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 year, Hugh's Bash, a weekend which first began in 2005 as a birthday celebration for Hugh McGauran from Belfast, was held in the Central Hotel, Donegal. Greetings were exchanged, including many hugs and even kisses, but even more shrieks of recognition and joy, as crowds began arriving from early afternoon on Friday 26 March.
Social dancing with music by Tom Campbell set the scene at 8pm. Some of us just peeked in to see what was happening, as it seems that this type of dancing is becoming more popular. The same 'some' danced for almost two hours before the Annaly Ceili Band struck their first notes about 10pm. What a warm-up!
By 10pm the hall was packed and we enjoyed the next few hours dancing-and this time it was set dancing. As usual, the popular Annaly enthralled the dancers with their music.
Saturday morning, despite a late night for many, saw ten sets for the set dancing workshop where the tutor was Teresa Quigg. Not known widely outside her weekly class in Carryduff, Teresa had an excellent light-hearted workshop. Of course, being a County Armagh girl, it was no surprise that she included the Armagh Set.
The reins were handed to Kathleen Smith in the afternoon for the sean nós workshop. Kathleen carried through this task with great aplomb. Indeed, some people were so enamoured by her steps, (or was it because they were fading at this stage of the afternoon?) they requested several demonstrations from her.
Saturday night with the Copperplate Ceili Band saw the hall packed to full capacity with at least thirty sets. The band seemed to enjoy playing as much as we enjoyed dancing.
Sunday morning, two-hand dancing with tutor Marie Garrity started at 10.30am. Although several people had a sleep-in after the previous two late nights, this workshop was also well attended and thoroughly enjoyed.
A final ceili on Sunday afternoon with music from the Oriel Ceili Band completed the weekend.
As Hugh's birthday was only a few days away, his friends presented him with a birthday present towards the end of the ceili. This was a book with advice on how to cope with old age. I'm reliably informed that Hugh has the pages of the book well-thumbed by now. Apparently, dancing is great medicine for many ills!
Let's continue to take that medicine and dance—regardless of age.
Rosaleen Murphy, Saintfield, Co Down
Applause, applause! It will be my pleasure to do an all-round positive appraising write-up for the hostess with the mostess—curtains up for Helen Kealy and husband Paddy who live in Ring near Dungarvan, Co Waterford and have built up an ever-growing set dancing empire in and around there. Helen has been teaching now for ten years, four and more classes a week, and to mark the occasion she threw a party at the end of March as a thank you for everyone, with Danny Webster at the musical helm. Helen and Paddy have a purpose-built room in their house for dancing that holds six sets comfortably, and in the summer when she holds weekly house dances they occasionally erect a lean-to tent to extend the floor. And there, on Good Friday, just five days after her tenth anniversary party, she threw another one, because "people don't go anywhere on Good Friday." She loves having people around and catering for them. And then a week after that, she emerged fresh as a lily to hold the fifth Costa del Clonea weekend, 9-11 April, at the Clonea Strand Hotel, near Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and jumped about the place high as a kite.
When she isn't running a weekend or planning another, (a second one is in the pipes for the last weekend of October) then she is busy baking (or, as she jokingly claims, Paddy is) for one and all, and organising other events. The list is long—holding frequent mini-ceilis for charity, bringing her dancers out to The Gathering in Killarney every year (nearly 100 of them), doing mystery tours, inviting people to her house for the aforementioned house dances, putting on a 'Danceathon' this August, and teaching in schools now and again. In searching for a better place to move one of her classes to, she found a spectacular venue in the local tennis club-brand new and airy, lovely wooden floor, rustic ceiling resembling the belly of a boat, with round windows overlooking the marina.
If you go to Helen's, you're offered a lot more than dancing. You're offered hearty welcomes, more-than-you-can-eat homemade cakes and friendship. It's a real sense of belonging to a special kind of family, and indeed, that's what her folks are, with multicoloured club shirts to show for it. Sitting opposite her, talking shop, I got the distinct feeling of having met someone totally comfortable in her skin, and then she said, "My whole life now revolves around set dancing. There isn't a moment when I don't think about it." Yes, it shines through alright, and I understood perfectly. Helen stopped working full-time a while ago, and now her work focus is centred around set dancing entirely.
She continued, "I always have to do something. I used to play badminton, but had to give it up due to back problems, but rather than sitting around, I had to find something. I saw an ad in the paper for a set dancing class, went along, and the rest is history. I was hooked from the first night. And this was seventeen years ago." And what is it with all that baking? Helen said that that's down to her mother, who was always baking and preferred homemade stuff to what you can buy in the shop. And her son Alan, who is the drummer in a band called Ted Friendly, now is also studying to become involved in the catering business.
Whatever she has started and cooked up, it has been a success. Cementing this, 27 different sets were danced at the Clonea weekend this year, all called by four different female teachers, Helen, Carmel Kearns, Hilary Nic Íomhair and myself. The workshop on Saturday revealed a nice geographical mix, travelling from Fermanagh in the north, over to the Boyne, Skibbereen down south, to East Galway, and ending in Connemara (jig set and sean nós). Resident teacher was Carmel Kearns from Wicklow, who always brings a crowd with her. Carmel is a woman who readily admits if she doesn't know or makes a mistake, and isn't above asking for advice, which is a sign of quiet greatness. Her calling and teaching is cheerful, relaxed and humble at the same time—an irresistible cocktail, I couldn't help but liking her immediately.
