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).
This is the February-March issue of Set Dancing News and a lot of dancing has happened over Christmas, the New Year and in January. I would like to recall a wonderful weekend which wound up the old year 2009 in a perfect way.
The Westport Set Dancing Weekend at the end of November usually finishes the set dancing year with ceilis and workshops. Dancers will find no weekends in December which include workshops; this is probably due to the fact that everybody is too busy getting ready for Christmas.
I took my chance to catch this last workshop and ceili weekend of the old year. I travelled to Dublin and crossed the country by bus to get to the west. As we came closer to the areas along the Shannon River, I could see the tragedy unfolding—much of Ireland under water for at least one week and no end in sight. The bus had to take many detours and I could see many doors protected with sandbags and many roads flooded. Coming from Germany I have seen much flooding over the years, but I have never seen it so bad in Ireland.
Arriving late in Westport I was just in time to catch the first Friday night ceili in the Westport Woods Hotel with music provided by Swallow's Tail. Immediately I spotted many friends and really enjoyed their hugs and hellos after my long journey. The ballroom was well filled with dancers enjoying themselves and so did I. The dance floor was great and Swallow's Tail played lovely music to the dancers' delight.
The following Saturday morning started with a workshop under the exact and friendly guidance of well-known dance master Pat Murphy. This weekend in Westport can be a lookout for the new sets of the coming year. I was hoping for a set which I have heard about but never danced before. Well, I had to wait a little while for it.
Pat started the morning with the Boyne Set. He had a wonderful group of dancers with him on the floor demonstrating this beautiful set in a perfect way. I had the pleasure to watch real first class dancing! In his unrivalled, friendly way, Pat explains the sets and the little things which make each and every one so unique. I personally love to be told about these little bits and pieces. They seem to be the fingerprints of the sets to me!
Pat did not forget to tell us that it was Séamus Ó Méalóid who has given us the Boyne Set as well as many mighty sets before, like the Claddagh, Connemara Jig and the Aran sets, just to mention a few. Pat finished the morning with the West Cork Plain Set, a lively smooth polka set.
In the afternoon workshop the set I was waiting for was on the schedule, the Lough Neagh Set. And what a set it is! Dancers find it in Pat's green book, The Flowing Tide. Thanks to the perfect demo set it was no problem to dance it. There are quite a few interesting, unusual movements in each figure which make it a challenge to dance. Pat invested the whole afternoon to get through the set.
During all workshops and ceilis, the Westport people provided dancers with tea and cake! What a wonderful thing to do, since it creates such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere amongst people. It felt like being in a family throughout the entire weekend, which started on arrival when I was getting my weekend ticket—many Mayo people gave me a personal welcome and shared their appreciation for travelling so far. In every way the atmosphere at the Westport weekend was exceptionally nice and friendly!
Music for the Saturday night ceili was provided by Westport's own band, Heather Breeze. During the whole weekend, their leading musician, Pat Friel, was busy on the floor as an energetic dancer, except on Saturday night when he and his band played wonderful music for the ceili.
Happy that a full day of dancing was still to come, I arrived at the hotel on this icy Sunday morning to join the workshop where they were doing the Loughgraney Set, which was originally danced as a half-set; we danced in a full set this morning. Pat finished the workshop with a slow waltz, called Lomond Waltz, and a so-called Bossa Nova, reminding me in parts of a ballroom dance I learned many years ago.
In the afternoon I had a personal highlight—the ceili with the Glenside Ceili Band, Tom and Aidan Flood and Moyra Fraser on the keyboard. I proudly call them "my band" because I had them over for the first time in Erlangen, Germany, in February 2009. Any time I hear them, I love dancing to their mighty music, as I have done for ten years. This afternoon in Westport they played the most sparkling jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes so brilliantly that I danced myself into some sort of set dance delirium. As I looked around, all dancers seemed to be infected by Glenside's music and Pat Murphy called them the "icing on the cake!"
They finished the ceili by playing Jingle Bells, while all the dancers, one by one, held each other by the hips and marched through the ballroom in a long line with everybody smiling all the way. And they continued by playing Auld Lang Syne—needless to say, this wonderful song filled us all with so many emotions! While the ceili was finally over, I was wishing the afternoon would never end.
This point in time during other set dancing weekends would be rather sad—a quiet evening with no dancing. Not so in Westport—everyone who had the chance to stay on could meet up with the Westport set dancers in a lovely pub in town. This year's choice was the Clock Tavern right under the clock in the very center of town.
At 7.30pm the final evening was in full swing under the friendly and gentle guidance of Eamonn Gannon, one of the weekend organizers. The cosy and warm room was filled with local dancers and other guests. Three musicians were playing lovely live music. Talented singers and sean nós dancers contributed their part to this great final meeting. Our hosts served the best of finger food, free to everybody. The night went on and sets like the Cashel, Derradda, Corofin Plain and Connemara were danced.
Finally, Eamonn called everybody out on the floor to do some steps on the floor together, a wonderful idea which I will take home with me.
Another Auld Lang Syne in the Clock Tavern rounded it all up and in my memory, this wonderful weekend will linger on for a very long time!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
After an initial outburst of advance excitement about the Setsmad Revival Weekend, Basingstoke, England, 11-13 December—"Oh, sounds great, easy to identify with, like myself, mad about sets! All different sets, yeah, could be cool"—I calmed down, and then wasn't so sure about it at all. I talked myself from "this sounds great" to "maybe not so great" to "could be a disaster" and in the end wasn't looking forward to going much. I thought I might have to do a Jeremy Clarkson on it, which would have been a first.
Fear not though, all turned out more than well! I had committed to going, so off I went on yet another one of these flying machines (I am set on a straight course to becoming a real globe-trekking jet-setter, enlarging my carbon footprint to what could become yeti size) to Birmingham, where friends collected me and chauffeured me to Basingstoke.
Look no further for courage and inspiration. These two people, Kevin Monaghan and Carol Gannon, had already organised a Setsmad weekend in September, and then they are putting on another one, just three months later, two weeks before Christmas—Setsmad, indeed! One of the people in their class has on his car registration plate J16 SET (jig set). Okay, obviously, a bunch of raving lunatics down in Basingstoke. Gotta check it out, gotta dance all those beautiful sets myself, step up to the plate and challenge myself—to be or not to be enjoying a weekend where a studious air and ambitious concentration is in the foreground. That's the question.
Having arrived in Basingstoke and having gone round the bends a few times, caught in a one-way system and saved only by the grace of 'Sean', my friend's satnav, we set up temporary home in the Hilton, posh hotel, right? It was a terrific deal, let me tell you, £50 pounds for two nights B&B plus a dinner—great, isn't it? My friends found that for us, an online booking. And the dinner, which we had on the first night, consisted of a huge buffet-style Christmas dinner, complete with two Christmas parties that poured out all around us, mince pies, stuffed turkey, etc. How staff managed not to forget about us is a mystery to me! It took a good few sets to dance the load off that was precariously lying in my stomach like a brick, all down to my grandmother's raised index finger saying, "Never waste anything, particularly if it's free!"
But stomachache aside, there was a nice surprise: a surplus of men. Yeah, right, read that again: a surplus of men! All through the weekend! And some fine specimens at that. And if any women attempted to dance together, they were quickly separated. So very seldom I saw the normally common sight of two women dancing together. Having so many men had one distinct advantage—when dancing an uncommon set, it's easier to make out who the man is, so you don't have to work that one out!
The whole thing took place in a hall with a beautiful wooden floor rented from the Hindu society. Smooth operators Kevin and Carol and their friends ensured a schedule without hiccups. And although the flight bringing over the band Ceili Time was cancelled because of fog, they got on another one to arrive in time for the show to start.
In a way, it was like being in set dancing college, a reunion of ex-students, with no exams. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany flew through the sets with us in the workshops, and that was no surprise because every single one present was there because they wanted to learn and get a chance of dancing not-too-often-found sets. All experienced dancers, keen and ready.
At the lunch break, we still talked about sets. This time, the story was about the Ballintogher Lancers from Co Sligo, a set revived by local man John Callaghan, who showed it then to Mary Conboy, who in turn passed it on to Pádraig and Róisín. It's similar to both the Roscommon Lancers and the Tubbercurry Lancers in structure and length of figures. When reviving a set, don't put pressure on people, because it can lead to fights over who remembers it the more correctly, Róisín said. And she carried on that old sets often don't have a strict format, like in the Tubbercurry Lancers, where folks would not be hung up about formalities, like who is tops or how long a house around would last. The 'jazz', also found in the Keadue Lancers, might well have been danced in different ways by all the dancers in a set with different steps to it. So style was unique and uncontaminated, Róisín concluded.
