone.
At the very, very end, folks gathered in the bar and foyer for a farewell session. I went to bed around 4.30am, and the session was still in full swing. Johnny Rocks was playing, joined by other musicians, and some bodies were still dancing at the side lines. For goodness’ sake, how do we do it? Roll on a triathlon as a warm-up, and still our Duracell dancing would make a great Weetabix ad! Or, as Ger says, it’s the music (instead of the oats). All the good things came together in the space-time dance continuum during the Longford Sean-Óg festival.
A big thank-you to Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy and their tireless helpers, who made this weekend a success story in a most professional yet cordial manner. It’s apparent that there’s heart behind it all.
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford
PS What isn’t in the main article:
- The fellow who said he had bought a boat with holes in Dubai, cheaply;
- The young girl who passionately exclaimed she was in love with one of the box players, and next minute she wasn’t;
- The most lovable little old lady who’s prone to wandering and was caught in time just as she was heading out the main door;
- The guy who twice left our set in the fifth figure of the Clare Lancers in the middle of the chain and went chaining with the neighbour’s set;
- A man who turned up at the jiving workshop in Listowel, and discovered and fell in love with set dancing in the process, who then turned up in Longford with only one shirt, and consequently had to go to the shops to buy more.
Once Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over, the magic of the celebrations starts fading away—but not so for me this year. Friday evening, right on the second day of the new year 2009, I found myself in the beautiful ballroom of the Grand Hotel in Malahide for the weekend of dancing in memory of Connie Ryan. I have been here before but this time there was something different. A stunning, most beautifully decorated illuminated Christmas tree standing beside the stage reaching to the full height of the room made the difference. There was magic in it!
After Aidan Vaughan’s Clare battering workshop, which should never be missed, the highlight of the weekend was soon underway—the official launch of Pat Murphy’s new book Apples in Winter. Betty McCoy, main organizer of the weekend, elegantly dressed and visibly moved by the importance of the moment, stood by the microphone. She introduced Pat’s new book and thanked him for launching it at this year’s first set dance weekend in Malahide. Next, Pat himself spoke to the audience and didn’t go for a long speech. He emphasized the nine years between his last book, The Flowing Tide, and the new one containing 47 sets, 32 two-hands and 11 ceili dances. That selection should keep us busy for a good while, as Pat said. Then straight from his heart he thanked each and everyone who made a contribution to the book, and there were many. Amongst them in the audience were teachers, organisers and dancers like Séamus Ó Méalóid, Tony Ryan, Michael Tubridy, Aidan Vaughan, Timmy Woulfe and of course the weekend’s dedicated organising team. They all were present this weekend from the first minute to the last, dedicating their love and life to the tradition of set dance. To me, it feels we need them so much and could not do without them. Amongst the dancers there was a group of more than ten from Italy, many young dancers from Japan, who learned their style of dancing from Aidan Vaughan, many from America and, of course, from all over Europe. Thereafter, everybody was invited to a glass of wine and a piece of a delicious celebration cake, under the flickering lights of the Christmas tree.
In festive mood we danced the next three hours away to the lovely traditional music of the Slievenamon group joined by Michael Tubridy on the flute and Aidan Vaughan on the drums.
Pat Murphy and Tony Ryan shared Saturday morning’s workshop. This morning there were many sets on the floor, more than twenty. Having Pat and Tony together in a workshop is always a pleasure, and so was it this morning. Pat took the first turn and decided to show the new-on-the-scene Moycullen Set, a real beauty; Tony selected the Roscahill Set. Both sets are from Co Galway, where Tony started to teach set dancing thirty years ago. The two teachers had a good reason for choosing two sets which came originally from the villages of Moycullen and Roscahill in Co Galway, only six miles away from each other. It was a fine chance to see the similarities and differences in these two sets.
Since the Malahide weekend is held to honour the late Connie Ryan, Tony recalled a story about him. While Connie was teaching polkas in and around Galway, he found a man amongst the dancers who just could not get the polka step. To this man’s delight, Connie asked him if he would mind a little help. He took hold by shoving the beginner’s shoulder under his and after ten minutes, the beginner was able to do the polka step, “down-two-three and down-two-three.” The message in this story, as Tony said, is always make beginners feel welcome and never forget we all started as beginners!
After this delightful workshop we danced the afternoon away to the sparkling music of the young members of the Brian Ború Ceili Band. Common sets were danced and, of course, the Moycullen Set. All bands who played throughout the weekend made a special announcement when playing the beautiful jig Apples in Winter, which is a pleasure to dance to. After the ceili, chats and a singalong continued in the hotel bar until the early morning hours.
Sunday morning started with an old style step dance workshop gently conducted by Michael Tubridy, who chose a hornpipe from the 1920s. I totally admired students who easily followed his steps. After that was a sean nós workshop with Mairéad Casey, who was surrounded by a circle of well over forty dancers eager to match her steps.
The weekend’s last ceili featured Matt Cunningham with his son and daughter playing and Aidan Vaughan on the drums. He delivered wonderful music to us starting at 2.30pm, and the atmosphere was thrilling. I personally loved this ceili. Through the big windows of the beautiful ballroom, dancers looked out over an inlet of the Irish Sea and a little island. The winter sun spread a magical light on the green grass, the dark blue cloudy sky and the white boats floating in the harbour. Matt and his musicians played their hearts out this afternoon right at the end of the Christmas season. Between the band and the dancers rose a wonderful vibe. Under the flickering lights of the hotel’s magic Christmas tree, we danced sets like the Labasheeda, Moycullen, South Galway, Antrim Square, Derradda and Newport.
With the light outside fading, the magic touch of the ceili kept going. For the last figure of the Connemara Set, Matt surprised us all by playing the popular carol Jingle Bells. I experienced this before a few years ago and totally loved it. I could have kept on swinging in the big Christmas forever. Almost at the end of the afternoon, Matt asked for one minute of silence to play one of his beautiful airs for everyone. Watching him play so delicately on his tin whistle under the Christmas tree almost moved me to tears.
At the very end of the ceili, Matt told us that he loves Christmas and this was his last chance to play a Christmas song. Instead of the Irish anthem, he played the Silent Night. Standing in a circle with hands crossed, dancers joined in the singing. I admit I did not know the words in English and since it is originally a German Christmas song called Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, I silently sang in German.
Then mc Eileen O’Doherty thanked each and every dancer for coming along, from the bottom of her heart. Despite worries in the organising team about the early date this year, the attendance was as good as always. All money made during this weekend is donated directly to the Irish Cancer Foundation, thanks to the voluntary work of Betty McCoy, Ann Grant, Michael Tubridy, Aidan Vaughan and many more.