Friday night Taylor's Cross took to the stage, led by Donie Nolan on box, and with him Gearóid Keating (banjo), Anita Bennis (keyboard) and local girl Eabhlín De Paor (flute). I found their playing inspiring, and some of their reels reeling the dancers into their nets, particularly towards the latter part of the ceili. Now, there was one fan for whom this couldn't be topped—when I met him on the second night and said that I was looking forward to a great night, he said that it can't possibly be as good as last night, because Taylor's Cross's music was so good! Despite his prediction, the night turned out well with Copperplate supplying music for the second lovely ceili of the weekend.
The Saturday workshop yielded an unusually big crowd, and Carmel had her safe hands full. At a break, I had a look outside. The hotel is situated literally on top of the beach. There were actually people swimming, others picnicking, kites were flying and footballs being kicked, and it sported all the atmosphere of a Spanish seaside resort. This was the first warm weekend weather we had after this long cold winter, and I was impressed to find so many dancers foregoing the beach for dancing indoors.
Talking to Helen and Paddy about what set dancing means to them, Helen said, "I am so happy in my life now. I was never as happy. I do exactly what I want to do." And Paddy remarked, "How could you not be happy with meeting the wonderful people you're meeting?"
And their combined generosity underscores the love that they have for togetherness. I have yet to meet someone to match just how generous they are. What seems important to Helen is not to be in competition with each other in the dancing—"Everybody is equal. Every other sport, like hurling and so on, you're trying to be better than someone else. But not in set dancing."
This weekend was further indication of the thesis of equality, and that is to give lots of space to sets not commonly danced. I for one love the challenge, but I know that people debate the issue—what do you think? What worked really well here was excellent calling of, for instance, the Paris Set, by Carmel Kearns. No one went astray, and none absconded! It's delightful for me to dance and try out, like a new garment, a set that I am not completely familiar with, and there were loads of them. I also would like to highlight Hilary Nic Íomhair's fab calling of the Newport Set. Every movement was spot on in terms of timing—she truly is one hell of a caller. Truth is that ceilis and weekends feel different and have a separate texture to them if called or not, regular sets or not. I'd like to make a case for both. We have variety, diversity and interesting moves in many sets to embrace. We also have sheer and utter wildness and zest when dancing all the common ones without thinking. Both are cool—could it be an 'and' instead of an 'either or'? Yes? No? Don't know? Write in! Set Dancing News would love your opinions!
The Glenside Ceili Band on Sunday sparkled with a thousand keys played nimbly, and poured their gorgeous music (the polkas for the Cashel made us fly it!) over the dancing ensemble like glacé , helped by Ann Adlum on the keyboard, who stood in for Moyra Fraser. And the two boys, Aidan and Tom, well, you just wanna take 'em home with you, they are so sweet! I could put them on the mantlepiece, and on a rainy day they'll be sure to cheer me up with their big smiles. Never short of appropriate words, Tom aptly honoured the hosts, helpers, et al, before the last figure was played.
Yup, this weekend ticks many a box. Curtains down, for now, but there's no gathering dust, because they will open again in Clonea Strand at the end of October for the West Waterford Hooley. May the set dancing force be with you, Helen and Paddy! Watch this space, as they say, for the creation of a West Waterford Set-whoo hoo!
The eighth annual St Patrick's Sun, Sets and Shamrock festival by Enjoy Travel was another sell-out event. Holidaymakers had ten days in Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol in Spain with the crème de la crème of artists for set dancing, social dancing, easy listening and late night partying.
The craic got underway on Tuesday night, 11th March, with a ceili. Enda McClone from Ceili Time Ceili Band, accompanied by renowned musician Seamus Shannon, provided the tremendous music. You would think that these musicians had been playing together for years. The dancers all rose to the occasion and stayed dancing right through to the last set. The specially erected timber floor was a dream to dance on. This correspondent had the pleasure of sharing the stage as MC for the night. I included the Waltz Cotillion in my list of the night's eight sets.
Wednesday morning at 11am dancing classes got underway. Piret Awnus gave a beginners class in ballroom dancing and I taught the set dancing class. I was delighted to see ten sets gathered. I had a number of beginners and decided to do the Cúchulainn Set. They were a dream to work with, very attentive and courteous.
The afternoon was magic with music in the lounge. J J Carty from Co Fermanagh gave us fabulous tunes to dance to and to reminisce with friends. Back in the ceili room tonight we danced once more to Enda and Seamus and had a full house. Everyone from the morning class thronged in and extra dancers seemed to have come from nowhere. We danced seven sets including the Cúchulainn from my class earlier.
Thursday my set dancing class began at 12pm. I was thrilled to see dancers gathering and we had a great time dancing the Ballycommon Set, a little Tipperary set danced to polkas and slides. Even the beginners managed without any problem. The afternoon was relaxing with music from the session musicians, then Declan Aungier took the stage in the lounge. He was joined by Seamus, Enda, Johnny Carroll and Gerry Flynn. The hotel had a tremendous atmosphere and I was proud to be Irish and part of this wonderful festival.