Back to the venue, more sets danced, keenly and judiciously, more neuro-connections formed in the brain that's been set aside for set dancing. Go, go, go, 29 different sets to dance, with a nice balance struck between unknown, half-known and fully-known. There was a Sliabh Luachra, Connemara, Plain, Kilfenora, Clare Lancers, Ballyvourney, Corofin Plain and Cashel, but also a Ballyduff, South Kerry, Borlin, Aran, Mazurka, West Kerry, Sliabh gCua, Newport and Labasheeda. And then the Monaghan, Ballintogher Lancers, Roscahill, Portmagee, Williamstown, Dunmanway, Tory Island, Fermanagh, Armagh and new kid on the block, the Boyne.
Kevin said that "we take it a bit for granted, but we are really lucky here with the variety of sets that are frequently danced. It started before our time with Geoff Holland, Moira Dempsey (who called the Sliabh gCua ) and Margaret Morrin in London, Eileen and Michael McCarthy in Southampton, Joe O'Hara (who recorded the workshop action) in Basingstoke and previously in Birmingham, and Val Knight in the West Country, and is kept going today by most of those and Maggie Daniel in Devon (who called several sets at the ceilis), Della Reilly, Pat Sullivan and Tom Kelleher around London."
The more unknown sets were called by different people, some using notes. If they didn't make enough sense, we improvised. It all worked out fine, and there is a sense of "let's do this more often otherwise the sets die" at the end of it. Dancing all those different dances served as a generator for a full, complex pattern that fused mind and body in motion. We were definitely motoring with not a single dull moment!
At their first Setsmad venture in September 2008, they danced solely and exclusively unusual ones. Revising it a bit, this weekend presented a nice mix of everything. I think Ceili Time, resident band for the whole weekend, threw in a single waltz. There is only one phrase that everyone can relate to, surely, to describe what it feels like—it's like being on the set of 'Strictly Come Set Dancing'! No nonsense, no long drawn-out details or demonstrations, up you get and get on with it. I began to feel growing affection for the tapestry here, it was a thousand miles away from the usual flair and atmosphere of a set dancing weekend. This was the pure drop, no frills, even the music was like that, without drums or keyboard. The pace was none too taxing, but because the mind was so stimulated, concentration waned towards the end of the Saturday workshop at around 4pm, and Kevin wisely decided to call it a day—spot on. At the end of the weekend, without much jumping and no late nights whatsoever, I felt invigorated when going back to Ireland, instead of wrecked, which is the more 'normal' state of affairs with me.
There also was a display of clog dancing by Sue Crick and Janet O'Hara, accompanied by Róisín McEneany on flute and Jim Crick on accordion. Kevin's daughter, Rosie, gave a soft shoe step dance, and at one point Jenepher Parry Davies joined the band playing the bodhrán.
Kevin told me that the idea was originally Breffni O'Brien's, who set up a weekend in Manchester in April '08 with the goal of dancing thirty different sets. I know that there are people out there who are tempted to go to this weekend—do go. It's a welcome and unique experience to have the opportunity to dance sets in such an unusual fashion.
And spending the weekend in the good company of friends tops it all, especially since I have been introduced to Mini-Moos, crumpets and crispy bacon. Next one up is the Setsmad weekend in September. Might just arrive there in full leather gear (plus husband and motorbike), so all the motoring would be excellent!
PS On a sombre note, flying out from Shannon there was a woman beside me on her third double brandy (it was 11am) to calm her nerves down, she was so scared of flying, and oodles of US soldiers, so young looking, waiting for their flights to Iraq. One said that he was out there before for a year. "But every time is different. It's a job that needs doing," he said. He tried not to feel anything, but it's hard, so hard to leave home. And he turned his head away.
On the 28th of December dancers from Switzerland, Germany, Ireland and England converged on the village of Gwatt,on the shores of Lake Thun, bordered on three sides by snow covered mountains. There for the next four days, under the patient guidance of Pat Murphy, we were going to dance out the year 2009 and dance in and celebrate the start of 2010. There were workshops every morning and afternoon, and ceilis every evening dancing to the Swaree Ceili Band, a group of young German musicians with a great love and respect for Irish traditional music.
On Wednesday afternoon we were excused from dancing, and trips were arranged for the visitors. There was a choice of going up the Niederhorn, a nearby mountain, or having a guided tour of Thun, a historical town at the head of the lake. Those of us who were feeling tired or lazy stayed at the centre and went to the session organised by local musicians with an interest in Irish music. The weather was kind to those who went on the excursions as the rain stopped, the mist dispersed, clouds parted and the sun broke through.
On Thursday there was a New Year's Eve dinner followed by a ceili, which paused just before midnight so that we could go down to the lake, welcome and toast 2010 with raised glasses and exchange good wishes with old and new friends. Then it was back to the ceili and dancing into the early hours. There were short breaks when various participants demonstrated their prowess on the dance floor. Three young ladies from Canton Berne charmed us with a traditional song about a young girl who couldn't be with her lover because he lived on the other side of the mountain. They were kind enough to translate the lyrics into English for those who didn't speak the local dialect.
A very enjoyable time was had by all. The weather was cold and wet but in the hall the atmosphere was great, and the temperature rose so high the windows steamed up!
It is a pity that we have to wait another two years for the next event!
Manuela Morel, Kilchberg, Switzerland
Venice. It makes me want to pronounce it slowly, let the word be breathed tenderly into existence: Vhennnnice. Ever since I visited it on a hot summer's day many a year ago, it has tugged at me, beckoned me to come back, and now, heeding the summons, it rewarded me with another face, one of the faces beneath the mask.
Masks, of course, play a major role in any imagery of Venice, just like the words merchant, lagoon, gondola, palazzo and canal do. In the height of the tourist season, most of what you will see, if you are able to see at all with the millions of people, is a mask, the one Venice wears for the cameras. This time of year, late November, the city all but empties and reveals a unique façade with a dreamlike quality: slightly out of phase, not quite here, frozen in time, a lived-in museum without the usual sounds and sights one expects from a town of its size. And we stood still for a moment, trying to decipher what it was, and there it was—the sound of silence. Pianissimo. Coupled with an absence of signs, neon, industrial and commercial buildings, traffic lights and other mementoes of a modern day city landscape, it makes a beguiling cocktail of old and very old. A place unsurpassed in mystique, and wanting to experience that, we decided not to plan ahead, not to look at maps, not to inform our minds with cultural and historical backgrounds, but to simply let the town speak for itself and carry us wherever it wanted.
Letting its smells and sights unhindered shape an in-the-now experience, the first thing that struck was what only can be described as 'morbid beauty.' Like an elderly lady, a grande dame, trying to keep standing very straight facing the double-barrelled gun of fading away at death's door, trying to dignify her last moments with make-up half-applied by trembling hands, trying to hold on to the former glory that still reverberates up and down and at odd angles the zillions of waterways and footbridges that crisscross her like deep wrinkles. The lower stories of many houses are abandoned, the bluish tinted canal waters lapping at their feet are draping them in mosses and algae. Chipped paint and plaster flaking off walls in smaller and bigger patches, the houses offering themselves to the imagination almost as ghosts, almost transcendent and transient, almost otherworldly. A look over the lagoon to the other islands, a little mist lingering, greyness mixing with the tang of seawater, this must be the flying Dutchman's favourite hibernation haunt.
The fascination with Venice may be that it reminds us of something. Nothing is static; in Buddhism it's called impermanence. We, too, are growing old and will face our demise. Here, you can see it embodied by a city built on mud banks and oak piles in the water. Incredible, too, isn't it? Humans can achieve so much and endure so much, create so much beauty. Like Venice, like art, like music and like dancing! Being inside Venice, crazily leftover façade of times gone by, is like being inside an old song or poem, or both. Writing about it adds another verse.
