last updated 6 January 2010
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 54

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).

Sligo Workshop Weekend 2009

To those of us from the deep south, Sligo was always just another nondescript county; it was never relevant to our lives. No less than most other counties, it was another piece in the jigsaw which is Ireland.

That is until Helen Kilgallen and Vera Meehan grasped the nettle and set up their first weekend workshop last year! Is Sligo a town or city?

A town, probably, but really a city without the designation, replete with metropolitan trappings, formidable municipal buildings, hospital, two cathedrals, a thriving institute of technology, first-class hotels, etc.

One is not long in Sligo territory till its cultural heritage becomes apparent.

Tubbercurry Square with its monument to fifteen legendary fiddlers recalls the insistence of a friend, all of fifty years ago, that Sligo was the real heartland of Ireland's greatest musicians. And till then, I always thought that the honour belonged to Clare! Until names such as Coleman, Killoran, Gardiner, Morrison, Lad O'Beirne, among the others, leapt out at you from their granite immortality. The unfortunate part was that most, if not all, had to emigrate to achieve this. Happily, however regardless of origin, we can all bask in the knowledge that Ireland has a cultural heritage that is probably matchless in universal terms.

Funnily enough, the satnav, set for 'Mental Hospital,' brought us to the majestic Clarion Hotel en route to this year's workshop. Built in the nineteenth century, this striking Elizabethan facade indeed was a mental hospital; some might say an ideal venue for set dancers! But the contemporary interior design was a complete culture-shock, with one of the largest foyers I have ever seen, truly meriting every one of its four stars rating. As for the rooms, all the dancing guests were accommodated in suites, each consisting of a huge bedroom, kitchen and lounge.

After the usual greetings, freshening up and relaxation, all betook themselves to the chapel, as it once was, for the opening ceili. Swallow's Tail are one of the classiest ceili bands around, with wonderful Sligo music and they fully lived up to their reputation, with the full house applauding a mighty night's music. The converted chapel, built fifty years after the main structure, is an ideal venue with three giant chandeliers overlooking the oak flooring which is perfect for dancing.

The hotel is one of a nationwide chain and seemed in constant demand, what with wedding and christening receptions and all sorts of parties. Indeed we heard that a number of the Limerick dancers found themselves at some of these functions. Timmy O'Connor, accordionist from Newmarket, Co Cork, apparently was whisked off to a 'strawing,' an old Cork tradition, indeed a Munster one, whereby a group of well-disguised musicians and dancers invaded wedding receptions and entertained the guests. Depending on the quality of their performance they might or might not be invited to stay for the rest of the celebrations. I forgot to ask how long the Sligo strawboys remained!

Due to overbooking of the Clarion, Saturday's workshop and ceili had to be moved to Rathcormack School Hall, one of the most roomy of its kind I have seen. This was a couple of miles out the Donegal road, overshadowed by the picturesque Benbulben. Shay White, that dapper Meath terpsichorean, was in situ at the appointed time, being well into teaching the Paris Set as some of us more used to the long-established custom of late Saturday morning starts stumbled in the door. Somehow, we felt the four or five sets on the floor had betrayed the tradition by turning up in time and ignoring the long-held tradition of the 'morning after the night before!' Thankfully, four other like-minded sets followed in and the unflappable Shay continued on his merry, wisecracking way. The Paris was followed by the lovely Glencree (Wicklow) Set, which was collected by Connie Ryan not too long before his untimely death. We had a thoroughly enjoyable morning session.

Given the fine weather and the nature of the weekend away, the afternoon attendance suffered with many sampling the delights of Sligo shopping. Nevertheless those present got through the Cúchulainn and the Ballyduff effortlessly and Shay finished the session, wisely too, with a half-hour or so of the two-hand dances which all enjoyed. Well done, Shay!

To offset the change of venue for that night's ceili, our hostesses had arranged a shuttle bus from the hotel to Rathcormack; as a result, the hall filled up rapidly for the Glenside. Martin Enright was the ideal fear an tí, saying as little as possible and letting the band keep the show moving, which they are adept at doing. The Glenside can never be accused of hanging around and those who had put in a full day's work were glad of a good night's rest-except for those addicted to late-night revelry! The bleary eyes the following morning were a dead giveaway.

Highlight of the Sunday morning was the session in the lounge, led by the inimitable Vera herself. After the usual tentative start the audience grabbed whatever seats they could and, apart from the 'orchestra,' we had impromptu sets, step dances, brush dances and solo music items which kept everybody involved for a couple of hours at least.

The hotel's express check-out system made it easy for all concerned to be on time for the final ceili to one of the most popular bands, the Copperplate. Despite the long journey home, nobody left the chapel till the end of dancing and all applauded this popular trio, who moved seamlessly from Enda McGlone to Ciarán Kelly on accordion.

We slipped away on our 250 mile journey, all forty from West Limerick, wondering where would the next encounter be. Long journeys don't deter people in convoy; all, I'm sure, were basking in the afterglow of another great weekend.

Well done, once again, to Helen and Vera; I'm sure the charities you contribute to will be more than grateful. As for all who were there, go mbeirimid go leir beo ar an am seo aris, 2010!

Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

1000 welcomes in Oisín Park

The set dancing club in Oisín Park in Killeshin, Co Laois, near Carlow town, held their inaugural set dancing weekend festival from Friday to Sunday, 3rd to 5th July. From the moment of arrival we were treated like royalty. A welcome coffee was placed in my hand and a selection of sandwiches and confectionery were begging me to partake.

Our first ceili got under way at 9.30pm on the dot. The Annaly Ceili Band played superb music. Peter O'Neill the local dance master called a wonderful selection of sets and also invited visiting teachers on stage to call. The food fanfare that greeted us for our tea break was unbelievable.

We even had bowls of fresh fruit to tempt us.

With the first ceili behind us we gathered ourselves for home. I was a guest of the club for the weekend and stayed locally with Annette and her family in her beautiful home.

Saturday morning arrived with heavy showers blowing across the beautiful landscape. Today we were all geared up for our first workshop of the festival. Our dancing tutors Frank and Bobby Keenan arrived in plenty of time. I had not seen them since Ibiza so I had a bit of catching up to do. The class began with Frank teaching the East Mayo Set which he got from Mickey Kelly earlier this year. The set has nice variations danced to reels, jigs and polkas. We had a few total beginners in the class but they were immediately embraced by the dancers. Frank with his expertise soon had them dancing comfortably. The second set we danced was a lovely little half-set from Co Cork called the Ballinascarty, also with three figures, polka, jig and hornpipe. It was uncanny that Frank had selected a half-set for the class, as they have been danced in the area for many decades.

A superb selection of food greeted us again for the complimentary lunch. It felt more like a big family party, the atmosphere was so warm and friendly. Some sat outside to dine and I got an opening in the clouds to take a few photographs of a few of the group.

Fed and watered, the workshop resumed. Frank taught the Galway Reel Set which I danced in Ibiza with him in one of his workshops. It is danced in the Connemara reel step and has three figures.

The workshop was super and everyone was delighted with the selection of sets danced. Frank is a meticulous teacher.

Saturday night we danced to Tim Joe O'Riordan and Mort Kelleher. This magical twosome played their hearts out. We danced a good variety of sets with several guest callers. Stuffed once more on sumptuous food at the tea break, we relaxed as organiser Eddie Whelan invited Joan O'Connor on stage to sing his favourite song.

You would hear a pin drop as Joan sang The Rocks of Bawn. She has a splendid voice, and the applause of the dancers raised the roof. Frank Keenan called the East Mayo Set from the morning class. The ceili concluded with everyone on a high.

Sunday morning we had our two-hand dancing workshop. Maureen Culleton gave us a wonderful few hours. Included in her dances were the Cuckoo Waltz, Lilac Waltz, Britannia Two-Step, Dinky One-Step, Mayfair Quickstep, and the class concluded with the Charleston. Maureen explained and then demonstrated each move and step. Our beginners had no problem fitting in.

Lunch today was alfresco. The sun beamed down as we delighted once more in a complementary sumptuous buffet and fruit.

This area of Co Laois on the Carlow border has a long tradition of dancing dating back to the mid 1920s. As early as 1927 an outdoor platform or "dance boards" was erected in Dooley's land just a short distance down the road from where Oisín Park stands today.

During turf cutting competitions in the 1930s the event concluded with open air dancing on temporary boards specially erected for the occasion. During the 1940s a local committee made a house to house collection and erected dance boards which lasted twenty years. Dancers arrived by bicycle on Sunday evenings from all over and danced to their hearts content on those long summer and autumn evenings. They danced half-sets, waltzes and quicksteps and paid a penny for the privilege. Tom and Martin Whelan, Pakie Doyle, Jack Shields and Tom and Jack Byrne were among the local musicians who provided the music.