The ceili tonight had Enda and Seamus on stage for a superb night's dancing. Starting with the Connemara Set and finishing with the Clare Lancers, I included the Antrim Square, Ballycommon, Ballyvourney Jig, Plain and Kilfenora sets.
Friday morning I did the Williamstown Set in my workshop. We had a good time and great fun with the polka figure, the last figure of the set. The afternoon saw Liam McLoughlin on stage in the lounge. He has a unique voice and is so relaxing to dance to or just sit and listen.
Tonight we had a brilliant night's dancing to Seamus Shannon in the ceili room. I included the Williamstown Set from the class. I watched with pride as everyone danced beautifully, and more importantly they were all smiling. The last set of the night was the Connemara and I asked Seamus to give us vocals also on Maggie in the Wood. It was a moment in history for the dancers, and a lovely finish to our ceili. Our ceilis ran for two hours and dancers were delighted to have time to enjoy the social dancing to finish their night's entertainment.
I decided to do the Ballyvourney Reel Set for Saturday's class. In the afternoon the Knotty Pine String Band entertained us with uplifting music and song. The ceili tonight had the Copperplate Ceili Band on stage. The music was magic and the dancing electric-I could feel energy zooming on to the stage. We danced the Antrim Square and the Ballyvourney Reel from the class. Afterward Liam McLoughlin followed by the Moynihan Brothers kept social dancers happy. I was delighted to trip the light fantastic to these artists.
Sunday was Mass day and large crowds travelled up the hill to the cathedral. It was rest day from workshops and Piret and I felt at a loose end. We joined a trip up Calamorro Mountain and had a bird's eye view over Malaga as we travelled up in the cable cars.
The Annaly Ceili Band gave us music to lighten our feet and spin our hearts. I included the Ballyvourney Reel, Cúchulainn and Ballycommon. We had a super night's dancing.
At Monday's workshop by popular request I taught the Moycullen Set. It was great to see all dancers comfortable with this set. The ceili tonight had the Copperplate back on stage and our MC was Mickey Kelly, fresh from his set dancing festival in Mulranny, Co Mayo. Mickey included the Derrada, Moycullen and the High-Cauled Cap in his list of dances.
With eight sets all eager to dance at the set dancing workshop on Tuesday, I taught the Ballyduff Set. Brenda O'Callaghan, renowned dancing teacher from Co Sligo, gave a class in sean nós steps to over fifty dancers all stepping it out. The ceili tonight had the Annaly back on stage and myself as MC. Taking some requests for ceili dances, I interspersed a small selection between sets, including the Walls of Limerick, Stack of Barley and Two-Hand Reel. I also included the Ballyduff Set from the morning class.
Wednesday arrived with brilliant warm sunshine—the gods were also celebrating St Patrick's Day. After Mass all activities were set up by the pool. We had a talent show and fancy dress parade—the talent and effort were tremendous. Our musicians today were the session gang led by Mick Mackey. We danced, listened, joined in and applauded the superb talent by the pool and celebrated the feast of St Patrick in true Gaelic style. Our ceili tonight had Mickey Kelly as MC and the Copperplate gave us fantastic music.
The final day of the festival had arrived. Our set dancing workshop today saw Mickey Kelly at the helm. He taught the Boyne Set, one of the newest sets to come into the mainstream of set dancing. We had a great time dancing it. Brenda O'Callaghan held her second popular sean nós class.
Our last ceili saw myself as MC and Seamus Shannon back on stage; Noel Sweeney, award-winning concert flute player, joined Seamus tonight. These talented musicians have a tremendous selection of tunes and kept the set dancers happy for two hours. By popular demand I included the Cuchulainn and Ballyvourney Reel in my list of sets. The Antrim Square was danced every night. Midway through the ceili we had a demonstration of sean nós steps led by Brenda O'Callaghan and her class. Sheila Gormley and her friend Mary did a wonderful clap dance to a magic polka.
The final night's dancing for social dancers saw a variety of artists on stage. Liam McLoughlin was first on followed by the Enjoy Travel Band with guest appearances by Gerry Walsh and Brenda Mulgrew from Cookstown, Co Fermanagh, who fronts her own band at home. She was a guest at the festival and had sung at the sessions. Johnny Carroll joined in to conclude the night and the festival.
We were spoiled for choice at the festival with events to enjoy. I was privileged to share a stage as MC with so many wonderful musicians over the festival and further privileged to conduct classes on eight of the nine days.
Joan Pollard Carew
The fourth set dancing workshop weekend in Carnlough, Co Antrim, took place from 23rd-25th April and was our best to date, with many familiar faces returning along with some new ones joining us for the first time. Numbers swelled even further on Saturday, with the arrival of a coach full of lively dancers from Carrickcruppin who travelled up with Cathal and Catherine (Evans) McAnulty.
We all met on Friday night in the Glencloy Inn for an informal session with local musicians and singers, and some of our visitors also participated in this. There was some terrific music from Jim McAuley, fiddler, and young Daire Taylor, uilleann piper. It was a great night, with the dancers also getting the chance of taking to the floor for a couple of figures of the Antrim Square and Clare Lancers sets.