On this page and next, We stayed in a stately room in a big hotel in Treviso, not far from the airport. It was very reasonable and classy, all mod-cons and a regal breakfast with a coffee machine that would brew any type, just press a button—cappuccino, espresso, latte. It was brilliant coffee. But still the waitress said that if we weren't satisfied, she'd make us real coffee. Whatever was she talking about?—the machine coffee alone was enough to send us jittering and our poor hearts pumping twice as fast! But the taste, mamma mia, extraordinary.
We stayed four nights in total, not nearly enough, but enough to sample everything. Like the heavily subsidised public transport—bus from the airport to inner city: €1; train from Treviso to Venice (30km): €2.35. I had thought of Italy in general, and Venice in particular, as an expensive destination, but was pleasantly surprised by off-season prices. Coffee and meals were cheaper than in Ireland—mind you, a cup of the black stuff under the shadow of the famous Rialto Bridge cost a hefty €4.50. So, location, location, location.
There are two options for getting around in Venice, walking, and we did lots of that, or by boat. The vaporetti (water taxis) are one of the less expensive ways, whereas a ride in a gondola can set you back about €80. Still, there was a multitude of them about and the skill of managing the sometimes very narrow canals with this beast of a boat requires often the help of a foot as well as the oar to keep the gondola away from walls or other vessels. Luckily, the weather was fantastic, mild and dry, and at times hazy sunshine put in an appearance.
But the most enchanting moments were at dusk and night. Watching the lanterns come to life, which makes you want to check whether they are gas or electric, barely illuminating a few yards ahead of a cobble-stoned passage or conduit, the maze-like quality of Venice's squares, bridges, alleys and pathways becomes all too plain. Before we knew it, we had hit another cul-de-sac. The lack of signposting stipulating where to turn was heightening our growing sense of being lost—but hey, that's what we wanted, wasn't it? No map, no directions, no plan? A slight sense of being out-of-phase with the rest of this world settled over us, accompanied by fewer and fewer people out, and a panicky feeling setting in—aaargh, where the hell are we, and how are we going to get out of this labyrinth? No crumbs to follow, Hansel and Gretel were caught! We met more lost souls, who were of course most unhelpful in terms of pointing the way. And then I remembered a part of a poem about what do I do when I'm lost in the forest, and the answer comes: "Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here."
Okay. Okay. I tried to stand still, internally, and to realise that the city was not lost—I was. So, can I trust it to carry us back to where we needed to go? And then the incredible happened: we gave up trying so hard and started simply walking to wherever, and eventually amidst our drifting (during which we met a guy from Cameroon blowing Murano glass, and flattened our noses on curious-looking shop front windows selling specialised merchandise: Ferrari paraphernalia, cats printed on everything printable, Beatles memorials, an exhibition of the history of photography, wood turning art, wet knickers hanging on a clothes line) and allowing Venice to find us, saw a signpost, one of the rare ones, and we followed it and were thus brought back to the train station. Venice had released its spellbound captives.
With the intention to let Venice speak for itself, was I able to hear what it said? "Here," it seemed to say with a watery voice, "look at my aching heart and know me for what is inside. An illusion or delusion of what was once a vibrant trading empire, with many faults and many things to be fixed, and yet, exactly right the way I am. You must let the magic come to you instead of desiring it," was the teaching of its voice.
All of which, naturally, is simply my projection, which hits the boundary of becoming one's own truth in the midst of the personal struggle of attempting to make sense of—everything. Could it be that Venice was capable of speaking to those deeper transient parts of humanity? Was it brushing against the ever-ambitious exploring soul in its agelessness, way back beyond Facebook, mobile phones, soap operas, trying to reconnect with something that's lost, where people used to gather around a fire, gather for the hunt, live in contact with Mother Nature, gather to dance, something primordial, where more things simply occurred without humans trying to control them. Likening that to dancing: the moment I attempt to follow a plan, or try to force something, the magic cannot happen. It only happens when I allow it to happen on its own, according to its own universal laws, which may differ from the ones Newton came up with. What happens, happens, that's all. And that night, I gained something by letting go of something, which is often what accompanies letting go. I am ever so glad my husband was there to live this with me, a hand-in-hand journey through lantern and star-lit Venice, unforgettable, memory-ingrained.
In that spirit, the next day, warmed and touched, engaging with the Italian people at the set dancing workshop was lovely, because we felt so open, so spacious, and the Italians are like that themselves. What stays with me is how appreciative and hearty they were. They seemed to really love the fact that a band had come over, the Lough Ree Ceili Band, with Ger Butler playing the drums instead of younger brother Colin. As the band stepped through the door in coats and jackets to start setting up, they got a rousing round of applause. The Italians loved that a teacher (more hugs and kisses for Ger) had come over and that some Irish people had come over, amongst them Edwina Guckian, Michael O'Rourke and his dad Jerry alongside dancing partner Chris (more very loud applause).
And then it's about meeting other people, Italians in this case, who have also passed the event horizon and got sucked into the set dancing black hole that crushes the former shape of your world out of existence, and formed clubs like the one called Black Sheep. Deadly! Baa, baa!
They did everything ever so nicely; they are super sweet. Risotto, steak and chips for dinner, coupled with vino, and dessert plus a cake for a birthday boy, Gigi Zanini, in a communal annex beside the main ballroom.
Italy asked us to retune to an Italian frequency—melodious, like the language; studious, like the keenness of the dancers to learn; mellow, like moonlight brokenly mirrored in the shallow dark waters of the lagoon; passionate, like the last embrace of lovers before being forced to part. That is what the Lough Ree's playing that night sounded like: Irish trad with an Italian swing—allegretto!
It took me ages to get out when we were ready to leave, hugs and kisses, and more hugs and kisses, as if they couldn't imagine us being anyone other than long-lost relatives, and allowing us to go a hard thing to bear.
Earlier on, Brendan Doyle, box, played a bit on his own, as a sound check. Rainer, the husband, happened to come in and stood listening, and said afterwards to me, "You know I'm not great when it comes to music, but that man up there on the stage is a genius. Sounded like he could play anything, any type of music." Well, there you go, Brendan, if Rainer says so . . .
The dancing, the dancers, were truly alive. Right in there. It doesn't matter where you come from or what you do for a living. What matters is what makes you feel alive. The Italians, these ones at any rate, know that. And we met some extraordinary folks too, for instance, a lady called Mary O'Connor-Fornasiero. Originally from Killaloe, Co Clare, she married an Italian, Vittorio, set up residence in Padua "half a lifetime ago" and speaks now with a distinct Italian accent. The way she says "Cork," for example, sounds a bit like "Corka." And how did Mary come to dance sets? She travelled one day to Dublin from Italy, and by chance met two Italian set dancers, Luisa and Pino, who were on their way to summer school in Keadue, Co Roscommon. They discovered that they were next door neighbours in Padua and decided to meet up again in Ireland. Mary took them to Feakle, where she herself first set foot on a set dancing floor. Back in Padua, she enrolled in Romano and Stefi Sossella's class who are "two wonderful Italian teachers." Amazing, isn't it? And just the way that she sounds Italian in her pronunciation, someone had a difficulty pronouncing Seit Dhoire Colmcille, and asked, slightly alarmed, whether it was "the dirty set"!
Also, Susanna and Michele Giacca were there, well-known dancers who come to Ireland quite a bit. Michele plays the concertina and gave an impromptu session before the workshop. I was told that his play had improved no end from the last time he was heard a few months previously, so he obviously had been at it with a vengeance!
Ger Butler, teaching there for the weekend, was at home with everyone. Perfectly attuned to the Italian frequency indeed. No better man to charm them all and in return, be charmed himself. When talking to the people there about coming back again, he said, "How about next weekend?"
Everything was catered for and unfurled without glitches. Stefi and Romano, the organising couple, were terrific in terms of looking after everyone, dishing out heaps of kindness. Just this as an example—Rainer asked Romano where he could buy an English newspaper, this was the middle of the workshop, and without any discernible hesitation Romano answered that in Silea, where it all took place, there would be none to get. But at the train station in Treviso, they might have one. How about if he chauffeured Rainer there now, would that be okay? Astounding! Rainer, thank God, had the manners to decline.
People were relaxed with each other and seemed to truly enjoy each other's company, which in turn moved me very much.
Venice, the city, has inspired me on return to get a book about it from the library, and rekindled an old desire to learn more, to get to know it better in it's historical context. It can provide a haunting backdrop for any dramatic exploration of mortality, and it certainly did that for me, recalling life's struggles, challenges and opportunities and reiterating one of the big truths for me—home is where the heart truly is, anchoring deep inside a sense of . . . found!