In June 1995 when Oisín Park opened, its main feature was dance boards. Then the hall was officially opened in 2002. The first set dancing classes were held on 3rd February 2005 and the first ceili just eight days later when Danny Webster provided the music. Monthly céilithe have continued since. Dancers travel from the four corners of Ireland to dance a fantastic selection of sets to some of the best ceili bands in this beautiful setting 1000 feet above sea level overlooking six counties.

Carlow town is only a few miles down the hill, with numerous hotels and B&Bs. Take a short walk down the hill from Oisín Park and be amazed by the magnificent Romanesque doorway of Killeshin Church, built between 1150 and 1160. The doorway is one of a small number in Ireland with a triangular gable above the arches. It is said that the inscription on the doorway commemorates Dermot McMurrough, the king of Leinster who invited the Normans to Ireland in 1169. Today the site is owned and managed by Dúchas.

The festival concluded with a heavenly afternoon ceili. Dancers crowded on to the floor to dance to Danny Webster. The tea break saw more tarts and flans arrive for us to gobble down with pots of tea and coffee.

We danced a wonderfully varied selection of sets all weekend, including the Black Valley Jig, Antrim Square, Cúchulainn, Moycullen, Lispole, Sliabh Luachra, Ballyvourney Reel, Mazurka and Newport. We also danced most of the Co Clare sets. Peter O'Neill kept the show on the road with help from guest callers Frank Keenan, Maureen Culleton, Syl Bell, John Sheehan, June Carter and this correspondent.

The organising committee has a wonderful sense of community. It reminded me of the haymaking days of my childhood. Everyone just pitched in, all anxious to please. This event is already booked for next year-mark your calendar for July 2nd to 4th. I know I will be back in Oisín Park many times in the future to enjoy a ceili in this beautiful place with these wonderful warm hearted people.

Joan Pollard Carew

Miltown 2009

More sets are danced by more people in Miltown Malbay on the first week of July than at any other time or place. The twin festivals of the Willie Clancy Summer School and the Armada Hotel's Set Dance Week turn the little west Clare town into a Mecca for many hundreds of people who love their traditional dancing. Your editor attended his eighteenth annual week there and reports here on what happened.

Saturday 4 July

Excitement had been building for months in anticipation of the start of the best dancing of the year, which finally began for me today. I had a small-scale advance preview last Thursday night in Vaughan's Barn, Kilfenora, where I met a few visitors trying out their steps on the way to Miltown. I actually stayed home for the opening ceili last night in the Armada Hotel as there was a wedding in the main ballroom, the Atlantic Suite, and dancing was in the smaller Ocean Bar. Apparently I wasn't the only one worried about crowding, and by our absence we gave enough room to dance to those who were lucky enough to be there.

When I came out my front door to head to the afternoon ceili on I found myself in a downpour and drenched from walking the short distance to my car—a taste of winter in July so familiar to Miltown regulars! After parking I dodged raindrops and ran into the Armada's ballroom, which was nearly unchanged in the year since I was last here. Even the people were much the same and we naturally just picked up where we left off last year. One missing person was my usual number one partner, the lady I would always dance the first set with, so I was flattered when another friend placed a standing order for the second set with me all week, at least when both of us were present.

What was brand new today was the band—a group called Duggan's Lane from Co Cork, consisting of Pat Fleming on box, fiddler Andy O'Connell from the Abbey Ceili Band and Mo O'Connor on piano. Once they and their equipment warmed up they played some great music, including fantastic Sliabh Luachra-style polkas. Andy is well-known for his powerful fiddling, and he was well matched by Pat, who achieved a timeless, earthy and very appealing sound from his 1940s grey Paolo Soprani box tuned to E. Mo not only provided accompaniment but sang for the waltzes. Andy told the story of the band's name—once when searching for his young daughter he asked his wife if she knew where she was. "She's down Duggan's Lane," was the answer, meaning she had no idea, and Andy's new band was christened. The dancers gave them a warm reception with spontaneous cheers, and they took no notice when the piano conked out for a figure. I hope we'll see much more of them.

The summer school experience brings dancers together not just for ceilis and workshops, but also for a week of meals, when there's a rare chance to talk at length with dancing friends. The Armada's carvery was the preferred place to meet, eat and relax, and that evening four of us had a good natured slagging match about the state of the world. Shortly thereafter we withdrew from reality into the comfort of the evening ceili with the Five Counties Ceili Band. Ten musicians found room for themselves on the ballroom stage, and despite their numbers they played as one, matching the exuberance of the dancers, who cheered them regularly throughout the night. The hall was crowded enough with over 500 admissions and I spotted folks even dancing on the carpet.

Sunday 5 July

Already I've noticed a few welcome improvements to the Armada's ceilis this year. Doors opened half an hour in advance, rather than just fifteen minutes, which eliminated long queues. At every ceili a dancer won a meal for two thanks to a free raffle, and when dancing finished, tea, coffee and biscuits were served in the ballroom without charge. Those who developed ravenous appetites after all the dancing and late sessions could find satisfaction as late as four in the morning. A whole pig was roasted outdoors nightly, carved into slices and served in baps; curry was also reportedly available.

So on arrival half an hour in advance to Johnny Reidy's afternoon ceili I found every seat already taken and parked myself and possessions on a handy vacant window sill. Outside it was raining cats and dogs, but inside we had a deluge of pleasure. Johnny is known for his fast music, but he plays with such a light touch that it never sounds rushed, and always suits the sets. My number two partner was back today, and her main goal in life seems to closely match mine—to double around the sets as much as humanly possible. We were landed with the Claddagh Set, which wouldn't seem to permit any opportunities for doubling, but where there's a will there's a way! By the end over 600 dancers left the ballroom in clearing weather, giving us optimism about the rest of the week.

One of the pleasures of the week is its variety, with a choice of as many as three ceilis. On Sunday night I opted for one in the Quilty Tavern with Taylor's Cross Ceili Band and found myself in the best ceili yet—each one was better than the last! Ace box player and band leader Donie Nolan from west Limerick regularly plays with many musicians in the band, so it's always a surprise to see who'll be with him. For this ceili he was joined by two superb Sliabh Luachra players rarely seen at ceilis, Connie O'Connell on fiddle and Eileen de Paor on flute, plus Mick Willis on piano. From the first set the music was inspirational; every set was a delight, particularly the West Kerry. While it seemed at first that bodies might be a bit scarce, around nine sets of experienced dancers got up to dance—any more would have been too crowded for the small timber floor, the most comfortable in any of the ceili venues.

Monday 6 July

I knew I'd need to be awakened by an alarm clock to get out to my first class of the Willie Clancy Summer School, but when the alarm went off I just stopped it and dozed off, dreamily promising myself to get up soon. Consequently I was an hour late joining Timmy McCarthy's workshop in Cork and Kerry sets at the secondary school in Spanish Point, but soon enough I was flying through the Ballyvourney Jig and Sliabh Luachra set with a Hungarian partner. This year's class was a bit bigger, with six sets, and later I heard others say their classes were bigger as well. The handy little kitchen we had relied on for our tea breaks in previous years was locked so a couple of dancers promised to bring in kettles tomorrow.

Summer was back today with the reappearance of the sun and disappearance of any precipitation. My afternoon was spent in the Mill Marquee in the car park of the GAA club just outside Miltown learning two-hand dances with Marie Garrity. Her class attracted a mix of new and experienced dancers for fun and easy dances like the Long German, Canadian Barn Dance, Breakaway Blues, St Bernard's Waltz and Spanish Jive.

Crowds were up in the Armada even on Monday night. I met several people who had previously attended part of the week but this year were staying for it all and delighted to be here not just for the ceilis but also to visit the area's scenic attractions. Tonight's music was by Pat Walsh and Micheál Sexton, who have no trouble switching between genuine Clare reels and authentic Cork and Kerry slides and polkas.

Tuesday 7 July

Last night I gave up using an alarm clock and decided to get up whenever I happened to wake up. I was wide awake at 8am after just four hours of sleep and so found myself at Timmy's class fifteen minutes early. Dancing and sleep don't mix well for me, and I'll have plenty of time to make up for it once the week is over. Timmy continued with the Televara and Sneem sets, with music supplied by Andy O'Sullivan and Dave Baker on mouth organ and box. In speaking of competition dancing, Timmy quoted Dan O'Connell, the recently deceased dancer who kept sets alive for decades at his pub in Knocknagree, Co Cork—"I'd rather have an ounce of enjoyment than a ton of perfection." In the tea break we made use of two borrowed kettles and helped ourselves to an assortment of biscuits.

