last updated 8 August 2009
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 53

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).

What a way to start a weekend

Easter is the time of year when we would have blown-out raw eggs, then used watercolours on them and finally hung them up on branches cut off forsythia bushes—many years ago that was! With time on my hands at Easter nowadays, going to a new set dancing weekend was an obvious affair.

Organised by Vincent Mullen and his daughter Tracey, who lives in St Albans, England, the Easter Extravaganza took place in the Bridge House Hotel in the town centre of Tullamore, Co Offaly. There was very little traffic travelling up but whatever cars there were stopped at one spot on the hard shoulder, mobile phones and cameras pointed at a most spectacular rainbow. I thought, what a way to start a weekend! With all the colours of the rainbow, if that isn’t a sign, what is? I arrived in plenty of time for a cup of coffee in the lounge with my friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a little while, so had plenty of catching up to do, but we got restless then, wanting to get on with the dancing!

And starting it with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, sure, you can’t go wrong. Dancing sardines giving it their all, luckily not pursued by predatory fish, the whole shoal of us capered around the dance floor this way and that, guided by the currents of the fiery tunes the band generates. Someone said that this band “has no off nights, you can always be sure about a marvellous delivery.” So true!

The night in the camper van was chilly; we had run out of gas. We just got up early in the morning, raced into town, drove around like headless chickens trying to find that special dealer for the special gas bottle, found him, kissed him, raced back to be on time for the morning workshop, made it, and finally relaxed doing the Moycullen Set, which I have come to love and maybe, at this point in time, call my favourite. Gerard Butler was leading the workshop, and after telling me that he had been at a session the previous night until five in the morning, I was left puzzled once again about where this man takes all that energy from. I met a Polish girl there, Anita, the first set dancer from Poland I have ever seen. (Strangely enough, a week later I met another one, plus her mum, at a ceili.) She told me she lives in Kildare and has been dancing for nigh on three and a half years, and would go anywhere by herself, as in fact she had done here in Tullamore. With set dancing, it’s doable to go on your own, meeting people and getting dances with them; standing in a set and putting your hand up is also an option. Just a little encouragement for wanting-to-join-the-craic first timers! Then we finished the session with a bit of sean nós—heel, dust, toe, one two three four! Whenever Ger asks the crowd whether they want to do some sean nós, there is always a cheery “yes” in response from all the aficionados, and part of that surely is the chance to see him dance a bit himself.

In the afternoon we witnessed the launch of the new band on the block, Tico Tico, (the name of a great tune, by the way) with Stephen Doherty on accordion, Síofra McHugh on keyboard, David Doocey on fiddle, Ger Butler on drums and divine Brona Graham on banjo. And here is what people said when asked what they thought of the music: “I wouldn’t change a thing.” “You could bring them anywhere!” “Really nice, I love the sound.” “Very sweet and rolling.” “Is that really their first time playing for a ceili? They sound so experienced!” “You couldn’t fault them.” For me, they seemed to bring together liveliness of Swallow’s Tail and the clarity of Heather Breeze, and after the first set it felt as if they fully relaxed into playing and got better and better. Very enjoyable indeed, well done folks! I would travel for you.

After filling up at dinner in the hotel with a lovely meal, the night ceili saw the Davey family playing. I hadn’t seen them since I was in London back in October, and so it was brilliant to hear them again, and they played very well indeed. Finally, the night was closed with a session with all the players from Tico Tico, and having secured a prime location, we munched dry roasted peanuts and experienced a confluence with the music. Almost porous, the tired body absorbed the tunes like an intravenous injection.

On Sunday morning, I was well rested and ready for action, and a lively jiving workshop did its bit to help release some energy. I felt it was one of the best jiving classes I’ve been to so far, it generated a high in me that lasted all day and night. Why? One aspect that was particularly good was to move people on after a while to get to jive with different partners. In a group of about forty people, I got to meet more than if I had stayed with the same partner, and since I am always curious about people it suited me down to the ground. Also, Ger had us dance a lot and jiving is strenuous—the release of happy hormones was thus ensured.

On then to do some jiving and waltzing and quickstepping in the afternoon to the lovely music of Breege Kelly and Michael Cleary. I was also shown how to do a slow waltz by both Ger and my friend, and that was something new again. I had assumed that slow waltzing simply meant waltzing slowly, ha ha, but this was different, if not the beat but the movements. This was an opportunity to grow into surrender mode and allow the gent to lead fully. Mark Bryan from west Cork showed me a line dance called Slapping Leather that I had seen him dance a couple of times. Thanks, Mark! I hope to do more of it, and saw in Set Dancing News that he is teaching the opening workshop in Listowel in October.

At last, on Sunday night, it was Lough Ree Ceili Band time! Let me see, how can I put it? A woman told me that now that the “drums are toned down a bit, they are fabulous.” Deliriously good is my take on them, wanting all that earth shattering stuff to go on and on. Could not and would not stop and take my ears off the music. Body and soul and mind conspired to let everything else sink into oblivion. A wall of music, earth, wind and fire, coming towards the set dancing demographic, sweeping over and through and under, rolling back and folding in on itself (a minute pause), then (with a stamp) roaring up again, woo hoo!

I was supposed to go home directly after the ceili, as my husband would stay up and wait for my homecoming, but no, I had to stay a little while longer and texted him, “Um, will be a little later.” He went straight to bed in a huff, and I had to wait until the following day to tell him all the latest news! Upstairs in the hotel in a little ballroom, complete with lit candles and chandelier, Ger played CDs for more dancing. After more quickstepping and waltzing, I remembered that going home was next on the list. On the way home after that oh-so goosebumpy ceili, time flew and the car flew and before I became aware of it, I was home. Many tunes going round in my head, stories mingling with notes and folks’ laughter, I still danced in my dreams.

Right, Vincent and Tracey, I await a rematch for 2010. Easter is a hot time of year now!

Chris Eichbaum

House dancing Halifax style

Crocuses appeared around the start of February in Ireland, which is when the Irish spring traditionally begins. Snowdrops, daffodils, tulips and a host of other flowers cheered me up in the months that followed. Then after leaving a sunny, warm Irish April, I found myself reliving winter in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was as though the clock had been turned back two months! The poor little crocuses had just emerged, the only sign of spring anywhere in the landscape. Winter storms battered them with wind, rain, hail and snow. Fortunately there were dry sunny days too, when I went exploring the rugged coastline and quaint towns south of Halifax, beautiful even before the arrival of spring.

Halifax lies on one of the world’s finest natural harbours, 12km inland from the open Atlantic, and is one of the busiest ports on the east coast of North America. The city is surrounded by the harbour on three sides, with piers, docks, ships and boats along most of it. The historic downtown waterfront has been opened up to tourists with a 4km boardwalk and numerous shops, cafés and pubs. The city is a popular destination for cruise liners, with over 100 calling this year between May and November and discharging more than 200,000 passengers into the city.

When the ill-fated Titanic want down in 1912, Halifax was the nearest port to the disaster. Three ships based there were dispatched to recover bodies of the victims, 150 of whom lie in three of the city’s cemeteries. The only Halifax resident to go down with the ship was George Wright, a prominent publisher and builder whose body was never recovered or identified. Two of his office buildings still stand downtown, and his home, now known as Titanic House, located on a wide street in a lovely residential area, was left to a women’s organisation, which maintains it and hire it out to community groups.

Scaip na Cleiti (Toss the Feathers), the local set dancing club in Halifax, was fortunate to have the use of Titanic House for their annual Easter set dancing weekend, which I attended from April 10 to 13. Mr Wright’s old home is so cosy and comfortable that the weekend felt like an intimate four-day house party. We never had more than five sets on the floor, matching the size of the room precisely. There were comfy chairs to relax in on a bright porch, people brought food and drink to share. The music was spirited and the dancing lively, yet between sets the pace was leisurely enough to allow good conversation. House dances are alive in Halifax!

It wouldn’t be Easter in Halifax without Pat Murphy, who was on his thirteenth trip here. At our first ceili on the evening of Good Friday he called a selection of six sets over the course of three hours. The five musicians, led by Kevin Roach on fiddle and Jane Lombard on box and bouzouki, inspired such energetic dancing that I was grateful for the ample recovery time they gave us between sets. Kevin has an inexhaustible supply of Irish tunes and belted them out at high speed in the strident Nova Scotia style.

The wintry rain on Saturday made it a perfect day to spend at a workshop. Pat taught the Moycullen and Inis Óirr sets in the morning, then a DIY lunch was supplied in the house which suited those of us wishing to minimise our weather contact. A two-hour break was scheduled so anyone brave enough to venture out to a restaurant in town had time, while several of those lunching on-site made music in an easygoing session. In the afternoon the Boyne Set made its Nova Scotian debut to acclaim from all, and there was a bit of fun with the Charleston, after which we were forced out into the elements for a few hours till dancing resumed.

