There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
Normally, going away for a weekend translates into whisking off to a different sphere, immersing myself into it in full and only re-emerging into everyday reality afterward. When dancing at home at the Dance ’Neath the Comeraghs Weekend, Rathgormack, Co Waterford, 11–13 September, two miles from the house and the husband, the everyday reality is right there, and these two worlds brush against each other and demand the wearing of different hats.
Making the transitions easier was a Rathgormack village basking in glorious sunshine for the whole of the weekend, as if the landscape wanted to present itself proudly to all visitors. Every rock on the mountain range south of the village, the Comeraghs, appeared clearly visible to the naked eye, a landscape much walked and hiked for escape from busy lives. Every time I am up there, looking at a lake or a peak where sheep keep the heather in check, time stands still and just the wind keeps company with an odd bleating of sheep in the distance. A freedom-scented air blows the cobwebs away and the mountains extend their gift of clarity and spaciousness. Am I not lucky to be able to live here, in such a wholesome place? We still often marvel at this location. Adjacent to our house, two small streams that run down the hills converge and play their watery music—a perfect sleeping aid! After that, there might be a dusk chorus of cows mooing, and a night chorus of fox and wood pigeon. It is a truly worthwhile region to come to visit.
You see, people like this live here:
Biddy Usher, who baked, if I remember correctly, no fewer than nine cakes; three for each ceili at the weekend. Says she loves baking, so if an opportunity arises, she bakes loads, obviously. Never though for herself, she says, because she’d just be eating them all and they’d go straight onto the hips! I must get her to come to my house and bake a cake in what she said was only twenty minutes work, all done and dusted, by which time I would still be rooting for the flour.
Bridget-Ann Joy-Power, in charge of the hall, wears her heart on her sleeve, and is always ready to be of assistance, loves people and their company, God bless her! And it wouldn’t feel complete without her, a vital ingredient of the heart and soul of this part of the country.
Rosie Fogarty, when she plays the box and sings at the same time, she altogether merges with the music, and gets somewhat carried away, gesticulating and dramatising the lyrics! Seeing her always brings a smile to my face without fail.
Noreen Power tells me, who was brought up in Germany, that she is also a blow-in, to make me feel included. Where is she from? Alaska? No, it’s Carrick-on-Suir, ten minutes down the road.
Starting a set dance festival in Rathgormack in the first place was the brainwave of Mary Murphy, who teaches set dancing in the village together with her daughter Bronagh. This year, she came up with a lineup that worked a treat. Starting with Johnny Reidy on Friday night is always a smart move, and that ceili generated the biggest crowd ever to take to the newly varnished floor. The floor had to be redone recently, because the varnish didn’t work for heavy duty use, which the set dancing is, and came off in dusty flakes. So the hall committee had the floor revarnished to ensure the dancing would be comfortable, and no complaints now!
Saturday, Pádraig and Róisín McEneany were teaching all day long, and they are a great team altogether. Pádraig worked the microphone, while Róisín kept an experienced eye on the sets on the floor that might need her help—ours being one of them, brains wilting in the afternoon heat. A lovely touch and additional challenge, I felt, was the moving on of top couples to the next set for a change of perspective. We were invited to change partners as well.
I had a dance partner that hadn’t been dancing for very long. He reckoned that he was no good, and I was supposed to not look at his feet. When doing a figure in the Armagh Set where it was required of me to star left, swing in four, star right, swing in four, go under an arch, be turned right hand, pass back outside and circle in four, or close enough to it, I lost the last of my marbles and went round like a donkey. Well, whatever about my partner’s feet, there was nothing wrong with his memory, thank goodness! While I made an ass of myself, which is not all that unusual, he was able to remember the right moves. Lazily, easily, nearly dozing in the sunshine during the break, folks spent time outside enjoying “the day that was in it.” At the end of the break, four girls between 10 and 12 years old in Kilkenny jerseys danced a half-set. Well done, you! It was obvious that Leeann, Mary Murphy’s younger daughter, had broken them in, trained them well and instilled a love for set dancing.
The workshop sets were the Fermanagh Quadrilles, Bonane and Armagh. With a bit of time left at the end, the Waltz Country Dance was taught to finish up—just about the only thing we were still able for!
There were more sets on the floor in the morning than the afternoon, which was still good, considering the lovely Indian summer feel in the air outside and the necessity for people to harvest, sunbathe and perform other significant activities. But the workshop encapsulated all that is good and positive about set dancing—a relaxed atmosphere, fun, an easygoing, stress-free learning environment. All that thanks to Pádraig and Róisín, who came to Rathgormack to teach here for the first time, and who have already been asked to come again next year. Two of the safest pairs of hands to look forward to having here again.
Home then to put on the dinner and get ready for the night ceili. Tim Joe O’Riordan and Mort Kelleher were playing for it, and despite wanting to take it easy I got carried away for the last set. It was the Plain Set, and dancing it with another Chris who loves jumping, leaping and bouncing as much as I do was just plain mad. There is nearly always a point where all the good intentions to mind my back, hips and ankles are thrown out the door, at least for that little while. Surely, the rapture plays its part in overall health, right?
Later on that night, presentations were given to Mary, Leeann and Bronagh, honouring their work that helped make the festival possible.
Sunday morning, a hike with the husband won over the morning workshop, and we went for a walk along a stretch of brook that at times is level with the path, and at other places you look onto it down a steep gully swathed in oak and beech trees, leaves on the verge of turning gold, and beyond fir, spruce, larch, all adding to an alpine vista.
The afternoon ceili welcomed Jerry McCarthy and the Curragh Ceili Band on stage. Someone once said that he and Johnny Reidy were quite alike. I agree in terms of tempo, but Jerry’s arrangements and way of playing are different, yet still very Kerry-ish. And that was the end of all that happened in the hall, for afterwards, a session started in the local pub with very enthusiastic local musicians and singers, more dancing and laughter. The husband had dragged me there himself!
Having observed firsthand the work that goes into a weekend like this, seeing and hearing about it ages before the start, it’s the story of a community that has grown together in a generous and sharing spirit. Every year the festival also gives them another bit of commonality and a rightful sense of accomplishment. This labour does indeed contribute to the development of community and works both ways, enhancing set dancing and feeding into that pot of communal rural life.
Full marks for the commitment of Mary Murphy and her daughters, as well as the hall committee, with special thanks to the “set dancing sub-committee,” Noreen and Monny Power, Mary O’Neill and Ann Terry. Lads, (in Waterford, everybody can be a lad!) the very best of luck for next year!
Milwaukee’s annual Irish Fest was blessed with fine weather this year, and much dancing was done August 13–16, yards away from the shores of Lake Michigan. The dance pavilion was used all four days of the festival for dancing and teaching. Dancers from the region filled the floor and a good time was had by all. The Kilfenora Ceili Band played for both ceili and set dancing all four evenings of the festival as part of their hundredth anniversary celebration. Music was also provided by Johnny Connolly and Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta and the Two Tap Trio from Minneapolis-St Paul. Local bands providing music for set dancing were Rírá, Áthas, Cream City Ceili Band and Ceol Cairde. Milwaukee dancers have been dancing to their music for years, and it was fun to share the festival with them.
Basic set dance instruction was led by the local volunteers once a day at a central location on the festival grounds. This year even more instruction was provided daily at the dance pavilion itself just before an actual set dance was held. Students were then encouraged to try their skills at the actual dance or to sign up for the local series of classes beginning in September. This instruction at the dance pavilion generated a great number of potential students. Being under a large tent on a sunny August afternoon probably did not hurt either.
In addition to the festival grounds, the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center was used for the traditional late-night ceili. Dancers could leave the festival late Friday evening and continue dancing from midnight to 3am. This year music for the late-night ceili was provided by Brett Lipshutz, Randy Gosa and Devin McCabe.
When people weren’t dancing, they could stroll around the festival grounds and listen to many different bands. The Nova Scotia and Friends showcase provided a regional focus that included the band Vishten. Other popular bands to attend this year were Salsa Celtica, the Red Hot Chili Pipers and Cara. We hope to see them again next year as part of Irish Fest’s thirtieth anniversary, August 19–22, 2010.
Carol King, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
See SetDance Milwaukee on Facebook.
Hello Mr Bill Lynch,
I am Coco (Kyoko Ichijo), a small Japanese girl who met you in the Gathering Traditional Festival in Killarney. Do you remember? I really enjoyed the workshops and ceilis. I found myself in Set Dancing News! Thank you.
I will visit Ireland in September again. I am planning to go to the workshop in Donegal, but there is no bus service from Donegal airport to Glenties. I have to practice driving. . . .