New to the Armada, Neily O'Connor and his band played for the afternoon ceili. While I'd never seen him live before, I danced to Neily's music many times in the years I was in London. Camden teacher Geoff Holland always played a tape of his music for the Sliabh Luachra Set; we marvelled at it because it was the fastest music we ever danced to. Indeed, he was still lively today, which made for an afternoon of exciting dancing. With Neily in the band were Eilís Murphy (flute and whistle; sister of Sliabh Notes box player Donal), Martin Philpott (piano and guitar; husband of teacher and Listowel weekend organiser Mary), and drummer Paddy 'the tailor' Brosnan. During our set, my number two partner asked to amend our standing order for the rest of the week. She wanted to dance with another gent on Thursday who was only available for the second set—wow! So she asked if I minded switching to the third set, and offered the sixth as well in compensation—sounded good to me. She also thought these two would be more likely to be polka sets. We started the new arrangement with the sixth today and were rewarded by a Cashel Set.

Tonight's ceili in the Mill Marquee with the Tulla Ceili Band is always one of the most anticipated events of the summer school. With fast Cork and Kerry bands playing for many of the week's ceilis, the Tulla offered a distinct change of pace, more relaxed, but no less enjoyable thanks to the remarkable lift pervading their music. Just as they do at Johnny Reidy's ceilis, people started forming sets in advance of the first set being announced. This was the South Galway, the one they usually start with and one I'd love to dance more often. Enough friends came along tonight that I was booked for nine sets before the music began. After four sets and a rousing medley of singalong waltzes, the band took a ten-minute break—"Ten Irish minutes," a friend said, which of course are worth more than the ordinary kind. After the next two sets, we were summoned to the stage to hear a fiddle solo by Martin Hayes, who kept our rapt attention for twenty minutes, and could have done so even if they were Irish minutes. We danced one final set, our second Caledonian, for a total of seven, so I still owed sets to my last two partners.

Wednesday 8 July

My internal alarm clock woke me at 8.30am and I was nearly on time again for class. Timmy was teaching the West Kerry Set when Pádraig Ó Sé from Dingle arrived to play for the set, and what a difference he made! He got more music out of his Paolo Soprani than I ever thought possible, at a pace which left everyone breathless. Andy and Dave took over after that. A spokesperson from the summer school informed Timmy that we were not allowed to make our own tea in class—their insurance doesn't permit it. Instead we have to go the main building of the secondary school and purchase it there along with all the fiddle students. Timmy's request for volunteers to perform in tomorrow night's dance recital was quite successful, with sixteen signing up.

I learned something new in Marie Garrity's two-hand dancing class today. She began by reviewing a few of the dances done earlier in the week, then she taught the Swedish Masquerade, which has three types of music in sequence, a march, waltz and polka. There's a bit of housing around in it which everyone did in place, but I was lucky enough to have a Danish partner who knew the dance and she told me to move around the hall when housing—that was twice as much fun. But best of all was the clap dance Marie taught us. I've only rarely seen it and never tried it, but I took to it today like a duck to water! Once the technique was revealed it was fun and easy and now I'm hoping I'll be able to find clap dancing workshops in the months to come for more practice.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band is going strong in their 100th year and tonight's excellent ceili surpassed expectations. There were at least twice as many people here as last year, seemingly as many as attended the Tulla last night. The band complemented their usual wall of sound with a viola and huge double bass, and played beautiful bright music all evening. During the Kilfenora Set there was consternation from a lady in my set who was put off when the band played polkas for the final figure, but Pat Murphy's notes specify hornpipes, polkas or quadrilles. (This reminded me that Taylor's Cross played reels for it on Sunday and I thought that was particularly nice.) Near the end of the ceili there was a sean nós dancing interlude with performances by local septuagenarian Tommy Browne from Cooraclare and Mick Mulkerrin, who both displayed big smiles while stepping it out together.

Thursday 9 July

Before class today I casually mentioned Hurry the Jug to Timmy, one of my all-time favourites, so following the Sneem Set, we spent the rest of the class dancing this complicated set from Knocknagoshel. Even though a few classmates were beginners, everyone was able to master the movements and dance it all correctly. There was a loud cheer of satisfaction each time we finished. Timmy told us, "If you take the life out of it you'll kill it." Joining our regular musicians Andy and Dave was Seán Garvey from Kenmare on fiddle. Before class ended he was asked to sing for us. The song was in Irish with music by all three; his deep, warm and resonant voice was mighty appealing and well worth further listening.

Today's weather was the best of the week with warm sun, but there's no way I could be tempted to stay outdoors when there's dancing to be done! Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were playing in the Armada this afternoon, and my standing order partner was with me again for set number three. The Caledonian offered us several good doubling opportunities, and we hit the jackpot with set number six—the West Kerry! Probably the set of the week—a classic dance, beautiful music, good elbow room and an excess of doubling!

Performing for their second ceili of the week tonight in the Mill were the Tulla Ceili Band, with a nearly identical programme—an opening South Galway, two Caledonians and singalong waltzes. People were slower to arrive, no doubt due to the dance recital in town, but by the end of the night the place was packed again. I didn't get many advance bookings this time but still managed to find a partner for every set. During another long solo from Martin Hayes nearly everyone crowded around the stage to give full attention to his stunning music. At the back of the marquee a French trio danced to his reels with waving arms, and others did solo steps. Afterward, summer school organiser Harry Hughes paid tribute to Mick Flanagan, the Tulla's drummer who passed away earlier this year, not only for his valuable contribution to the band, but also for his knowledge of folklore.

Friday 10 July

I arrived at the community hall bright and early, thanks to the continuing efficiency of the mental alarm clock, for the first stop on a quick tour of the summer school's dance classes. Here Mary Friel was reviewing the Pipers Set, one I'd never seen before which the class had learnt yesterday. The most challenging figure was danced to slip jigs and required unique steps to fill out bars which are fifty percent longer than ordinary jigs.

Sean nós dancers filled the Mill Marquee in the class taught by Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey; she handled the beginners while he had more experienced dancers. When I arrived Mick was playing the box for his group, and later after the tea break a member of the class, Peter O'Toole from Inishbofin, played for both groups, his son serving as a live microphone stand. In the GAA club's changing rooms beside the marquee dedicated students were practicing solo step dances in classes led by Noel Devery, Patrick O'Dea and Margaret Wray.

Local teacher Mary Clancy was teaching the Antrim Square Set to her big happy group of 88 dancers in the Armada when I dropped in. After posing for a class photo they presented Mary with a clown hat in Clare colours filled with a cash collection, and then it was back to more dancing. Paddy Neylon's beginners' group fitted neatly into the comfortable clubhouse of the Spanish Point Golf Club; he was drilling them in the finer points of the third figure of the Plain Set.

Betty McCoy and Aidan Vaughan's group in St Joseph's Secondary School were practicing their battering steps in the North Clare Set, a traditional local variant of the Caledonian Set where everyone dances all the time. Finally I made it back to Timmy's just a few minutes before the end of class while he was still going over the West Kerry Set.

Box player Jerry McCarthy made a welcome return to the Armada this afternoon, in the company of banjo player Sean Murphy (brother to Donal and Eilís) and pianist Liam Healy. Before each set Jerry encouraged dancers and couples to fill the last remaining gaps in sets with a glib patter that kept us all amused while waiting for the music to begin. Once that happened, Jerry's deft hand generated a flood of bright bouncing notes that made for delightful dancing. Immediately after the first figure of the first set, while the floor was cheering and applauding, I said to my partner, "That's the way we like it!" My doubling partner specially requested polka sets from the band for our third and sixth sets, which worked well for the Cashel but backfired when the Claddagh came up as number six. Nevertheless we once again tried to dance it as if it were a Kerry set!

It was the best night ever for the Four Courts Ceili Band in the Mill Marquee. Their last ceili here was two years ago, and tonight there were at least three times as many, 400 admissions. "Never let a recession get in the way of a good time," someone said, and clearly any financial meltdown hadn't reached as far as the set dancing world, as overall there seemed to be more set dancers than ever this year. Refugees from the Armada's ceili with Johnny Reidy taking place at the same time reported that 900 had paid into the ballroom there tonight.

Saturday 11 July

In our last class, we reviewed some of the sets of the week. Before finishing early, Timmy was given the proceeds of a collection as a token of the class's appreciation, followed by an amusing recitation by one of our members. The early finish was to allow us to attend a two-hour class ceili in the Mill Marquee. Various teachers called the sets and music was played by Paudie and Aoife O'Connor and Mick Willis.