Back in Titanic House after dinner we were treated to another ceili with Kevin, Jane and their gang. Pat chose a mostly different selection of sets, including a couple from the workshop. During an interval between sets a few notes of Happy Birthday were launched from Kevin’s fiddle, and at the same time Pat became ever so slightly red in the face—everyone came to the same conclusion and wished him a happy birthday. Pat was in the spotlight again later when he performed the North American launch of his new book of sets, Apples in Winter, and signed copies for most of the dancers present.

On Sunday afternoons throughout the year, local set dancers meet in the Old Triangle, an Irish pub in downtown Halifax, for a dance session. Easter Sunday has always been a special occasion there thanks to all the extra dancers in town for the weekend. This year, however, there was an unexpected change of plan when the pub announced it was closed for Easter. The session was relocated to Titanic House, and as an extra added enticement to make up for the lack of a bar, free mimosas (champagne and orange juice) would be supplied. Was it any wonder this turned out to be the most laid back ceili of the weekend? Kevin and Jane didn’t bother with amplification, proving that they didn’t really need it at all, the room and crowd being small enough to hear them perfectly. The birthday excitement reached a climax during the afternoon as, one by one, three cakes with flaming candles were presented to three birthday boys celebrating just after, on and just before their big day; the rest of us were even luckier as we could choose which cake we wanted.

We finished the session with two memorable plain sets. In the final figure of the Corofin I shouted “hey” when dancing the body, as many do back home. For the second body, my partner suggested shouting “oats”, which was fun, and then she prompted us to shout out various other types of cattle fodder—barley, rye and wheat. I gleefully noted other sets glancing in our direction with baffled expressions. The last Plain Set was announced as nonstop. “There’s a jig figure we have to stop for,” Jane protested, “we’re not that good.” But Pat, playing along on Jane’s box, persuaded her and Kevin to switch to jigs without pausing, and they did it! Twice in fact, as Kevin started sixteen bars early, but the jump back to reels was perfect. At the end there was long applause for our musicians.

To make up for the Easter closure of the Old Triangle, everyone was invited there for a session on Monday afternoon. Several of us went for lunch, unsure how many dancers would appear. Fortunately, enough came to make up a couple of sets, together with the ever-faithful Kevin and Jane, and we had a nice bit of fun.

The weekend’s final gathering was back in Titanic House on Monday night for Pat’s workshop on the East Galway Set, which comes in two variations—the short version which I first danced with Connie Ryan more than a dozen years ago, and a long version I learned from Pat and other teachers more recently. Tonight Pat went back to the original, which is danced as a half-set. It was the set which introduced the movement known as “the ducks,” a lead around in single file, and ever since I’ve thought any set with ducks in it has to be good! Pat had time to teach Margaret’s Waltz, an intricate progressive waltz for two couples which we practiced enough to make it feel easy.

When the dancing concluded there was appreciative applause for everyone who made the weekend so enjoyable. Some goodbyes were said as we left Titanic House, and more at the Old Triangle where we met up for a farewell drink. I said I hoped to come back to Halifax again as the Easter weekend has some of everything I love about set dancing. And while I would like to see Nova Scotia with green leaves on the trees, I didn’t mind the brief return to winter—it was good preparation for the blast of cold weather I found when I returned home to Clare!

Bill Lynch

Angels of Turin

On the weekend before St Patrick’s Day, 14-15 March, Pat Murphy came back to Turin at the invitation of teacher Flora Sarzotti and the Johnny O’Leary Set Dancing School. This being his third visit, by now he is almost one of us. We know his manner of speaking, his soft and clear way of explaining the dances and his particular way of dancing, so light and elegant, seeming to float over the floor—wonderful, Pat! To add to and enrich the occasion, four of Flora’s Irish dancing friends, Maria O’Leary, Ger Mulgannon, Louise Condron and Karen Mezza, four lively Irish girls, decided to come to Turin for the weekend too, much to everyone’s delight.

What a difference they made! They created such fun and excitement during the classes and the ceili with their lively way of dancing, constant conversation, good humour and fun! The demonstration sets were wonderful, when the lively dancing of Pat, Maria, Flora and Mario Sarzotti, Stefania Sossella from Treviso and Ivano Gobbi and Paolo Moretti from Milan delighted us every time they danced, with their light pleasant battering so good to behold. We see and hear this so much in Ireland and now it is here with us too! The sets introduced at the weekend were the Loughgraney, Moycullen, Bonane, Ballycastle and Boyne. We also enjoyed some two-hand dances, including the Charleston, Flirtation Two-Step, Margaret’s Waltz and Cuckoo Waltz. The last two sets, the Boyne and the Ballycastle, with their more elaborate figures were very interesting and required our complete concentration, but we danced them well and enjoyed them very much.

Many dancers arrived from far away. Some like Stefania from Treviso travelled around 500km! Two dancers came from Milan also and others from far away places. Ten excellent dancers travelled from France, honouring us by coming to dance with us for the weekend. We were so happy to meet them and we hope to see them again.

For one wonderful photograph above, taken by myself, Pat was surrounded by all the beautiful ladies (angels!) present. This is one of the joys of being a poor dancing teacher!

On this occasion, Pat presented his new, third “Bible” of set dancing, Apples in Winter. The new books, having just arrived here, performed an instant miracle by disappearing immediately!

A big thank you to all the dancers present for our dancing weekend and for making it so good for everyone with your pleasant and happy ways. Thank you, Pat, also for coming to teach our class once again.

Next year our dancing weekend will be on March 19th to 21st. Everyone is welcome and we hope you can come and join us!

Silvestro Torre, Torino, Italy

Fleadh Ibiza 2009

The annual Fleadh Ibiza festival ran from Thursday 16th April to Friday 1st May in the Seaview Country Club in Port d’es Torrent on the beautiful Balearic island of Ibiza. This complex has been like home to the thousands of holidaymakers who have travelled here over the past nine years for two weeks of music, dancing, storytelling, sessions, craic and 24/7 entertainment.

The first night got off to a flying start with a ceili in the main ballroom with music provided by Pat Walsh and Jerry McCarthy, who played with Pat as Micheál Sexton was unable to travel. Pat and Jer kept us dancing and the sounds of tapping feet on the specially constructed timber floor was a good indication that everyone was delighted with the first ceili of the festival. I got the job of MC for the night and enjoyed being on stage with the two musicians. The craic was mighty.

Friday morning in brilliant sunshine Mickey Kelly taught the first set dancing workshop on a fabulous wooden floor by the pool. We danced the lovely Moycullen Set. In the early afternoon the ballroom was packed when Kathleen McGlynn taught her first sean nós workshop and Piret Awnus gave her ballroom dancing class in the lounge. At 4pm by the pool set dancers revelled to the electrifying music of the Brian Ború Ceili Band. Teresa Hughes on banjo was joined by her lifelong friend, Sheila Murray, substituting for brother Joseph Hughes on box. The two girls caused excitement with their beautiful looks and brilliant music.

The ceili that night in the main ballroom was packed for the Annaly Ceili Band, with minimal calling by Frank Keenan. The lounge area housed social dancing, the cellar bar was filled with late night party goers, there was a superb session in the bar of the neighbouring Aura Hotel, which I was told lasted until 5am. The scene was set for the remainder of the festival.

Saturday morning by the pool I was delighted that Frank and Bobbie Keenan taught the lovely Fermanagh Set at their first workshop. The large gathering enjoyed the class and it’s a treat to listen to Frank as he has a lovely style of teaching with his unique banter. He takes great care with teaching the correct steps and style. In the lounge Seamus Melvin hosted his jive class and the ballroom had Kathleen McGlynn teaching sean nós.

By the pool at 3.30pm we gathered to dance a great selection of sets to Pat Walsh and Jer McCarthy. Frank Keenan invited me to call the West Kerry and Moycullen sets. The floor was nicely packed for great dancing by some of the best dancers on the scene. Young and not so young had a ball. Age, size or creed never count in the set dancers’ world.

We had a mighty night in the ballroom with Brian Ború Ceili Band and Mickey Kelly as MC. He invited Syl Bell to call the Moycullen Set and myself to call the Sliabh Luachra. Down in the Aura ballroom dancers enjoyed a fíor céilí with the music of the Copperplate Ceili Band and Clement Gallagher as MC.

Sunday morning it seemed that the rain had followed us from home but the festival continued full steam ahead and spirits were not dampened in any way. The sean nós and ballroom workshops were held as scheduled. A huge gathering of musicians had an impromptu session in the foyer. Mickey Kelly gave an early afternoon two-hand dance workshop in the ballroom, then was MC for a ceili with the magic music of the Annaly Ceili Band. Fíor céilí dancers danced to Pat Walsh and Jer McCarthy.

Sunday night just flew by. The Copperplate Ceili Band played for a lovely selection of sets including the Labasheeda, Moycullen, Fermanagh, Clad­dagh and Ballyduff. The music and dancing was to die for.