As I am finishing, its voice returns—Venice is calling again. How much time now has to pass before I may go back again, and say "Here"?
The Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan annual set dancing workshop was held over the weekend of Friday 8th to Sunday 10th January in the Abbey Court Hotel in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. It appeared on Friday evening that Murphy's Law was in full flight as each weather forecast saw the country plunge further into the most severe cold spell in a generation. For three days of the event this year, we saw record low temperatures and prolonged heavy snow on Saturday and Sunday. You would be forgiven for thinking that the entire programme for the weekend would be scrapped but as members of the organising committee arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there were a number of groups booked into the hotel. Some of the dancers had travelled from as far away as Paris. There was a group of twelve from Birmingham and smaller groups from Wales and Somerset in England, as well as dancers from Dublin, Waterford, Laois and various parts of Tipperary, and of course, the loyal local supporters without whom the weekend would not have been such a success.
The success of an event like this can be measured in many ways, and it is not always by the numbers in attendance. The contributions made by Pat Murphy and Michael Loughnane cannot be overstated. Pat Murphy travelled by road from Westport to Nenagh in the worst possible road conditions imaginable. You wouldn't think that Pat had such a journey behind him if you were to judge from the enthusiasm with which he approached the workshops and céilithe over the weekend. Pat introduced the assembled dancers to the Lough Neagh Set, Boyne Set and West Cork Plain Set and revisited Inis Oírr and Glencree. Pat also had time to get through a few two-hand dances which included the Imperial Two-Step, Lomond Waltz and Square Tango. If that was not enough, Michael Loughnane reintroduced dancers to the Fintown Set at the workshop on Saturday afternoon. Michael called most of the sets at the three céilithe while Pat called some of the sets that he taught at the workshops. We are very grateful to Tom McCarthy, Michael Egan and John O'Brien who provided the music at such short notice for all the céilithe over the weekend.
Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan has been promoting set dancing in Nenagh for 21 years and this year was the first time that the Nenagh annual weekend of set dancing was affected by adverse weather conditions—that's not a bad average for the month of January! While the numbers were significantly down, the level of expressed satisfaction by many was a huge morale boost to those of us involved in organising the event. There was a real party atmosphere throughout the weekend but particularly at the céilithe. It's a long time since we saw such a wide range of talent displayed with such abandon. We decided to ask prize winners of the free raffle to do a party piece or nominate somebody to sing a song, do a recitation or perform a dance. Well, we got talent in spades! We have received several emails from people who attended the weekend, all expressing satisfaction not only with the activities but also with the hotel. God willing, the weather will not be quite so bad next year as we plan to hold the weekend from 7th to the 9th January 2011.
Danny Morrissey, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Betty McCoy was worried about this year's weekend in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, 15-17 January. Snow, ice, blizzards and freezing temperatures had engulfed Dublin for the previous two weeks and the fear was that dancers would not be able to travel. But providence (or maybe Connie) intervened—the weather improved, dancers came, and the hotel resounded to music that stayed in the head for days.
Connie Ryan died thirteen years ago. Dancing had always been popular in the country, but not so in our cities and towns. His classes attracted politicians, judges, postmen, office workers, nurses, teachers, gardaí and a social revolution came about in Dublin as dancing became part of peoples' lives. He travelled all over the world and became our first dancing ambassador.
For several years before his death he had organised a set dancing workshop in Dublin in January. His dancing partner, Betty McCoy, decided to continue the workshop the year after Connie died as a celebration of his life and gave the financial proceeds to cancer care and research. It was such a successful event that she, with Connie's good friends, Céline and Michael Tubridy and Anne and John Grant, have continued to organise the event ever since and by January they will have donated €90,000. Happily for all of us, they want to hit the €100,000 mark so we are promised another few years of this wonderful weekend. Pencil in 14th-16th January 2011.
The organisers have not deviated from the spirit of Connie's original workshops. The weekend is great fun, but the teachers take their role as inheritors of the tradition in a serious manner and great trouble is taken to make sure that sets are danced in a traditional style.
Aidan Vaughan opened the weekend with a class on steps. Described by Connie as "the best set dancer in Ireland," he is anxious that the old Clare style of dancing is passed on to a new generation. He invited the class to watch a video which can be accessed on YouTube. It was the Mullagh half-set and shows the late Willie Keane amongst others. Aidan described it as one of the best examples of set dancing on record.
The Slievenamon group then played for the opening session. They first came together in 1988 for a trip to America organised by Connie and have played in this slot for every Malahide weekend since then. Dancers enjoy their gentle and rhythmic style.
For the residents of the Grand Hotel there was more music and songs until the early hours of Saturday, but serious students took to their beds for the Saturday morning workshop.
Pat Murphy opened the day by teaching the Lough Neagh Set. It is quite a tricky set but Pat patiently broke down the figures and made them manageable. Someone commented that Lough Neagh is famous for its eels, and it might help to be as slippery as an eel in order to get around the set in time! Tony Ryan took over for the second half of the morning and taught the long version of the East Galway Set.
The Four Courts Ceili Band played for the afternoon ceili and their first jig, The Frost is All Over, delighted the crowd. Part of the attraction of Malahide is to dance in a set with master teachers and accomplished dancers. Takako Kanezuka, Yuko Nagata, Miki Ohara and Naok Inatsuka, all members of Tokyo Comhaltas, travelled from Japan for the weekend. Martial Maillet and his friends have come from Paris. New Jersey, Italy, Hamburg and Brussels were there too. It gives a sense of pride to see how our dancing is so highly regarded and the time and trouble that is spent learning our traditional style.
Mass was said for Connie and deceased dancers. Then there was a rush for showers, dinner and down to the bar for the session. The music soared and Kevin Hassett from Ennis was persuaded to do a sean nós routine.
The ceili with the Brian Ború Ceili Band kicked off at 9.30pm. Bean an tí Eileen O'Doherty introduced them as a Dublin band with strong Clare connections. They played at a pulsating pace. The buzz increased when Aidan Vaughan, Mick Mulkerrin and again Kevin Hassett had a sean nós step-about. Nobody wanted the night to end.
Sunday morning began with Michael Tubridy's workshop for traditional step dancing. This style of dancing was taught by Dan Furey who lived in Labasheeda in Clare. Michael and his wife Céline learned the dances from him and have been teaching them throughout Ireland, Germany, France and Japan for many years. The class danced to Michael's flute playing. Over sixty people turned up for the class, which in my book is high intensity and must be one of the best forms of exercise. Forget about the gym and join Michael's next class!
Keeping the momentum at high intensity, Mick Mulkerrin took over. He talked about the Aran Island man, Eddie Beattie, who used to come to many classes and developed his own step, tap, cross, toe, down. He invited Oliver Rückle from Germany to dance. The imagination was fired. Obviously the physical benefits of dance are huge, but psychologically there is no other exercise like it. The sense of achievement when a step or routine is accomplished is like nothing else.
And so to the final ceili with Swallow's Tail. Although they played in many of the larger festivals, dancers in Dublin seldom get a chance to hear this band, and they didn't disappoint with their great musicianship and lovely pace for dancing.
Roll on next year!
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
It was a bi-coastal Christmas for your editor as he attended ceilis on both sides of the Atlantic . . .
No legs pulled hereYou don't need the festivities of Christmas to have a good time in Vaughan's Barn—it happens here twice a week all year round. On the busiest nights there can be a dozen or more sets, but even with four sets on a cold, wet Thursday, December 3rd, it's still a blissful experience. In November it wasn't quite as pleasant—rivers of rain flowed in the front door and across the dance floor; the ceili was cancelled briefly until it wasn't quite so wet. Nearly every ceili features the Four Courts Ceili Band and it's hard to beat them for dancing pleasure. They always play the same five reel sets, or so I thought, and when the Ballyvourney Jig Set was announced tonight, I assumed we were having our legs pulled. Surely the regulars wouldn't manage it! But most of us got up for it and we had a fun finish to the night. Perhaps even the West Kerry has a chance of making it to Kilfenora!