Swallow's Tail were missing a piano when they began the afternoon ceili in the Armada today, and the sound of the box, flute and drums reminded me of a historical recording of a ceili from thirty years ago. Before the first set was over Jim Corry rushed in with his piano, quickly set it up and transformed the sound into the band we know and love. One of my partners had been one of the 900 at Johnny Reidy's ceili last night, and I asked her, "What's the pleasure of dancing when there's no room to move?"

"There isn't any really," she said, "but I had to be here!"

The popularity of the Armada means it's the place where you do the most dancing in the least amount of space. I especially enjoyed the afternoons there where you get that long-lasting Armada high and still have room to move.

After the ceili I had to rush over to the Community Hall—Timmy had invited me to join him in a set on stage in the grand concert. Luckily we did this soon after the start to music by Donie Nolan, dancing an old version of the fourth figure of the Sliabh Luachra in which the gents reverse their partners around the set, and the fifth figure, the long slide. While waiting for our moment on stage, the MC asked Timmy for the name of our group—he christened us Dan O'Connell's Babes and Their Minders, in honour of his dancing mentor.

Weather was wet yesterday and today, and this evening the winds were rather fierce out at the GAA grounds where the Mill Marquee was parked. The wind rattled the roof, but the nine members of the Allow Ceili Band made enough music that we never noticed the noise while dancing. As All-Ireland ceili band champions they played perfect reels, and being based in Co Cork they played incredible polkas and slides for both the Sliabh Luachra and West Kerry sets. During pauses the noise became apparent again and the wind seemed strong enough to give me visions of the marquee becoming airborne like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately we had all the excitement we wanted dancing sets tonight!

Sunday 12 July

Before I even entered the Armada ballroom for the farewell ceili with Johnny Reidy I had five sets booked, numbers three and six by the usual standing order with my doubling partner, plus three more with ladies I met earlier in the carvery. Shock and panic took over when I went to my car for my dancing shoes only to find them missing! How could I dance in my regular rubber-soled shoes? That's what I had to do though, not wanting to disappoint my partners, and I was as keen to dance as I have been all week! The rubber soles weren't too bad if I made more of a conscious effort than usual to minimise my contact with the floor, but my knees could certainly notice the difference. For set number three, I couldn't face doubling this way, so I dispensed with the shoes and danced in stocking feet, the first time I've done that. The doubles were satisfactory and I sustained no injuries to my toes from other shoes in very close proximity. Immediately before the Plain Set after the break, I was summoned to the stage—my shoes had arrived, carried from home by a friend in a taxi! The relief flowed through my entire body and I was recharged as good as new. It was as though I was dancing my first set of the festival rather than the last. Of course Johnny has that effect on everyone—no matter how tired or sore or low you're feeling, his music lifts everyone and brings smiles to all faces.

The Armada's owner, Claire Burke, who was always present during the week to greet and help the dancers, spoke a few words before the final figure to thank Johnny and all the other bands, the dancers and her staff for another remarkable week. Johnny, Eddie, Martina and Tommy gave everything they had to finish the Lancers at a feverish pitch, then brought us back to reality gently and with a tear in the eye when they played their sweet version of the national anthem.

It took a long while to leave the ballroom with everyone in such good spirits. When I got home I somehow felt as though I hadn't yet had enough dancing, and so ended my ten days where it began, in Vaughan's Barn, along with several other Miltown refugees who felt exactly as I did after the best dancing of the year.

Bill Lynch

Brittany gathering

The 10th Irish set dancing gathering of Brittany was held in Nantes on 30-31 May. The event is an annual reunion of the Breton Irish set dancing community which gives us the opportunity to dance with other experienced set dancers and learn from each other in a friendly atmosphere.

The welcome Godinette, a Breton cocktail, quickly got us all in a festive mood, and Irish beer helped sustain it throughout the weekend. 110 dancers took part.

The idea is for each club to teach a few sets, the workshops being conducted by their most experienced members.

This year's dances included the South Sligo Lancers (learnt recently by some of us from Pat Murphy at the Castletown Half-Door Club Festival), Antrim Square, Claddagh, Aran, Paris, Frères Nantais (Connemara Jig) and Hurry the Jug.

Nantes' Irish music band Beltaine was on stage for the Saturday night ceili and showed their savoir-faire at playing ceili-style music. The Sunday afternoon ceili was danced to the music of local amateur band O'Loara who were in great form.

Comments by musicians and dancers on this 2009 gathering were very positive, and praised Arome, the Nantes set dancing club, for the good organisation.

Dancers from beyond the boundaries of Brittany are welcome to these gatherings, of course. See you for the 2010 edition next May!

Eric Daoudal, Brest, France

Mick and Kay Doyle's 50th

Well-known set dancing teachers Mick and Kay Doyle from Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, and lifetime members of Thurles Set Dancing Club, celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on Saturday 18th July. The beautiful family-run Durrow Arms Hotel on the main street of Durrow, Co Laois, was selected by their family for a sumptuous banquet followed by a ceili. Over 360 guests including extended family enjoyed the fabulous food.

The couple's five daughters, Críona, Geraldine, Una, Colette and Belinda joined their parents and guests to dance the night away to the superb music of Danny Webster from Co Kilkenny and Tom McCarthy from Borrisokane, Co Tipperary.

Eldest daughter Críona read a brief history of how her mother and father met and married. The youngest of the family, Belinda, told us about their long and varied dancing career. It was clear to see how united this family is and how proud the girls are of their parents.

Mick Doyle thanked everyone and said how delighted he and Kay were to welcome everyone here to celebrate this wonderful occasion. The couple cut the beautiful cake. Surprise, surprise-the cake was decorated with figures made of icing depicting four dancing couples and two musicians, all dressed up in the style of costumes Mick and Kay wear dancing the Slate Quarry Lancers Set.

The mega ceili got underway with the Cashel Set first up. We danced a fabulous selection of sets. Quicksteps and waltzes gave the few non-set dancers a chance to strut their stuff.

Nearing the end of the night Mick and Kay were joined by six of their dancing group and gave us an exhibition of the Slate Quarry Lancers. They have performed this set all over the world and scooped many prestigious prizes.

The night concluded with everyone out on the dance floor for the Siege of Ennis. Then with prompting from Danny Webster everyone made a big circle around Mick and Kay and we all joined in singing He's a Jolly Good Fellow and then She's a Jolly Good Fellow.

We wish Mick and Kay many more years of married bliss with lots of set dancing to keep them young.

Joan Pollard Carew

A great buzz about Tubbercurry

The 23rd South Sligo Summer School of music, song and dance took place in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, from Sunday, 12th to Saturday, 18th July. Right from the word go on Sunday evening there was a great buzz about the town where many musicians, locals and visitors were gathering, busily renewing old acquaintances and getting settled in for a week of music, song and dance among friends old and new.

For set dancers, St Brigid's Hall, situated just off the square in the centre of the town, was as always to be their base for the week. Pat Friel and the Heather Breeze Ceili Band got proceedings off to a lively start in fine Mayo style at the first ceili of the week on Sunday night. There was a palpable air of anticipation and a sense of pure enjoyment as the dancers brought the place to life. This was followed through the next morning when the hall was filled to capacity for one of the biggest crowds to attend Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy's set dancing classes in Tubbercurry in recent years. People had come from all over to avail of the opportunity to be taught by Pat for six mornings in a row. A number of French dancers made a return visit for the third year in a row and there were many familiar faces from earlier years of the South Sligo Summer School.

As always, Pat Murphy, ably assisted by Betty McCoy, had a wide ranging variety of sets and two-hand dances lined up for the week's morning classes. A wonderful atmosphere lasted right through to the final dance, the Plain Set, danced to the great driving music of the Brian Ború Ceili Band, the following Saturday night.

Each weeknight during the summer school dancers were treated to the finest of music anyone could wish for, served up by the Copperplate, Annaly, Four Courts, Swallows' Tail and Davey ceili bands. The Glenside Ceili Band made a return visit to St Brigid's Hall on Saturday afternoon and they too wasted no time in bringing the place to life with their lovely up-tempo style of music.

Sets taught at the workshops this year included the Moycullen Set from Co Galway, the Antrim Square Set, the Bonane Set from Kenmare, Co Kerry, and the South Sligo Lancers. Pat had chosen the perfect music to suit each set and this, along with his patient and clear instructions, all added to the learning experience and enjoyment of the dancers throughout the whole week.

Each day for the last half an hour or so of the class, dancers got the chance to learn some two hand dances, including Margaret's Waltz and the Cuckoo Waltz-a lovely social ending to the morning before heading away for lunch and launching into the afternoon's activities.