The Saturday workshop with Pat Murphy was held in the Community Centre and by mid-morning nine sets were on the floor. Pat took us through the Aherlow Set to start, and then taught the Lough Neagh Set by popular demand. This was new to most of us and had some tricky moves, but with Pat's clear instructions we all got through. Pat finished with the Connemara Jig, the hug swing set, which was enjoyed by all!
The Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band played brilliantly for the ceili on Saturday night with Ronan Eastwood calling the sets in his usual jovial, encouraging way. A great spread was provided for the supper by all the helpers and this was certainly enjoyed by all.
We were also fortunate again this year to have donations of a piece of designer jewellery and a handcrafted mirror for first and second prizes in the raffle, and the ultimate winners of these prizes were absolutely delighted.
A good crowd was again on the floor on Sunday for the morning workshop and Pat started with the lovely Glencree Set. He finished the morning with Margaret's Waltz, which had us all gliding around the floor at the end—if only!
Everyone enjoyed the weekend again this year and I am sure all visitors appreciated the friendly Glens welcome and hospitality. We are planning to run the workshop weekend again next year, and we will let you all know through the Set Dancing News.
Emer Gallagher, Carnlough, Co Antrim
Melbourne Claddagh Dancers once again held their annual Springtosh weekend in the country town of Trentham, Victoria, Australia, from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 January. It was greatly assisted by some mild dancing weather with temperatures in the mid twenties. We had our best attendance with over fifty people attending the workshops. Some participants travelled from South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and one from Ireland. Friday evening saw a traditional session at Springtosh, the country property of Ina and Graeme Bertrand, with a mixture of dancing, singing, instrumental performances and poetry, along with much socialising.
Saturday morning's workshop was conducted by Ina Bertrand who taught the Williamstown and Newport sets. In the afternoon Kirsty Greenwood conducted her workshop featuring wheelbarrows and highgates, using selected figures from a range of different dances. All who participated found the workshop most instructive and beneficial.
During the evening meal at the Trentham Hotel, Richard Greenwood, the club's public officer and secretary, presented Ina and Graeme with honorary life membership to Melbourne Claddagh Dancers, in recognition of their tireless and inspirational contributions to the group.
Following was the annual ceili in the Trentham Hall with live music provided by Paddy Fitzgerald and friends. This was attended by the weekend participants and many local community members. The evening was full of dancing to superb music with everyone dancing with high vigour.
Sunday saw the group reforming for a morning workshop with Paul Wayper who introduced the Kilfenora Plain and Loughgraney sets. The weekend concluded with an informal dancing session in the afternoon before people departed for their journeys home.
It was agreed that a fantastic weekend had been had by all and we look forward to next year's event.
Colin McMillan, Melbourne, Australia
All roads led to St Patrick's Sports and Leisure Centre in Lordship on the Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth, for their 27th annual set dancing weekend from 23rd to 25th April. Dancing began at 9.30pm on Friday night in the smaller hall upstairs with a superb ceili. The ever-popular Triskell Ceili Band played brilliant music as they always do. For three hours we danced all the usual sets with just a short break for a gourmet supper.
We were back again on Saturday morning for our first workshop and there to meet us were Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and their friends Mary Conboy and Donal Morrissey. The first set of the morning was the Armagh Set. In the afternoon we did the Limerick Orange and Green and the Boyne sets.
Everyone was in high spirits on Saturday night dancing in the big hall to the wonderful music of husband and wife duo Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan from Cork. Again a scrumptious supper was provided by the club members.
On Sunday morning it was time for the sean nós workshop. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn conducted this workshop in their own relaxed style. During the workshop it was such a delight to see three generations of McGlynns, namely Kathleen, her daughter and granddaughter give a joyful display of sean nós dancing.
Tim Joe and Anne were back again on Sunday afternoon for the farewell ceili. Michael McGlynn's humourous calling of the sets all through the weekend kept the dancers elated and in a very happy mood. The sean nós dancers gave performances during the ceili. Kathleen, you can take a bow, as this is due to your excellent and dedicated teaching.
Michael thanked everyone for supporting the weekend, especially the overseas visitors which included a group from Corsica who regularly come to Ireland for set dancing. The organizers are to be complimented for their top class catering and warm welcoming friendliness. We left for Limerick exhausted but exhilarated after a great weekend.
Pat and Maura Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick
When spring lets its blue ribbon fly through the air in Connemara, it colours it insanely beautiful. Progress from Galway to Renvyle through Maam Cross and past Kylemore Abbey was slow. Many stops occurred due to the camera screaming at me to take a photograph. But slowing down was to become part of the pattern at this weekend of sean nós in Renvyle, April 16-18, and gave rise to a new experience of dancing encompassing a spa-like feel which meant that lively music and dancing alternated with times of relaxation. Emma O'Sullivan, the weekend's main protagonist, made that very clear by warning us on the first night that everything in Connemara is laid back, and times are 'ish' times. Ish indeed.