Long live this beautiful, traditional weekend, attended by so many people significantly involved in the Irish set dancing scene, keeping the tradition of set dancing alive in so many ways.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
An added dimensionThe weekend at Malahide in memory of the late Connie Ryan had an added dimension this year when Betty McCoy launched Pat Murphy’s third book, Apples in Winter. The event was sandwiched between Aidan Vaughan’s class on steps and the Slievenamon group’s ceili, so there was a good crowd to hear Betty relate how almost twenty years ago she, Pat and Connie went down to Newport to meet Mickey Kelly and learn the Newport Set. “There was no technology then. I scribbled down the figures and Pat worked out the bars of music. He stayed up all night to get it right.”
His meticulous work has continued and in this book he documents over seventy dances. Apart from the detailed instructions it also contains contributions from dancers that Pat has met on his world trips with background histories of how dancing became established in their areas. I found Alexey Popov’s account of dancing in Russia and his first email encounters with Pat, when he thought he might be dealing with Patricia, hilarious.
The weekend was a joy, well organised, with great workshops and lovely music. There were some particular memories. All the bands at the weekend paid tribute to Pat by playing his favourite jig, Apples in Winter, so we heard four different versions of this lovely tune. Emphasis (which pleased Timmy Woulfe) was put on steps and two uncomplicated sets were chosen by Pat and Tony Ryan to teach. Aidan Vaughan demonstrated a new routine of sean nós steps and was accompanied on the banjo by Theresa Hughes of the Brian Ború.
Michael Tubridy’s teaching of the dancing steps of James Keane and Dan Furey brought enthusiasts to the class at 10am on Sunday and Mairéad Casey came to the rescue to take over from Mick Mulkerrin as he was indisposed. She was lively and encouraging and I know has inspired many dancers to follow her style. Claire Keville’s concertina was perfect for her class.
Betty McCoy, Michael Tubridy and Ann and John Grant have bravely decided to go ahead for another year and next year’s weekend will be on the 15th, 16th and 17th January. To date they have raised €85,000 for cancer research.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
The beautiful walled town of Nenagh in Co Tipperary, which is surrounded by the picturesque towns of Dromineer and Garrykennedy, with the busy market town of Thurles just thirty minutes drive away, is a superb town to visit at any time of year but for set dancers the weekend from the 16th to 18th of January was a real treat. Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan hosted their twelfth annual set dance weekend in memory of Clonoulty (Co Tipperary) dance master Connie Ryan. The luxurious Abbey Court Hotel was the venue for this superb weekend.
The weekend got underway on Friday night as the large gathering danced to the lively music of local musician Tom McCarthy. The selection of sets included the lovely Antrim Square and the local Ballycommon. Pat Murphy was our mc for the night. We danced the night away careful to leave some energy for the following day’s workshop.
Saturday morning at 10.30am our set dancing workshop began with Pat as dance master. The first set he taught us was the Bonane Set from the small village of Bonane near Kenmare, Co Kerry. This five-figure set has three polkas, a slide and finishes with a hornpipe. This is a simple set and could easily be danced at ceilis, as all the moves are already in most of the popular sets that we dance. Pat told us that he got this set from dance master and historian Timmy Woulfe of Athea, Co Limerick, who learned it from the Bonane set dancers.
The second set of the morning was the Aran Set. Pat told us that this set was recorded on Inis Mór by Séamus Ó Méalóid and that it was one of Connie Ryan’s favourites. I have danced the three figures of this little set (two reels and a polka) many times at workshops but very rarely at a ceili.
The afternoon workshop got off to a superb start with the Moycullen Set. This gem has four figures, two reels, a jig and a polka. Pat said he got it in May 2008 from Marie Philbin, who teaches a set dancing class in Moycullen and revived the set at the request of her dancers there in 2006. Originally danced locally many decades ago, it was first revived at the height of competition set dancing in the seventies and eighties, but faded when competition dancing grew less popular. As Pat said, thanks to Marie the Moycullen Set takes its place in the mainstream of set dancing. This is a set that will definitely be danced at ceilis as it offers nice moves with a bit of thinking, but a continuity that makes it easy to remember.
The next set Pat taught was the Newcastle Set from south Tipperary. It has some nice moves and similarities to the Co Waterford set, the Sliabh gCua. This set has six figures, four polkas, a hornpipe and a polka. Pat said that sometimes the fifth and sixth figures were danced as one figure to polkas. Pat thanked Timmy Woulfe for giving him this set.
Pat concluded his workshop by teaching us two beautiful waltzes, the Cuckoo Waltz, danced in slow tempo to the tune of the same name, and the Ruby Waltz, which he described as a wedding dance. Pat told us that he got these and many more of his two-hand dances from Janice Ward, who teaches these dances in the north of Ireland.
With dinner over, the second ceili of the weekend began at 9pm to the superb music of the Abbey Ceili Band. Our mc tonight was Michael Loughnane from Thurles, a well-known dance master who has been involved in dancing all his life. We danced a wonderful selection of sets with Michael calling the moves for less familiar ones. Pat called the Moycullen Set from the class earlier in the day.
Sunday morning, our workshop began with Pat teaching the Naas Set, which was composed by Marie Kelly for her dancing class in Naas, Co Kildare. Pat said that Marie told him her favourite set was the Cashel and you definitely can see similarities in this gentle little set. The first figure is a slide, then two polkas, a hornpipe and the last figure is a jig. Pat acknowledged Syl Bell and Liz Hand who were at the workshop. Both Syl and Liz teach this set at their weekly classes in the Kildare area.
The second half of the workshop was dedicated to more two-hand dances. By popular request we went over the Cuckoo Waltz again, then we danced the Charleston and the Royal Windsor Waltz.
The last ceili of the weekend saw the Brian Ború Ceili Band on stage. We had a terrific ceili with magic music. Even those feeling tired after all the weekend dancing were energised by this music from the heart. The selection of sets was most imaginative. Once more we had Michael Loughnane as our mc. Among the sets danced was the lovely Clare Orange and Green, one of the older and sometimes forgotten sets. Pat called the Naas Set from the morning class. The last set of the weekend and the ceili was the Sliabh Fraoch.
All too soon the weekend had come to an end. This festival was expertly organised and the warmth and friendship of all the committee is to be commended. The location is super; the facilities a dream. The value for money was second to none. We had the opportunity to learn new sets and dance some old almost forgotten favourites. We made new friends and rekindled old friendships.