Now. I enjoy set dancing with the group which is led by Naohito (Sean) Sudo, you know. Naohito Sean says hello to you. He is busy because his wife will have another baby! So I am writing this mail in his place.
On 15 August, we had a “dress-up ceili” and I would like to send some pictures for Set Dancing News. Our musicians named K:Reunion wore yukata, which is Japanese traditional summer wear. Some members wore funny dress like high school uniforms or a big Guinness hat. On the screen in the hall, the pictures I took in Killarney were shown. Of course after the ceili we went to an Irish pub near the hall and enjoyed Guinness!
I am looking forward to finding the news of our ceili in Set Dancing News. Thanks for your assistance.
Kyoko (Coco) Ichijo, Japan
Coco successfully arrived in Glenties for an enjoyable weekend of dancing!
Some of the fringe setsDear Bill,
For a variety of reasons, almost all set dancing classes take a summer break. Many are glad of it; others harbour regrets at missing the camaraderie of the weekly get-together. In truth, the break helps to recharge the batteries for the next term. Ostensibly, the summer sunshine should restore one’s appetite for the next term and it might if we had that benefit!
Ten or twelve years ago eight of us decided to forgo such summer ‘pleasures’. We decided to meet once a week in the Railway Lounge Bar in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, to explore some of the fringe sets we had encountered in our travels, just one each night, all of which we were unlikely to ever encounter at a ceili—or anywhere else either. If one couldn’t turn up on the night there was always someone to step in as a sub.
As time passed others expressed a wish to join the mid-summer soirée and the numbers grew to three and then four sets, all with the stipulation that in the event of their unavailability, they had to nominate a sub of their own accord on the night. In theory, the arrangement was perfect, because of the need to have full sets each night; in fact, responsibility often devolved on yours truly at the last minute to find a replacement.
A few years ago, it dawned on us that it was a pity to spend so much time exploring the obscure sets and then dumping them at the end of each term. Fortunately, Pat Murphy became aware of our dilemma and suggested that he would film the result of our summer’s work. The result was a delightful little DVD two years ago which consisted of the following sets—the Dromgarriff Half-set, the Newmarket Meserts and Newmarket Plain, the North Kerry Plain and, as time permitted, the West Kerry.
Undeterred or maybe emboldened by our endeavours, we decided to repeat the performance this summer. This time we changed our venue to the Three Mermaids Bar in Listowel, Co Kerry. Our numbers, due to space restrictions, had to be confined to six sets, with just over three remaining for the filming, again at the hands of Pat.
This took place August 29th in Clounmacon Community Centre near Listowel and, nerves permitting, went like clockwork. For the record, the sets this time were the Valentia Right and Left, the Meelin Victoria Jig Set, the Limerick Tumblers and the Loughgraney.
We contemplated publishing the DVD for charity, but copyright restrictions and other problems have made it impracticable for now. The chief consideration is the need to compile a library of as many of the sets as possible to be available for whoever wished to see them and to suggest to the many fine groups out there the idea of taking up the cudgel also.
There is a plethora of fine set dancing books out there; unfortunately, many readers find the sets difficult to understand. With the technology now available, how much more pleasant and easier to follow if visual examples were available.
As for ourselves it was a tremendous experience, most had never had a camera trained on them as they danced. No doubt, when another dodgy summer comes around the bug will again bite and we will contemplate another such experience, God (or Pat) willing!
And if anybody out there thinks I could help feel free to request.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
Weybridge birthdayDear Bill,
My thanks to everyone who attended my eightieth birthday party on Friday 4 September in the Services and Social Club, Weybridge, Surrey, and made the occasion a very enjoyable evening. Thanks also for the presents and donations to charity which is for Sam Beare Hospice. I raised £550 which was wonderful.
Once again, thank you all for attending.
May Cotter, Weybridge, England
We, the Boardsmill Trim (Co Meath) Ceili Committee, would like to thank all that supported the fund raising ceili on the 2nd May for the Owls Rest respite care centre, Navan Road, Kells, all the ticket sellers, also those who sponsored the prizes for raffle and anyone who helped in anyway that made it a successful and enjoyable night. The Tara Ceili Band played brillant music and Frank Keenan called the sets. Parents, friends, staff and patients came along for the ceili on the night and they all enjoyed themselves. On the 29th May we presented a cheque for €2,301.20 and further donations of €110 were passed on which came in following the presentation from people who were unable to attend.
A big thanks to all who supported all our ceilis over the year and looking forward to see you all again.
Michael O'Brien, Committee Chairperson
Silent with shockHi Bill,
Thought you might like a funny story for the magazine.
We recently had a meeting to plan our next spring set dancing weekend (stay tuned to www.set-dance.ca for details!) and we fell to chatting about our activities during the summer. One of our committee members who had just been to Tubbercurry, Pat Mahony, mentioned that Pat Murphy had stopped teaching. The whole room fell silent with shock. When he added, “during the day”, everyone let out their breath with relief! Pat, your Toronto friends would like to congratulate you on your retirement with warm wishes!
Elisa MacDonald, Toronto
Thanks, Bill, but—
It would not be fair to give me all the credit for showing you the correct version of the Swedish Masquerade (Miltown 2009 in the August–September 2009 issue). The truth is that if Marie Garrity hadn’t been teaching the Swedish Masquerade then I wouldn’t have known it at all!
During the Willie Clancy Summer School a bunch of Danish, Irish and Scottish guys share a house in Mullagh. One of the Scottish dancers, Leonie, who is actually Irish, knows the Swedish Masquerade from Scotland (Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead in Argyll) where they dance it occasionally. One night, in the back yard of our house in Mullagh, Leonie taught us all how to dance it the way she knows it. That night, Anders Trabjerg, the Danish accordion and fiddle player who lives in Galway, came to visit us in the house in Mullagh. Anders knows the tune for the Swedish Masquerade by heart as he is born into the traditional music tradition in Denmark. Leonie’s husband, Ron, played the tune together with Anders in the narrow back yard and it was at that particular event I learnt that the house in polka-time should be done fast. It is correct that there are three parts in the tune—a march, a waltz, and the last part is actually not a polka, but a Danish hopsa which has a slightly different phrasing! But you would dance it close to the way a polka is danced.
When I got back to Denmark, it was confirmed, that dancing the fast house was correct. I also found out that the Swedish Masquerade was not Swedish at all, but actually a very old Danish tune and dance. And as you can see in the attached picture, you are supposed to exaggerate the march, more or less, because in that way the Danes made fun of the high society Swedish Masquerades which were very popular in Sweden back then.
Elsebeth Rønne, Valby, Denmark
My first summer school
Having attended my first summer school in Ballyfin, Co Laois, in early August, I would like to share my enjoyment, craic, entertainment, camaraderie and reiterate the professional manner in which the school was run by Maureen Culleton and her helpers.
It was truly an international gathering and in particular, it was a pleasure meeting the French participants. Their group, co-ordinated by Eric and Monique Curinier, added significant colour to the atmosphere and the occasion. It was also a pleasure meeting Lyn Kawai and Angela Hishikawa, Reiko and Yuka Yamashita from Japan, and Kate Curran from England. Meeting Bill and Margaret Winnett from Sydney gave me the opportunity of talking about places we had visited when we lived in Australia several years ago.
Travelling up and down with my friend Catherine Birchell, we felt we were on holiday for the two weeks of the summer school. Having enjoyed meeting new friends, we cannot forget the real purpose of our attendance. Maureen instructed us in sets, ceili, two-hand, sean nós and traditional step dances. As if all of the above was not enough, there were guided walks in the Sliabh Bloom Mountains on Wednesday afternoons.
We cannot forget dancing to the sound of some of our favourite ceili bands on the bank holiday weekend. On Friday night, the Glenside Ceili Band entertained us. Social dancers had the pleasure of dancing to Sound Affair on Saturday night. Sunday afternoon we enjoyed the wonderful Annaly Ceili Band, and those of us who were fortunate to be able to stay on for Sunday night danced the night away to the sound of that extremely talented family band Triskell. It all came to an end unfortunately with the Abbey Ceili Band sending us home tired but happy on Monday.
Maureen was presented with a picture from her class to thank her and show their appreciation of her good humour and hard work over the two weeks. Roll on next year, when Maureen promises us an even more exciting and special time in Ballyfin when she will be celebrating her 25th year of teaching dance.
Ger Boland, Kilteel, Naas, Co Kildare
Hopping for over 12 hours
Our 26th Greater Hartford Irish Music Festival (with lots of set dancing) was held at the Irish American Home Society, Glastonbury, Connecticut, on the last weekend of July.