Surprise at The Gables
Whenever I travel through west Limerick and north Kerry, I always see loads of road signs pointing the way to Athea, but it's the kind of place that you never end up passing through unless you deliberately intend to go here. Set dancers are now turning up there to attend monthly ceilis that Timmy Woulfe has running in The Gables, a busy pub and restaurant in the centre of the village. When I made it here for the Christmas ceili on Friday, December 4th, I was expecting just an ordinary ceili with Christmas decorations, but instead I was surprised to find myself ushered into the function room filled with tables and chairs and given a seat for a three-course banquet dinner.
They do Christmas ceilis properly in Athea! It was organised by the local branch of Comhaltas, and once the meal was over its president, Domhnall De Barra, spoke a few words about their activities. Then the room was cleared and he took his place on stage with his box to play for the dancing, accompanied by daughter Bríd on piano and Ned Fitzgerald on drums. Timmy called the dances and made sure we did some of the less familiar and more challenging sets in the repertoire, including the Moycullen and West Kerry, though an expected High-Cauled Cap was reserved for a future date. I hope I'm there the next time they do it!
Christmas Conga line
November's worst deluges may have finished by the start of December, but the results were still evident on Sunday the 6th as I travelled to a ceili in Rathowen, Co Westmeath. Driving through the hinterland between Corofin in Clare and Gort in Galway, I had to ford a flood which gave a power-wash to the underside of my car. Fortunately the rest of the journey was easy sailing, especially so between Ballinasloe and Athlone thanks to a new stretch of dual carriageway. I arrived early enough for a welcome pre-ceili mug of tea, and then the Glenside Ceili Band began the dancing. Rathowen, with its bright new community centre, is one of those fortunate places where the ceilis always buzz with a happy atmosphere. The locals are all mad keen set dancers who support every ceili and class, and make sure everyone around them has as much fun as they do. The Glenside inspired all this with their jovial music and good nature, playing a succession of favourite sets, which now routinely includes the Antrim Square and Claddagh. This evening they finished with a rake of Christmas polkas, inspiring everyone to form a long Conga line which raced around the hall in a festive frenzy. Even after the ceili ended I was still so full of residual joy that I never thought to bring my camera home with me! Fortunately, a much more level-headed dancer was kind enough to bring it to me while I was having my post-ceili dinner in the village restaurant.
Bright red programme
I was barely 24 hours in the States when I made my way to the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia (full of grand old stone houses under sky-high trees) for a Christmas party on Friday, December 11th, at the Irish Centre. While the building has a large ballroom and other meeting rooms, the ceili was comfortably accommodated in the bar, with its good floor, plenty of seating and even a fireplace, though only candles were burning in it tonight, despite a deep freeze outdoors. The premises were built about a hundred years ago as an automobile club for wealthy drivers, which is why it's so well supplied with indoor lower level parking. The Irish club acquired the building in 1958.
On every table in the bar there was a bright red copy of the night's dance programme—would we really manage to get through eighteen dances? There was an even mix of sets, ceili and two-hands, and even with a couple of lengthy breaks to tackle the plentiful supply of food, we danced every one! With good music by Kevin McGillian on box, his son Jimmy on banjo and other players, and skilled, enthusiastic dancers who didn't rely on calling, it was a bright beginning to my USA dance parties.
Blessing from a bag
My next ceili on Saturday, December 12th, was a step to an unknown destination in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Driving here can be daunting because of the density of roads and traffic, but my trusty satnav untangled the maze and kept me moving like a local. It led me to Frying Pan Farm, a park in the town of Herndon which offers a taste of the rural life to suburban kids. Part of the visitor centre is a barn which has been converted to a lofty hall; the local branch of Comhaltas recently started holding some of their monthly ceilis here. Tonight's party began with a dinner of shepherds pie supplied by an Irish pub, and nearly everyone brought something for the dessert table.
After the nourishment, we were all directed to gather in a big circle, not to dance, but for a moment of inspiration. Everyone chose a bit of paper from a bag and one by one around the circle read the "blessing" on it. This was such a success at their Thanksgiving ceili that it may well be repeated all year. Teacher Marilyn Moore then began the dancing with a workshop on the Waltz of the Bells. When we were fully rehearsed and ready to dance it, the Bogwanderers Ceili Band was ready to play, thus opening the ceili. The programme featured mostly ceili dances and three sets, the Lancers, Antrim Square and Kilfenora. Two long breaks split the evening; some of the time was spent swearing in new officers for the branch and singing Christmas songs. A good proportion of participants were newer and younger dancers, relying on Marilyn for her helpful calling. They all jumped up for every dance with enthusiasm and big smiles.
J Patrick's family
Locust Point is an old neighbourhood of Baltimore surrounded on three sides by the city's harbour. Fort McHenry was built on the tip of the peninsula in 1798 to guard the entrance to the inner harbour leading to the city centre, and the rest of its perimeter is lined with docks and factories. In the centre are tree-lined streets of tidy little row houses once occupied by Irish and European emigrants, and on one corner a traditional Irish pub, J Patrick's, has survived here for decades. Inside, the walls are almost totally concealed by flags, banners, pennants and pictures; the wobbly floor is probably held together by the worn linoleum covering it; the ceiling has a worrisome sag to it, but at least the plastic rubbish bags which covered it are disappearing thanks to recent improvements. None of that matters—this place is like home for local dancers.
I visited on December 13th for the monthly Sunday evening session of traditional music which attracts dancers from all around the area. We began soon after 4pm with the West Kerry—they're as fond of polkas and slides here as they are of the reels—and waltzes and a ceili dance were added to the mix of sets, all called by Marilyn Moore. Rosie Shipley led the music on fiddle, playing at the proper speed for dancing with a sweet, light touch. She was accompanied by Laura Eagan on flute and Matt Mulqueen on piano, a beautiful trio which reminded me of music I danced to in Nova Scotia. Friends met up here, parents came with kids, everyone celebrated a birthday—it was like we were all one big family!
The Clare tango
Back on the DC Beltway (ring road) on Tuesday, December 15th, I followed the satnav through thick rush-hour traffic to Hugh Conway's class in Fairfax, Virginia. When the voice of my satnav told me, "You have reached your destination," I found myself at a busy school, brightly shining in the frosty night. Several classrooms were occupied and it took a bit of searching to find the right one—no dancing or music yet because the class had just sat down to a potluck supper. Everyone brought a dish, including some authentic Indian delicacies made by an Indian woman, Kalyani Poluri. She was dressed for the occasion in a glittering sari in black and gold, and is Hugh's keenest pupil. She knew all the movements of every set and called them out for other dancers, and even helped out Hugh.
After supper we cleared the tables for a go at the Corofin. I was amused by Hugh's terminology for the Clare-style advance and retire in the third and fifth figures—"the tango." They even danced it with a kind of kick following the advance. Then each time we finished a set, Hugh would check his watch and let us do just one more, until we'd done about four or five in all, probably well past the usual ending time. There were four sets filling the classroom, dancing on a specially installed floor, everyone laughing at his jokes and each others' dancing for a really jolly night. I imagine it's like this every week, not just at their Christmas party.
YouTube study aids
At J Patrick's last Sunday I was invited along to the Wednesday class here, so I wandered back on December 16th, eager for any opportunity to dance. I met Dan Stanton, who has been teaching sets and ceili dancing here for twenty years, and before that for twelve years in another pub. He also has a strong interest in historical dancing, particularly the dances of the American Civil War era, around 150 years ago when quadrilles were still the height of fashion. In fact he taught us an easy dance called the Spanish Waltz, which he said was from the early eighteenth century. We also spent time on the Kildownet Half-Set, which they were learning with the aid of YouTube videos. One dancer brought along her laptop, and before each figure we gathered around to study the video demonstration, and then we'd do it ourselves. We only had three couples, so my partner and I had to make do with an imaginary opposite couple. It was a similar story for the North Kerry Set, though Dan danced alone as the fourth couple, sharing my partner whenever she was available. I mentioned before how J Patrick's felt like home—even though there were far fewer of us present tonight, it still felt like that!
Mini-ceili memory gap
To avoid another Beltway rush hour on Thursday, December 17th, I made a mid-afternoon departure for Rockville, Maryland, arrived there without delay and spent a few hours Christmas shopping on the main drag until it was ceili time. Or rather, mini-ceili time—the Greater Washington Ceili Club was holding their monthly two-hour live music ceili tonight in a school. Other Thursdays are class nights, but once a month they give themselves this treat. Music was by Tina Eck, a powerful flute player, Philippe Varlet on fiddle and guitarist Rob Greenway, who enjoyed playing for us as much as we enjoyed dancing to them. We did four sets plus a ceili dance and took a break to sample the shared goodies on the dessert table. My big challenge of the night was the Donegal Set—there was a gap in my memory where that set used to be, but fortunately teacher Paul O'Donnell explained each figure before we danced it.