As you come into the long driveway that leads up to the Renvyle House Hotel in which W B Yeats honeymooned, you encounter a sign under the flanking New Zealand flax reading, "You are now entering a Stress Free Zone." Whoa! A weekend packed with sean nós, sessions, workshops, ceilis—and no stress? No, I half-wondered, surely I can only do one or the other, full throttle or spluttering engine. At that instant, I became aware of how I have lost the ability to sit back once in a while when in the dancing cosmos. A stronger reminder was issued when strolling around the gardens and the seashore, revealing a multitude of benches. Whenever I wanted to banish thoughts of sitting down (so much to do, to see, to explore)—voilà!—another bench turned up around the corner. Even the most hard core non-sitters would have to eventually take note of all these opportunities to sit, an invitation made repeatedly and stubbornly. Mind you, I didn't quite sit down, but I did notice the benches.
I also noticed a couple of big dogs with some residents walking around near the tennis court. I was told that this is a dog-friendly hotel, so you can bring your dogs and have them with you, as long as you are responsible with them toward other people. The owner himself came up to join our doggie-conversation, showing off his enormous American Akitas, a Japanese breed.
The hotel itself is old-worldly, cosy, turf-scented. A stuffed fox looks out from one corner, and around the next a library holds relevant books of the area, including ones written by Oliver St John Gogarty, who once owned the hotel. It's the kind of place where you can easily imagine a couple of exquisitely spine-chilling ghosts cohabiting the corridors with you, after your ayurvedic hot stone massage, trying your wrist at the tennis court, sipping afternoon tea in the pelargonium-laden conservatory, meandering among the half-wild gardens, playing a round of golf (the course is adjacent to the house), sniffing the untamed sea while watching the gulls and oystercatchers performing their acrobatic aerial swoops, and munching away on an extravagant meal prepared by award-winning chef and father of Emma, Jim O'Sullivan.
An ordinary weekend-break could be whiled away here perfectly well, lounging beside the turf fire, immersing yourself, perhaps, in poems by Tony O'Dwyer (Galway). But the night couldn't end like this, of course not! Coinciding with Ireland's first National Music Day, the craic started at 10pm-ish in the lounge. Local musicians gathered—Johnny Connolly and Johnny Óg Connolly (son) on accordions, Marcus Hernon on flute, and his sons Brendan and Proinsias on fiddle and box, Don Stiffe playing guitar and singing, Meaití Joe Shéamuis Ó Fátharta on the pipes, and Nan Tom Taimín, the sean nós singer.
I learned something here. In Connemara people are often known by their first names, followed by the first names of their fathers and grandfathers. This is also the case with Scandinavian people, who are named as 'son of' and 'daughter of', and I wondered whether the Vikings had anything to do with this custom.
The dancing that accompanied the music was fascinating. Plenty of individuals entertained the audience with blithe sean nós steps, and the musicians also played four sets for us to dance. Emma, who said she can't set dance, was dragged out to dance the Cashel, and what do you know? No bother to her whatsoever!
In case you haven't sussed it by now, this is Emma O'Sullivan, sean nós dancer of renown, who came third in the All-Ireland Talent Show, and won the Oireachtas. We sat down together, and she seemed remarkably calm and fresh for someone so young and organising a big event like this one.
"Once I have a job, I do it 110 percent." Yeah, I could see that. And she has a cool head on her shoulders, plus a business degree under her belt. "I was just beginning to look at teaching business studies, when the dancing took off. I do this full-time now, teach sean nós, travel, perform. It's addictive." And she shared some way-ahead-of-her-years wisdom that she traced back to her granddad on her mother's side.
"I learned so much from dancing. Like a turtle, you have to stick your neck out and say 'yes' to challenges. If you live in a place like this, you have time to think. I dance a big part for my granddad, who said 'yes' to everything. And the kids I teach sean nós, they taught me that it's all about acknowledgement, all about encouragement. For now, I will stick with opportunities that come my way." She loves her dancing so much that "as long as I can have anything that has to do with trad music and dancing in it, I'd be happy. If I can't perform, then maybe I can help others perform."
Her own sean nós dancing developed only about four years ago, and she says that she is now "more confident with my feet." For Emma, sean nós is "closer to the music than other types of dancing, it's more about the music." Everything for her now is about steps, about movement. "I see people walking, or standing in a particular way, and I see a step forming! Mad how your mind works!"
But this ambitious girl is far from mad. Her teaching is precise, original, sensitive and ultra-slow to start. Anybody off the street could have managed the steps she showed us, because she started at square zero-walking, and becoming aware of how our bodies distribute weight automatically and are "a step ahead of our minds" all the time. She remained slow, talking slowly, moving slowly, and only bit by bit, hardly noticeable, stepped up half a gear, then another. Her constant encouragement and permission for her class to do "your own thing, your own style," put beginners at ease, and seemed refreshing to me and detoxifying for perfectionists. In a way, there was an invitation to become free, to liberate not only the mind, but the body as well, to "unleash the inner gimp," as Emma appropriately called it. Use your arms, relax those shoulders, let the head go, involve the hip—this workshop taught more than sean nós steps. It was almost like a personal development cum rejuvenating cardiac workout as part of a morning and afternoon revitalising health resort programme.