Monday morning the brilliant sunshine returned and we danced our workshop by the pool. Mickey Kelly taught his own composition, the Ibiza Set, a fabulous set with unusual moves. He has wonderful patience and encouragement for beginners and took great care in explaining each move. He concluded with a selection of two-hand dances, including the Charleston, Margaret’s Waltz and Sweetheart Waltz. In the afternoon in the ballroom Frank Keenan gave an advanced class in the Clare Orange and Green Set. He told us that this was the first set he learned but it is still one of his own favourite sets. He remembers the late Connie Ryan teaching it in Dublin—it took all day to learn.

In blazing sunshine by the pool fíor céilí dancers had their first outdoor session with the Copperplate Ceili Band, MC Clement Gallagher and Raymond Carroll as guest caller. I was delighted to dance the Sweets of May and Rakes of Mallow, but the Morris Reel and Gates of Derry were a bit too ambitious for me. In the ballroom, the Monday night ceili had Brian Ború Ceili Band on stage and Teresa and Sheila had their fan club present. The music was marvellous as usual for this gifted band.

The Aura ballroom was packed as I called over to hear Michael Muldoon in concert. This young man has a magical voice and stage presence. The second half of the show was something different as we had hypnotist Dave Rawson, originally from Yorkshire, England, but living in Ibiza for many years. The participants were all ladies and nothing untoward happened—it was all just good clean fun.

The pool area came alive at 11am on Tuesday morning with Frank Keenan’s workshop. I had been chatting with Frank and Bobbie about a set suitable for beginners and recommended the Lispole Set. Frank decided to go with that this morning and I gave an introduction to the set and its history. The class, especially the less experienced dancers, really enjoyed this simple set.

At 2pm Catherine Darcy and Images gave their last performance of the festival by the pool. It was good to do some social dancing and catch up with my friends. At 4pm we had our afternoon ceili with Brian Ború Ceili Band and Frank Keenan, who delighted me when he decided to dance the Mazurka Set.

The main ballroom was packed with set dancers eager to dance the night away to the Annaly Ceili Band. Included in our list of sets was the Moycullen, Clare Orange and Green and East Mayo and I called the Sliabh Luachra.

Wednesday morning by the pool Frank Keenan gave his final workshop of the festival. We danced the South Galway Set and finished with a little set from east Galway, which Frank introduced for the first time last year in Ibiza. The class was well attended and everyone enjoyed the sets selected.

Today was also t-shirt, fancy dress and talent show day. The talent show was the usual variety of singing, dancing and storytelling. It was marvellous to sit in the warm sunshine and see my friends on stage. I felt so proud to be Irish and part of this wonderful festival. The fancy dress and t-shirt parade was superb, a tremendous effort by everyone. I stood on stage to get good photographs and my eyes filled with tears of happiness to see the wonderful display of county colours. The winner of the talent show was Aidan Kelly from Co Mayo for a very amusing recitation on how to get a wife. The winning fancy dress theme was the Death of Celtic Tiger by Noeleen Doyle and Abigail O’Callaghan.

Tonight was the final ceili in the ballroom for dancers staying for the first week. The music of the Copperplate lifted everyone to enjoy the night. The final of the waltzing competition was taking place in the lounge with Curtis Magee on stage. The winners were Bernie Sturdy and Michael O’Donoghue from Co Meath.

At the session in the Aura bar there was a performance by pupils in Geraldine McLinn and Sean Gilsenan’s instrumental music class. It was difficult to believe that some of these players had only begun music classes here in Ibiza, testament to their dedication and the brilliant teachers.

I sat beside a lady who was getting ready to do a brush dance and I learned that she was Siobhán Casey from Clifton, Connemara, Co Galway. Siobhán told me that she had come with seven of her friends and that this was their first trip to this festival. “I will be back next year, I can assure you,” she said, “and I will bring more of my friends. I never knew that a week like this was possible. It’s just amazing—so much music and dancing, not enough hours in the day or night. I scarcely go to bed at all, don’t want to miss something.” She then did her brush dancing party piece in the Connemara style I love so much. Like Siobhán I too would love more hours on the clock.

Thursday morning those on a one-week holiday were returning home and I felt lonely to see friends depart. Later in the day new arrivals filled the empty spaces. The second week was more or less a carbon copy of the first. We had some different performers and set dancing teachers. Mickey Kelly began the first set dancing class by the pool and decided to concentrate on a beginners’ class. He taught the Connemara, Antrim Square and Ballyvourney sets. Mickey stressed the importance of tradition in style and steps for each set.

Bronagh Murphy from Co Waterford joined Mickey as our set dancing teacher for the second week. Classes alternated each day between these two teachers, each with their own unique style and panache, and they shared the duties of MC for the ceilis each night. Mickey included the Moycullen and East Mayo sets in his classes and also ran a fabulous two-hand dance class. Bronagh did the Mazurka and Borlin Jenny sets, concluding with the Peeler and the Goat, a fun little two hand dance.

The Atha Caoire Set Dancers from Dunmanway, Co Cork, gave a demonstration of the Borlin Set after Sunday Mass by the pool in brilliant sunshine. This group had won their holiday in Ibiza for the second year in a row by placing first in the senior set dancing competition at the Sean Dempsey festival in Manchester, England, in November 2008. The late Sean Dempsey’s granddaughter Kelly Anne McGuire was on the team. Leader Joe Mannix told me that Kelly Anne travels over from Manchester regularly to Ireland and is a member of their Comhaltas branch. As guest tutor on Tuesday morning, Joe Mannix gave a class in the Borlin Set and also two classes in sean nós.

Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band arrived to support the Copperplate for the second week. With between seven and ten sets by the pool for classes and on average twelve sets at ceilis, the atmosphere and dancing was magical. Set dancing continued in the main ballroom on that wonderful wooden floor. Our ceili finished each night by 11.30pm which left lots of time to join in social dancing.

The concert during the second week was pure magic with Declan Aungier taking us on a musical trip around the world with his accordion. Tears came to my eyes as he played one of the late Dermot O’Brien’s numbers Alpine Slopes. The second section of the concert was fun and games once more with hypnotist Dave Rawson back on stage.

The second week’s festival concluded the same as the first—we had our talent show followed by the fancy dress and t-shirt display. Effort and style were superb. The talent winner was Atha Caoire set dancer Timmy Crowley, who sang in a fantastic traditional style. The fancy dress winner was Tony Kearney, from Worthing, England, with his depiction of Molly Malone.

Fleadh Ibiza 2009 had come to an end. Due to new legislation in Spain, there were no fireworks displays this year. Regulations require an explosives licence and special transport to the island. But we had no need for any fireworks, we had created our own with music, dance, song, storytelling and great craic. The sparks of our enjoyment are still glowing on the beautiful island of Ibiza.

Joan Pollard Carew

The show must go on

The Lordship Set Dancing Group held their 26th annual set dancing workshop weekend in St Patrick’s Sports and Leisure Centre, Lordship, Co Louth, on the last weekend in April. This event attracted visitors from Germany, France and the UK, and from all over Ireland. It kicked off on Friday night 24th April with a ceili. Those in attendance danced the night away to the beautiful music of Triskell, a fabulous young band from Termonfeckin who have been playing at céilithe for the past few years.

Gerard Butler was due to lead the workshop on Saturday but was unable to attend. However, in true showbiz style, with their motto “the show must go on,” local teachers Michael and Kathleen McGlynn took over, themselves experienced in leading workshops. They led an excellent day’s dancing, starting off with the Dunmanway Set. This set was taught at a workshop in the locality some years back by the late Joe O’Donovan.

Michael and Kathleen followed with the Cúchulainn Set, which they composed themselves in conjunction with the local set dancing group. It commemorates historical events and people from the area including Cúchulainn, St Brigid and Queen Maeve. In a very busy day the dancers were also brought through various two-hand dances including the Aoife Three-Step, Millennium Barn Dance and, by special request, Spanish Jive .

Saturday night was ceili time again. This time Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan provided the music. The dancing was fast and energetic as those in attendance put to good use the figures and steps they learned earlier in the day.

On Sunday morning Kathleen took over the mantle of teacher as she led a workshop in sean nós dancing. Those present, young and not so young, danced the morning away merrily under Kathleen’s expert guidance.

The weekend of dancing was brought to a close on Sunday afternoon with a grand finale ceili with music once again by Tim Joe and Anne. Despite all the dancing of Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, the dancers somehow found the energy to dance their hearts out for another three hours.

Throughout the weekend those in attendance were treated to the usual excellent hospitality of the Lordship group. The kitchen staff under the expert guidance of Briege Pepper and Mary McEneany ensured a plentiful supply of tea, coffee, sandwiches, scones, tarts and other goodies. This was much appreciated by all present.

All who were involved with the weekend, whether attending or organising things had a great weekend and already are planning and looking forward to the last weekend in April 2010.