Worth a journeyFor a change of scene I headed up to the New York City area on Friday, December 18th, and to the Pearl River Ceili that night. This monthly ceili started out in the town of Pearl River and is now based a few miles away in a beautiful church hall in West Nyack, but the original name stuck—no one calls it anything else.
If I had any doubt about travelling all the way from Baltimore to New York for a ceili, it was laid to rest as soon as I entered the hall and saw the huge crowd already there, half an hour before it was due to begin. I was given a hearty welcome by friends and quickly booked for a few dances. The Green Gates Ceili Band played rich, luscious music with a selection of tunes that transported everyone to a different world. Helping us along the way were ten great sets, including the Antrim Square, Black Valley Jig and Sliabh Fraoch, plus a High-Cauled Cap and a waltz. The big bright hall with a fine timber floor was nicely filled with as many as twelve sets of experienced dancers who did without calling for all but two of the sets. During the break a birthday cake was brought up to the stage to celebrate the club's tenth anniversary. One of the founding members, Walter Murray, spoke a few words about the early days and today, thanking many of the people who helped out then and now. With such good music, a lovely hall and great support from dancers, the Pearl River Ceili will surely continue for many more years to come.
I danced at the last ceili of my trip on Sunday the 27th in Rockaway, New Jersey, almost an hour west of New York City by car. The Irish American Association of Northwest Jersey runs monthly ceilis in their cultural centre, a former schoolhouse owned by the club. They also have music, dance and Irish language classes, concerts and sessions here. Set dancing teacher Jack Regan said the schoolhouse was built in 1913 with four classrooms on two floors. The dividing wall on the main floor was taken down to combine two rooms for a hall. A large idealised landscape painting of Ireland dominates the room and catches the eye as soon as you enter.
Dancing began just after 4pm with a programme of a dozen dances and a break in four hours, similar to the Pearl River ceili. I welcomed the chance to have a go at the Newport Set, not having done it for far too long! Supplying the music was the Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band, embodied by Patty Furlong and Margie Mulvihill on box and flute with piano accompaniment by Felix Dolan. Good partners were plentiful, most of whom seemed pleased to let me give them a few doubles! Before, during and after the break we could help ourselves to Christmas cookies and other treats—in fact, at the end of the ceili we were encouraged to take home bags of leftovers. I noticed how loyal and dedicated the club members were, happily staying on to clean up the hall and other facilities. Here's another good ceili to add to my long list of ones worthy of a return visit!
Handshakes and kisses
And so on New Year's Eve I ended my month of dancing, and for that matter my year, and probably the decade as well, where I began it—in Vaughan's Barn. The bitter cold weather I experienced back in the States was matched, degree for degree, by what I found waiting for me at home. But as I've often heard said here, "Go set dancing and you'll spare a bag of coal"—there's no better way to warm up on a cold night than to do a few sets. Tonight the Four Courts began with the Corofin Plain Set, reserving the precious Caledonian Set to see in the New Year. The year ended with a generous tea break followed by the Ballyvourney Jig Set—it really has become established here! For the countdown to midnight we gathered in a big circle, arms crossed and hands held. At the exact right moment, more or less, the band played Auld Lang Syne and everyone sang along, rocking back and forth and moving in and out. Best of all was when we greeted everyone in the room individually with handshakes and kisses. After the Caledonian there was a bright cold night and fresh new year waiting for us outside.
The Manchester dancers were treated to three parties during the Christmas season. The first was hosted by the Sean Dempsey set dance club on December 9th at St Mary's, Levenshulme, in south Manchester. The parish priest is Father John Ahern, a Kerry man and a great supporter of all things Irish. We danced to tapes from all our favourite bands. A shared table of food produced a feast fit for hungry dancers.
The second party on December 17th hosted by Eamon Nolan (a Tipperary man) was at St Kentigern's Social Club, Fallowfield, south Manchester. The club provided their usual excellent buffet. JIB disco, a very popular Irish disco run by a local man John Brennan from Co Sligo, provided the music for sets, old time and ceili. John has a very wide selection of music and is in constant demand for all functions Irish in greater Manchester. What a night!
The Caledonian Set Dance Club hosted by Breffni O'Brien had their Christmas party on December 20th in the parish centre belonging to the Church of Our Lady of Dolours in north Manchester, but snow had arrived. The numbers were down this night. Again JIB disco provided the music for a bit of social dancing as well as the sets—whatever tune you wanted you got! The food was made and served by the O'Brien family and helpers. Breffni's daughters Carrie and Lauren served the food and did all the washing up afterwards, always with big smiles on their faces. A great night was held.
Happy new year to all our dancing friends in Ireland and all over the world.
Christmas is a season of good will and great cheer.
To celebrate this feast
Many parties are held each year.
For all sorts of activities, jobs and recreation
Many parties are held throughout the nation.
People relax and unwind, and stresses leave behind.
Set dancing parties are no exception to this rule.
Set dancers also party and celebrate Yule.
Of one such party I now will write.
It was held in St Bonaventure's club
Of a cold December night.
The dance floor is big, spacious and large.
Brendan Cleary was the caller,
He was in charge.
To capture the Christmas spirit and do things right,
The hall was well decorated,
And backed up by candlelight.
We can depend on Bruce, he is always there.
At decorations and lighting,
He has a special flair.
By 8pm five sets were ready to go.
Brendan is a good organiser,
And at getting sets moving
He is not slow.
As with many a party and ceili before,
The Connemara was my introduction to the floor.
To reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes too.
The Cuchulainn Set
And Sliabh Luachra Set
We did also do.
After dancing the Kilfenora and Clare Lancers
Perspiration was evident on some of the dancers.
The break was a welcome respite.
Five sets were already danced that night.
Food on the tables was now laid out.
Plenty for everybody,
Nobody left out.
Vegetarian and non-vegetarian,
There was lots of choice.
It was all appetising, tasty and nice.
By now some of the men had a bit of a thirst.
And went to the bar to get a pint of Guinness first.
Then to slow the tempo down and
Give non-set dancers a chance,
Paddy Hayden with his accordion
Played some old-time waltzes For them to dance.
I am now running out of material to write.
The Plain Set and Ballyvourney Set
Were the last sets of the night.
To our band the Polka Pests we gave
A mighty applause.
Phil and Gavin are great musicians
And ambassadors to the set dancing cause.
Now that's an account line by line
Of our set dancing party 2009.
Come 2010 le cunamh Dia
(With the help of God) We will do it again.
Sheamus Garry, Bristol, England
The third annual New Year's Day ceili in the Dolmen Hotel, Carlow Town, took place despite snow, ice, fog and AA Roadwatch warnings. We spent the morning reassuring people by text and phone that the ceili was going ahead despite the inclemency of the weather. Danny and Mary Webster arrived in plenty of time to set up their equipment with their usual efficiency and good humour. We agreed that it was a good omen when the first couple of dancers turned up well over half an hour early, having travelled from Dublin. When Danny started the fun with the Kilfenora Set we had three sets on the floor, but this increased to eight sets and many more people sitting down. There was a special spot prize for anyone who had travelled by three forms of public transport and this was won by Doreen Corrigan, who had Luas-ed, Dart-ed , and trained from Dublin to Carlow, where she was collected by the charming chauffeur, Jack Byrne. Multi-talented Jack entertained the masses during the break with his guitar playing and singing. A highlight of the ceili was dancing the High-Cauled Cap—much fun was had by all! As our numbers were less than expected due to the weather, we renegotiated with the hotel management, and they graciously gave us a discount on the room hire. Thanks to this and the generosity of the set dancers, including those who could not attend, we raised nearly €800 which we shared between the Rape Crisis Centre in Carlow and a school for the blind in Kenya. Geraldine Byrne sent the money for the school to her cousin, Bishop Pádraig Harrington, so every cent is accounted for.
Thanks so much to everyone who made the afternoon such a success , we are looking forward to 1-1-11 already. Go mbeirimd beo ar an am seo arís.