Later, sheets with the steps on them were available, and over dinner, some completely nutters-about-sean-nós people tapped away under the table and discussed various bits and finally got up to do some steps to figure out "how exactly this one went." I tried to stay low key however, as I already had a moment of momentous fame, which was—oh no!—caught on video camera. What happened? Earlier, Emma taught a retire step which she called the Bunny Hop. So here I was, bunny-hopping backwards, and ran into the armrest of a settee behind me. Unequipped with eyes at the back of my head, I hadn't seen it, keeled over and unceremoniously fell, back first, onto the cushions of it. Legs went up in the air, and the skirt, in gravity's stranglehold, slid downwards. Think elephant, not gazelle, and you get the picture. Needless to say, the whole class was choking with laughter and the topic was brought up later again. And again. Blast, there goes my ballerina persona for good!
Outside after the workshop, music was played for what was an ongoing session, the musicians taking turns throughout the day and night. Emma brought the kids she's been teaching—my word! They were class, only tiny ones, some as young as six-years-old, and cool as cucumbers. This is brilliant—only eight or ten years after the revival of sean nós there's a new generation weaned on it. The sean nós future is in safe hands and feet for sure. Sean nós is so hot at the moment it's super cool.
And nobody's hotter on the frontline than brothers Gerard and Patrick Devane. They made it up the ladder in TG4's An Jig Gig. Their steps are sublime, their 'gimp' natural—kings of the sean nós castle. I imagined this is how they normally walk about, on the farm with the wellies on, down the lines of cows ready to be milked, side stepping it a bit here and heel-toeing it there. You see, this whole sean nós scene, which is entirely new to me, is far less formal than set dancing, insofar as set dancing can be called formal in the first place. Folks just get up to dance, whenever the 'gimp' wants to be let loose. At times more than one is up sean nós-ing, all dancing their own steps and styles, yet providing a united beat to underline the music.
At night, while the session moved inside to the bar as it became too cold to be outside, P J Hernon and friends set up shop for the ceili in the ballroom. There was a respectable host of set dancers and sean nós dancers who tried set dancing, and fair play to everyone, the sets were danced, even the Moycullen, without calling-help, and without calling "help!" P J rocked the stage and what was lovely was a guitar accompanying the musicians, not a sign of a keyboard. In between, when there was a break or a waltz, people wandered in and out not to miss anything exciting at the session. A few set dancers from Westport never made it to the ceili, but instead danced sets in the bar in between the sean nós that went on. At some point, Paraic Ó hOibicín danced on a barrel with the two Devane brothers, with a third brother, Colm, playing the box for them. I didn't believe it! How on earth did they fit? Grr, I missed that one, so I am taking the word of many excited spectators for it!
It all felt quite natural—some music, some sean nós, some sets, some singing. Sunday morning, Ger Butler took over to conduct a set dancing workshop. Four and a half sets formed and went at it, which proved a successful attempt to bring set dancing to the sean nós world. Afterwards, lunch outdoors, and then for the final lap, John O'Halloran played the accordion while Emma danced like a spinning top—just the way I remember her on the TV show, but really letting go, heeding her own sound advice. Spectacular. I could watch her softly executed routine all day long.
Did it matter whether we danced sets or sean nós? We were in the 'zone,' and maybe it didn't matter so much in the end. The spirit remained the same. The goodwill of people, the fun and the obsession remained the same! The music brought it all out. We were easy with each other, and I can't remember when I felt that comfortable, inhabiting all that was on offer. I didn't just stay in Renvyle, I lived there, for 48 hours. Not enough, I want more!
Joe O'Hara, Kevin Monaghan and I have just returned from a fantastic weekend [8-9 May] of set dancing in Prague, organised by Václav Bernard and the Prague Set Dancers. Joe was the teacher for the weekend, having been teaching the group for seven years. He taught the Caragh Lake, Borlin, Ballinascarty Half-Set and Auban. Enough here to test any dancer! Kevin and I were invited by Joe to show steps and dance technique and to teach a set. We chose to teach the Claddagh Set, using the music of both Matt Cunningham and Sexton and Walsh.
The group of dancers is small but what they may lack in number they make up for in enthusiasm and dedication, with Václav and his family driving from Prague to Ireland in the summer to enjoy set dancing at the Willy Clancy Summer School! Other members of the group also travel to Ireland for this week, illustrating that while there may be barriers in some forms of communication, the language of dance is universal.
The magic of the weekend was summed up by a dancer (Karel) asking for clarification of the polka batter step in the class and then perfecting it in the airport carpark when he dropped us there for our flight home. I was too slow to get the camera on it at the airport, but the memory will remain of that special moment of achievement.
The group was extremely hospitable, acting as translators, chauffeurs and guides for the entire weekend, and inviting us into their villages and homes to share in the rich cultural heritage of the Czech Republic. There have been many expressions of interest from dancers here in the UK keen to attend a weekend with these hospitable dancers. I say, if you get the chance, take it—the sheer joy of dancing with this group will exhilarate and invigorate even the most tired dancer.
We arrived at the Clarkston Halls in Glasgow at 7.15pm for an eight o'clock start and found the car park very busy which augured well for the Glasgow Set Dancing Weekend, 30 April-2 May. Our class was turning out in force as it was a local event and, as such, a rarity. We had picked up Julia, a new dancer in the class, for her first outing in public and we all sat around greeting old faces and meeting new ones too.