Rose McEneany

The Glens' warm welcome

The sun shone again, most of the time, for the set dancing weekend in Carnlough, Co Antrim, from April 24th to 26th. We were delighted to welcome back some old friends from last year and by the end of the weekend, we had made many new friends.

The opening session for the weekend took place in the Glencloy Inn with an informal gathering of local musicians and singers. There was some tremendous music to which the dancers enjoyed doing a couple of figures of the Antrim Square and the Clare Lancers sets. It was great to see some of our young musicians joining in, with Daire Taylor (13) enthralling us with solos on the whistle and uilleann pipes. Some visitors from the Isle of Skye were delighted they had, by chance, dropped into the Glencloy to hear such wonderful traditional music!

The Saturday workshop with Pat Murphy was held in the Community Centre and there were seven sets on the floor at 10am. Pat started with the Moycullen Set, with its unusual moves and square and followed this with a new set for most of us, the Boyne. Pat took us through the Kildownet Half-Set to finish the workshop on Saturday.

The Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band played for the ceili on Saturday night, with more than ten sets on the floor, most of the night. They provided fantastic music for the dancers, with it getting livelier and faster as the night went on. Pat, James Barron and Catherine Evans called the sets during the ceili and this was much appreciated by the dancers, many of whom are still learning and finding their feet. A mouth-watering array of goodies was provided for the supper, which many dancers commented on, saying it was the best spread they ever had.

We were also lucky again this year that the Steensons, jewellers from Glenarm, donated first prize in the raffle—a choice of a silver pendent or cuff links, specially designed with a set dancing motif. We were pleased and a little envious when Marie Poland, one of our own dancers, won and chose the pendant.

Pat packed a lot into the short workshop on Sunday morning starting with the Newmarket Meserts and following this with another opportunity to go through the Boyne Set. We finished with a lively two-step, the Donegal Charleston which brought a smile to everyone’s face.

This was another successful, enjoyable weekend with the usual Glens’ warm welcome permeating throughout, so much so we have decided to hold the workshop weekend again next year.

Emer Gallagher, Camlough, Co Antrim

Kilfenora's celebration

No village in Ireland can surpass the reputation of Kilfenora, Co Clare, for traditional music and dance, due primarily to the long success of the Kilfenora Ceili Band. The band made history in the 1950s by winning the All-Ireland ceili band championship three years in a row, and by repeating that accomplishment forty years later. At the time of their first All-Ireland win the band already had a distinguished past stretching back five decades. Now in 2009 they celebrate one century, an accomplishment unique in Irish traditional music. However, even this is just a moment in Kilfenora’s past, which stretches back more than a dozen centuries, and surely the origins of the music go back that far as well.

The landscape around Kilfenora may be windswept, rocky and somewhat barren, but like the Burren flowers which thrive amid the stones, musicians too seem to find it a fertile environment. The music survives because it flows mostly unchanged from generation to generation, which is how a band can survive so long and still sound the same. Fortunately modern audiences and dancers love the spirited Kilfenora music just as much as our ancestors did, so the band is in high demand these days for concerts and ceilis.

What better excuse for a party than a hundredth anniversary? Together the village and band devised a big celebration from April 23 to 26, starting festivities at the regular Thursday night ceili in Vaughan’s Barn. Amongst set dancers, Kilfenora is as famous for its twice-weekly ceilis in the converted cow shed as it is for its big ceili band. A crowd of local and visiting dancers filled the floor. A dozen French youngsters weren’t content to sit and watch—they had to dance too—so they made up their own sets and movements and had enormous fun releasing all their energy. The Four Courts Ceili Band plays here at nearly every ceili, and their music is always fresh and lively.

On Friday evening past members of the ceili band performed for a live broadcast from the tourist centre, while the current members readied themselves for a big ceili in the community hall. The Kilfenora Ceili Band regard any ceili in their home village as a special event, this one even more so. For dancers it was a treat not only for the music and occasion, but also because it has been a few years since there was a ceili in the hall. Kilfenora was more alive than ever, particularly once the band hit us with their “wall of sound”! The music overwhelmed everyone, brought smiles to our faces and moved us effortlessly through the sets. At the end of the figures the band was often greeted with spontaneous and genuine cheers of delight from the floor.

Saturday was full of activity from morning till the small hours of the next morning, beginning with a children’s sean nós workshop by Aibhín Holden. She’s introduced about thirty kids to sets and sean nós in her regular classes, most of whom were keen to support the workshop. Then Kilfenora’s wealth of musical talent, young and old, was evident in a concert by nine local families. Each family played a few tunes and sang a few songs, grandparents, parents and children together; all were superb. Garry Shannon serves as the Kilfenora Ceil Band’s historian, and he spent the late afternoon enlightening us with his detailed knowledge. His biggest challenge was fitting everything he wanted to say into a two-hour slot.

Chairs were packed into the hall for a grand concert on Saturday night; the 250 tickets had sold out weeks in advance. Kieran Hanrahan of RTÉ’s Ceili House radio programme was the MC. When Kieran introduced the band, their leader John Lynch came out first and took his seat, but the rest of them waited thirty seconds before following him—surely a sign of the great respect they have for him. After playing several selections of tunes, a series of special guests took the stage, including P J Murrihy and Micheál Sexton and Tommy and Siobhán Peoples.

Meanwhile, dancers were gathered in Vaughan’s Barn for the ceili with P J and Michéal. As soon as he finished his part in the concert, Michéal took the stage and got us going with some brilliant solo music for the Caledonian Set. P J was still at the concert where he performed his new song about the Kilfenora Ceili Band, and only joined Micheál in the midst of the second set, the Connemara. They played an alternating programme of sets and country songs with happily gyrating couples filling all available space, and spectators crowding around the edges.

Plans for music and dancing in the open air on the village square on Sunday afternoon had to be abandoned because of unsuitable weather; the programme took place in the hall instead. One event still had to go ahead outdoors under umbrellas—a commemorative plaque was unveiled by Phil McMahon, pianist, teacher, mother of two band members and adviser to the band. Safe from rain indoors, eager spectators filled every seat and any available floor space; people crowded around the doors outside, unable to get in, but listening as best they could. Aibhín Holden’s young dancers were first to perform with some sean nós and brush dancing, followed by steps from a few grown-ups—Aibhín herself, Kevin Hassett, Aidan Vaughan and Paddy Neylon; music was by young Kilfenora musicians.

After more music by Bobby Gardiner, the Kilfenora Ceili Band returned to the stage for the official launch of their CD, Century, by broadcaster, musician and historian Pat Costello, who spoke a few apt words in praise of the band and their music. The band’s pianist, Fintan McMahon, then took the microphone, claiming it was his first time ever speaking in public, and presented John Lynch with a stone trophy as a tribute from the rest of the band; his wife Noreen accepted a bouquet of flowers. Fiddler Anne Rynne also gave them an envelope containing a holiday trip! The band finished with more music and space was cleared on the floor for a half-set by Aidan Vaughan and Paddy Neylon.

Friendly rivals of the Kilfenora, the Tulla Ceili Band next played a few selections of their rousing dance music. During a pause, J J Conway spoke movingly of their late, long-serving drummer Michael Flanagan. We were surprised and delighted to see Martin Hayes emerge through the stage door, with coat and rain-spattered glasses, still in time for the last two sets of tunes.

John Lynch asked all past members of the Kilfenora present in the hall to come to the stage with instruments. One by one, he called out their names and awarded them each with a plaque to commemorate their participation in the band. Dozens of players were remembered, including J J Conway (a Kilfenora-man who plays with the Tulla), Peter Griffin (Four Courts), Chris Droney, Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (visiting from St Louis, Missouri), P J Murrihy and Phil McMahon. Then the two ceili bands and all the musicians found places on stage, nearly fifty in total, and concluded the proceedings with an invigorating selection of Kilfenora tunes that inspired a handful of dancers to get up and batter the floor with pleasure.

It only remained to close the weekend as it began, at the regular Sunday night ceili in Vaughan’s Barn with the Four Courts. After all the superb music of the weekend it was still a pure pleasure to dance to our regular band. The hundredth anniversary celebration weekend proved beyond doubt that Kilfenora is blessed with outstanding musicians, but anyone who has ever danced a set here knew that already!

Bill Lynch

Bertie Flannery

Bertie Flannery, from Ballinderreen, County Galway, was one of the best, and best known, set dancers in Connacht and indeed further afield. His recent death at age 77 will be a great loss. He lived in the thatched house on the main street of the village where he sat down one afternoon for a rest between jobs (he was a farmer) and passed away peacefully.

Besides the set dancing Bertie was active in his community in many areas. He was a stalwart of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and a good man with a song in his fine tenor voice and to tell a yarn. He was a strong supporter of the GAA and if any young player needed a hurley repaired, Bertie was the man. He was a lifelong member of the PTAA.

He was a member of winning set dancing teams back in the days before set dancing became fashionable, a time when a club was expected to dance its own local set. He was a bit unhappy to see local sets being displaced by “foreign” sets from neighbouring counties. And he absolutely disliked “improvements” that were made to local sets so that they would look better at a competition. Give him the traditional way.