Sean nós dancers were well catered for once again at the summer school with daily tuition from 2 to 4pm each afternoon provided by Brenda O'Callaghan. She is a highly experienced dance teacher and this was reflected in the popularity of her class with dancers of all ages in attendance.

Sean nós dancing was also the feature of one of the illustrated talks at this year's summer school when Galway musician and dancer Ronan Regan gave a fascinating and highly informative insight into the world of sean nós dancing.

All in all then, the 23rd South Sligo Summer School has gone down as a memorable six days in the annual dancing calendar. Huge thanks is due in particular to Pat, Betty, Brenda and the eight bands who put their heart and soul into making this year's summer school one to really remember, not to mention the droves of wonderful dancers who brought such enthusiasm, talent and friendship into Tubbercurry for six days and nights. Roll on 2010!

Seána Haughey, Tubbercurry, Co Sligo

Mike Brady

It is with extreme sadness that we announce the passing of Mike Brady on July 1, 2009. One of many fine fiddle players to come out of east Clare, Mike played with me in the Green Gates Ceili Band frequently, either as a substitute or as an enhancement to the core band, and enhance it he did.

Mike Brady, also known to many as Mickey, was born in Flagmount, Co Clare, and lived in Bay Shore, Long Island, for many years. His father played fiddle and Mike was sent to P J Hayes to learn to play. He also played with Bill Loughnane, Vincent Griffin and Paddy Canny. He played at house dances and sat in with the Tulla Ceili Band on occasion. He would later reminisce frequently about the "grand" sessions at Pepper's in Feakle.

Mike arrived in Brooklyn in 1958 and played music as a member of the Patsy Tuohy Club there. Among the jobs he held, he probably spent the longest with the Queens Surface Corporation, retiring from there several years ago. He became too busy for music after marrying, but returned to it toward the end of the 1990s.

Mike, along with Brendan Fahey and myself, was a founding member of the Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band. He and I played with them from 2000 to 2003.

He just loved to play the music wherever and whenever he could. He preferred reels more than anything else. Although a shy, unassuming man by nature who just wanted to stay in the background, Mike always wanted people to be happy and smiling, particularly other musicians. He played frequently at the Doonbeg Social Club in the Bronx and could often be found sitting in with different bands at various ceilis.

In recent years, Mike's family in Ireland had been requesting a recording of his playing. In December 2007, a private CD of Mike's playing, Music from Flagmount, was issued. He was just starting to talk about plans for doing another recording, this time a duet album with our original flute player, Pat Casey.

Mike was a member of the Mulligan Quinn Branch of CCÉ, and was always there playing at their monthly sessions in Mineola. In May 2009, he received a service recognition award from the branch at their last monthly ceili. It would be the last time we'd play together.

Our condolences are extended to his wife and family. Slán agus beannacht leat, Mike. You will be missed.

Denis O'Driscoll, Westbury, New York

Tomais Mac Ruairi

News of the death of Tomais brought much sadness to his many friends in the set dancing world. Indeed even now it is difficult to accept that Tomais, who was always so full of life, is no longer with us. Our sympathy on his passing goes to his wife Siobhán.

It is true to say that Tomais' love of all things Irish began very much in his early life. In fact, it was while he was working in a pub in London many years ago that Tomais picked up his native tongue from the Connemara people he met there and became a fluent Irish speaker. A later move to Northampton saw him befriend and share a flat with another fluent Irish speaker, the writer Donal MacCauley. Donal later married neighbour Breege Noone from Creggs, Roscommon. Further travelling saw Tomais move to Australia for eight years, where no doubt he had ample chance to share some of our Irish culture with the people there too. Perhaps those there were treated on occasion to a tune or two on the fiddle, something Tomais loved to do.

I first met Tomais and Siobhán in 1980 and since then was a regular visitor to their home in Carraroe, Lanesborough, Co Longford, where I always received a warm welcome along with tea and sandwiches. As a teacher of ceili dancing myself, and a member of Cairde Rince Ceili, I always found Tomais to be excellent company. I am again reminded of my many visits to Carraroe, where we would talk for hours about the ceilis, the different sets and the fíor ceilis.

In 1988 Tomais and Siobhán took the step of starting up their own set dancing classes in Longford, which they ran very successfully for many years.

Along with teaching set dancing, Tomais and Siobhán also attended many classes themselves over the years. They attended classes in Tullamore given by Tony Monaghan, and often visited Tom Joe Money's house there, and had the tea and chat. They similarly went to classes in Strokestown given by Gabrielle Cassidy, and for them no year was complete without the trip to Miltown Malbay for the Willie Clancy week.

A talented man himself, Tomais was always quick to admire the talents of others. One such musician, who impressed him very much was accordion player Oliver Diviney.

In his personal life, Tomais had a great devotion to Our Lady of Knock, and over his lifetime made many prayerful trips to the shrine.

It was a privilege for all of us to have known Tomais.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Cáomin Ó Chealláigh, Creggs, Co Roscommon

The set dance gang

The set dance gang are a lively lot,
They dance about, they dance on the spot,
Some are great steppers, others not so hot,
All of them give it what they've got.

The Band strikes up, away they go,
Hand in hand, heel and toe,
Lead around and back again,
Grab your partner and you swing.

Advance, retire, across you go,
Some are fast, more are slow,
Advance, retire and home again,
Tops take a rest, sides step in.

It's wheelbarrow time and it's reels again,
Ladies chain, dance her home and dance her in,
Dance them out and in and out and in,
Four together and another swing.

The Ballyvourney Jig-now in this set
You start the house on the second step,
Square, slide and change, home once more.
It's a hectic pace and that's for sure.

Two-hand dances we sometimes see
A schottische and the Stack of Barley.
There are two more that some do fancy
The Barn Dance and Shoe the Donkey.

It's an old-time waltz and off they go,
A coupla steps is all you need to know,
Wheel about as around the floor you go,
It's a one-two-three heel-toe-toe.

The set dance gang are a lively lot,
They dance about, they dance on the spot,
Some are great steppers, others not so hot,
All of them give it what they've got.

Ibiza Verse:

The set dance gang to Fleadh Ibiza they came
From all over the world in the big aeroplane.

They danced every night and they danced every day,
Some danced in their sleep or so I've heard say.

Now come on all you great steppers, fair women and fine men
Keep stepping out the set dances till we meet here again.

Martin Forde

Cancelled at short notice

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

Disappointed as we were when our scheduled June holiday to Spain for a week of set dancing was cancelled at short notice, a small group of set dancers decided to stick with our plans and go anyhow. My friend Mary from Tullamore and I set off to Dublin Airport not knowing what to expect. On arrival in the departure area we saw one or two familiar faces seen somewhere before at a ceili and we knew we were not alone. When we arrived in Malaga we met and introduced ourselves to seven set dancers from Dublin. Having settled in to the Cervantes Hotel we got chatting and met with a larger group of dancers who had arrived from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mary Brogan had music and so had the people from Scotland so all we needed was a room to dance, and hotel management obliged.

We had dancing every night from nine till late-sets, waltzes, two-hands and sean nós. We were joined later in the week by some set dancers from Kerry and a great time was had by all. We made some fantastic new friends from Scotland and Ireland and it was great to see some of them featuring in the last issue of Set Dancing News.

We all had a fantastic week's holiday and great dancing and sing-songs. Look forward to meeting again soon.

Yvonne Keaney, Mullingar, Co Westmeath

Each night went too fast

Dear Bill,

We attended the spring weekend at Hotel Loch Altan, Gortahork, Co Donegal, in late May. Madge O'Grady did a phenomenal job of organization. It was wonderful to have the weekend back in the Gaeltacht. The music was wonderful. Each night went too fast, because we were having such a good time. The floor was packed. We came over from New York with other friends and we will all be back next May, God willing.

The staff at the hotel could not do enough for all of us. Friday night at the break the usual Altan Donegal wee cup of tea comprised of sandwiches, sausages, chicken, cake of every description, etc. Of course this was repeated on Saturday night as well as Sunday then the ceili was over at 5.30pm. They have the best sprung floor I ever danced on except for the Mineola Irish American Center on Long Island. We left happy knowing we will return next year. Pass the word and maybe you will join us next year.

Noreen Kearney, Malverne, New York

Many thanks from Birr

Hi Bill,

On behalf of Birr Comhaltas, we would like to sincerely thank all the dancers and supporters who made our set dancing festival a great success. Many thanks to the Swallow's Tail Ceili Band, the Abbey Ceili Band and Jerry McCarthy and the Curragh Ceili Band for the magical ceilis, and to Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and John Creed for the wonderful workshops over the weekend.