Due to a slight hiccup with the timings there were two bands playing—a local band Johnny Rocks for an hour and then the mighty Copperplate for the rest of the evening. A good selection of dances was done by about ten sets including a High-Cauled Cap céilí dance and there was a fine spread at tea break time. Julia was driven home with a huge smile on her face and nonstop chat about how good it had been.
Saturday morning we arrived for the first workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. We were shown the Dunmanway, Boyne and Victoria Jig sets over the day and the attention shown to us was marked by almost faultless dancing during the workshops and the later céilithe. The huge spread of buffet for lunch should have slowed us down but no way did it.
Saturday night opened with anticipation of another great night. We heard more from Copperplate and had our first chance to show off our new dances. Twelve sets did the Dunmanway and Boyne sets as well as a Three Tunes céilí dance. Another good supper was had by all.
Sunday morning and we were running on adrenaline. Another workshop and another dance was shown, the Fermanagh Quadrilles. It was the first time many of us had seen it and we all remarked that it was a lovely dance that needed to be danced more. Our class is certainly going to do it.
After another massive buffet lunch (thanks to all the behind the scenes staff) we danced our final ceili to Copperplate. We managed the Fermanagh Quadrilles along with a good variety of other dances, then had the first disappointment of the weekend. We had to be out of the hall promptly and there was no time for a final Plain Set. We had to settle for a Connemara instead.
I have to thank the committee for their efforts, Pádraig and Róisín for their excellent workshops and Copperplate for three stirring sessions of belting music. I finally stopped smiling about lunchtime on Monday.
Ian McLaren, Glasgow, Scotland
Thurles Ceili and Set Dance Club (Cumann Céilí agus Set Rince Dúrlas) celebrated twenty years on the weekend of 8th-9th May. The club was founded in May 1990 to promote traditional dancing in Thurles and surrounding regions. The club actively encourages participation by organising classes, céilithe, sessions and workshops. Natives and visitors alike are invited to experience this very enjoyable aspect of our culture. The club puts on an exhibition of dancing for St Patrick's Day and any other festivals or events needing community and club interaction.
The club attends numerous events each year, and members and friends have travelled to places like Tralee for the Rose of Tralee festival, the Aran Islands, Drumshanbo for the Joe Mooney Summer School, Clare for the Willie Clancy Summer School, and Bollington in Cheshire, England, the twin town of Thurles. I am proud of her term as chairperson of this wonderful club, 1997-2001.
Dancing master Michael Loughnane is the founder of the club. His love of music, dance and the Irish language has been an inspiration to young and old. He has worked tirelessly to revive the Irish language in everyday life. Michael teaches ceili and set dancing on a weekly basis all over Tipperary, Kilkenny and Offaly, which includes classes on Thursday nights in Thurles for children and adults. He has given workshops all over Ireland and as far afield as Utah and Spain. He has been instrumental in reviving many well-known sets including the Tipperary Lancers, Durrow Threshing and Aherlow sets. He is continually searching for newly revived sets to teach. In November 1999, Thurles Credit Union awarded Thurles Person of the Year award to Michael for his involvement and dedication to cultural and community activities.
The weekend's twentieth anniversary celebration began on Saturday night with a superb ceili in the Band Hall. Micheál Sexton was joined on stage by Jim Corry, the keyboard player from Swallow's Tail Ceili Band. Dance master Michael kept us all foot-perfect. Our first set of the night was the lovely Caledonian. The Plain, Labasheeda, Antrim Square and Derrada got airings. We danced some wonderful waltzes and a fun dance called the Keel Row.
Tea and a delicious buffet were served in the newly constructed tea room extension. The hardworking committee who provided the finger licking food and served us with smiles and hugs are to be commended.
The absence of two founder members, Mary Loughman, who died in March 2003, and Joan Shelly, the club Treasurer who died in May 2007, gave some sad moments as we chatted about times past.
Club chairman Gerry Loughnane addressed the gathering. He said he was honoured to be chairman and thanked everyone for attending and celebrating this important anniversary, and also thanked his hard working committee. Thanking our dancing master, he said Michael is a treasure, proactive in reviving sets and teaching newly composed ones.
Sunday afternoon was dedicated to céilí dancing. Nenagh, Co Tipperary, accordion player Tom McCarthy provided the uplifting music. The Haymakers Jig, Sweets of May, Sixteen-Hand Reel, Bridge of Athlone, and High-Cauled Cap were among the dances. The afternoon concluded with a mighty Siege of Ennis.
Crowds gathered Sunday night for the final ceili of the weekend. The exuberant music of Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter kept us stepping it out. We danced ten more sets which included the West Kerry, Williamstown and Moycullen. We danced the Newport Set in memory of Joan Shelly and Mary Loughman, as it was Joan's favourite. We also danced Seit Dúrlas Eile which was composed by Michael Loughnane in 2005 to commemorate an earlier anniversary of the club. A large group of local and visiting dancers danced The Priest and His Boots, a lovely old traditional dance which was taught by Dan Fury from Labasheeda, Co Clare. The night and celebrations closed with a mighty Connemara Set.
The weekend from start to finish was magic; the music, dancing and selection of sets was a dancer's dream. This club is renowned for its friendship and hospitality and for supporting ceilis and workshops. God willing, we'll all be dancing for many years to come.