Joan Pollard Carew
On Halloween, dancers came in to Frankfurt-am-Main from Ireland and Switzerland, and from Berlin, Bodensee, Erlangen and Heidelberg in Germany, to join 35 members of the Irish Set Dancers Frankfurt for their annual set dancing weekend. This year, the Builders, Agricultural, and Forestry Workers Union, in the spirit of international cooperation, generously allowed us to use their splendid symposium facilities for the weekend. Chains of coloured lights, dimmed main lights and tables with pumpkins, squashes, candles and snacks gave everyone a warm welcome.
Annie and Bert Moran (Schull, Co Cork) led the informal workshop and ceili on Friday evening. Sean Walsh (also from Schull and leader of Skibbereen Junior Ceili Band) wouldn’t let us practice to CDs, and accompanied by Roland Hess (guitar) and Petra (bodhrán), the trio made for a brilliant evening with their talented playing. The university’s new term brought many new students to us, as did Noel McFadden’s beginners group from the European Central Bank. Annie and Bert’s clear instruction, and the tempered playing during the workshop session allowed the beginners integrate easily with more experienced dancers. After going over the basic steps, we launched into the Labasheeda Set. Bert explained to everyone how the Waves of Tory came to get its name from the rough seas around Tory Island. In spite of much laughter, everyone managed to duck at the right time and there were no collisions! As the evening progressed, the Cashel, Connemara, Ballyvourney Reel, and Ballyvourney Jig sets and the Siege of Carrick kept everyone very warm. After the clock struck midnight someone mentioned that it was Bert’s birthday, and he struggled with candles that refused to go out.
Warm autumnal sun streamed through the windows on Saturday as we were taken through the Dunmanway, Roscahill, West Kerry and Sliabh Fraoch sets. The different squares of the latter made it very popular. In the evening, the Killian Ceili Band led as usual by Donal Campbell, and accompanied by Ekhart Topp, Jackie Small and Sean Walsh, played for a lively four hours. Accompanied by Sean, Bert topped the evening with a number of songs.
The weekend ended at noon on Sunday after covering all the new sets of the weekend and some of our old favourites. Our thanks to Bert, Annie, the Killian Ceili Band and all those who helped.
Andrew Podzorski, Frankfurt, Germany
Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, Co Down, has been keeping you up to speed with the workshops and ceilis we have been running in Downpatrick and Newcastle. The purpose of this letter is to offer, from our own perspective, some comments on the issues on which Timmy Woulfe has sought to encourage debate in his recent letter in the December 2008–January 2009 edition.
Down Arts Centre is a regional arts centre run by Down District Council’s Arts Service and is the Council’s main medium for introducing and encouraging the people of Down District to participate in local art activities. We present a broad range of art forms and are keen to support and develop activities where it is clear that there is local interest and potential for growth. As a service, we are not driven by profit, but rather by the desire to enhance the quality of life of our residents and visitors to the District.
Our own experience of teaching set dance chimes with Timmy Woulfe’s views that there is a clear need for opportunities for potential set dancers to have regular access to beginners’ workshops. We began our beginners’ workshops some time ago and run them every couple of months. These workshops are an intended supplement to the regular set dancing classes which are run in the area (the information about which you have kindly included in your magazine) so that beginners can test the water, and if keen, have the opportunity to both learn and develop their understanding of basic steps.
In this we have been drawing on the knowledge and skills of Ashley Ray. Ashley started set dancing in 1994, and learnt from experienced local dancers and teachers including Mary Fox, Treasa Barron and Joe Farrell. In addition, Ashley pays tribute to the benefit he obtained by attending a couple of Connie Ryan’s workshops towards the end of Connie’s life, and subsequently, many of those excellent workshops at which Pat Murphy ably passes on his vast experience.
It is through Ashley’s interest in helping beginners and passing on his love of this form of dancing that we have been able to contribute to the development of set dance within Down District. Ashley is strongly of the view that his workshops benefit hugely from the support he gets from experienced dancers who also attend and are anxious to pass on their enjoyment to others. Such experienced dancers provide wonderful individual tuition by simply dancing with beginners, which also fulfils the vital role of helping the beginner develop confidence.
In his letter, Timmy bemoaned the trend of including jiving, sean nós and brush dancing in set dancing events as a down grading in the pecking order of things. Whether this will, as Timmy considers, result in disillusionment with the pastime of set dancing, will generate much debate. There are those who believe that widening dance experience is always beneficial, however the challenge is how dancers can be introduced to, and given opportunities to experience alternative forms of dance.
Quite independently the Down Arts Centre has been experimenting with maintaining and developing the set dancing experience. Alongside our beginners’ workshops we have been providing workshops with Ashley that offer set dancers the opportunity to experience some different sets, followed by a ceili where the sets are called. To date we have included the Antrim Square Set, the Sliabh Fraoch, the Limerick Tumblers and, as we are in Co Down, one of the older sets, the Down Lancers.
We believe there is a need for opportunities such as this, which would not otherwise be delivered, either because of the profit motive or because of the natural tendency to avoid the unknown and remain in the comfort zone of the familiar. For this reason we consider it important to support a two-fold structure of beginners’ workshops, and workshops and ceilis where different sets can be danced.
We held another beginners’ workshop at the arts centre on 17 January, which attracted some three sets of new dancers or recent beginners plus one or two who have been dancing for some time. At the workshop Ashley taught the basic reel and polka steps using the Plain and Cashel sets, to place the steps in a dancing setting. We are planning to continue these beginners’ workshops alongside workshops and ceilis where different sets can be danced. We will continue to keep you up to date.
Set Dancing News provides a valuable resource of information about set dance activities worldwide and it’s clear that the range of activity is immense and the interest undiminished.
We are grateful to Timmy for opening up the debate on these issues and, like him, will be interested in views on the issues he raised and on what we have been doing, and are planning. We can always learn how to improve!
With best wishes,
Rachel Kennedy, Down Arts Centre
Dear Set Dancing News,
We would like to express our enthusiasm for a beautiful friendship going on for a long time between the Irish Set Dancing Community and our dancing group from northern Italy.
Five years ago, Claudio, Cristina, Gigi, Meri, Betta and Remo discovered the fantastic world of set dancing and took part in the Listowel weekend—after that they didn’t miss one!
Then they participated in many fleadhs and dancing weekends such as the Castletown Half-Door Club weekend or the summer World Fleadh. And many others joined the group, carried away by their excitement and by the great craic of a real Irish ceili. Now we can happily say that a passionate and growing group of people enjoying set dancing has been established in the northeast area of Italy. Besides weekly classes in the city of Bologna we organize ceilis with cd music, usually once a month in different towns of northern Italy in order to involve as many dancers as possible and always meet new people interested in having fun with Irish music and dancing.