Geraldine Byrne and Hilary Nic Íomhair
The GAA Hall on Western Road, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was full of friendly faces on Saturday, 5th December, for the Guide Dog Dance Day ceili. The Lough Ree Ceili Band (Brendan Doyle from Moate on box, John Duffy from Lanesborough on banjo, Liz Ryan from Edgeworthstown on piano and Ger Butler on drums) really added to the enjoyment of the night.
Mary Phelan, a set dancing teacher from Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny, was the first caller of the night and got us going with the Kilfenora Set, a lovely gentle set with which to start a ceili. We stayed in Clare for the second set and I called the Clare Lancers. Waterford was represented next as organiser Chris Eichbaum called the Ballyduff and we all 'balanced in' obediently. Even those not familiar with the Ballyduff had no problem following her instructions. Michael Cooney, a local set dancing teacher, called the Connemara and Antrim Square with great enthusiasm. One of the dancers remarked that the band responded to Michael as the energy and enthusiasm emanating from the stage was just amazing.
The Lough Ree played some tunes with a continental flavour and it was great to hear the (to my unmusical ears) unusual melodies, such as Reel Beatrix (possibly eastern European) and Marco's Reel, a swing reel according to Brendan. As well as a continental flavour, the musical selection showed a northern influence as some Beoga tunes were played.
Maura Tynan, another local teacher, called the Ballyvourney Set and we followed the clear directions with ease. Ger Butler rounded up the calling with the Plain Set.
A contingent of young dancers from Carrigaline and Clare brought the average age down a bit and it was great to see them having a good time.
Two non-set dancers who graced us with their presence were Nell (a seven-week-old yellow Labrador puppy) and Tilly, an eight-year-old veteran guide dog. As Rainer, Chris's husband and fellow puppy walker and trainer, brought Nell around the hall, the band struck up How Much is That Doggy in the Window? Chris told us that when the dogs graduate from puppy training, at about one year of age, they can be trained as guide dogs for the blind or as assistance dogs for children with autism.
Clonmel is spoilt for choice when it comes to set dancing as there are five classes per week in the town. The support given to the ceili and workshops was a testament to the camaraderie amongst the teachers and dancers in the 'Meadow of Honey'. During the break some dancers had ignored the lovely food and spent their time Polly Gliding and jiving to CDs. Indeed, energy levels were such that even at 12.30am, when the band were packing up and CDs were playing , people got out to jive, quickstep and even Slosh!
Ger Butler kept everyone happy during the workshops with his usual easygoing style. He taught the Doire Cholmcille Set and ensured that those present had plenty of time to dance as he did not have a demo set, but instead explained and, when necessary, showed what to do . The dancers appreciated how well the sean nós steps were broken down for them and of course, the two-hand dances were as popular as ever.
Hopefully this fundraiser will be a regular event in the set dancing calendar and here's to the next Guide Dog Dance Day.
Hilary Nic Íomhair, Castledermot, Co Carlow
You'll find more traditional dancing and music on YouTube than you'll ever see on TV! Here are five more recommended videos:
Emma O'Sullivan, finalist in RTÉ's All Ireland Talent Show, dances sean nós in a Galway shopping centre to some rousing Connemara-style music. Search for Galway shopping centre; search for her by name to see many more.
Two figures from Lancers Set at the Christmas party in Rockville, Maryland, are available for viewing and especially listening by searching for Frost Center December.
At the Setsmad Revival Weekend, Sue Crick and Janet O'Hara performed a clog dance. You can see them dancing it at a 2008 ceili with Matt Cunningham in this video—search for Janet & Sue.
Setsmad organiser Kevin Monaghan has a nice collection of full sets on YouTube from their weekends, plus others taken over the years by Gerry Ring. This one of the Valentia Right and Left Set was danced in 1993 at a workshop with Muiris O'Brien in Portmagee, Co Kerry. Look for Valentia R&L.
Some amazing American clogging can be seen in this excerpt from a 1964 documentary. A young team of eight including a caller do a square dance and solo steps to live bluegrass music in a living room. Search for Best Clog.
Pearl River's tenth anniversary
Letters and emails
It was great meeting you at our very special Christmas Ceili at the Clarkstown Reformed Church Hall in West Nyack, New York, where we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Who would have thought in September 2000 that the Pearl River Ceili would still be in existence in 2010? It all came about when Walter Murray was asked to locate a hall suitable for the CCÉ annual Fleadh Cheoil ceili and I suggested to him that we also look for a hall available on a monthly basis so we could start our own ceili. A meeting of local set dancers took place at Walter's house and the Pearl River Ceili Group was formed. At this time it was decided that all involved would volunteer their time so our only cost would be hall rental, insurance and a band and if by some miracle we had a profit we would donate it back to the pupils learning traditional music. Thanks to our set dancing friends we have over the years donated over ,000 to help defray the cost of sending our Pearl River area students to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil in Ireland thus planting the seeds of our future ceili bands.
Our first ceili took place at the Pearl River Elks Lodge on September 24th 2000 with three musicians and 66 dancers trying to squeeze on to a dance floor that was barely big enough for 6 sets. It may seem peculiar that the Pearl River Ceili would be held in another town but it is extremely difficult to get a hall that is large enough and available on a long term basis. We have been in five different locations, only one of which was actually in Pearl River. Our current location has a beautiful maple dance floor that can accommodate over fifteen sets and we have had numerous capacity crowds.
Running a monthly ceili takes a lot of hard work and our committee is split into two teams who do the job on alternating months. At this time it would be nice to mention the names of these volunteers, some of whom have been with us from the first day, but at the risk of omitting someone I will refrain. These people arrive on a Friday night before 7pm to set up the hall, make the coffee, etc, for the ceili, and thanks to them, the first set is ready to start at 8. They are also there well after midnight cleaning up.
We draw set dancers from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, some of whom have a two-hour drive each way. One of the main reasons for this loyalty is the outstanding quality of our local ceili bands. These are not groups of traditional musicians making a few dollars on a weekend but established ceili bands whose music is, to use an Irish term, "brilliant." They are Pete Kelly's Premier Ceili Band, Green Gates Ceili Band, Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band and Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band. I would also like to mention some of the musicians who helped us out in our early days, John Nolan, John Kennedy and Patricia Furlong. One of the features of our ceili is to introduce new sets and also sets that have been neglected. To that end we send an email reminder and a list of the sets that will be danced at our next ceili a few days ahead, that way people can be prepared. The bands will also know what sets will be danced.
I would like to thank Set Dancing News for the wonderful job it is doing in promoting set dancing the world over. We have had numerous enquiries about our ceili from your readers. In fact a young lady emailed me from London to say she was coming to New York for a few days and wanted to know where West Nyack was and how she could get there. We are about 25 miles north of mid-town Manhattan. We arranged for her to get to the ceili. She was surprised she knew so many people. She later said it was the highlight of her trip, so if any of you set dancers want to pay us a visit you will be most welcome. Our ceili is on the third Friday of the month 8pm to midnight, September to June. All the details are in Set Dancing News.
Hoping to see you soon again, Bill. Keep up the good work.
Dan Dennehy, Pearl River Group
Much-loved local set dancer
I'm hoping you can print these few words about our recent ceili, held in memory of much-loved local set dancer Sheila Connolly. We had a fantastic evening dancing all of Sheila's favourite sets to the music of the wonderful Mooncoin Ceili Band, and a great turnout despite dreadful weather and flooded roads! We even managed to raise £200 for cancer research. Could I also just say a big thank you for all those who came along and helped make it such a success, particularly our dancing teacher Mary Bingham, and Mike and Maggie Daniel for all their help and support. And maybe we'll even hold another one in the summer—when the weather has hopefully improved!
Lucy Taylor (on behalf of Devon Set Dancers), Kingsteignton, Devon, England
All the dancers happyDear Bill, I would like to thank most sincerely all those who attended the Galway Bay Set Dancing Festival, making it a most enjoyable weekend. Thanks also to Pat Murphy and Séamus Ó Méalóid for their excellent workshops, to Matt Cunningham, Four Courts and Glenside ceili bands for the wonderful music and for keeping all the dancers happy. We look forward to seeing you again next year. I would like to wish you all good health, happiness, peace, and love for the New Year.
Tony Ryan, Galway
Exhausted yet exhilaratedHi Bill,
We have just hosted another of our 'revival' weekends, dancing as many different sets as we can over three nights of ceilis and two days of workshops, and again, a great time was had by everyone. We had dancers attending from all over the UK, from Ireland, France and even the US. We really appreciate the support we receive, and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the weekend at such a busy time of year.