His death is a loss to all aspects of traditional life. Bertie was my own cousin. As a child I danced in his kitchen having first watched the elders doing the set—that’s how we learned in those days. I personally miss him.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Mary Brogan, Raheny, Dublin 5

Birmingham's weekend with Johnny

I would just like to inform the readers of this magazine of a fabulous weekend of dancing that took place in the Shirley Community Centre in Birmingham during Valentine’s Day weekend, 14–15 February. The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band provided the music for the two ceilis which took place on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Dancers travelled from all over England as well as all corners of Ireland to be present for the event.

The weekend began on Saturday morning with a full-day workshop which was taught by Margaret Morrin from London. The hall was full to capacity for the two workshops which saw the Sliabh gCua, Antrim Square, Moycullen, Clare Orange and Green and Fermanagh Quadrilles taught.

On Valentine’s night, the theme for the ceili was red. Thirty sets filled the main hall of the centre for the first of Johnny’s two ceilis. As always, the lively music provided an electric atmosphere which was spread all over the hall. The sets that were danced included some of the usual ones as well as the Antrim Square and Moycullen.

The hall was once again full for the last ceili with Johnny on Sunday afternoon. A great selection of sets was danced. Just before the last set, the organiser Kate Howes thanked everyone for attending the weekend. Finally, I must say that Kate and the other members of the organising committee should be credited greatly for organising such a wonderful weekend. From the welcome at the airport, to the hospitality, wit and laughter at the ceilis, it was definitely recognised and very much appreciated. Overall the weekend was enjoyed by all. I certainly enjoyed my first weekend of dancing in Birmingham and I am looking forward to next year’s weekend already.

James Levis, Ballydehob, Co Cork

Tiny tots ceili in Augher

The playgroup for tiny tots in Augher, Co Tyrone, were badly stuck for some funds and asked John Joe Brannigan and his daughter Fidelma to run something to help.

What could set dancers do but run a set dancing ceili? The venue was arranged for St Macartan’s Youth Club and the date fixed for March 22nd. I was asked to provide the music with my amplifier and CDs and act as MC for the evening.

I had a complete set of CDs which I bought from Matt Cunningham some time ago, so I rang Matt and asked what royalties are required for the use of his CDs at a public performance. When Matt heard what his CDs were to be used for, he said no royalties were to be paid to his band from this charity ceili in Augher. The committee and set dancers from this part of the country are very impressed with Matt’s generosity. I understand, not only the expense, but also the time and attention to detail that Matt, his family and staff put into producing such excellent CDs. They are for private use and royalties should be paid for using them at public performances.

There is however another “twist to the tale.” Just around that time, another new ceili band had formed called Ceili Time. They heard about the Augher ceili and volunteered to play on behalf of the young playgroup. This does not take from the fact that Matt had already given me permission to use his CDs and we all thank him for it.

£1,400 was raised for this charity and the committee wish to thank all those who came from far and near. Needless to say we all enjoyed a mighty evening.

Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone

15 years of set dancing in Zurich

This is the story of how I fell in love with Ireland and its people and culture and why I devoted most of my time in the last fifteen years to organizing Irish cultural events in Switzerland and on Inishmore.

When I was sixteen I saw the famous film Ryan’s Daughter and I fell in love with the beautiful landscape. But I said to myself that I would only go once if the people were so hard and cruel as they were shown in the film. I was very surprised when I finally got there a few years later—the Irish were so warm, witty, hospitable and lovable that they made me feel at home immediately. After a few years of rambling around the country I found Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, still an undiscovered place in 1976. This island was so inspiring to me as an artist that I kept coming back there year after year, staying longer and longer. Since 1989 I have lived there for six months every year and in 1996 together with some islanders I started organizing culture weeks with different themes. One programme concentrated on set dancing and Gaelic singing.

Thanks to my friend, the sean nós singer Treasa Ní Mhiolláin, I got into Irish culture in a big way. First I started learning the old songs myself. Then I travelled to fleadhs and festivals with her and got introduced to set dancing by the great teachers Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan in Sligo. There a five-year-old American boy fell in love with me and he did not want to dance with anyone else. As a six-foot-tall lady, it was quite difficult to start learning the sets with such a small gent. But I enjoyed it immensely and I am very happy that I got to know this marvellous couple. I also met musicians, storytellers and other dancers and my admiration and love for this rich culture grew stronger and stronger.

In 1993 I organized the first sean nós concert in Zurich. After the concert a girl came up who was so touched by the songs that she was looking for a way to learn this kind of singing herself. So the idea of organising Irish culture workshops in Zurich was born. We started with the singing and it was a great success. Then I was looking for a set dancing teacher and I asked a good friend on the island. He mentioned Séamus Ó Méalóid and said, “He is not only a great teacher but he is a real gentleman.” So I got in touch with Séamus and he was so nice and funny. We decided to meet in Bus Áras (the main bus station) in Dublin to talk about a workshop in Zurich. When I asked him how I would recognize him, he said, “Just watch out for the best looking man.” Well, we found each other and we got on great. In the car we were singing sean nós songs for each other.

A few months later he came to Zurich. We had only about 24 people for the first workshop. At that time, not many people in Europe knew what set dancing was, so I didn’t really know where to advertise and look for people. I was very nervous. Seamus felt that and told me, “You can leave it up to me now.” It was only when he started teaching that I finally relaxed. It was unbelievable how he managed to create a real Irish atmosphere in no time. With his wit, big heart and charm he won people over.

Thanks to him, the number of participants increased every year. With the boom of Riverdance I got so many bookings that I decided to bring over a second teacher so that we could have a beginners’ and an advanced class. I observed that Swiss people got easily frustrated if they didn’t get a proper introduction. So I invited Tony Ryan, who had been teaching my course on Inishmore in the meantime. Séamus was pleased with this decision. Indeed, the two of them were a great team and you could feel that they really enjoyed each other’s company and had respect for each other. For me it was a treat to spend time in their company—we had so much fun together.

The number of dancers was growing and in 2002 we had over ninety participants. At the core was a big family of people who attended every year; other people came and went, and everybody was welcome. When Séamus decided to give up the teaching in Zurich, Tony suggested Pat Murphy, another good friend of his. I nearly didn’t dare to ask famous Pat, but I did and he was happy to come over. So we had another great team together.

In the meantime other groups formed in Switzerland with regular workshops in Aarburg, Basel and Thun and classes in Zurich, Berne, Aarburg and Basel. Despite all this the number of interested people was declining. It was more difficult to find new people to join. All the same I kept it going with the two teachers up to 2008.

When the fifteenth anniversary came up this year, I had the idea of celebrating it in a big way. It was my dream to bring over the three great teachers who put their soul and heart into teaching Swiss people to dance the Irish way, learning a lot but also having great fun. Séamus and Tony were able to come, but unfortunately not Pat. I also wanted to bring a good traditional ceili band over, so got in touch with the Fódhla Ceili Band, who agreed and were looking forward to celebrating with us. The Irish ambassador in Switzerland knew and appreciated what I had done for Irish culture over the years, so he gave me as much support as he could, which really cheered me up.

Nine people came over from Ireland to join the workshop from March 20 to 22, and they had a great weekend in Zurich and contributed a lot towards its success. We had a lovely concert and session on the Friday, which also was my birthday, so between my dancing friends and my own friends and family I felt happy and light. On Saturday everybody worked hard in the workshops. At the ceili, with the music of Fódhla in the lovely big hall, spirits went really high. Sunday was lovely and relaxing and afterward most of the Irish guests gathered in my flat. We had a session with a lovely feeling of togetherness. It was a treat to get to know the O’Kane family. They are the real Irish to me, like the Irish I met when I came to Ireland the first time in 1973. They told me that they were playing six nights in a row that week and still they did not stop—I really admired their energy.

I had intended this weekend as a big finale to my career as a workshop organiser, but it was so lovely that I decided to keep going on a smaller scale. The next set dancing workshop in Zurich will be on the 27–28 March 2010 with Tony Ryan.

Elizabeth Zollinger, Zurich, Switzerland

Glasgow's royal treatment

Turbulence. This must have been one of the worst flights I’ve ever been on. And I thought, oh dear, what a start to my trip to Glasgow, a night without sleep on the bus and a panic attack on the plane. Weather was bad, too.

After landing around noon in Glasgow airport, we were collected by Derek Gilhooley, who teaches a set dancing class there and also helped organise the first dancing weekend in Glasgow from May 1st to 3rd. Derek is heavily into dancing, loves wearing bright coloured shirts, and wears a Crocodile Dundee-style hat at times. And the accent, lots of rolling Rs. Why is it that women allegedly find that Scottish accent so attractive? I am one of them, but still can’t put my finger on it. The melody has something truly captivating.