Looking forward to Birr 2010 already.

Many thanks,

Donal and Ronan Morrissey, Birr, Co Offaly

I relived my holidays

Hi Bill,

I have just got broadband and delighted to be able to look at photos from as early as 2002. I am in the Belcoo photos. It really is amazing to look back at all the events going back that far. Sad to see so many friends who are no longer with us, but great to live the fantastic ceilis over the years.

Looking back at the fantastic holidays in Ibiza and Portugal there are lovely photos taken by Joan, unfortunately none of me. (Hopefully she won't publish the ones when I was hypnotised in Ibiza this year.)

I relived my holidays through those photos over so many years, seeing friends from all over Ireland and the UK. You have such a fantastic collection of photos on your site it was wonderful to browse through. They brought back memories long forgot.

Yourself and Joan work so hard to record what us set dancers have been up to over the years.

Keep up the good work and thank God for broadband.


Brenda Gaffney, Moneen, Dowra, Co Leitrim

Money being handed over

Dear Bill,

Many thanks for publishing the notice of our sets ceili, held in Armagh City Hotel on Sunday 7th June, in Set Dancing News, and also on the web for a long time. This ceili was in aid of the Newry Hospice who do great work helping people with cancer and other serious illnesses. Due to your publishing, the ceili was very well supported on the day. After normal expenses for the evening were cleared, the sum of £630 was left over, and the picture shows the money being handed over to the nurses with the photo taken by Mary Lewis.

Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone

All the best

Hi Bill,

Please find enclosed a picture of Keith McGlynn proposing to Carol Caulfield at O'Donnell's Bar, Mounthawk, Tralee. Keith and Carol, originally from County Clare and now living in Tralee, are both great set dancing supporters who attend our winter set dance class in O'Donnell's Bar. Included in the crowd are their family and set dancing friends. Keith is well known in Tralee for doing the brush dance at parties after a few pints.

Carolyn and Paddy Hanafin and all their set dancing friends in Kerry would like to wish them all the best in their engagement.


Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Tralee, Co Kerry


Ceili Time arrives on the circuit

The newest band to emerge on the set dancing scene is Ceili Time, formed by two brothers, Enda and Seamus McGlone from outside Omagh, Co Tyrone. Enda has made a good name for himself after playing box for years as a founding member of the Copperplate Ceili Band. Seamus provides backing on guitar. The two lads used to play together in pubs for many years, and are now resuming their partnership to provide music for set dancing, two-hands and fíor ceili. Already their calendar is busy, with trips to Fleadh Portugal in October and a set dancing weekend in Basingstoke, England, in December.

Ceili Time have also been quick to produce their first CD, called Set Dancing Volume 1, with music for five sets-Antrim Square, Ballyvourney, Cashel, Clare Lancers and Corofin. The duo has a distinctive, timeless sound which highlights the shining accordion playing of an All-Ireland champion. The tempo is lively enough to suit all dancers. Let's hope that Volume 1 is the first of a long series. You can get a copy from the band at their ceilis, by post or from their website at And be sure to look out for Ceili Time whenever they're playing near you.

Enda's friends at the Copperplate Ceili Band continue to be as busy and popular as ever. Dancers have responded with enthusiasm for their new box player Ciarán Kelly, and he shows great enjoyment at every ceili, just as the original two members, Brian Ward on banjo and Eamonn Donnelly on piano, have always done themselves. The Copperplate are one of the best travelled bands on the circuit, with two trips to England, a Mediterranean cruise and a week in Portugal coming up before the end of the year, plus the usual round of ceilis across Ireland.

A dirty tale of 1950s Dublin

Set dancers often have talents that stretch well beyond the corners of the dance floor. A dancer from Surrey in England, Yvonne Fizpatrick-Grimes, has just published her first novel called Dirty Dublin. Set in Dublin and Kildare in the 1950s, it tells the stories of two very different woman who each become intimately involved with the Bishop of Dublin. Enthusiastic reviews call it original, comical, intelligent, eloquent and "unputdownable." Yvonne's novel is available from Amazon and half of all proceeds will be donated to a charity which supplies dogs for disabled people. Her work on the book will have been worthwhile if she is able to fund even one dog.

Yvonne dances every Wednesday in Weybridge at Tomás O'Dea's class, which she thinks is one of the most vibrant in the London area. She says, "Dancing is how I stay fit, sane and above all else blessed, by the music, the craic and most of all the company I keep." She has been dancing for ten years, venturing as far into London as Hammersmith and Wimbledon, and even once went to Longford.

Mike Rafferty is an 83-year-old flute player from Ballinakill, Co Galway, who emigrated to the USA in 1949 and has become a fixture of the Irish music scene in and around his New Jersey home. He learned his music at home in Galway, where his father played flute and pipes, and played in ceilis bands. After emigrating, Mike stopped playing for ten years, but was tempted back by friends and has never stopped since then. He can be found regularly in sessions, teaching classes and on stage at ceilis. He's made numerous recordings over the years, including three with his daughter Mary. On his new CD, The New Broom, Mike is joined by Willie Kelly on fiddle for seventeen tracks of gentle music. The disk is widely available. See Mike's website at

The Murphys from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, are a talented family of musicians and dancers. Eilís plays flute with Neily O'Connor and Sean on banjo for Jerry McCarthy. The best known musician in the family is their brother Dónal Murphy who performs with Sliabh Notes and Four Men and a Dog. Recently released is his first solo album, Happy Hour, which will keep you in good spirits for most of 60 minutes. The thirteen lighted and spirited tracks will inspire you to dance around the kitchen-be careful while listening in the car! The tunes range from old ones Dónal learnt from his father Dan, to his own compositions, and the musicians include the Murphy clan and Steve Cooney. Happy Hour is available from Amazon, CDBaby, iTunes and shops. See Dónal's website

Timmy McCarthy is a set dancing teacher with unbridled enthusiasm for the culture of Cork and Kerry and a loyal following of like-minded dancers. His regulars enjoy his workshops not only for the polka sets, but also his powerful accordion playing-the music in his workshops is always 100% live. Now that he's produced a new CD, From Cork to Confort Berhet, you can listen to Timmy's music any time. Confort Berhet is a village Timmy first visited in 1990 to teach dancing. He brought along his son Tony there the following year, who was inspired to take up the flute and now lives there. Tony plays on the disk with his dad, and the Breton influence is heard in a number of the tracks. Timmy can also be heard singing three songs on the album. The disk is available from Timmy and Tony.

The Willie Clancy Summer School closes each year with a grand concert presenting four or so hours of great music by top players. You can now hear much of the 2008 concert on a new double CD with 34 tracks lasting two hours. Among the many gems are three tracks of dancing, featuring Bobby Gardiner accompanying Aidan Vaughan, Donie Nolan and Tommy Browne, a sean nós dancer from Cooraclare, Co Clare, and Michael Tubridy playing for Agnès Haack from Paris, who dances a solo hornpipe. The CD is available from the producer's website,, where you can also order the 2007 edition.

Sunshine and shamrock

The eighth annual Sunshine and Shamrock Festival in Benalmadena, Spain, on the sunny Costa del Sol was another sellout package holiday offered by Enjoy Travel. The majority of holidaymakers arrived on Thursday 12th March, but some people arrived on the Wednesday and had a terrific atmosphere going when we arrived.

Flying in from Shannon Airport I arrived with fellow passengers in Malaga Airport to be greeted by Enjoy Travel personnel who escorted us to our coach. A short twenty minutes later we were in the comfort of our beautiful four-star hotel. The majority of guests were accommodated in Hotel Alay; I was in the sister hotel, the Triton. We were offered a light supper and then we took ourselves to Alay where the night’s entertainment was well underway. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were doling out their usual superb music as excited set dancers stepped it out on the beautiful, specially constructed timber floor in the ceili room. I managed to dance two sets before the ceili concluded. The dancers spilled out to the social dancing in the close-by ballroom.

On Friday the first set dancing workshop was held in the ceili room with Mickey Kelly as tutor. We danced the recently revived Moycullen Set, with five sets taking part. Mickey then taught the Waltz Country Dance, the Breakaway Blues and finished with the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. I was conscious of the brilliant sunshine outside and was delighted when it was announced that the workshop, weather permitting, would be outdoors by the pool for the remainder of the festival.

The pool area was thronged with happy holidaymakers as the outdoor entertainment got started. Introducing the first band to perform, the Knotty Pine String Band, Dermot Hegarty said that it had taken a long time to secure a booking with them. He could guarantee us that it was worth the wait. This four-piece band was amazing. These boys changed my attitude to bluegrass and Cajun music for good. I later told them how much I enjoyed the afternoon. They are all from Omagh, Co Tyrone, and good friends with the lads from the Copperplate Ceili Band.