Ceili Time provided the music on their English debut and impressed everyone with their clear, precise playing and their sheer stamina! They never baulked once at playing sets that were initially unfamiliar to them, and on the Saturday evening played ten different sets for the dancers. They had been delayed on their flights by fog, arriving on Friday later than planned, but were calm throughout. Many thanks to Seamus and Enda.
We danced a total of 33 sets, beginning on Friday night and ending on Sunday afternoon, exhausted yet exhilarated at achieving such a grand total. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany provided the tuition, bringing with them the Ballintogher Lancers from Sligo as one of the more unusual sets—we will definitely be adding it to our class dance list!
Some dancers are perhaps a little daunted by the prospect of dancing sets that are unfamiliar. Those that were not so well-known were called by Pádraig, Maggie Daniel from Devon, Moira Dempsey from London and Kevin Monaghan, whose brainchild this weekend is. If anyone is pondering a visit to one of our "revival" weekends, please be assured there is nothing to fear—you will be among friends, and someone will always be on hand to assist!
George Hook of Birmingham again supplied the sound, ensuring quality and balance in a great hall with a purpose-built dance floor. Without George, we would be totally snookered, so we greatly appreciate his travelling to us from such a distance.
Our final thanks must go to our regular dancers. They attend the class every week, paying subs, displaying endless patience and humour when we forget figures, donate generously to the raffles, make teas and coffee, bake cakes and mince pies, wash up, and very importantly, promote our events when they attend ceilis elsewhere. Many thanks to you all for your trust and enthusiasm.
We have confirmed our next Revival weekend as 24-26 September 2010. We will be in the Carnival Hall in Basingstoke, Hampshire, with music supplied by Triskell.
Many thanks, Bill. All the best for the New Year.
Carol Gannon, Basingstoke Set Dancers.
PS Would you like a list of the sets danced?
Friday ceili: Claddagh, Sliabh Luachra, Labasheeda, Borlin, Connemara, Cashel, Monaghan, Roscahill, Plain
Workshops: Dunmanway, Ballintogher Lancers, Armagh, Tory Island, Aherlow, Boyne
Saturday ceili: Mazurka, West Kerry, Aran, Boyne, Newport, Corofin, South Kerry, Sliabh gCua, Antrim Square, Connemara
Sunday ceili: Williamstown, Portmagee, Kilfenora, Fermanagh, Ballyvourney, Clare Lancers, Ballyduff and Plain to finish
33 in total, 30 different ones!
Top notch musicBill,
John Nolan here, I would appreciate very much if you would include these few lines in your next Set Dancing News. I've been set dancing now for a few years and must say I enjoy the craic at the various ceilis.
There was a fundraising ceili run in association with Kerry Hospice which I managed to organise with the help of a few people who cooperated from start to finish. It was on Saturday 24th of October in Father Casey's Clubhouse, Abbeyfeale, with the cooperation of their management and staff. I would like to thank everyone who helped in any way, especially the band Sliabh Luachra who played top notch music.
Many of the popular sets were played, Sliabh Luachra, Plain, Connemara and Labasheeda. A word of thanks to those who helped in the kitchen with food, donated spot prizes, did the door and sold raffle tickets.
A special word of thanks to John Joe Tierney for calling the sets and keeping the floor full. I cannot leave this go without a special thanks to Ned Doran for all his help.
John Nolan, Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry.
Delightful Christmas party
We have finished yet another year (our twentieth!) of our Wednesday evening set dance classes here at Irish American Home Society in Glastonbury, Connecticut. As is customary, we ended with a delightful Christmas party with lots of food, picture taking and, of course, set dancing. Enclosed is a picture taken at our party. About 15 of our regular dancers are missing from the picture due to shopping, school programs and other Christmas activities.
Áth-bhliain sona agus sláintiúil dhuit féin agus do gach uile rinnceoóir seit are fud an domhan. (Happy and healthy New Year to you and to every set dancer throughout the world.)
John Droney, West Hartford, Connecticut.
The dedicated dancersDear Bill,
On behalf of Gerard Butler and the Sean-Óg Festival committee, I would like to say a big thank-you to everyone who attended the November weekend in Longford. What a wonderful success the festival was! The inclement weather did not stop the dedicated dancers who travelled from home and abroad. Thank you to all the bands, Abbey, Anally, Swallow's Tail, Johnny Reidy, Lough Ree, Johnny Rocks, Brona Graham and session musicians, Carmel McLoughlin, Fergus Harmon; and to Pat Murphy and Gerard for four successful workshops.
Our tenth anniversary is in November 2010. We are looking forward to this year's festival, which will be bigger and better as we are having a four-day event.
Looking forward to seeing you all in Longford.
Gabrielle Cassidy, Strokestown, Co Roscommon.
With some trepidationDear Bill,
I attended the Sean Dempsey set dancing festival in Manchester, 23rd-25th October with some trepidation as I am only dancing for a short time, but it was a most enjoyable experience. Everyone I met was so kind and encouraging and made me feel very welcome. The competitors were amazing to watch, the ceilis were great craic and the workshops very beneficial. I would like to thank everyone on the committee for their kindness, and particular thanks to Eamon Nolan who brought me back to the airport. It was an experience in itself listening to him and Pat Murphy on the way down.
Oh and I have to say how proud I was of my big sis and brother-in-law, organisers Jo and Colman Murtagh. Can't wait till next year.
Olive Wylie, Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Too good to be trueHi Bill,
I'd like to contribute this letter to Set Dancing News, because it's something that I feel strongly about and wish to warn people who might not recognise the danger signs.
Amongst the many scams that arrive in our computer inboxes by email, one of the more pernicious is the overpayment scam. In this, the scammer claims to have a group needing dancing tuition and 'accidentally' overpays beforehand with a cheque, stolen credit card or similar. They then request that the victim send the difference between the cheque and the real price, usually by Western Union transfer. When the victim discovers that the cheque is a fake or bounces, the money is gone and the scammer has mysteriously disappeared.
I have now seen three of these scams, and the one thing that keeps them going is the victims' willingness to believe in them. The usual request is for a dance instructor to teach a group of people for a month—something that would work out as a nice sum in anyone's money! For most teachers this is a windfall, and some will eagerly overlook several key things that indicate that there's something wrong.
Often these emails don't know what type of dancing you teach—I continue to get requests to teach salsa or ballroom. Usually they aren't aware of any information about you, such as your name, where you teach or when your regular classes are. They often come with very specific information such as the number of students and dates for the classes (which is meant to impress you). And there is often a sense of urgency about it—the group is performing at an (unspecified) event or for a family group in the near future.
These are all signs that you are being offered the bait. Your safest course at this point is to delete the email outright—these people usually email hundreds of people at a time and they don't even notice who hasn't responded to them. If you are still unsure, ask them to verify a couple of details without giving away any personal information. It is important, though, to realise that these people are experts at coming up with plausible reasons why you should believe them while not answering your questions. They will often ignore reasonable questions and change writing styles, because the person that sends the first email is not the person who then reels you in. If you don't get sensible responses that any polite, seriously interested person would give, then delete the emails and stop replying.
This scam is hitting everyone from music and dance teachers to instrument makers across the world. They have a large network of people in many countries that can ring you or meet with you to back up the story and supply that cheque. Sadly, these people too are part of the whole network—each in turn being cheated and lied to by the ones above. Simply delete their emails and you will be better off—and if the scam stops working, the scammers will stop using it.
Hope this helps,
Paul Wayper, Canberra, Australia.
It was with great sadness that we learned of the recent death of our friend Tom (Joe) Collins who died in New York. Tom, who was a native of Quilty, Co Clare, emigrated to New York in the 1950s and taught set dancing there for many years. His trips to Ireland were always arranged so that he could attend the Willie Clancy week in Miltown Malbay, the South Sligo Summer School in Tubbercurry, The Gathering in Killarney, Éigse Mrs Crotty in Kilrush or several other ceilis.
In August 2003, Tom came with us to the Rambling House in Lyre, Co Waterford. On that particular night they were filming and Tom can be seen dancing in The Real Ireland, one of the Bachelors in Trouble DVDs.
Tom will be sadly missed by his family and friends in both Ireland and the USA.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
Pat and Maura Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick.
Articles continue in Old News Volume 57.
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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