Three prominent ceili bands, Music in the Glen with John Whelan on Friday, Pete Kelly on Saturday and Green Gates on Sunday, kept us hopping for over twelve hours of set dancing. Overall we danced eighteen different sets over the weekend; some of the more popular sets were danced more than once. Unbelievably, we had set dancers from seven different states!
Also enclosed is a picture of a group of our seisiún musicians who play at the Irish American Home regularly. Their performance was excellent and very welcome, giving the set dancers a break to refresh and change dancing attire.
John Droney, West Hartford, Connecticut
I know it’s hardHello from Atlanta, Georgia!
I just discovered Set Dancing News on the internet and wanted to thank you for the hard work! I know it’s hard because I’ve been responsible for some complex web sites in my day!
This past weekend my wife and I attended the annual Celtic Festival in Jackson, Mississippi—CelticFest 2009. Our oldest son is part of an Irish set dance group with Roberta Stamp and was performing there. What a wonderful experience! We even attended the ceili (mixed dances)—the caller flew in from Cork for the purpose! Haven’t had so much fun in four hours before!
So, thanks again for the web site—keep up the good work!
Ed Humphries, Atlanta, Georgia
Loud crowd from ScotlandHi Bill,
I would like to pass on a word of thanks through your magazine on behalf of the ‘loud crowd’ from Scotland.
George Hook and Linda Reavy organised a fab weekend for us in Birmingham at the end of August. We had great music from Copperplate, great workshops with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and great craic in the evenings!
Looking forward to next year.
Patricia Marshall, Dumbarton, Scotland
Matt’s lift and lyricism
Matt Cunningham’s annual visit to Basingstoke on July 20th was better than ever this year, as the venue, Carnival Hall, had a great floor that was worthy of Matt’s impeccable playing. For this trip, Matt was joined by his daughter, Ita, on the fiddle. She has all of her father’s feel for the lift and lyricism of dance music and, together with Larry Cooley on keyboard, and Aidan Vaughan on drums, we were spoilt all night.
We were delighted to welcome many friends from far and wide. Regular visitors to Basingstoke will know that we often stray from the mainstream and enjoy a wide range of sets, both new and old. Some of our visitors were occasionally on unfamiliar ground but the less well known sets were well called, and there was no need for anyone to sit out a set, unless to gather breath for the next one!
In all, ten sets were danced, including the high energy Borlin, the local Galway sets of Claddagh, Roscahill, and Moycullen, the challenging Aran, and of course the Plain, Cashel, Connemara, and Ballyvourney Jig. Waltz tunes were popular, and Ita treated us to a fabulous haunting solo air on the fiddle.
Jim Crick, Newbury, England
There’s more dancing in Basingstoke on 4–6 December.
The ceili group’s set dancing classes in Schull, Co Cork, ended for the season in April, but on 15 June, the dancers gathered to welcome us O’Carrolls home from our 27 month absence. Bertie and Annie Moran and many of their dancers and friends visiting on holiday welcomed Kevin, Kathleen, Bridget, Fiona, and myself.
The dancing had already begun by the time we arrived. Nuala O’Brien was holding on to her place in the set, but reached out in the air saying, “I just want to hug you!” At the end of the set, she burst from the circle and ran over to deliver a powerful hug of welcome. Each dancer approached each O’Carroll and shared very warm welcomes—a hug, a kiss, a gentle handhold, another hug; all smiles. “Welcome home.” Home.
My mind had very little memory of the dance steps, but my body remembered. Annie named the steps before each set; the moves and actions blurred before my mind, but when Bertie started the music, it was as they say, like riding a bike, well, together with the apt directions transmitted through the driving and prompts of the dance partner’s hands, posture, and commands.
The roots of joy lay in the blend of heritage, time-honoured movements and traditional rhythms, the ancient pulsing with life and expression with these living friends in the now.
After a number of sets, we gathered in the other room for tea. Eugene Reeve’s renowned cinnamon buns, and the lemon cake, chocolate chip cookies, wine, tea, and the brownies we made. More welcomes and visiting. Alyn Fenn stood to speak, saying Bert asked her to make some remarks. With an easy beauty she spoke with words of welcome home. We felt new depths of welcome.
Time for the second half of the dancing. Yes, after the wine, we danced some more. The Slieve Luachra was followed by the final dance, the choice of the honoured guests. Kathleen chose the Ballyvourney. A favourite!
Throughout the evening, half eight to half eleven, warmed joy was the fuel for the light twinkling forth from every eye and step.
There is nothing in the world like an Irish ceili.
In 2006, five O’Carrolls fulfilled a three-generation dream to return to Ireland. After moving some 6,000 miles from Washington state, they soon became involved in the set dancing classes in Schull, Co Cork. In 2007, they moved to the Boston area for family reasons and have only this summer been able to come home to Ireland.
Laois bachelors: endangered species
Co Laois used to be well-known as a fertile breeding ground for set dancing bachelors, most of whom were members of the famous Half-Door Club which stages its festival in Castletown every May bank holiday weekend. However, in recent years the county has turned into a breeding ground for babies now that most of its bachelors have achieved love through sets.
The latest bachelor to lose his single status is Peter Redmond, who married Elizabeth O'Meara on August 1st at the church in Ballacolla, Co Laois. The reception in the Manor Hotel, Abbeyleix, featured music played by Cúpla, Pat Ryan and Richie Kelly. They spent their honeymoon in Ireland attending ceilis.
On behalf of all set dancers we give hearty congratulations and lots of love to Peter and Elizabeth.
Melodie the Rose
The Rose of Tralee Festival celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year and chose as its 51st winner the competitor from London. One of the fifty roses who competed this year has a strong set dancing connection. Competing as the French Rose, Melodie O’Neill is the daughter of Paddy and Dany O’Neill from Lannion, Brittany. Paddy is a fiddler from Co Tyrone and Dany is a set dancing teacher who has run classes, sessions, workshops and ceilis for many years. If you missed seeing Melodie on TV, her ten minutes of fame is available for all to see on YouTube—search for Melodie O’Neill.
The top set dancing team at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Tullamore, Co Offaly was Diabhlaíocht na hÓige from southwest Clare. The winning young devils are Sean Longe, Ronan Frawley, Niall Quinn, Paddy Dillon, Edel Roach, Mairéad Consodine, Clara Burke and Niamh Burke. The picture above shows them immediately after their victory in the mixed senior competition as photographed by Set Dancing News staff photographer Patsy Finn.
Jim Elvis gets thruThere’s only one Elvis-impersonating sean nós dancer and that’s Jim Monaghan from Dublin—once you’ve seen his routine you’ll never forget it! Jim had the good fortune to be invited to appear on TG4’s TV series Glas Vegas, a talent competition for traditional dancers. Purely for the craic he attended the first round in September as ‘JimElvis’ together with his partner ‘Priscilla,’ a green-bristled brush. Much to his own amazement, Jim topped the nine acts in that episode and he’s made it through to round two in January. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait till next summer before the show is broadcast. Congrats, Jim, and good luck with the next round! Get in touch with him if you’d like tickets for the studio audience in January.
On her way to Ibiza next year is Chris Gleeson of Kilfinane, Co Limerick, winner of the draw in the August-September issue. She received the prize of a holiday for two at Fleadh Ibiza courtesy of Enjoy Travel. Chris is a long time reader of and contributor to Set Dancing News. Congratulations!
Labasheeda sadnessAn air of sadness descended on Labasheeda and Kilmurray-McMahon, Co Clare on learning of the tragic accident of local girl Sarah Morrissey, 19 years old, when her car crashed a few miles from her home.
The Dan Furey Weekend was on hold for a while, but her parents and boyfriend bravely allowed the committee to proceed with the ceilis on Friday and Saturday as arranged not to disappoint so many people travelling from afar and overseas. Sarah’s funeral was held on Sunday, so the dancing on Sunday was cancelled. A minute’s silence was observed on Friday night at the opening ceili.
As we passed Sarah’s home on the way to the ceilis, it was a reminder to us set dancers how quickly your life can come to a sudden end.
We offer our sincere sympathy to Sarah’s family and boyfriend Shane from the Dan Furey Weekend set dancers and ceili bands.
The October-November 2009 issue completes twelve years of Set Dancing News, the main function of which is to let you know what’s coming up in the world of set dancing. Throughout that time the events listings in the back half of each issue have stayed more or less the same. I am pleased to introduce a new format for events which I hope is more convenient and informative. I’ve given this section of the magazine a new name, The Calendar.