Last but not least, we thank all the Irish dancers and the organisers for their work and dedication which enables us to enjoy many pleasant days in the Emerald Isle.
Laura Zanella, Ferrara, Italy
The best that I have seenDear Bill,
Following a very successful and pleasurable workshop with Timmy ‘the Brit’ McCarthy at the Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney, Co Cork, in November, I would like to voice some comment on the weekend. Timmy teaches with his own style, and his humour is to be commended. Tradition is a big part of his teaching, dancing to the old style as I remember from the Wren dances locally in west Limerick and north Kerry.
In my memories of the Sliabh Luachra and West Limerick sets there was no particular order to the square; one danced as you liked with respect to the other dancers in the set, of course. Tops did not exist in the set; the tops were called as the set went on. Each part might have a different top couple. Battering was spontaneous, not in any order; ladies did not batter at all.
Timmy teaches this style as I remember it, the best that I have seen, paying particular detail to the old style of dancing down low and gently shuffling around, no high stepping as is danced in competition, and time to converse with your partner. He did several polka and jig sets, which are alike but different in their own way, much unto the Clare sets. He did the Connemara very well also, with the same traditional style that he had seen from traditional dancers.
His workshop consisted of some Irish, French, English, German and Auckland Islanders, yet he was able to deliver our tradition as good as I have seen. We were entertained by a group from Bavaria with lovely music and dancing. I was sorry to have to cut the weekend short because of having to return home to our own ceili in Abbeyfeale.
With respect to all the other teachers in the country now , and they all do a great job, having attended Timmy’s workshops, personally I can say his workshop is a breath of fresh air, with Timmy teaching, playing for the class, telling a few jokes, coming down the floor, just picking a woman to show the part, and having the craic—it works for me. I enjoy workshops with all teachers but I have to say Timmy’s workshop is so informal, and so much fun—compliments from those of us who were there from West Limerick. Thank you Timmy, keep up the good work!
Ann Curtin, West Limerick Set Dancing Club, Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick
No detentions were necessary
Devon’s Newton Abbot set dance group held its end of term Christmas ceili on the 17th December with superb music from the Mooncoin Ceilidh Band. Fancy dress was the order of the evening, the theme being “school days” and needless to say everyone was more than willing to enter in to the spirit of the dance party! I am pleased to report that no detentions were necessary as the two head girls Maggie Daniel and Mary Bingham kept all the dancers well under control!
Russell Gellman, Tiverton, Devon
The help they have given meBill,
I’d like to wish all in Set Dancing News the very best of health for the future. I’m having a ball with Oisín House Set Dancers in Killeshin, Bennekerry and Leighlinbridge. I would like to thank all the dancers for their patience with me and all the help they have given me.
A very special thanks to Peter O’Neill in Oisin House, Hilary Nic Íomhair in Royal Oak and Dennis in Dungarvan.
God bless you all. Happy New Year to all.
John Ryan, Aughamuckey, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny
Remembering EddieDear Bill,
In the February–March 2008 edition of Set Dancing News you wrote a lovely article about my father, the late Edmund (Eddie) Moynihan, Dublin. On the occasion of Eddie’s anniversary I am writing on behalf of the family to thank you most sincerely for the lovely words you wrote about him and to thank all my father’s set dancing friends for their kindness over the past year in remembering Eddie. To all those who attended the removal and funeral, gave Mass cards and letters, offered support and kind words and travelled long distances to be with us, we thank you most sincerely.
Our thoughts are with all of you who continue to remember Eddie. My father loved set dancing and he was a kind and gentle man and we all love and miss him so much still. We wish you the very best for the future.
Mary Moynihan, Rathmines, Dublin 6
Night filled with fun
The Shannean Set Dancers held their Christmas party in Blacklion Golf Club, Co Cavan, on Tuesday 16th December. A great night was had by all members despite the icy roads. Eight sets turned out and our public relations officer Sean Flanagan proved multi-talented on the night, doing dj with a selection of music for jives, waltzes, quick-steps and sets. Starting at eight o’clock with a break for a hot supper at 9.30pm, the dancing continued till after twelve. Not only was the night filled with fun and dancing but proved beneficial for the local community as the group gave donations to Belcoo Playgroup, Co Fermanagh, and our local national school, Scoil Naomh Pádraig, Blacklion.
Kathleen Keaney, Blacklion, Co Cavan
Before any partying
Our Wednesday night set dancing class at the Irish American Home Society in Glastonbury, Connecticut, just finished the 2008 season with the usual set dancers’ Christmas party. I have a standing rule—we must dance three sets and take a group picture before any partying can begin! The party was a most enjoyable social event with food and conversation aplenty.
I am enclosing a picture of the set-dance group with “yours truly” sprawled out on the floor in front. About fifteen dancers were absent due to other family events and/or Christmas shopping.
Nollaig Shona dhuit agus do gach uile rinceóir seit san domhain. (Happy Christmas to you and to every set-dancer on the planet.)
John Droney, Hartford, Connecticut
Over €14,010 was raised
I would like to thank everyone who supported the set dancing weekend in the Diamond Coast Hotel, Enniscrone, Co Sligo, last November, and to all the people who travelled long journeys, all the ticket sellers, especially Gerry Flynn of Enjoy Travel who sponsored the two tickets for Fleadh Ibiza ’09, and anyone who helped in any way, thank you. Congratulations to Mary Hallinan who was the lucky winner of the two tickets. All proceeds of this weekend went to Mayo Cancer Support; over €14,010 was raised.
Looking forward to seeing you all again on the 6th, 7th and 8th of November 2009—more details later in the Set Dancing News.
Oliver Fleming, Bonniconlon, Ballina, Co Mayo
Working on his birthdayDear Bill,
We would like to thank all the people who came to our annual New Year’s Day ceili in the Dolmen Hotel, Carlow town, this year, and also the people who were unable to attend but sent donations and good wishes. Danny Webster played brilliantly as usual and did not mind working on his birthday. Celebrity callers Syl Bell, Maureen Culleton, Paddy Hanlon and John Sheehan added to the fun and enjoyment of the afternoon. We raised €1,775 and shared this between the Carlow Rape Crisis Centre and a school for the blind in Kenya. The Dolmen Hotel has a lovely dance floor and is an excellent venue. Quite a few of the set dancers stayed on for the regular social dancing that night, God bless their energy!
Looking forward to another mighty céili on 1-1-2010.