All this did the trick to make everything fall into place. I had arrived and survived, and from then on we were taken care of—I mean, we were treated like royalty. Shuttle buses and organisers in their private cars ferried us from the hotel to the venue and back without fail, free of charge. The minute I wanted to refill water in a jug, someone from the committee took it from me, saying, “Let me get that for you.” There was a constant flow of hot tea, and the lunches and tea break food took the biscuit, excuse the pun. When I left a valuable item in the minibus, several people sprang into action, trying without success to locate the driver by phone. It ended with one of them driving off, finding the minibus and the item, and bringing it back to me—thank you ever so much, angel in corporeal form. A rota was printed out showing who was on duty at what time and for which task. The hall was lovingly lit with bands of sparkle lights, twisted around twigs of decorative bush branches. For the singalong on Saturday night, there were handouts neatly prepared with over sixty songs. And for the callers, Derek had notes of sets printed out, highlighting the major movements. The Friday ceili opened with a man in full Scottish regalia (kilt and all) marching around the hall playing the bagpipes, halfway through a girl performed a sword dance, and it ended with Auld Lang Syne. And everything, absolutely all of it, went like clockwork. This was one of the best ever organised weekends I have been to, full credit to the committee and Derek. Wanna come over and try running the country?

Friday afternoon we spent in town, shopping and yapping over lunch. Glasgow was astonishing. We didn’t expect to find such good shopping and so much buzz in the city centre. It had stopped raining, the sun came out, and so too street performers, a whip-cracking magician, for instance. There were police on horseback, fine white horses they were! In the streets lovely old buildings alternated with flashy new department stores, and loads of good food restaurants. Back at the hotel, I thought I had a magnificent room, but looking at the apartment-style rooms my friends shared, I had to admit defeat. And seeing another enormous place with the biggest jacuzzi yet, I made a mental note of the room number for next year. This surely must have been the presidential suite.

Dealing with the hotel staff though posed a wee problem for me. Half the time I didn’t know what they were saying, and I think they also had to strain their ears to understand my odd German pronunciation of words. Luckily, I had interpreters at hand, who told me that “Furry boots . . .” is usually followed by “. . . are you from?”

The dancing was fabulous. A full house on Friday night, a new member of the Copperplate Ceili Band, a nice floor and an atmosphere to match—the Scottish know how to enjoy themselves and let loose on the dance floor. No set was danced twice over the weekend, and everything was called. That used to bother me, but now, I can block it out if I don’t want to hear it, and for some who aren’t so used to dancing sets, calling is essential. And I mustn’t forget that I started at some stage and was glad for calling then, and felt too shy to get out if I was unsure.

The big crowds continued throughout. There were nine sets for the workshop on Saturday and eight on Sunday, and all the céilithe had good support. The organizers themselves hadn’t expected such large crowds, and we certainly didn’t. Set dancing has only come into existence in Glasgow in recent years. That makes this weekend a landmark; from now on, it can only go up and get stronger.

Looking out on Saturday morning from the hotel doors, a sun-drenched view across a park presented itself—a bunch of joggers, a father and son on bikes, kids using the skateboard playground, a steeple reaching up into the blue sky, folks out for a dawdle round the green. Everything relaxed, settled, playful. I took a stroll to soak up some sunshine and breakfast tasted all the better for it.

In the Saturday workshop, we danced the Moycullen, and Gerard Butler, who was the resident teacher and MC, went over it with careful patience and perseverance, and everybody really knew it at the end, although lots of people had never danced it before. There is a little story here. A girl who danced opposite me, Noelle, originally from Ireland, got a nickname, Happy Girl, because she was constantly brimming with smiles and laughs. In the first figure of the Moycullen, however, she was winked at by Ger, and was consequently out of kilter. Instead of advancing into the set with me, she advanced out and then took no prisoners by insisting to go face the couple on the right instead of left. We slagged her no end, of course.

The two-hand dances, the Festival Glide and Spanish Jive, were well received, and folks commented that this was a great chance to meet others and change the pace for a bit. Then after a lunch fit for a king served in the hall, Ger had the Borlin and South Galway sets in store for us, nice and easy to finish with. And then the whole lot of people who still had stamina engaged in some sean nós, and went ballistic when Ger did a demonstration. I don’t think I have seen as big a crowd for sean nós before, except at the summer schools. You see, Ger Butler’s way of teaching is without breaks, and you dance a lot even at the workshops. He doesn’t demonstrate figures unless they are quite tricky, and picks any set and anyone on the floor to show a particular movement. So no rest for the wicked! He was in flying form by the way, and I think his good humour, energy and liveliness transferred itself straight to the people and bounced back again, creating a unity of teaching, learning and fun. An outstanding workshop, Ger, true quality displayed.

Although there seemed to be massive local support, quite a few people from other places attended as well. There were three girls from Lille, France; an American; a Polish women with Scottish accent, neat; a busload of people from Derry and Donegal; and people from other Irish locations. (We also met an Argentinian, but he was not part of the dancing.) One of our group insisted on finding an authentic Scottish chipper after the ceili. We were chauffeured around for what seemed like ages, found one, and our man bought black pudding deep fried in batter with chips. Looked peculiar, but tasted quite interesting. Later on, there was a singalong in the hotel bar, and having the verses written out in front of them in said booklets, everyone joined in, or did a bit of jiving or waltzing. Róisín and Pádraig McEneany were there too, and their friend Mary Conboy sang The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel, which took me straight back to my late hippie-era teenage years, bent over a campsite fire on a summer night, guitar in hand, very long hair, maybe even with flowers in it, granddad shirts and old baggy jeans, believing we could change the world, crooning away love songs and anti-war songs and social rebellion songs.

Sunday morning, after only a few hours of sleep, the workshop was about the Seit Doire Colmcille. Also we danced the Swedish Masquerade, a two-hand, and Ger finished the morning with sean nós, round two. Some very lively people in our set made it fabulous, and seldom have I had as much fun at a workshop.

It was the kind of place you walk into and inhabit, no worries, feel right at home, stroll down the floor and suspend all judgement for a while. All that counts is the togetherness.

Alas, our plane went back to Eire in the afternoon, so we left after the workshop, and again were chauffeured to the airport. As I am writing, I can still hear the music and that oh so lovely Scottish accent, and bathe in that sense of having been taken care of so well. Thank you so much for your gigantic efforts, a most committed committee, unrivalled hospitality and in the process bringing me closer to a part of the world I hadn’t been to before. And hey, presto! The flight back was a doddle, all the weather gods appeased!

Chris Eichbaum

Enthralled by Portmagee

When invited by our friends to join them on a trip to Portmagee in Co Kerry, little did we realise what a treat was in store for us, and never having visited Ireland before, we accepted the invitation. Not only were we making our first visit to Ireland, but we were to be attending the May bank holiday set dancing weekend in Portmagee, where we were told we would learn how to take part in traditional Irish dancing. That was ten years ago, and we were so enthralled by the experience we have been going back every year since. We are still finding each year as exciting as the first.

This year the Portmagee set dancing weekend was celebrating its eighteenth anniversary, and with its blend of music and dance, it is still the unique experience it was in its very first year. Originally conducted by the late Connie Ryan, the workshops are now expertly taught by Betty McCoy from Dublin.

Dancers from all over Ireland, including Dublin, Carlow and Limerick, and from Belgium plus ourselves from the UK, started to arrive on the Friday afternoon at the Bridge Bar, where sets were danced all evening, both inside and outside to lively music provided by Paddy Casey and Alan Clifford.

Saturday morning was a bright and cheerful day, made extra special by the breathtaking surroundings of Portmagee. The workshop started at 11am in the Community Centre, where Betty worked us through the first set of the weekend, which was the Boyne, a reel set in four figures, which she explained was first taught by Séamus Ó Méalóid in November 2008.

Betty was ably assisted by the demonstration set of Ann and John Grant, Josephine O’Connor and Timmy Wolfe, Eamon and Peggy McGowan, and Frankie Moran and Carmel Kearns.

Having been skilfully guided through each figure stage by stage we then danced through the entire set with remarkable success. We broke for a well-deserved lunch at the Moorings Restaurant where we were very well looked after by Pat and Gerard Kennedy, who together with Beryl and Julian Stracey are instrumental in the continued success of this annual weekend.

The afternoon session concentrated on the Clare Orange and Green Set, which proved to be very popular and everyone enjoyed the interesting contrary move. This took us perfectly to the tea break which was taken outside in the spring sunshine. After tea we were treated to instruction by Josephine O’Connor, elegantly assisted by Timmy Wolfe, in a two-hand dance workshop which included dances based on the foxtrot and quickstep and a specially requested Gay Gordons.

In the evening local sets were danced in the Bridge Bar, this year on a brand new floor. There was room for three sets, with additional space for two more sets in the covered outside area. Dancing, including the local South Kerry Set and the ever-popular Connemara and Clare Plain, continued until 11pm to music from Paddy Casey, Alan Clifford and Orna Murphy. Then we all decamped to the Portmagee Community Centre for the much anticipated céilí mór. Music was provided by Mort Kelleher and Tim Joe O’Riordan who kept us all going into the wee small hours.