On the first page you can see one of the new features—a schedule of bands and ceilis so you can see at a glance where to find your favourites. Teachers and workshops are presented the same way on a following page. Teachers and bands are included here if they have three or more workshops or ceilis in different locations.
The main new feature in the listings is that events are now listed in strict chronological order. When you want to see what’s happening on a particular day, flip through the pages to find the heading for that date and you’ll find all the dancing that’s on. The listings are more compact and use symbols for bands, teachers, callers and contacts, who are listed as usual in For more information, which now also includes email addresses. Venues have a new reference of their own; this also includes dates for all events at each location. Events for Ireland, Britain, Europe and North America are still listed separately; the pages are colour-coded to keep you from getting lost.
The new listings are also available on the Set Dancing News website—in fact the magazine listings are taken directly from the website. Look for them at the events.sets.ie/events.html, which is likely to change in the future, or follow the links at www.setdancingnews.net. They will soon replace the old listings on that site.
Events on the web are presented much the same as in the magazine, with the same symbols. Initially only the first three days of events are shown—click any date heading to open it up and see the events on that day. All locations are available on one page, with North America, Britain, Europe and the World listed below Ireland. The easiest way to see the other locations is to hide all Irish events by clicking the Ireland heading. There are also links at the left to let you arrange the events by country, county or state, venue, band and teacher.
Information for an event is shown in an abbreviated form; extra details are available for any name shown in green. For example to get the phone number of a band, just click its name and all the available contact info appears. This works for teachers, callers, contacts and venues. Long descriptions of events are also shortened initially—just click to read it all.
A small map appears near the top of the listings to show where dancing takes place over the next week. When you hover the mouse pointer over a pin on the map you’ll see the date and location of that event. You can also scroll and zoom the map to see pins at other locations. The functionality of the map is limited now but will be expanded in future. In fact everything about the website is subject to change as it is improved.
I would like to acknowledge the work of my friends Wendy Van Dijk and Liz Mattijsen based in Echt, Limburg, the Netherlands, in making these improvements possible. Liz is a database expert who designed and built a custom database to handle all the information required, and encouraged and assisted me in creating the listings and user interface used to view them. Much remains to be done but I am very thankful for all their help, hospitality and friendship in the two and half years or so we have spent sporadically working on the project.
Edwina’s YouTube recommendationsAny time I’m teaching a workshop I always give references to different styles of both dancing and music and usually recommend certain CDs but more commonly videos on YouTube (www.youtube.com). I’ve had a lot of feedback from people who have attended my workshops that they really enjoyed these videos. I don’t just recommend them for learning steps but also for enjoying the music or dance.
I recorded Martin Hayes playing with the Tulla Ceili Band in Miltown Malbay in July. I didn’t realise so many people were aware of me recording it until they started asking at ceilis if I put the clip up on YouTube!
Here are some examples of videos that I think people would be interested in.
Edwina Guckian, Dublin
So much was compressed into the week we spent in Bavaria for the midsummer set dancing festival in Augsburg that it's hard to know where to start. Maybe the beginning was walking along the edge of the river Danube, a first for us, on what was a balmy evening, spicy fragrances evaporating from the abundantly growing herbal plants, inspiring a desire to inhale deeply. Rainer, the husband, is great to have around when horseflies swarm because they regard him as a free banquet, leaving me alone, but he was quickly stung by an enormous mosquito. Being allergic to insect bites, his wrist began to swell at an alarming rate, and so what started as a relaxed amble became a hurried retreat back to the 300-year-old farmhouse accommodation we had discovered. Defying nature by applying all the lotions and creams that were brought in anticipation, we had a most luscious meal outdoors in the biergarten with wheat beer, which reconciled the man.
Another beginning took place next day, going back to our roots-a visit to the Augsburger Puppenkiste, a marionette theatre, one of the first television series I was allowed to watch when I was little. Along with the fairy tales of Urmel aus dem Eis and Pippi Longstocking, it comprised a staple story-diet for every German child at the time-time warp number 1.
Augsburg itself is about the size of Cork, and boasts an array of historical buildings, fabulous indoor and outdoor markets and cobblestone alleyways lined with little canals, hence Augsburg is also called Venice of the North. We only got a chance to see the Puppenkiste and the 'street of fountains', so there is loads left to explore in town.
There is so much to do and see in Bavaria and bordering Austria that everything we did seemed like only a beginning on the journey of exploration. Salzburg, for example, just a short drive from where we stayed after the workshop near Berchtesgaden, proved an interesting place with a visit to the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived. Contrary to common belief, Mozart was Austrian, not German, like Bach, Schumann and Handel. On display were many of his letters and musical instruments and compositions, and he began to come alive in my imagination, and I kept wondering what he would have made or indeed did make of traditional Irish music, and if he would have added a little tune or two. Amazingly, he already composed complex musical themes and variations for orchestra from the age of 8. It was suggested that he remained short of stature, had a feeble constitution and fair complexion because he relentlessly sat down indoors to play and compose throughout his childhood and adulthood. Well, that is apparently not what happened to our musicians that graced us for the weekend with their lively tunes, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh.
Salzburg also boasts an Easter egg shop. Yeah, that's right, a shop with nothing more than decorations for Easter. Eggs in all sizes and prices, some impressively painted works of art, others playfully drawn on, sporting bunnies, chickens, flowers, cottages, etc. And not far from that one, there is also a Christmas shop, and both are open all year round. Pretty coffee houses, with delicious looking (and tasting) gâteaux and coffee so strong I warrant it would wake even Mozart from the dead, invite you to stop and rest, and we did so on numerous occasions. In between stops, we discovered a little gallery where a Dali and Hundertwasser exhibition was on display-two great painters, their surrealistic styles heightening the whole of the experience of the trip as slightly that, surrealistic.
Another day, another adventure-walking up the mountains half-way, smitten by the crystal clarity of the air and the taste of the water that rushes down in its limestone gorge bed, tasting almost too pure to bear. Seeing a chamoix, scree in motion, an ice cave, spotted orchids, gentian but no edelweiss, because that only grows in heights over 1600m. We didn't get that high. Heavy clouds and frequent showers forbade us to climb any higher than 1400m. We staunchly refused to let the wet weather hold us back too much though, and at the same time it was rather depressing to have to buy a jumper and read thrillers at night that mirrored the wild wet scene outside.
Hysterical optimism set in the following day when we went walking again, in the rain, and commented on an enchanted strip of woods called the magical forest, "It surely wouldn't look half as shimmering and glimmering if it was dry." Or, "Doesn't this backdrop of rain falling really mystify the place?" And finally, "You could almost imagine a leprechaun behind the trees."
And then to reward our stalwartness, the local cuisine. To complete the sense of adventure there was wild boar and venison on the menu-sure we had to try it, and let me tell you, it is scrumptious. Visions of Obelix running through the forest catching boar accompanied that meal-time warp 1½. A drop of gentian schnapps followed, a type of poitín, brewed locally. And who should own that restaurant cum guesthouse in the middle of the magic forest but an Irishman!
Our last hike was quite a climb, three hours up, up, up, through ever thinning forest that had a Frodo-Baggins-was-here natural look about it-no wonder, since the area is a national park. The way down only took two hours, half walking, half jogging it.
All things seemed unspoilt; there was no litter to be seen whatsoever, not in the forest, towns, mountains or waters. People are asked to take care and do so, and so truly become stewards and guardians of everything that lives and we are a part of.
The Königsee (Kings' Lake) is a wonderful example of this. Its water is of drinking quality and has the most turquoise and green colour. A little village serves as a starting point for hikes which can only be reached by boat. It is said that the Nazis towards the end of World War Two sank stolen booty there but nobody has ever found any-the lake is up to 400m deep. A pair of eagles circle its fjord-like mountainous enclosure. A guide on the electrically powered ferry sounded a horn, and sevenfold the echo answered the call. The mists though had settled low over the waters, and the vast lake assumed the look of an infinity pool. Easy to imagine legendary creatures lurking below.
Now, let's talk about the dance venue and what was on offer in terms of dancing and entertainment. Beside a lake in the middle of nowhere in a little place called Violau, twenty minutes drive from the town of Augsburg, was an education retreat centre and its boathouse where we stayed and danced. Rowing boats moored right there tantalized people (even Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were seen to take to the oars) to have a little race-sadly, no one fell in. Rainer rowed Ger Butler about, who did nothing but look pretty. But who'd have thought, on the way back they had managed to change places and now it was Ger rowing with Rainer looking pretty!
Indoor-outdoor dancing was on a wooden floor with a slight fall towards the music, but, sadly, no one ended up sitting on Pat Walsh's keyboard. Someone though nearly lost their trousers, and others were later put in a medieval name-and-shame device for the craic, our very own Bill Lynch being one of them, and were freed when kissed by lovely maidens.