Go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo arís,
Hilary Nic Íomhair and Geraldine Byrne, Carlow
Returning to Camden Town
I would be grateful if you would publish this photo in the next edition of Set Dancing News. We are some of the Carrignavar set dancers having a great time at the Return to Camden Town festival in London. In the background is the Ivy Leaf Ceili Band who provided fantastic music on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. We are going again next year.
Thanks again and wishing you plenty dancing for 2009.
Joan O'Connor, Whitecross, Co Cork
On Monday December 15th, my Christmas ceili and party was held in the Community Centre, Ballyfin, Co Laois. Music on the night was provided by Sean Norman’s ceili band with special guest Paul Finn, button accordion player with the all-Ireland champion Inisfree Ceili Band. Paul was accompanied by his brother Brian on guitar and Catherina Lott on keyboard. Joe Monaghan provided jokes and stories to add to the festive atmosphere. Noel Cooney gave a display of sean nós dancing and Tommy Joe Mooney showed his unique style of brush dancing. Mary Comiskey and Maureen Culleton danced Steip a’ Cipín, a duet danced over crossed sticks to the tune of the Peeler and the Goat. It was usually performed by Mary and her family at the station Mass in the Macroom area of Co Cork. The night concluded with a combined rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the Ballyvourney Jig to die for! Handshakes, hugs and Christmas wishes were exchanged and the crowd dispersed to frost-free travel conditions having enjoyed a super occasion.
The next ceili was on St Stephen’s night in Durrow, Co Offaly, organised by Clonaslee Comhaltas. Travel conditions were safe so I gladly attended. As usual Durrow provided a cosy atmosphere and music played by Davy Joe Fallon and Carousel. This is an annual event and everyone welcomes the exercise after the Christmas day abundances. Davy Joe never fails to deliver steady music to dance to and he can also sing while he plays for waltzes and quicksteps. A most enjoyable night was experienced by all present.
New Year’s Eve brought me to Edenderry, Co Offaly, for the annual ceili in the GAA centre. Sean Norman was on duty again and as usual at the midnight countdown balloons were released into the hall and the New Year was welcomed with Auld Lang Syne and the Hokey Cokey. As 2009 got off to a lively start with the Plain Set, as a matter of fact we had to dance four figures in 2008, take a break to welcome the New Year and the Gallop was the first figure of ’09! We were also treated to sean nós dancing by Noel Cooney, Adam Burke, Pat O’Toole and Jim Monaghan while Tommy Joe Mooney was on foot with his brush dance. The night concluded with advice to drive carefully as frost and fog were making conditions hazardous.
The next day being New Year’s Day my friends and I decided that we should travel to the Dolmen Hotel, Carlow, to attend the charity ceili organised by Hilary Nic Íomhair and Geraldine Byrne. What a comfortable venue this hotel is. A wonderful evening of dance was enjoyed by all with the usual lively music supplied by Danny Webster. This was a four-hour ceili so to relax at the tea break we were treated to singalong music and songs by Jack Byrne on guitar. As the evening progressed Jack also sang along with Danny for the more familiar waltzes and quick steps. Hilary took a break from calling the sets and invited, in her own words, “celebrity callers” to give a hand. Syl Bell directed the Cúchulainn, John Sheehan the Newport, Paddy O’Hanlon the South Kerry and I called the Claddagh. I hadn’t danced the South Kerry for a long time but with Paddy’s expertise we soon got the hang of the unusual body and traffic flowed freely. So here’s to another great year of dance.
Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
Set dance enthusiasts from all over Ireland and from many parts of Europe travelled specially to Carrigaline, Co Cork, for the annual Christmas Céilí Mór in the GAA Pavilion on Saturday last 13th December. The Abbey Ceili Band certainly drew the crowds and played at their very best from 9.30pm throughout the night with no fewer than 22 sets still on the floor clamouring for more at 1.30am. It was a fabulous night and people went away with very happy memories and looking forward to meeting again in the New Year. The Owenabue Valley Traditional Group who were celebrating their twelfth year of the ceili had the hall specially decorated for the occasion and at the tea break a birthday cake was ceremoniously piped in by Sean O’Riordan. Dancers flew in for the ceili from Italy, Germany, France and London and Manchester; while despite the frosty weather conditions many enthusiasts came from Galway, Offaly, Dublin, Kilkenny, Clare, Kerry, Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and many parts of Co Cork.
Aislinn Cogan, Carrigaline
The Turloughmore Ceili Band are a Clare mega ceili band of ten musicians well able to play in the full competitive style, precise and well-rehearsed, but in their new CD, The Green Road, they show a delicate, soulful side as well. Joining them in half the tracks is Cork singer Seán Ó Sé, and his warm mellow voice is perfectly accompanied by quiet music beautifully arranged. Some of the songs and tunes are newly composed, many of the rest are unusual, and even the familiar ones sound fresh and invigorating. The CD is available in shops in Ireland or contact the band for more info.
At the other end of the ceili band spectrum is Cúpla, a Carlow-based duo consisting of Richie Kelly on accordion and Pat Ryan on drums and vocals. They’re a long time playing music together and in recent years have become popular with set dancers in the southeast of Ireland. At their ceilis they sell two of their own CDs, Welcome to Ireland and The Glen of Aherlow, both having a selection of country songs and their punchy ceili music so popular at ceilis. Richie Kelly also has at least three solo cds as well, Let’s Have a Ceili, King of Ceili and Irish Dancing Beginners. All five are published by Chart Records, Dublin, and can be found in Irish shops. A Google search located them for sale on the site www.cdworld.ie at bargain prices, and they were even listed on Amazon’s sites in France, Germany and Japan.
A book specifically about the Donegal mazurka and its origins has been researched, written and produced by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh. He explores the origins of the dance in Poland, its spread around the world and its adoption in Ireland and specifically Donegal. A CD included with the book lets you listen to over thirty different mazurkas played by Donegal fiddlers Tommy Peoples, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, the author and others. Transcriptions of the tunes are notated in the book. Even better for those wishing to learn Donegal mazurkas, the book also includes a short DVD, which first shows a mazurka danced in Poland in a ballet style. Connie McKelvey and Anne Connaghan then dance and teach Shoe the Donkey, an old-style mazurka and the modern type more commonly danced in Donegal, but rather rare elsewhere. The teaching is engaging and effective. Contact Connie for information on obtaining the book and disks.