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, a sean nós workshop was taught by Mairéad Casey in the community centre. This session was well attended and there was a great atmosphere.

After lunch, people started to gather at the Bridge Bar for the music and dance session. This session started at 1pm with local musicians led by Paddy Casey. We were treated to some amazing traditional music, stories and dance which was kicked off by Aoife Sheehan with an example of beautiful acapella singing. The traditional music was punctuated with delightful solo dances by Chris Gleeson and Mairéad Casey and songs from Beryl Stracey and Lies de Corte, then a hush fell over a very busy and lively bar when Matt Joe O’Neill stood to tell a traditional story or two. More sets were danced to the music of Jerry McCarthy and Liam Healy until it was time to eat and change for the evening session.

This session began with two hours of popular music from the sixties to the nineties provided by vocal group Harmonix, after whom the stage was taken over once again by Paddy Casey, but this time with Seamus O’Rahilly. The floor was once more packed for the final round of set dancing. Nothing was left but to say good bye to a special set of friends, and the promise to arrive at the same place, same time next year, when we will do it all again.

Alan James, Hertfordshire, England

It was absolutely brilliant

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

I attended this year’s Fleadh Ibiza. It was absolutely brilliant. The dancing, music and craic were wonderful. I never knew there was such a ceili as fíor céilí. We attended it and enjoyed it very much. We didn’t know any of the dances really, but the people who attended were very patient with us. I learned the Long German; thank you to that lovely person from Donegal who taught me this. I loved all the ceili bands and also the bands who played the social dances. Every day in Ibiza was enjoyable, but the day I loved the most was the talent competition day. Also to see people parading in their county jerseys was lovely. It was my daughter’s first time at this Fleadh and I must thank everyone who stopped to talk to her. She must have been the youngest person there. She loved it.

A special thank you to the West Limerick Set Dancing Club for making this holiday possible for us.

Yours sincerely,

Teresa Lenihan, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick

I couldn’t believe my luck

Dear Editor,

At last, I had my first experience of a week set dancing in Ibiza. It was all I hoped it would be and all everyone told me it would be. I had a fantastic week, lots of dancing, meeting old friends and making new friends.

Towards the end of the week, I decided to go shopping locally for my family. I brought quite a substantial sum of cash with me. As I was preceding my shopping with a walk, I put the cash in my pocket.

I didn’t spend much of my money but lost most of it. I was unaware of this until just before the ceili that evening. As it was dark and the two shops I had been in were closed, I decided there was nothing I could do until the next morning.

I headed for the ceili thinking that was the end of my money! To my astonishment, during the first set it was called out that a sum of money was found and handed in. I couldn’t believe my luck and enquired.

The next day it was ascertained that the sum found belonged to me. I was adamant I wanted to meet the lady who found and handed in my money. At the end of the dancing that night, I was introduced to Dorothy from Meath. She had found my money and handed it in. She was delighted I received my money and would not accept any remuneration for this. It made my holiday to think that in our world today there are people as honest as Dorothy. Wishing Dorothy and your family many, many years of health, happiness and set dancing.

It further enhances my belief that there are such genuine people in the set dancing circle.

I hope to meet you all again in Ibiza next year.

Yours in set dancing,

Mags Glavey, Swinford, Co Mayo

Amidst breathtaking scenery

Dear Bill,

On behalf of Newport Set Dancing Club, I want to thank everyone who came from the four corners of Ireland and England for making the recent workshop weekend, 20–22 March, such a fantastic success.

The weekend got off to a very lively opening with a session in the lounge of Park Inn Hotel, Mulranny, with music by the Burrishoole Bridge Band. A ceili with the Copperplate followed for the evening. On Saturday morning Pat Murphy put us through our paces at the workshop and went through sets such as the Ballycastle, Boyne and Lough Graney. He also did some two-hand dances for the weekend including the beautiful Margaret Waltz. On Saturday night music was provided by Matt Cunningham and on Sunday by Heather Breeze. A session followed on both nights with music by Amethyst Trio. Sunday morning saw the start of our second workshop with Pat Murphy, where we danced the Ibiza Set. This was followed by sean nós dancing with Brenda O’Callaghan. A raffle was also held, with the very prestigious prize of a trip to Portugal sponsored by Enjoy Travel. All proceeds from the raffle went to the Oncology Unit at Mayo General Hospital.

Our compliments and thanks must be extended to the management and staff of the Park Inn Hotel, Mulranny, who catered wonderfully to our every need for our dancing weekend. Situated amidst breathtaking scenery, its panoramic views and top class service make it a must-visit hotel. Again, we extend our warmest thanks to all who attended or helped in any way, and hope to see you all again next year.

Yours sincerely,

Anne McManamon, Newport, Co Mayo

Not forgetting the dancers


We would like to thank everyone who supported the Easter Set Dance Extravaganza in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Thanks to the bands—Johnny Reidy, Tico Tico, Davey family, Lough Ree, Pat Walsh and Ger Murphy, Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly—and to Gerard Butler for the workshops, and not forgetting the dancers who travelled from near and far. The atmosphere was great and we hope you all enjoyed the weekend.

Till we meet again, best wishes,

Vincent and Tracey Mullen, Laois and St Albans

Their own dance masters

Dear Bill,

Thank you for printing photos and a little letter about our dance presentation here in Lewiston, Maine. Set dancers from the Lewiston group, known as the St Patrick Set Dancers, along with a few from the Yarmouth group, demonstrated set dancing at the monthly meeting of La Rencontre on March 6, 2009. The group has a luncheon at the Franco-American Heritage Center (all conversation in French to carry on tradition) followed by French entertainment. We were invited to dance and show the connection of set dancing to France.

As you know from Pat Murphy’s Toss the Feathers, sets evolved from the quadrilles. In my presentation I used most of that information, along with Internet research. I told them that a Mr Duval wrote the original Lancers Set for the troops in Dublin. When the Irish were in France fighting in the Napoleonic war, they enjoyed the pleasures of court life, which included a lot of dancing. It was the custom for troops to have their own dance masters. So, when the Lancers from Dublin returned home, they brought Mr Duval with them, after a while they requested he write a special set for them. I also found out that a Mr Cellarius from Paris wrote a manual for the dance masters. It included 100 figures that they could teach their students. I stated that many figures danced today most likely evolved from those original 100.

We danced the Clare Lancers to Matt Cunningham’s recording and part of the Clare Plain to the music of a popular Maine jig and reel fiddle player, Don Roy. Since the French quadrilles had to be adapted to Irish jigs and reels when no French musicians were available, I showed how we, too, could dance to our local music. We also danced part of the Antrim Square Set because we like it and it showed how set dancing continues to grow and evolve. We were willing to dance a lot more, but the time was limited.

It was interesting because few of the dancers understood my presentation in French. I would say what figure we would do and expect them to line up, but they didn’t know I was speaking to them. I was allowed to give instructions in English, though. It just took my brain a couple times to remember to switch language.

Thank you from the Maine dancers.

Jeannette Gross, Leeds, Maine

A super job of them

Hello Bill,

I just want to say thank you very much for the wonderful coverage you gave us in the magazine. It was super. Also thanks to Nina for the tunes. She made a super job of them.

Yours sincerely,

John Lynch, Kilfenora Ceili Band, Clarecastle, Co Clare

It was her first time

Dear Bill,

You always send the very nice Set Dancing News to me in the Netherlands, and first of all I will say thanks a lot.

On February 26 our friends from Oranmore, Co Galway, came over to Belgium for their annual cultural visit. After trips to Leuven, Gent and Antwerp, this year they visited Bruges. The rinceóirí invited us (groups from Antwerp and Brussels) to join them on Friday and Saturday to participate in their workshop and ceilis at the Entrepot, a cultural centre in Bruges. Tom Giblin, Tom Cussen and Patsy McDonagh (the latter pair of Shaskeen fame) were our musicians.

I was there together with Michelle, my lovely granddaughter, ten years old. It was her first time to do a set dancing workshop and she liked it very much. Normally she does step dancing in Bergen op Zoom. I’m very proud of Michelle, because she is the only girl in our village who loves Ireland and the dancing.

Thanks, Bill, in advance! Sorry about my English, but I hope that you understand me. I’m not a star, but I did my best. This mail took me two hours.

Kinds regards,

Adrie Versprille, Rilland, the Netherlands

Great service for both

Dear Bill,

Just a note to say thank you for providing a great magazine and website all year, a great service for both organisers and set dancers alike.

Thanks again

Diane Cannon, Hills of Donegal organiser

Just carries everyone along

Hi Bill,

May I through the medium of Set Dancing News thank everyone who attended our end of term ceili in Ballydehob, Co Cork? They came from all over Munster to make it a wonderful night with brilliant music from Johnny Reidy and gang. It was greatly appreciated by the committee, James Levis and I.