Food was delivered to us from the main house, and we ate and drank looking out over the lake inside the boathouse. Wholesome food, nearly all home-grown and lovingly prepared and arranged. Thank goodness for all the heavenly cakes, otherwise it would have felt as if we were on a spa wellness retreat. One particular cake, which is indigenous not only to Bavaria, but all of Germany, a sort of cheesecake, was what we were reared on when little. And it still proves so popular that I had someone guard the last piece that I had earmarked for myself until I could fetch a plate, but nonetheless had to wrestle my slice of cake then from the greedy hands of a woman who already had taken a bite! The taste sent me straight back about forty years-time warp number 2!
We also had a hoover dance. Four desperate housewives and their experimental-looking hoovers danced the Ballyvourney Jig Set-and these ladies did lose some of their garments at the end (on purpose). A local boys' choir dropped in as well to be introduced to dancing with the Circle Waltz and Shoe the Donkey. Someone whispered to me, "Well, that'll put them off dancing for good."
Furthermore, we spent the rest of Saturday night after the ceili around a bonfire, singing boy-scouty kinda songs, English and German, "My bonnie lies over the ocean, la la la . . . ," eating chocolates. Was I nine years old? I guess I was! Time warp number 3! And, would you believe, even Ger Butler was heard joining the chorus of many a song.
And on Sunday, when the very last few notes of the afternoon ceili were played, I managed to get Rainer out for a waltz and jive. He is very good with steps in his mathematically minded brain-but then he'd ask, "And why do you need music to go with it?" Arrrgh!
And was there anything normal?
Well, we had workshops comprising sets, two-hands and sean nós (reassuringly normal), céilithe (also exhilaratingly normal), Gerard Butler (warmly and confidently normal), and Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh (brilliantly normal). This was what kept me on the solid earth for sure instead of vanishing inside an adventurous fairy tale. Ah, not only is set dancing a sanctuary, it is grounding as well. Real and unshakable, comforting and connecting. No wild boar will keep me in la la land as long as I can dance a set after.
The organising was superbly zesty. There was a lot of wild meadow flowers decorating the wooden beams and tea lights in coloured glass containers heightened the festival atmosphere at night-a midsummer night's dream! Shakespeare meets summer camp.
I know that the week beforehand preparations were at a frantic level, what with a new venue to worry about. Although looking at Diana Salb, one of the organisers, throughout the weekend, she certainly didn't look a bit panicked, rather, as if nothing in whole wide world would rattle her cage.
There were a few beginners here, so the workshop was conducted in accordance with the level of dancing-lots of repetition. Ger on a few occasions had folks dance a figure twice and then once more, without calling. He spent a good while on the third figure of the Claddagh, which had gone awry at the ceili. It seemed he was going with the flow instead of following a rigid plan.
Micheál and Pat were in fine form, though dying to get away from all the nature surrounding them and so on Saturday made their way into town for the day. All the better for it, as they consequently played some mighty music later on.
The céilithe were very successful by my standards: I know I'm having a great time when I laugh a lot, fool around a lot, feel at home, lose sense of time and space and settle into a lovely carefreeness. And that is exactly what happened.
This second midsummer set dancing event in Augsburg was successful in many ways. It felt more like coming home, and I do not say that lightly. Of course this is also down to the warmth of the organisers, Sandra, Diana and Sabine, and Ivo, who was the carpenter behind the floor and served us a bucket of yummie strawberries, and to the free spiritedness of the Germans, Irish and Swiss who were there. I want to add a special mention to Martina, who played the alphorn on request, hidden behind the trees surrounding the lake. The booming regal-rustic notes hovered eerily over the water before taking their place in the great music hunting grounds, for music doesn't vanish. And neither will the memories that were accumulated on this week long trip to Bavaria, wild boar and all.
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormac, Co Waterford
See video from the Midsummer Set Dancing Weekend at www.youtube.com/AnCiorcal.
Why do Canadians celebrate the birthday of a long-dead English queen each spring? Who knows any more? Maybe because it's a great time for a holiday. It's certainly a great time for a set dancing weekend-warm enough to make travel pleasant, but not so warm that people are sneaking off to the beach.
Every year the Laban Rua Irish dancers of Prince Edward Island (PEI) hold an Irish arts weekend in their island province-which has plenty of gorgeous beaches! This year, the PEI group, with the support of the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) of PEI, presented ceilis, music sessions and traditional Irish dance and instrumental instruction on May 15-18.
Besides the Islanders, the next largest group of attendees is the Scaip na Cleiti dancers of neighbouring province Nova Scotia. Bluenosers (people from Nova Scotia) also contributed to the programming of the weekend, as you will see.
The music started Friday night at the BIS Hall in Charlottetown (PEI's capital) with the first regular Friday night concert of the summer. Island fiddler Roy Johnstone performed with guitarist and singer Steve Sharratt. Roy has travelled widely and recorded in various styles, but he has become a pillar of the Island Irish scene by leading the way in playing for dancing. The event included Scottish, Irish and jazz tunes, as well as traditional and original songs by Steve. Roy invited musicians to join him for tunes at the evening's end, and of course, dancers took advantage of the situation.
The workshops began Saturday morning. Elizabeth MacDonald, the dance instructor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, taught one of the "dancerly" sets for which she is known, the Armagh. We enjoyed this elegant set with its high gates, chains, stars and Christmases. The men acquitted themselves admirably during their chain in the fifth figure.
Other workshops conducted at the same time included guitar accompaniment, fiddle, flute, whistle, uilleann pipes and bodhrán. One workshop was in the hall, downstairs beneath the dancers. Good thing that we were doing an elegant set! Other workshops were held at the local grocery store, Sobey's. It's common practice now in Canada for grocery chains to have community rooms which they make available for non-profit groups-for free!
A couple of interesting developments were noted for the instrumental workshops. One is the number of musicians already experienced on their instrument in other genres, especially classical music, who are finding Irish traditional music. Instructors are not so much teaching the instrument as teaching the style. But as usual, workshops are open to everyone, including people who learn only by ear. In another development, as a sign of modernity, some instructors offered to email sound files to their students after the workshop. One even offered recordings both at the regular speed and at a slow working tempo. And in a clever piece of organization, most of the instruction was provided by the performers of Saturday night's concert, who had all trekked over from Halifax.
For lunch, most of us stayed at the hall. A couple of stalwarts took up a collection and cobbled together a lunch with supplies bought from the aforementioned Sobey's. Not a minute of potential time for steps or tunes was lost, and our sponsor received some appreciation.
After lunch the dancers turned to step dancing. The printed program said it best: "Sean nós steps are traditional low-to-the-floor steps that in their pure form result from the music compelling one to dance for the pure joy of it." Elizabeth extended an invitation to all levels, but most participants had some experience. In the interest of earning a feeling of accomplishment, we decided to stick to one rhythm-jigs. By the end of class we had put together a routine, ably accompanied by two dancers who put on their musicians' hats to play whistle and mandolin. The advantage of having live musicians is, of course, that they'll play at any speed you like. So the pace gradually increased as the steps became more familiar. Apparently the whistle class downstairs had to keep moving around the room, all in an effort to find a little respite from the pure, sweet, synchronised sounds from above.
Saturday evening's delight was a concert at the BIS Hall. Fancy's Flight is a Nova Scotia group, performing "Celtic music with a twist." Three of the four members-Kate Dunlay on fiddle, Jennifer Publicover on flute and Phil Schappert on guitar were joined by Glenn Coolen on whistles and uilleann pipes. These experienced musicians bring Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton and Breton music together with an artful flair. We were even treated to an artistic interpretation of Cape Breton-inspired step dancing as percussion instrument by Kate. Once again, the concert evolved into a session. Dancing ensued.
On Sunday afternoons in Halifax, the dancers and musicians are usually found at our local, the Old Triangle Ale House. The good news is that now the dancers and musicians in Charlottetown can do the same thing-the Old Triangle has opened a branch there. The bad news is that the pub was not quite ready for business during the Irish arts weekend. Although some people treated themselves to a sneak peek, we could not use the space for a session. Hence, Sunday afternoon we met again at the BIS Hall. There was music and dancing, set and step, with snacks and refreshments. And of course, knitters. Yes, for some reason, when Islanders dance, there are always knitters.