The ceili room tonight had the Annaly Ceili Band on stage. Their music gladdens the heart and soul and makes you want to dance, and dance we did. With the task of MC shared by Bronagh Murphy and Mickey Kelly there was no time for dragging the heels. We danced a lovely selection of sets including the Moycullen, Antrim Square, Derrada and Newport. The atmosphere of the nightly sessions in the lounge was electric and I found it difficult to retire to my hotel.

Saturday morning the pool area came alive to lovely polka music played on CD as gifted dancers and tutors Bronagh and Leeann Murphy prepared their workshop. We danced the lovely Ballyduff Set from Co Waterford. I was thrilled to see this set get an airing as it is one of my favourites and one which I include in my repertoire for the Devil’s Bit Ceili in Templemore, Co Tipperary. They then taught the Peeler and the Goat.

In the afternoon by the pool, holidaymakers danced to relaxing music. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were the last act for the evening. This superb twosome satisfied social dancers and set dancers with a very mixed selection of music and song.

Saturday night the Copperplate Ceili Band took the stage and stole our hearts with their magic music. The MC task was shared by Mickey and Bronagh, and we danced a good selection of sets including the Ballyduff from the morning workshop. The session tonight moved to the bar for the remainder of the week. As usual it was packed to the teeth. I visited just in time to catch Jean Mackey and her friend Mary do a lovely sean nós dance.

The set dancing class Sunday morning saw Mickey Kelly at the helm. We danced the East Galway Set and had great fun with the ducks and squares. The weather was superb and the music and outdoor dancing that followed was great. Our ceili tonight saw the Annaly Ceili Band back on stage with Mickey our MC. The sets danced included the East Galway from the class earlier in the day. Mickey concluded with a selection of two-hand dances.

Monday morning shone bright and beautiful. I conducted the set dancing workshop and decided that the Williamstown Set was a nice easygoing set in view of the warm day. I was delighted with the class who were most attentive and seemed to have enjoyed themselves. We had great fun with the last figure, strip the willow.

The Copperplate Ceili Band played for our ceili, Bronagh was our MC, and I called the Williamstown Set from the morning workshop. We had another fantastic night of set dancing, with our first Labasheeda and Sliabh Luachra.

On Tuesday there was a sea of people dressed in green for St Patrick’s Day. You wouldn’t see as much patriotism if you were at home in Ireland—everyone had made a supreme effort. No workshop was scheduled, but we had loads of entertainment plus the talent show and fancy dress finale. The talent was superb and the many people who took part in both are to be commended for their marvellous effort and contributions.

The Brian Boru Ceili Band played for their first ceili; their music was heavenly. MCs Mickey and Bronagh called another nice selection of sets. We all sang Happy Birthday to Joseph Hughes, the band’s box player, and when Bronagh suggested that the ladies all go on stage to give him a birthday kiss I was first out of the traps. The ballroom had Declan Aungier, Dave Lawlor and then Johnny Carroll to close the performance. The atmosphere was mighty. At twelve o’clock the balloons that had been strung high in the ceiling were released in celebration of St Patrick.

I later visited the session just in time for a small presentation to musician Sean Gilsenan and his wife Una, who were celebrating 42 years of matrimonial bliss. Drawn in to the magic of the crowd I enjoyed the remainder of the night in the company of these musicians. Dermot Hegarty and Dave Lawlor gave us songs, and the real treat for me was when Colm Sullivan from Rossaveel, Co Galway, gave us a display of sean nós dancing. Speaking to Colm I discovered that he was a cousin of well known dancer Séamus Ó Méalóid. I was proud to be Irish and privileged to be in such good company at the end of St Patrick’s Day 2009.

Wednesday morning by the pool Bronagh Murphy did a superb job teaching the Cuchculainn Set. Mickey Kelly concluded the workshop with the Southern Rose Waltz. In the afternoon some of my friends were returning home and I bade them farewell.

The final ceili was magic with the delightful music of Brian Boru and Bronagh as MC. Numbers had dwindled as some dancers had gone home, but the atmosphere and dancing had not been affected. Everyone had a fantastic last night.

Over seven hundred revellers had a wonderful week’s festival in Benalmadena on the Costa del Sol. The location is beautiful with loads to do and see for non-dancers. The food was brilliant and the weather everything you could hope for. We had some of the best music, entertainment and tutors in the whole industry. We celebrated St Patrick in style with the sun on our backs and music in our souls.

Joan Pollard Carew

The hills of Donegal

Even the mountains surely were leaning over a little, bending their old ears towards that place in Letterkenny where the music enthralled me all weekend. It was one of those mad weekends, nonstop dancing and jumping around. And it was the musicians that facilitated the twirls and leaps and hops and laughs, fabulously sending me through a certain portal into a universe of unabashed dancing, where dancers and music intertwine and become one moving, reeling, swirling entity. Sounds kind of poetic, huh? And yeah, I suppose music and dance bring out that side too, the deeper, connected, no frontier parts of humankind, the searching, curious, loving. Someone said once to me, “Set dancing is love.” When I watch people dancing, I can’t help but love them, in that moment, all children let loose!

Back to earth, reporting—on the way up on Friday, a heavy shower on one hand and sunshine on the other produced one of the most endearing rainbows ever seen. Cars stopped on the hard shoulder and mobile phones captured the image. Rainbows contain all the colours, and in a manner of speaking, that was a theme of the weekend, all colours of music, and at the end of the rainbow a magic cauldron full of dancing!

Up in Letterkenny, Friday night started with a workshop by the mighty jiver Seamus Melvin, and his two trusted sidekicks, Linda Melvin and Fidelma McCarney. This time, new turns were learned, like ‘the wrap’ and passing each other out. I noticed how I calm down when jiving, losing that hectic, bouncy streak I had from being unsure. It’s much more flowing now and enjoyable, thanks also to The Galway Girl song. Seamus finished with teaching the foxtrot, and that was great because I had no idea how to do it properly. Later on, Seamus gave me a jive and quickstep, and that made my night. He is brilliant to dance with—even I can follow him, no bother.

A little later, we had music by Country Traditions, playing lovely music for some social dancing and two-hands—they are particularly popular in northern parts. Very enjoyable change of pace and a good way of meeting people as some of the dances are progressive. And then the ceili, oh man, the Lough Ree Ceili Band just nailed it! At some point Brona Graham joined Johnny to play banjo. I can still hear the lift in the music and their unique way of bringing it across to the dancers and the responding cheers. Guys, you were great!

On Saturday morning, there was a choice of workshops, and I went along to Edie Bradley to scoop up some more lovely two-hand dances. Thank God I went, because we did my favourite, the Mazurka, and also the Millennium Barndance, which I only did once and made a mess of, but now I have a better handle on it. I was envious because my dance partner got the Festival Glide’s two squares in a jiffy, whereas it took me quite a while when I first learned it.

After that, it was an hour’s sean nós-ing with Ger Butler, and I noticed that he took more time, practised the basic step for longer and adopted a different method of teaching it, and also spent longer on single steps. He taught according to who was there and their level of dancing, maintaining the good rapport that he has with the participants at all times. Not to mention the cool music he uses!

A hurried lunch, and then down to the afternoon ceili with the Emerald Ceili Band. Sadly, they don’t play much now away from their home region, so to hear them was a rare occasion. Not being a big fan of the fiddle, Janette Mongan’s playing won me over. Such a sweetness, which balanced the liveliness and vigour of the box and keyboard. Her husband Paul on the keyboard took a great many liberties, playing notes instead of just accompaniment at times, and I liked that. The band members seemed to really enjoy playing with each other, and lots of smiles passed between them, which in turn made it so lovely to listen to and look at them playing and bobbing away—another unique, peak performance!

No time to lose, it was another session of jiving then with Seamus. I had a great driver and learned lots of moves, but will not be able to do any unless the man tells me to! Just one hour of that, and then more sean nós with Ger, at which stage I was wilting! So for a while I sat and looked at the dancers. One woman in particular caught my eye. She was unique, and the way she pranced about was amazing, her very own style. Although I had never seen her before, it was her dancing that seemed to introduce her and say, “Hey, this is me.”

In between the workshops and ceili there was more dancing in the bar, which sports a nice dance floor. Music was by Country Highways, a local band playing a mix of social and barn dancing, a great way to wind down a little and gather momentum again before the night ceili. I danced the Long German for the first time. I of all people should have known this, but didn’t, and got slagged for it by the Birmingham 7. The Birmingham 7? Yes, a group from there that turns up at places, and they are always laughing and smiling, up for the craic and quite loopy, God love ’em!