Johnny’s music just carries everyone along and we forgot all about the recession, etc. Needless to say we have booked them again for next year which will be on Saturday, 24 April 2010.

Thanks so much,

Janet Robertson, Ballydehob, Co Cork

Tremendous achievement

Sincere thanks to all who attended and supported the Sunday afternoon ceili in the Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney, Co Cork, on the 5th April last. An incredible €2627.50 was raised and handed over to the Irish Motor Neuron Association. This was a tremendous achievement in one afternoon.

Special thanks to Paddy and Nora O’ Riordan.

Anne and Tim Joe O'Riordan, Clondrohid, Co Cork

Potential and possibility

Hi Bill,

I was wondering if you would allow me to say how grateful, honoured and astonished I feel about the number of generous people who came or supported in other ways the Guide Dog Ceili I held on the 8th of May, and all the wonderful help I received. We raised €2,445 after expenses, a figure twice as much as I was hoping to make. There was the equivalent of 25 sets attending, and I was high as a kite! The mountains of food barely lasted. Five different teachers helped with calling, and I had so many good wishes from friends and strangers alike. They all touched my heart and it went a long way to calm my nerves! A great success story and proof of what folks can achieve when working together—so much potential and possibility.

See ye all on the 5th of December for more guide dog fundraising in form of a full day’s workshop, ceili and hooley! Up the feet!

Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford

No matter what!

Dear Bill,

How often did I say to myself, “Oh, how I long to read the Set Dancing News magazine.” But laziness always got the better of me and I never brought myself to actually stick the subscription coupon into an envelope together with the required amount of money and post it off.

So here I am again filling out another one of those coupons, money at the ready and again it took me a whole week already to sit down and just to stuff everything into an envelope addressed to you and to post it.

But this time I’m going to post it, no matter what! I’m very eager to receive the first magazine soon and I’m sure that this will only be the start of a long term subscription!

Thank you very much for all the effort of entertaining the Set Dancing News website, which I find myself spending a lot of time on, no matter where I am in the world, be it my homeland Germany, or Finland where I studied for a couple of months, or my favourite country so far—Ireland.

So keep up the good work! It is much appreciated by many others like myself!

Best wishes,

Anne Butzmann, Beaufort, Co Kerry

Widespread welcome

Hello to all,

By now you may have heard of the departure from the Copperplate Ceili Band of our former box player Enda McGlone. Enda decided to leave the band to do other things earlier this year and was good enough to give the band a lengthy period of notice to allow us to recruit a suitable replacement. Luckily for us, we found Ciarán Kelly very quickly. Ciarán, although still only a young man, is an outstanding box player having played music since childhood in a multitalented musical family. Since starting to play with the Copperplate, Ciarán’s appearances with the band have been met with widespread welcome and acclaim.

The purpose of this press release is to reassure our entire fan base, promoters and ceili secretaries that, despite rumours to the contary, the Copperplate Ceili Band is very much alive and “open for business” for the foreseeable future.

Enda McGlone will still be doing some travelling with the Copperplate this year in Ibiza and in Portugal in October and for this Brian and myself are very grateful to Enda. However, the remainder of our dates this year and in the future will feature Ciarán Kelly on the box. The Copperplate Ceili Band can be contacted, as usual, by calling myself, Eamonn Donnelly.

We hope to see you at a Copperplate gig soon,

Eamon Donnelly, Omagh, Co Tyrone

Thoroughly enjoyable

Dear Bill,

On behalf of members of the Durham and Newcastle Set Dancing Group, we would like to express sincere thanks to Derek Gilhooley and those who were involved with the splendid organising of a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Glasgow, 1st–3rd May.

The provision of a minibus and transport to and from the dance venue, and the excellent hospitality certainly enhanced the whole weekend and was really appreciated.

A special mention must also be made of the thoughtful and lovely touch of the local theme—a piper who introduced the weekend’s dancing, and the talented young lady who performed such a beautiful display of Scottish sword dancing and dance entertainment. She was a pleasure to watch and enjoy.

The catering team and the ladies who served refreshments throughout deserve much credit and praise. And last, but never least, thanks to Gerard Butler for his superb, relaxed style of teaching at the workshop classes, and especially the opportunity to learn and experience the technique of sean nós dancing.

Well done, Derek and the team, it was a great weekend.

Marian McGowan and members of the Durham and Newcastle Set Dancing Group, England

Halfway ’round the world

Hello Bill,

“Have you ever been to Castletown?”—a question I was once asked when I was halfway ’round the world at a ceili. I ran into some of the dancers who had asked me that question on the May bank holiday weekend at the Half-Door festival in Castletown, Co Laois. It was a wonderful weekend of dance, music and social bonding with like-minded people from many parts of the globe. I felt I could have been in any continent, the dancers were from such varying backgrounds. We are gifted to have such an experience on our doorstep.

Chance to meet

He thought he met me beforeI In a place, I never heard tell. The place he came to adore, A place I knew nothing to thrill. Can I remember their names? Can they remember mine? Sure, I remember the feel of the dance That will take me back another time.

Noreen Uí Laighin, Killanure, Mountrath, Co Laois


New disks from ceili band veterans

New disks from ceili band veterans A new CD by the veteran ceili band Shaskeen, called Walking up Town, is their fifteenth recording since they formed in 1970, and the first in nine years. Set dancers know them best for their four classic CDs of music for sets, Music for Set Dancing. While the new CD isn’t arranged for set dancing, it’s actually a refreshing break from the ceili band sound. The music is relaxed yet lively, arranged to show off the unity of the ensemble, as well as the solo talents of each player. The sixteen selections include a variety of new and old tunes, including the title tune which comes from American folk music. Four of the tracks are songs, including one each by guest singers Séan Conway and Séan Tyrell. Walking up Town, Music for Set Dancing and several of the band’s earlier CDs are available from their website,

By way of congratulating the Kilfenora Ceili Band on their 100th anniversary, P J Murrihy, himself a former member, wrote a new song called Around for a Century. The lyrics summarise the story of the band and place it in the pantheon of Irish culture alongside high king Brian Ború. P J performed it during the celebration weekend in Kilfenora and has also recorded it on CD accompanied by members of the band. The disk is a short, coverless CD with only three tracks, the others being tributes to Michael Cusack and the GAA, which is celebrating 125 years. Contact P J and Mary Murrihy to get a copy for yourself.

Heather Breeze Ceili Band, based in Westport, Co Mayo, has a new CD just out called The Skylark with music for five sets—Antrim Square, Ballyvourney Jig, Labasheeda, Moycullen and Plain—plus a selection of waltzes. Their previous three CDs of sets and two-hand dances are highly danceable favourites in classes everywhere. To get a copy for yourself contact Heather Breeze.

In January Sliabh Luachra fiddler Seamus Creagh released a double CD called Tunes for Practice, which is a perfect collection of tunes for anyone starting to play Irish music. Seamus introduces each tune by name, plays it slowly and then again at a slightly quicker pace. The 67 tunes cover are session favourites of every type. Seamus passed away in March, aged 63, so the recording now serves a fitting tribute to him. He once taped a similar selection of tunes onto four cassettes for an appreciative learner, which was the inspiration for the CD.

Seamus was born in Westmeath but succumbed to the lure of Co Cork and its music in the sixties when he met Jackie Daly. During their long partnership they made the influential 1977 album, Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh, which introduced the pleasure of Sliabh Luachra music to many new listeners. In recent years set dancers would have seen him in concerts and sessions at the Gathering Festival in Killarney. He made a strong impression on your editor back in the mid-nineties when he played for ceilis on a trip to London with the legendary box player Johnny O’Leary. See for more information on Seamus Creagh’s CD.

Holiday cancelled

Set dancers booked to travel on Gerard Butler’s week-long holiday to Spain, scheduled to run 31 May–6 June in Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol, were disappointed early in May when letters announcing its cancellation were sent by the agents looking after the arrangements, Slattery’s Travel of Tralee, Co Kerry. They offered the 125 people who booked with them a full refund or an alternative holiday plus a partial refund. Most opted for the full refund, which they should have now received, and a few kept their bookings for the holiday. For more information contact Ger Butler and Slattery’s Travel.

Set dance wedding in Germany

It’s official—Karl Erbach and Franzi Ahl have tied the knot. Franzi wore a traditional white flowing dress and Karl was quite dapper with his smart bow-tie on a fine day in early spring, the 21st March, as the deed was done. The wedding reception took place at the Scheid Hotel near Heidelberg. The happy couple invited friends and (extended) family including a host of European set dancers. They were absolutely spoilt as Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter played a wonderful selection of tunes and songs and a good time was had by all. All present were left with a very happy memory and we all wish Karl and Franzi lots of continued happiness.

Paul Cox, Pforzheim, Germany

Articles continue in Old News Volume 52.

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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