The weekend's festivities were rounded out with a house party at Fred Horne and Mary Burke's lovely refurbished schoolhouse in Nine Mile Creek. Refreshments were abundant, including wine from Fred and Mary's own label. Looking at the goodies laid out so near the dance floor put me in mind of one of the alternative names for housing around, "mind the dresser," a term used by my own grandfather, who danced sets in Newfoundland in the early years of the twentieth century. Fortunately, the dancers minded the dresser well, and not a drop or crumb were spilled.
Monday is the actual holiday for Victoria Day, but we pack so much into the rest of the weekend that we never make plans on that day other than to rest, relax and return home.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Time flows with the tide in Ballyness Bay. Bathing the shores of Gortahork, Co Donegal, an indefinable something in the air diverted my life eight years ago, and I cast anchor a seagull's wingbeat from the village. Since then, each time I walk in the footprints of the dancing tradition pulsing here, I become more and more local in people's hearts. Moons before the Féile Damhsa Gaelach set dancing festival, 21-24 May, I could read on locals' smiles the anticipation of having the weekend back here after a two-year pause. Rebounding on the pavements in town were the words that our only hotel, Ostán Loch Altan, was fully booked; so were all the B&Bs around Gortahork and Falcarragh.
For a change, I felt privileged to be able to dance at home. At the view of many camper vans parked along the hotel deck, a relaxing feeling of being on holiday at home filled me. A passionate German set dancer and friend even crossed borders and channels on foot, train, ferry, train, ferry, bus and foot in a thirty-hour journey to join our rhythmic circle.
For many locals the weekend started on Thursday 21st like every other one. The lively singing of guitarist Josie Cannon and genuine playing of accordionist Micheál Coyle usually attract about twenty couples. I popped in Teach Phaidín, the hotel's bar where the social dancing takes place to measure whether the normal temperature had raised a few degrees on the wooden floor. Dressed in their best Sunday outfits, locals were in a festive mood as always and I knew their natural joy of life would be contagious to the dancing visitors in the next days. In between the High-Cauled Cap and a Polly Glide, Madge O'Grady shared her excitement about opening the Féile Damhsa the following night.
At ease and with a natural assurance, Madge was standing on stage on Friday evening beside the Annaly Ceili Band, in charge of channelling the flow of dancers flooding the hotel. Calling the sets for the fáilte céilí was like breathing to her since she's well used to it at her own set dancing class in Falcarragh. Attuned to the joyful music her enthusiasm reached down to the dancing shoes she was wearing even though she couldn't join any of over fifteen sets on the floor tonight-yet she didn't miss a single step. Meanwhile her husband Paddy didn't miss a single greeting at the door of the main hall where impressive waves of set dancers kept arriving. Fortunately in preparation for any eventual overflow, a six meter square extension had been added at the back of the room to allow extra floor for two sets. I thought of a French saying which stipulates, "Jamais deux sans trois" (Never two without three). Soon enough did I count three sets in full swing, but it translated into Irish as "Never two without four" when later in the night I saw sixteen couples squeezing elbows and heels! Similarly, Madge kept adding sets to the programme for a total of nine. The Kilfenora, Cashel, Derradda, Clare Lancers and a waltz filled in the first half; the Newport, Antrim Square, Corofin, Connemara and Ballyvourney were called after the tea break-or rather, the full dinner! Put up by the hotel on long tables, a sumptuous courtesy banquet flowed with tea and mouth-watering cold, hot, sweet, savoury, creamy, spicy assortments!
A few more steps up the hill on our way back home, my German friend, dance partner and guest for the weekend and I were discussing our love for dancing, which had nicely brought both of us to meet again after a couple of years. After a starlit dancing night and late conversation, I finally fell asleep wondering what other intense moments would be pouring in the next morning.
The rain! A neighbour of mine once mentioned to me the horizontal rain she used to watch hide Tory Island from the horizon. But today's rain was so heavily vertical even the lighthouse would wilt. I could either opt for a flight on my bike or a wake-up cold shower on foot to attend the dancing. My guest slipped his splashy waterproof raincoat on, ready to face the elements, when a lightning idea flashed in my mind-did I read somewhere that the hotel was providing a courtesy bus? What a treat indeed, after a quick phone call, to feel like two stars on a comfortable seat down to the hotel, not having to change our Wellingtons for Halmors as we slipped late into the Saturday morning workshop.
Whether the Donegal Set was chosen in honour of the weather's fancy or Madge's Féile Damhsa, only Pat Murphy could say. But it made just common sense to dance a homegrown set. As I recalled Pat teaching us the Tory Island Set, same place, same enjoyment two years ago, this time he was smart to invite us to escape to a sunnier county with the Mayo Lancers-at that stage, Tory had dramatically disappeared behind a rain curtain. The "bundle of fun" (little Christmas or basket) cheered everyone up, though not as much as another favourite in the set-greeting your opposite partner by a kiss. "Arms behind your own back," added Pat to clear clouds of uncertainties.
As time flew the sun made a royal appearance again in the afternoon and I seized the opportunity to tour inside and around while the Labasheeda was demonstrated in the main hall, letting my dance partner practice his gaelic with local dancers. What better venue than the Sonas (joy) Room for Kathleen and Michael McGlynn's first time teaching sean nós here? Happiness certainly matched the relaxed ambiance fostered by Kathleen's elegant teaching manners. Twenty-five dancers-the most zealous being locals-had attended the morning workshop, and after a warming up bowl of homemade soup, almost as many were back for more reel steps taught to the recorded music of Andrew MacNamara-not too fast, highlighted Michael, at a perfect pace and lift.
Sunbeams were filtering through the arched window of the old bar, and there dancing the charming Avalon Fox Trot ("hair of gold and lips like cherries") were Marie Garrity and Mary McGrath. It was also Marie's first time leading a two-hand workshop here-she teaches three classes locally in Omagh area all year round. Although she thought interest in two-hand would eventually fade out, it definitely hasn't-fifteen smiling couples were the shining proof today, and a welcome audience of almost as many attentive children and parents added to the homey ambiance. Who knows which of these little boys and girls will be inspired by such a variety of gorgeous melodies and dances? Mary's grandmother herself would have hosted house ceilis, and her mother passed it on to her. Cordial progressive Circassian Circle or Country Dance Waltz; sensual Argentinian or jiving Spanish moves; Charleston rhythms or blue Danube notes; sweet Mulberry glides or rooted Fermanagh highland were suitable for all generations both morning and afternoon. As confessed to me by a member of the staff, who was thoroughly enjoying her lucky time off-duty learning how to dance the Tiara Tango to Declan Augier's sweet music, "What else would we be doing on a Saturday afternoon?"
What else, but breathing the warmhearted air of the Costa del Gortahork, stepping on the hotel deck, lulled to feel wellness by the tidal rise of cheerfulness in the adjacent hall. Back home up the back road again, I embraced at once the whole sunny bay and the opportunity of meeting a set dancer strolling. Rare nowadays are the occasions to slow down to a walking pace and absorb the richness of a landscape and people. After some French cuisine, time was left for a catnap for one, a dog nap for another. I walked down to the ceili by myself, letting my voluble dance partner compose a symphonic score for snores.
Brian Ború Ceili Band played passionately while Pat Murphy successively called the Mazurka, Kilfenora, Donegal and Connemara sets. When the tea (translate: tarts, toasts, tangerines and tutti frutti) break was announced, I decided to call home and book my well-rested friend for a set! Considering that the 25 sets of dancers present on the floor (among them Madge who had the pleasure to dance with her grand-daughter Shauna tonight) and seemingly as many spectators were all cordially invited again to an abundant dinner party offered by the hotel, there was plenty of Donegal time before the Clare Lancers would start! Sean nós steps followed, led by Kathleen surrounded by enthusiastic locals. Marie Garrity then took over the stage for two-hands. (See the score as interpreted by the Brian Ború for the Fermanagh Highland and Barn Dance on page 38.) In between, a well supported raffle and the traditional last Plain Set of the night, Madge O'Grady seized the occasion to express her thanks and appreciation to all visitors and locals who came along to get the weekend back on the road again in Gortahork-warm applause approved her words.
On my return the next day, each table in the main hall was displaying fresh orange slices to keep vitamin C levels high and compensate for the lack of sun and perhaps energy for some. All three tutors had gathered together with about fifty couples for the Sunday morning workshop. When my guest and I arrived delayed but exhilarated by a multilateral rain, Pat was about to demonstrate the Kildownet Half-Set popular on Achill Island, Co Mayo. Its three figures consist of gentle moves-in particular a courtly gentlemen's bow in the second. For the sevens Pat drew the assembly's attention when he said, "If you do the Charlie Chaplin version it doesn't work!" In his Olympian manners he advised us to keep the weight on one foot, "Down and down and down and down." The atmosphere was just perfect for a Sunday morning, and the extra wooden floor amply accommodated four half-sets. Marie heartily concluded on a cheery note with The Avalon Foxtrot, Circassian Circle, Spanish Jive and Charleston.