At night, Johnny Reidy Ceili Band let fly for the crowd, and Kerry made Donegal even wilder. In hindsight, music is a drug. The way I feel I almost lose control over my feet, and various other body parts bounce simply wanting to defy gravity. It’s quite difficult to hold the camera still for shots while hearing the music that’s making me so frisky when I sit a set out for taking photos.

A session after in the bar saw more dancing going on, and the premiere of a set dancer playing the box. She said, “Music is taking over, and even not having practised for this one weekend would set me back.” She played smashingly and you’d think her an old hand at playing for a set, whereas this was her first time. Hope to see more of that, Fiona, and well done!

Sunday morning, way too early, I dragged myself out of bed to head to the set dancing workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, half contemplating to go back to bed after breakfast. But what do you know, I got a chance again to dance the first set I learned from Connie Ryan, the Caragh Lake Set. I remembered him going round the room amongst the dancers, saying, “One two one up, back one two, one two three . . .” for the square. All the excitement and nervousness of that first workshop was brought back, and of the kind people that endured my awkward beginner’s steps. But of course, this morning, it was Pádraig and Róisín teaching. Pádraig is the first male teacher that I have seen who would take a gent and dance the lady with him to show him something, and that is true class and really puts the dancing first. They spent a good bit of time on the square, which is the main feature of the set, and I felt really comfy in the set with a group of Corsicans, who were very relaxed about the whole thing despite the fact that some of them had little English. Pádraig has such experience, he is a safe pair of hands, and I found him open and patiently running over movements if folks had questions.

After that, there was one more short sean nós session with Ger, and fair play to him for doing another round of beginners’ steps ever so patiently. Any teaching is all about goodwill, patience and compassion, and Ger has ample amounts of all.

And then, with a clash and a bang, Johnny Reidy played eruptive music for the final ceili of the weekend. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly go on, I danced up and down and over and back and wished for more when the national anthem was played.

Ah yes, that’s the way with it!

Organiser Diane Cannon did a mighty job in putting on the weekend and I must mention that we always got our tea and grub although the whole thing was in a hotel. So, let the music rock the rocks as well in 2010 and make the Hills of Donegal lean over again to listen closely with their ancient ears.

Chris Eichbaum

Costa del Clonea Great times in Omagh

I would like to pay tribute to the fourth annual Costa del Clonea set dancing weekend organised by Helen and Paddy Kealy on the 27th–29th March at the Clonea Strand Hotel, near Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Every set dancing weekend holds special memories but the thing that stands out with this one is the hospitality with a capital H. Helen and Paddy go that extra mile and everyone who knows and loves them is privileged to be part of their circle of friends. Carmel Kearns, originally from Co Clare, now living in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, is a super teacher and caller of sets, so take note all you organisers out there.

Celia Gaffney, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

Congratulations to Helen and Paddy for an excellent weekend. The venue was perfect, and the hospitality was top class. The workshop with Carmel was very enjoyable. Her choice of music was fab. I had to ask her whose music it was and wasn’t surprised when she said, “Matt’s.” To me it sounded like the notes were doing the steps with us, the bounce and the beat were great.

Carmel chose two old faithfuls, the Paris and Mazurka sets. I was delighted! I learned them yonks ago, but haven’t seen much of them lately. We also had the new kid on the block, the Moycullen and some light relief with some two-hand dances.

While Carmel handled the workshops, Helen and Paddy were also on duty, ready to help if needed. Paddy kept a steady supply of sweets going, to keep the energy levels up. No need for an Tarbh Rua (red bull). Maith thú (well done), Paddy.

We had three great bands, Brian Boru, Copperplate and Glenside. The music was terrific. A special thanks to Helen for baking all those delicious cakes we were treated to on our tea breaks. Well done, everyone. Hope we all have it again soon.

Doreen Corrigan, Dublin

For someone like myself coming out of the cold, the first thing that struck me was how Helen and Paddy had succeeded in putting their own personal stamp on the whole event—passing around the hard boiled sweets and leaving them on the entry ticket desk for anyone coming in; the abundance and variety of freshly baked orange sponges and fruit and cream cakes at every break; son or daughter at the entry, a real family effort to ensure everyone was looked after. Carmel’s teaching style is second to none, with a ready wit and endless good humour coupled with the fabulous music enthused and egged on even the most reluctant starter, and re-energised the exhausted! She has a rousing quirky signature phrase which will identify her among the fraternity with a “Hup! hup! hup!” to bring each figure to a crazy end.

Paddy and Helen have added a hundredfold to the rich cultural and social network of the area by hosting this weekend in their locality. The willingness of set dancers, who know and love them, to travel from far and wide is testimony to the high regard in which they are held.

This amazing duo paced the weekend with precision and forethought. They offered not so hackneyed two-handed dances as interludes in the ceilis and workshops which were a welcome respite to such as myself. Helen called the sets so well at the ceilis, that I made a very good fist of the Moycullen and West Kerry in the raw. They showed a selfless commitment to provide for all patrons, an excellent shindig which will be a hard act to follow.

I enjoyed the after midnight hours with nightcap, good company and rollicking stories of set dancing characters who we would easily recognise, but shall remain anonymous! It goes without saying, that I will definitely be marking this unrivalled weekend in my social calendar for 2010 and it won’t come quick enough!

Frances McConnell, Dublin

The Ballyshannon buzz

There was a buzz of excitement on Friday 17 April as the Ballyshannon Bash in Dorrian’s Hotel, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, got underway. The weekend began with the Emerald Country playing for a mixture of country and western, sets, old-time and two-hand dances—but most of us were looking forward to 10pm, when Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan were playing at the first ceili of the weekend. We were not disappointed. This couple thrilled the dancers with their brilliant music.

Despite the late Friday night, the attendance at the Saturday morning sets workshop was very good. This workshop was conducted by Joe Farrell, who is better known throughout Ireland as a caller, and this was also his role during all three ceilis at the weekend. As you might expect, we had great fun with Joe at the workshop, especially when learning the Moycullen Set.

Saturday afternoon brought its own challenges at sean nós and step workshops with tutors Fidelma Brannigan and John Cassidy. Both did an excellent job.

After a day’s shopping across the border, Tim Joe and Anne returned to the stage on Saturday night to provide another thrilling experience for the dancers.

Edie Bradley filled in at short notice as tutor for the two-hand workshop on Sunday morning—also well attended, despite the sunshine beckoning many of us outdoors.

The Oriel Ceili Band played on Sunday afternoon at the last ceili of the weekend. Bernie O’Neill and her band played to a lively group all afternoon. Too soon, the ceili was over, and we had come to the end of another successful and enjoyable set dancing weekend in Ballyshannon organised by Hugh McGauran. Unlike last year when he was forced to abstain from dancing due to a back injury, Hugh was booking dances in his usual fashion and danced all weekend.

Rosaleen Murphy, Carryduff, Co Down

Set dancing for everyone

On July 9, 2008, a ceili was held at St Mary’s of the Lake Hospital, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Katherine Kelly, who was doing her student work placement there at the time, organized this. The hospital provides non-acute health care specializing in rehabilitation, geriatric services, continuing care and palliative care. Katherine advertised the ceili throughout the hospital, and it was well attended by the patients and staff. With the help of Katherine and dancers from the Harp of Tara branch of Comhaltas, the Kilfenora Plain Set was performed. Music was provided by Aralt Mac Giolla Chainnigh, Jack Hickman and Dennis Wilson, who also provide the music for the branch’s monthly ceilis. The musicians also played a number of tunes and sang a few songs, much to the appreciation of the attendees! After the dance performance, members of the audience, all in wheelchairs, participated in dancing the last figure from the Kilfenora, with various dancers pushing the patients in their wheelchairs through the movements of the figure. They thoroughly enjoyed being part of the dance. For those patients with more mobility, the Peeler and the Goat was done, and many of the patients participated. The ceili was a great success, and was enjoyed by all in attendance.

A second ceili was held on February 5, 2009, also organized by Katherine who now works full time at the hospital as a recreational therapist. The Harp of Tara dancers (including Katherine) performed the Moycullen Set, with music provided by Aralt, Jack and Dennis. The first figure was then modified so the patients in wheelchairs could participate, with the Harp of Tara dancers pushing the wheelchairs. Set dancing can be done and enjoyed even by those with physical disabilities, with a little help from the able bodied. There was more music, song and dance, and the night was a great success and enjoyed by all. For the musicians and dancers, it was a joy to bring Irish music and dance to those who would not otherwise be able to experience it.

Julie Bowes, Kingston, Ontario

Articles continue in Old News Volume 53.

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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