I don’t suppose many reading this will have heard of a place called Rehoboth Beach before it was ever mentioned in the pages of this magazine, but for me the name recalls my childhood family summer beach vacations on the short Atlantic coast of the state of Delaware. My parents rented a cottage in a place called Fenwick Island, midway between the little town of Rehoboth and bustling Ocean City just over the border in Maryland. Summers here were hot and sunny, the beaches a vast expanse of clean white sand, and the refreshing ocean inviting enough to spend hours splashing around each day until my fingers turned a wrinkly shade of blue. We spent our nights playing games, toasting marshmallows in a campfire on the beach, or enjoying the amusements and junk food on the boardwalk in Ocean City. We didn’t often head up to Rehoboth—there was more fun in the big city.
Nowadays the appeal of the two places has reversed for me. Ocean City seems overcrowded with high-rise condos and tawdry tourist tat, while Rehoboth is still the little low-rise town it always was. The mile-wide beach of my memory is only a few yards today; perhaps that’s because I’ve grown longer legs and bigger eyes since then, but natural erosion and storm damage have taken away most of the sand and brought the ocean waves nearly up to the boardwalk. Some of the shops I remember as a child are still here selling ice cream, caramel popcorn and souvenirs, and now there’s an appealing cosmopolitan selection of boutiques, bistros and bars. The main highway leading here is lined with malls, supermarkets and outlets, but the town itself has wisely been spared from excess commercial blight. While I’m sure it’s still ideal for a summer family vacation, I can certainly recommend Rehoboth Beach as a superb spot for an autumn set dancing weekend!
It was an unexpected change of plans that brought dancers here from October 24th to 26th. The Greater Washington (DC) Ceili Club (GWCC) have organised set dancing weekends in the beach resort of Cape May, New Jersey, for each of the past twenty years. Workshops and ceilis always took place in the town’s convention hall, but a safety inspection of the building in April found structural damage severe enough to force immediate closure. The club moved their weekend to a new town, a new venue and a new date. I jumped at the chance to attend!
The Atlantic Sands Hotel was a well-chosen venue, located right on the boardwalk a block from the wide main street at the centre of town. My arrival coincided with the arrival of the dance floor—club members were loading big square timber panels onto the lift for installation in the third floor ballroom. My room was conveniently arranged with a lounge, a little kitchen and a balcony facing the street, so I felt very much at home there. The club hosted an afternoon reception on Friday in a house beside the hotel to welcome everyone with a spread of food and drink and a free commemorative t-shirt. After a meal in one of the trendy restaurants down the street, I waited by the ballroom doors with other eager dancers while the band readied their sound equipment.
When the doors opened, the gleaming floor filling the whole room was the first thing I spotted. Second was the lofty two-storey ceiling, and the full wall of glass facing south was third, though its full glory was only revealed in daylight. It was a gorgeous ballroom. The band started by calling the Corofin Set. When the action began I went straight into top gear, and everyone on the floor demonstrated the greatest pleasure. The band was a group of five, John Whelan, Bernadette Fee, Jimmy Kelly, Felix Dolan and Laura Byrne Egan, the first four from the New York area and Laura from greater Washington. They played just what we needed, tuneful, lively music that left very few sitting out. We danced nine sets, a waltz and a delightful High-Cauled Cap, all without calling. Some referred to their own homemade cue cards and others just asked each other where to go. A few newcomers needed special attention but they got plenty of help. There was so much dancing I was never sure when the music was going to stop for the night. After the Mazurka Set, while I was arranging a partner for the next set, piano accompanist Felix Dolan shouted out, “That’s it! Go home!”
Joe O’Donovan was the first to teach at this weekend in 1988, followed by Connie Ryan from the following year through 1996. Following Connie’s death in 1997 the weekend has been held in his memory, with Mick Mulkerrin teaching that year. Since 1998 Padraig and Roisin McEneany have had the pleasure of leading these workshops, making this one their eleventh! As he often does, Padraig began the workshop and each set with step practice, starting at a basic level for beginners and introduces a few more intricate steps for improving dancers. The craze for the Antrim Square Set has spread over here so that was top of Pádraig’s agenda, along with the Tory Island and Sliabh gCua sets. A break divided the session, and some of us headed to the nearby Irish pub for lunch, where I couldn’t resist the local speciality—a crab cake sandwich. Blue crabs caught in the local bays are the most popular type of seafood here. The workshop ended at 3.30pm to prepare for a concert by our five musicians which was free and open to the public, though I and many of the dancers relished a chance to visit the shops. I heard that one dancer bought a twelve-foot kayak on sale at a bargain price, while those at the concert raved about the jig Bernadette Fee danced while playing the fiddle. Next time I promise I’ll choose the dancing fiddler! On the other hand, news of cheap kayaks was received with surprising interest by other dancers. Actually, with the rain, thunder and lightning we had that night, they could have come in mighty handy!
Our musicians were back on stage for the Saturday ceili where we danced another nine sets and a waltz. Pádraig called two of the workshop sets, the Tory Island and Antrim Square, and the pocket prompt cards were whipped out again before each figure of the other sets. There was a lost property announcement during the ceili—a copy of The Flowing Tide, Pat Murphy’s second book of sets, was found, oddly enough, in the ladies’ bathroom. At the end of the night GWCC member Tom Scullen from Maryland made a point of thanking the musicians, Linda Fitzpatrick, who did such a great job of organising everything, and the dancers, who showed up from as far afield as Dallas, Detroit, Ottawa, Maine, New Mexico and Ireland, of course, though most were from the Washington, Philadelphia and New York areas.
A glorious day with not a cloud in the deep blue sky recharged my energy on Sunday morning. I took a quick walk before the workshop and was pleased to see the town buzzing again, full of families dressed up in costume for Rehoboth’s annual Halloween celebration, the Sea Witch Festival. Kids went trick-or-treating to participating shops. There was music, markets, a fiddle competition and even a costume competition for dogs. If set dancing wasn’t enough to keep your interest for a full weekend, Rehoboth had a lot more to offer.
After more work on everyone’s steps, Padraig and Roisin taught the Killyon, that rarely-seen Offaly set which we had great fun with when it was introduced a few years ago—I can report that it’s still lots of fun today. This was noticed by a spectator beside our set, a lovely lady who watched with a big grin and shouted encouragement. I asked why she wasn’t dancing, and she explained she didn’t dance; she was only accompanying a dancing friend. We gave her our own encouragement and soon she got up and danced a few figures. The grin became even bigger and I was certain that set dancing had found a new convert.