As my favourite dance partner left on Sunday afternoon to renew old friendships in the neighbouring parish of Gweedore, I was content to watch MC Madge entertaining about twenty faithful sets. The Copperplate Ceili Band warmed up the room with lively tunes for the Cashel, Derradda, Kilfenora, Clare Lancers, Corofin, Antrim Square and Connemara sets. Ciarán Kelly on accordion, accompanied by Eamonn Donnelly, even chose a sparkling melody especially for banjo player Brian Ward, who was presented with a birthday cake! By then, the temperature of a very convivial weekend had definitely gone up, reaching summer peaks, and I could spot here and there fancy fans actively cooling dancers.
Ostán Loch Altan, back in the red-hot spotlight of the dancing scene, could become the sunniest attraction of the month of May. Please note that hotel, bands and dance masters are booked up for next year-however I can reassure you that many other doors like mine will stay open to accommodate fervent friends in the Donegal Riviera.
In their own words
From a staff point of view everything went fantastic. Head chef Lorraine Duggan did such a great job in the kitchen. Everybody was shocked with the buffet because normally it's just a cup of tea and a slice of cake or something, but we had a huge selection of cakes and all sorts of cocktail sausages, chicken wings . . . Having missed a couple of years we were a bit anxious, how is it going to go? But there was such a crowd turning up on the Friday night, because usually the first ceili is quiet. I don't know how we are going to handle the crowd next year if it's going to be the same as this year! We've got so many cards, emails and notes of praise and thanks-really nice. We were all tired after it-you need a week off to recover from a weekend of dancing! But everybody was happy to see it back in the area-it's great for the locals. Even those who don't do the dancing thoroughly enjoyed the craic with dancers staying around, the like of Jack Cunningham who, back to his B&B after the ceilis, took out the box, and the landlady had so much fun he's actually booked in the same house next year!
Orla O'Grady, set dancer, receptionist in Ostán Loch Altan and Madge's daughter
It's warmer here in the hotel than Ibiza! There's such a lovely community feeling. I like watching the dancers of a set, all strangers at the start, blend together by the end-just another community feeling.
Kathleen McGlynn, sean nós tutor
From my point of view it was a fantastic weekend, very busy. Weekend tickets, we sold about 240. And casual people, we had another 150-200. Overall four to five hundred people would have passed through. It was lovely, great buzz. From the strictly business point of view, all the forty rooms were full, all the B&Bs in the local area were booked. Food was busy, the bar was busy. But from a cultural point of view it suits our image because our first language is Irish. We like to host a function that has an Irish culture and language. I am interested in that side anyway. The set dancing event fits in with the hotel ethos very nicely.
I'm from Fintown myself, about twenty miles away, and it is a Gaeltacht as well. Irish was my first language. Then I learnt English-badly!-and a little bit of French. In our younger days it would have been all ceili dancing; the set dancing wasn't that popular then in this area. But it's become more popular since the last number of years. And as you can see all rooms are booked up for next year. I didn't take part in the dancing as I was on duty all weekend, but other staff did. I'd love to take part too. I mean my standard of set dancing probably wouldn't be good enough because the standard here was very high, extremely high. The other pleasing aspect was the old Irish sean nós dancing-that workshop was very successful. In many cases the numbers are quite small, but we had a lot attending, unusual, and for the two-hands as well! The other thing that baffled me is that older folk were here for our Thursday Irish night, they had the welcome ceili on the Friday night, workshops all day Saturday, ceili on Saturday evening, workshops Sunday morning, and then another ceili on Sunday evening, and it went on and on, there was no end! They have to get the energy for it! You need to be very fit, and I'm not that fit you see!
Sean MacElwee, general manager, Ostán Loch Altan
I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable weekends I have been to in years, due to the excellent organisation, hospitality, hotel staff and food, and lovely choice of bands. There's something here. Nothing is rushed. Where else could you be checking out by 7pm? From a teacher point of view I was treated like royalty for which I thank Madge and all the organisers. I am already looking forward to next year.
Marie Garrity, two-hand dancing tutor
When I arrived in Dublin I was a member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and as a members we all met every Saturday night at 8pm where classes were held in music, song and dance. I taught children, boys and girls, who were just five and six years old. I remember one of the fathers saying to me, "Madge, you will never make dancers of those two boys of mine." But since I am not one to give in easily I kept teaching them until they were twelve years of age! They entered the set in a competition in Dublin, went through to the Leinster and won. I actually have them on video; my own daughter Orla was one of the dancers. They are all grown men and women now with families of their own and I would hope they are passing on the music, song and dancing to their children as I have done for my family. I have five girls who are all set dancers and my little granddaughter Shauna, whom a lot of set dancers would know, is just ten years and a lovely little set dancer.
Having left Dublin in 1993 with a view to leading a nice quiet life, I was one year at home in Donegal when I was approached by a few of my neighbours who asked me would I like to teach set dancing here in Falcarragh. I took a few days to think it over and decided to start a class in Áras Begley Hall next to the church. I taught there with one set, sometimes a set and a half for nearly two years. I nearly gave up several times, but no, kept going, and after fifteen years we have a lovely class of five sets, sometimes more. I also had classes in Letterkenny and Kilmacrennan for thirteen years. Because of a lot of travelling two nights a week I gave those to two other teachers. Those classes are still going and going well, so as you can see set dancing has really taken off in Donegal.
I'm a Gortahork woman. I love Gortahork. That's why when I was teaching sets we thought it would be a great idea to have a set dancing weekend in Gortahork. We had our first Féile Damhsa Gaelach in Ostán Loch Altan in April 2005. It was there three years and then moved to another venue. But I'm happy to say that we have it back again in Gortahork, and in May of this year we had a very successful weekend. Dancers came from all over the country and as far away as the United States, Canada, Germany. It was a wonderful weekend and to all my set dancing friends who attended I want to say a big thank you. We look forward to your company again next year.
Where did I learn my set dancing? Well, Dublin of course. I went to a place called St Enda's in Ballyboden and there met a lovely old man from TIpperary, Jack Slattery, who taught me a lot of sets like the Cashel, Connemara, Caledonian, Plain, Kerry-they were the popular sets in those days. Jack taught them well. I also went to Connie Ryan's workshops. To me Connie was the teacher. I enjoyed many years of dancing at his workshops. I now enjoy many workshops with Pat Murphy whom I think is an excellent teacher. Pat has a lovely manner of teaching-you will always hear people say how they enjoyed his workshops. Of course we have a lot of other teachers out there who are very good, keeping the set dancing alive all over the country and indeed in many countries throughout the world. Well for me here in Donegal I'm looking forward to September to get back teaching my lovely class. Slán go foil and happy dancing!
Madge O'Grady, organiser
The things we do for charity! Ask people for sponsorships, pack bags at the supermarket checkout, run 10km, do a church gate collection in the cold, feel the pinch of guilt if we do not wish to put our change into a waiting bucket. Though at the set dancing weekend in Balladerreen, Co Roscommon, 17-19 May, I didn't have to work, better still, all I had to do was simply enjoy myself. In fact, I didn't even notice that I was contributing to a charitable occasion. This was easy, and it has been that way for a good few years. Connie Ryan started teaching at this weekend about fourteen years ago, then it was Jim Barry, followed by Pat Murphy and now the debut of Marie Garrity giving a full weekend of teaching. And always, this has been in aid of Mayo-Roscommon Hospice, and always, it was run by Seamus Regan.
Apart from having a new teacher, there was also a change of venue to the year-old Abbeyfield Hotel this time, and our stay was very comfortable, with a particular plus in the leisure centre.
Shaking off the, er, dust of the road after driving in torrential rains for hours, my good man no doubt questioning the wisdom of his decision to come along and mentally retracing the steps involved in getting him there in the first place, we only briefly admired the enormous chandelier in the entrance hall (if this were to fall down, there would be another pool beside the one in the leisure centre-one made of crystals), dropped everything in the hotel room and proceeded straight to the pool, and all I was able for then was to hang out in the jacuzzi, which had really powerful massaging jets soothing backache-real good. Then it was time for the all-important cappuccino in the hotel bar, and a walk through a rain-soaked village. Abandoning the walking, we went on to have dinner, and at that stage were ready to eat the legs of the table.