While I would have liked to continue dancing with another ceili as we would in Ireland, the free afternoon was a help to people travelling long distances home, and also to the floor dismantling team. Those of us who didn’t have to rush off indulged in a bit of lunch and the Sea Witch atmosphere. It was hard to leave Rehoboth after such a good time there. While it hasn’t been announced where next year’s weekend will take place, it won’t be in Cape May. In the November general election, voters in that town approved a million plan for a new convention center which is expected to open in May 2010. So I suspect there’s a good chance the 2009 Cape May weekend will once again be in Rehoboth Beach.
Don’t miss it!
The luxurious MSC Opera cruise liner with its Italian touch was home to over 800 holidaymakers for a full week from 22nd to 29th September on Enjoy Travel’s Mediterranean cruise starting in Trieste, Italy. We registered and were shown to our cabins with welcoming efficiency. Our baggage was taken care of by the ship’s crew members and delivered to our cabins. Changed, showered and ready to have a ball, I went to meet fellow holidaymakers.
I joined Danny and Mary Webster for coffee and a chat. Later we were joined by Mickey Kelly. We spoke with anticipation of the week ahead and enjoyed offerings from the welcome buffet in the cafeteria on deck 11. Crowds gathered on deck 10 at 5pm when we set sail for Ancona with the Galway Bay Jazz Band setting the scene for a tremendous festival.
Mick Mackey and the session musicians gathered in the disco on deck 12 and were joined by Brendan Daly and Sean Sweeney from the Annaly Ceili Band. We danced the Connemara and Newport, our first sets on board ship.
Tuesday we docked in Ancona, Italy, at approximately 8am. Many holidaymakers left the ship to see some of its many interesting and beautiful sites. Those who stayed on deck had a super afternoon dancing to Ally Harron and Marion Curry.
We were advised in our newsletter each day on the dress code for dinner and all activities, tours and events. Tonight it was informal. Enjoy Travel delivered their own programme to each cabin daily.
The ship came alive each night with guests enjoying the many dancing opportunities with social dancing on deck 7, a session on deck 5 and the ceili on deck 11. The Copperplate Ceili Band got the ceili underway at nine o’clock. We danced eight sets, most of them the usual sets with the Newport and Derradda included. The music was fabulous as we danced with the Italian breeze in our hair.
The first concert of our festival got underway at 9.30pm in the spectacular theatre on deck 6. The show got underway with Reely Jiggin’. Our feet were tapping to their music, which is a mix of hillbilly, bluegrass and Celtic trad. The star of the show was renowned and popular comedian Brendan Grace. The show was electric and when Brendan closed the night with Elvis Presley songs he received a standing ovation.
Wednesday was a relaxing day at sea. Each morning began with Mass on deck 7. At eleven we had our first set dancing tuition with Mickey Kelly. Six sets gathered and Mickey danced the Antrim Square Set and finished with the Slosh. Numbers grew over the morning and we had eight sets by the end. Mickey in his usual nurturing style coaxed along the large gathering of beginners who joined us. Our venue had to be indoors on deck 12 as the weather was wet and windy.
After our gala dinner with ladies in evening dress and gents in tuxedos the entertainment began. Our ceili was held in the disco lounge with the Annaly Ceili Band on stage. We had a fantastic night’s dancing. Included in his list of sets tonight Mickey Kelly called the lovely Antrim Square Set. Seamus Shannon made a special guest appearance and we all danced the Siege of Ennis to his magic music.
The lounge was a bit like the Who’s Who of the showband and entertainment industry, with Dermot Hegarty, Pat Jordan, Brendan Grace, Tony Stevens, Larry Cunningham, the Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur all mingling with the holidaymakers as we sailed along the southern coast of the Peloponnesus.
Thursday morning at 8am we docked in Gythion, Greece. Some took trips ashore and most set dancers stayed on board ship and enjoyed Mickey Kelly’s workshop. We danced the Claddagh Set and finished with the Slosh by popular demand. Today the sunshine came back out to greet us and we danced a few hours away on deck 11.
Our ceili tonight saw Danny Webster on stage and we had a great night’s dancing. Included tonight was the Claddagh and Antrim Square. We had a few waltzes and two-hand dances. We managed to dance seven sets altogether. The session with Mick Mackey continued long after all the other entertainment finished, and crowds gathered to enjoy the contributions of professionals and amateurs alike.
Friday we docked in Piraeus at 8am. We had no set dancing class today as most holidaymakers were taking a tour of this area of Greece. Most took the tour of Athens and the Acropolis. Those who returned early and those who remained on board had the superb music of Tom and Irene followed by the Galway Bay Jazz band from 3.30pm on deck 11.
With dinner over it was time to revel the night away. Tonight we were spoiled for choice. We had Copperplate Ceili Band on stage in the disco lounge. Seamus Shannon made another guest appearance.
The theatre on deck 6 with its 700 seats housed our second concert. With every seat occupied the show began with Sharon Turley and Nathan Carter who brought the house down. It was a superb performance. The next artist was Michael Muldoon, another spellbinding act. Then the grand finale of the night saw the Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur on stage. I have not heard this group for many years and I can safely say it was a magical performance.
We had sailed by night once again and arrived in the Greek town of Corfu at 7am on Saturday morning. After breakfast, Mass and a walk around the ship in the brilliant sunshine, we had a lovely workshop with Mickey Kelly dancing the Ballyvourney Jig Set. As we were in dock until 7pm some friends took a trip in to Corfu to do some shopping and take in some of the famous sites and buildings. Those who remained on ship were bobbing in their seats to Reely Jiggin’ Band.
The ceili tonight saw the Annaly Ceili Band on stage on deck 11. You could see a big difference with the beginners who had attended Mickey Kelly’s workshops. In all we danced eight sets with a few waltzes interspersed. We danced as our ship sailed along with the Albanian coastline off the starboard side of the ship.
On Sunday our final day had arrived. We had docked at 8am in Dubrovnik, Croatia. With a shuttle bus service from the ship many holidaymakers went ashore. The afternoon on board ship was sheer magic with the Furey’s and Davey Arthur on deck 11.
The grand finale had arrived and after dinner, our final ceili took place on deck 11 with Danny Webster providing the exuberant music. Again all the usual sets were danced including The Antrim Square and Claddagh. It was a shame for the night to end but it ended on a high for set dancers. Meanwhile on deck 7 social dancers whiled away the night to Tom and Irene, Pádraig Farrell, Valerie Seale, Paddy Jordan, Dermot Hegarty, and Nathan Carter. Johnny Carroll with his golden trumpet brought the night and the festival to a close. With our luggage left outside our cabin doors at 12am for collection we had no worries about pulling bags off the ship.