Swallow's Tail took to the stage at night then, this time with the wonderful Barry Brady ("our super-sub," as a band member said) on the box, and a full house danced the night away. A bit too full for the smallish dance floor, so that by the end, Seamus announced that an extension would be put down the following day. And this was the case, a resourceful idea of installing an assembly of floorboards, the tongue and groove type that clicks into place, held together with duct tape at the edges. Or not, as the boards came apart with the vigorous dancing, and swam this way and that. A hammer and wrench were used to repeatedly try to pound the boards back into place. Meanwhile, we tried to jump over the potholes in the road, which made for real funny dancing on a makeshift floor that actually had great bounce because it was laid on the carpet. Well, it didn't stop a single person dancing on it!
The sound in the hall was perfect, albeit the band was sitting below us dancers as there was no elevated stage. Swallow's Tail played lovely music that night, and I had the pleasure of dancing with Patricia Hurley, the flute player Michael's wife, a mighty dancer, and listen to their son Dermot's drumming, so the whole family had come out for the spin.
I was acutely aware that this location was the closest I had come to where we used to live before moving down to the southeast. Recognising the landscape and layout of the villages around and meeting some of the people I used to see when dancing in Mayo was almost a blast from the past.
Saturday morning, Marie Garrity from Omagh warmed us up at the beginning of the workshop with the Kilfenora, and then proceeded to teach the Moycullen and Fermanagh sets and a few very lovely two-hand dances indeed like the Margaret Waltz and Avalon Foxtrot. A good few people told me that they had actually come especially to learn two-hand dances that they knew Marie would be teaching. I was blessed with a wonderful dance partner and so really enjoyed the whole lot. And to attend workshops with Marie is a blessing in itself, since she is so confident and calm in her way, even when making mistakes; it seems like nothing can rattle her. Certainly one of the most warmly straightforward women I have met through set dancing, the salt-of-the-earth kind. She used the Kilfenora Ceili Band music most of the time, in honour of their centenary.
After lunch, when a drenched husband Rainer had dried out a bit-he had spent the morning in search of farmers markets and came back pleased with himself having purchased a very smelly goats' cheese-we took off to Carrick-on-Shannon and Drumshanbo to have a look at the lakes. On-off heavy showers and on-off sun "cast a shine on the chestnut spikes" (I remember Christy Moore singing this, part of the first verse of So Do I) and made everything glisten. Spending time in a second-hand bookstore, mooching around the quays in fair Carrick-on-Shannon watching boats sail away and meeting up with a friend for another obligatory cappuccino put us in a soft, reminiscing mood. After a trip around Lough Allen we headed back to the dance venue feeling all touristy.
The night ceili on Saturday was played for us by the Copperplate Ceili Band, now firmly established with their new box player, Ciarán Kelly. Their music inspired folks to comment, "Great tunes," "That was mighty," and "Oh, it just takes me around the floor without effort." There was more struggling with the temporary bit of dance floor, but the atmosphere was first-rate and I enjoyed dancing the Moycullen at the ceili-fingers crossed, this set will not fade away again.
Sunday morning there was an intimate workshop with a rare phenomenon-equal numbers of ladies and gentlemen. Marie taught the Borlin Jenny, a set not too taxing, as the Sunday morning laze was considered, and for the rest of the time we did two-hand dances, even a tango, which I absolutely loved! A couple who are part of Marie's class showed us the Clare Waltz, quite an intricate dance, but watching it, we all assembled and were mesmerized. Ballroom dancing does look good-well, it wasn't ballroom as such but reminiscent of it-with a man and a woman moving in unison, gracefully and elegantly, softly engaged in drifting, weaving, waving and swaying around the floor. Awesome. Other two-hands included were the beautiful Ruby Waltz, Festival Glide, Millennium Barndance, Charleston and Long German. The latter I didn't know, but thanks to Marie now do, and it turned out dead easy but requires particular music, as it is danced to 12 bars instead of the usual 8.
Then finishing the day with a great ceili, plenty of laughs and the music of the Copperplate again, (they seem to pop up everywhere, don't they?) I thought that there can't be a better way to raise money for a good cause. So here's a cheer for you, Seamus, and all your helpers great and small, hoping you made loads for the hospice. And please invite everybody again next year for some feel-good charity dancing!
Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormac, Co Waterford
The eleventh annual Connie Ryan Gathering took place in Halla na Féile, Cashel, Co Tipperary, on the weekend 5th to 7th June. This was the second year the event was housed in Cashel. This festival was born eleven years ago to commemorate the work of local set dance master Connie Ryan. The picturesque village of Clonoulty hosted it for the first nine years in a specially erected marquee.
In the 1960s folk music in Ireland saw a new revival. This was followed by an abiding interest in dancing, with particular emphasis on set dancing which had almost died out. One who became synonymous with the set dance revival was Connie Ryan, teacher and friend to thousands of set dancers in Ireland and abroad. A native of Clonoulty, Connie's vibrant personality and wit contributed as much to the success of his classes, as did his talent for teaching dance. Connie travelled and taught widely in Ireland, Europe and the United States. Connie Ryan died in a Dublin hospital after a courageous struggle against cancer on May 7, 1997.
The weekend began with the Copperplate Ceili Band from Omagh, Co Tyrone, providing brilliant music. Thurles dance master Michael Loughnane was MC for the night. We danced a wonderful selection of sets including the recently revived Moycullen. The crowd was modest but the craic was mighty. Bridget O'Gorman, committee secretary, launched the festival. Welcoming everyone and thanking them for their patronage, she said "I can see you are all enjoying yourselves and I am sure you will have a wonderful time at this festival and enjoy the lovely town of Cashel and it's environs." Bridget then declared the festival officially open.
Saturday we had our set dancing workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany from Co Louth as our tutors. The class began with the seldom danced Dunmanway Set from Co Cork. We had ten sets at our class with a good mix of established dancers and some beginners. The second set of the day was the Fermanagh Quadrilles, which Pádraig told us was one of Connie Ryan's favourite sets. With the morning workshop a great success we broke for lunch. We were spoiled for choice with the numerous superb restaurants close by.
The afternoon workshop got off to a brilliant start with the Shramore Set from Co Mayo. It was revived a few years ago by Mickey Kelly, who was present, and Pádraig invited him to participate in the demonstration set. Our last set of the class was the Paris Set, one of the oldest Co Clare sets which was taught by the late Dan Furey from Labasheeda, Co Clare. Our dancing tutors Pádraig and Róisín were brilliant. They gave individual attention to anyone needing it. This was the first year that this magic twosome gave the Saturday workshops for this festival.
The second ceili got under way tonight with the Glenside Ceili Band from Co Longford on stage. Brothers Tom and Aidan Flood were joined by Kevin Brehony on keyboards. Our MC tonight was the one and only Jim Doyle. We danced a good selection of sets and Pádraig called the Dunmanway and Fermanagh sets from the class earlier in the day. Bronagh Murphy from Co Waterford called the Sliabh Fraoch. The music was heavenly and the crowd rose to the occasion. Jim Doyle added to the enjoyment of the night with his humorous remarks. Jim, you should be a stand up comedian!
Sunday morning we had a tremendous two-hand dance workshop. Maureen Culleton, well-known Ballyfin, Co Laois, dance teacher, gave the class. Maureen taught the Lilac Waltz, Killarney Waltz, Charleston, Mayfair Quickstep and finished with the Slosh.
Lunchtime arrived and we gathered ourselves to nearby restaurants to fuel up for the afternoon ceili. The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band from Co Kerry gave us music to die for. The crowd had grown, epitomising the popularity of this magical band. You would definitely need to have had your Weetabix for this ceili! Excitement mounted as the afternoon went on. Jimmy Doyle again was MC, Pádraig called the Paris Set, and I was invited to call the Sliabh Luachra.
Energised from the weekend of dancing, crowds gathered for the final ceili of the festival. One man band Danny Webster from Co Kilkenny kept our feet tapping for the night. Jimmy Doyle as MC kept the show on the road in his usual brilliant humour. The party atmosphere continued. I called the Lispole Set and we had a few waltzes interspersed through the night. Jimmy thanked everyone and said he hoped we would all be back next year for this festival to celebrate the life of the late Connie Ryan.
Tea, coffee, brack and iced buns were aplenty all over the weekend. We had tanks of ice cold Tipperary water to keep us hydrated and cool.
The weekend and the festival had come to an end. I believe that this was one of the best Connie Ryan Gathering festivals. The small hard-working committee are to be commended. The setting is ideal, being in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel with its well preserved ecclesiastical remains, one of Ireland's most spectacular landmarks. Cashel was once a centre of royal and religious power-this weekend it was a town of brilliant music and fantastic dancing.
Joan Pollard Carew
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
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