As we had to disembark very early our holiday included a full-day tour of either Venice or Verona, depending on the airport we were returning home from. I was delighted that I had a trip to Venice, one place I always wanted to visit. I have heard it said, “See Naples and die,” but for me it would be, “See Venice and die.” With its wonderful streetscape and architecture it’s a lover’s dream. I didn’t take a trip on the gondolas, but I did have the most mouth-watering pasta dish ever to pass my lips.
This cruise was superb in every way. From the moment we reached the airport on arrival to the moment we left Treviso airport, it was a dream come true. We had the cream of Irish musicians and entertainers. Here’s to the 2009 cruise—don’t miss the boat!
Joan Pollard Carew
It was with great sadness on Saturday morning, 27th September, that we were informed of the death of Michael Slattery of Piercetown, Gooldscross, Co Tipperary. Mickey, as he was affectionately known, was husband to Margaret who has been at the helm of the Connie Ryan Gathering in Clonoulty for many years. He was better known to all Gathering fans as the man in the timber hut with the big smile selling the entrance tickets. Mickey had performed this function eminently for the organisers over the last nine years. Eight of these were outside the marquee in Clonoulty and finally last year in Halla Na Féile in Cashel.
This was only one of the many jobs Mickey undertook for the committee. It didn’t matter whether we needed an architect, an engineer or a tradesman Mickey could handle all of these professions at will. He always helped erecting advertising posters all over Tipperary and bunting in Clonoulty village but his most important role was making sure the marquee floor was put down correctly often insisting that the marquee company lift the floor and adjust it properly. It was due to his great knowledge of building construction that the floor in the marquee in Clonoulty was among the finest to dance on. He would always be on hand to help the FAS employees with their various tasks in preparation for the set dancing and when all was complete he would give the venue a final inspection and take up his role as our ticket seller.
Mickey is a great loss to the Connie Ryan Gathering Committee, but an enormous loss to his wife Margaret and his family to whom we extend our deepest sympathy.
Thanks for everything Mickey.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Billy Maher, Connie Ryan Gathering Committee
I am sorry to say that the great east Galway flute player, Paddy Treacy, passed away on Wednesday the 10th of September. Paddy was a member of the Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band along with Paddy Fahy, Paddy Kelly, Paddy Carthy, Paddy O’Brien, Joe Mills and George Shanley. He won the inaugural flute competition at the All Ireland Fleadh Ceoil in 1951 and again in 1954. He did not enter this competition again until 1964 and again took first place. He was awarded a gold medal for achieving 100% marks for his performance in the Oireachtas competition of 1956. After moving to Dublin in the late 1940s Paddy played with many ceili bands including the Kincora, Lough Gowna, St Patrick’s and Sheelin, and made many recordings for radio and television with these bands over the years.
Paddy was a very gracious and generous man and he was an inspiration to his many pupils, including all of my own family, over the years. I am glad to say that Paddy continued playing, teaching and enjoying music right up to the very last days of his illness.
Paddy is survived by his beloved wife Kaye, son David, daughter Jean and brothers Marty, Sonny, Tom Joe and Willie.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Le gach dea ghuí,
Paul McGrattan, Dublin 7
When I started out early in the morning in a bid to catch Pat Murphy’s workshop due to start at 10.30am, fog was lingering in the hollows between the foothills of the Comeragh Mountain range, and the sun was actually shining, imagine that. The forecast had promised a fine day, and for once, that seemed to be exactly what was unfolding. The drive down to Wexford was a breeze; very little traffic at this hour in the morning, and it was pleasant to cruise past Waterford, New Ross and on to Wexford town, catching up as I drove with a friend of mine who had been away in Vietnam.
For six years, according to organiser Mary Walsh, this set dancing weekend has been held in Curracloe Hotel, Co Wexford. She actually has been running weekends for fifteen years altogether. Mary told me that she enjoys putting on the weekend, as she gets to meet with old friends and make new ones. And indeed, there is a loyal gathering here each year of set dancers, with lots of familiar faces. Mary said that one year she was unable to cover the costs, and that the dancers “coughed up” the money! Also, there was a couple from Canada that Pat had met on one of his workshops over there, and he was delighted to see them again. First thing that struck me were all those yellow shirts! The new and shiny looking club polo shirt, prettily embroidered with the club’s name and a lady and gent dancing. They really stood out!
Pat Murphy was the teacher in residence for the weekend and we enjoyed seeing him do what seems to come so naturally to him: calmly and serenely getting across to people how it’s done. We are blessed to have him. Music came in the form of a “blast from the past,” as Pat put it, with an old recording by Shaskeen, and that was very nice indeed.
In the course of the workshop then, we got to dance a couple of sets that were completely new to me, and lovely they were: the Seit Doire Cholmcille and Naas Set. We also went over the Aran Set and the Clare Orange and Green. Pat ventured to say that the second figure of the Aran Set is really quite easy, and I suppose from a psychological point of view that’s better than saying that it is complicated and thus scaring people. Well, I would call it intricate, and both in the workshop and at the ceili we all did okay.
Seeing that the weather was so nice, I began to wilt after the morning workshop and a big lunch in the hotel (one of the biggest portions of chicken curry ever to be served) so the slow pace of the afternoon session suited me well. A few people had absconded to the beach, so the atmosphere was very relaxed, and when we finished just before 5pm with the Cuckoo Waltz, there were a couple of cuckoos heard in the hall.
We took the car back into town, and as we crossed the bridge just saw the tail end of a huge regatta—many small sailing boats, all white, floating towards the open sea. The evening was balmy; people hung around on the grass in public areas; the sky was crystal clear and so was the water at the quays; kids were out skateboarding and everyone was enjoying the late summer feel in the air. We ended up in an Italian restaurant with a front terrace where we could sit outside and bask in the last rays of the all-too-quickly setting sun.
Before long though, we headed back to Curracloe for the night’s ceili, and lounged around in the foyer for a while. Two members of the Brian Ború Ceili band joined us and we were told that the box player, Joe, was expecting his first baby and that tonight, Enda from the Copperplate Ceili Band was joining them instead. Their music was great, particularly towards the end of the ceili when folks became more vocal and the sets more energetic. The band was really roused and played excellent music for the Plain set. It sounded to all intents and purposes as if they had played together for years. The good news was as well that Pat called two of the workshop sets, the Aran and Clare Orange and Green, which kept people on their toes and guaranteed laughs—things do go wrong, occasionally.
And at the end of the ceili the story finished for me. With envy I watched people relax in the lounge, and as we were driving home, I kept thinking, “Should’ve stayed over,” because the whole outing was packed with so much stuff. The fog on the way home reiterated that.
Glad though I came. Fair play to you, Mary.
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford
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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