Joan Pollard Carew
We had a great Comhaltas convention in Parsippany, New Jersey, last weekend [8-11 April]. To those who say ceili dancing has no place anymore, the crowd of people who showed up for my workshop at 9.30am says otherwise. I'm attaching a photo in which I'm teaching the Bonfire Dance. Hope you like it. Many of these dancers are set dancers as well by the way.
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
The biggest crowdsHi Bill,
I would like to answer the letter from Michael Hurley of Swallow's Tail Ceili Band. My first point is this is not the economic climate to be talking about putting up prices.
I feel that the best bands, no matter what their size, will attract the biggest crowds to a ceili and therefore can charge the most as the organisers will make more money if more people come to the ceili. Sometimes a small band can attract a bigger crowd than a large one and in this case the small band should get the higher fee.
Another option would be for bands to take the gamble with the organisers of putting on a ceili and taking a cut of the door instead of the fixed fee.
Jenny Richardson, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
The unbreachable ceilingDear Bill,
I fully endorse Michael Hurley's sentiments about remuneration of ceili bands. I have had exactly the same debate with another band leader, at least two years ago, and he made the same sense, namely, the public doesn't understand the poor remuneration of ceili bands in general, and particularly the larger ones.
With musical standards at an all-time high and the proliferation of new bands, it is inevitable that problems arise. The organisers have the same admission charges for all bands, regardless of size or musical ability, of which most of us have only a sketchy knowledge.
In the good old days, when money had some value, the price of the pint crept up to ninety pence and hardened drinkers vowed to follow it to the pound and no farther. I'm afraid when the barrier was breached there was no appreciable increase in membership of the Pioneers. Similarly, €10 seems to be the unbreachable ceiling in most places for admission to ceilis.
Undoubtedly, Swallow's Tail are at the top of the musical tree, have to travel huge distances, and perspire almost as much as most dancers, yet perform for what I'd term a pittance. Unfortunately, there is no regulatory authority to decree that the larger, and thus, superior bands should be paid anything like their true worth.
I don't feel that specific door-charges for the top bands would work. Organisers mostly concerned with profits might be loathe to go down that road. Meanwhile, the only interim solution would seem to be that, as already happens with some of the bigger bands, they should break away into smaller groups whenever the occasion arises.
If any benefit accrues from Michael's letter he has opened an important debate which requires rational discussion and which I hope others will take up.
'Tis the least we, the dancing public, owe to all those fantastic musicians out there, in particular to the wonderful Swallow's Tail!
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
Lough Ree Ceili BandDear Bill,
I would like to inform your readers that due to the personal reasons of a number of band members, the Lough Ree Ceili Band has decided to discontinue.
Since we formed in 2007, we have played the length and breadth of the country, and indeed in more than a few countries throughout the world. We have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but the time has come for us to move on.
On behalf of the band, I would like to record publicly our appreciation to everyone who supported and encouraged us during this period. To the ceili organisers who booked us, we say thanks for your faith in us. To the dancers who danced to us, bought our CDs and gave us essential honest feedback, we salute you. You are all part of a tremendous culture, a magnificent social scene, and a body of people whose integrity, friendliness and camaraderie is unrivalled in any other social scene of which I am aware.
To the many ceili band musicians we have gotten to know over the past three years we say thanks for the enormous support and encouragement we received. The effort that bands put into a night's work is often poorly understood, as Michael Hurley wrote in the last issue of Set Dancing News. Yet without good music, the ceili scene would quickly die. Ceili band musicians are devoid of selfishness or competitiveness. They look out for and support one another at every opportunity.
To yourself, Chris and all the writers and photographers at Set Dancing News, without whose publicity and support the task of setting up and operating as a ceili band would be infinitely more difficult, we say keep up the excellent work. Your publication is of immense value in keeping the set dancing community informed and cohesive.
We each look forward to maintaining our myriad friendships and contacts, and we'll see you all again soon at a ceili somewhere! Meanwhile, rest assured that any bookings we have taken we will honour.
Brendan Doyle on behalf of myself, Johnnie Duffy, Liz Ryan, Colin Butler and Gerard Butler (manager)
Excellent teaching methodsDear Bill,
Congratulations on your excellent magazine Set Dancing News.
Having just returned from a very enjoyable Enjoy Travel holiday in Benalmádena, Spain, I would like to express our sincere thanks to one of your contributors, namely Joan Pollard Carew. Joan was our set dancing tutor and she took us through quite a number of sets which we enjoyed learning. The fact that we picked them up so quickly was mainly due to her excellent teaching methods. Her clarity of speech and instruction made it easy to follow and her use of the cúpla focal gave an added dimension to her skills as a set instructor.
Míle buíochas, Joan, and we sincerely hope we will be able to make a return trip next year and meet all our set dancing friends again.
Every good wish for the Set Dancing News.
Seán and Mary McDermott, Shanaway, Ennis, Co Clare
It truly was an experienceDear Bill,
You may remember I won the 2010 Ibiza holiday through your Set Dancing News competition last year.
Well, it truly was an experience-the sessions, classes, social dancing, set dancing, ceili dancing, ballroom dancing, ceili cruise and the glorious sunshine.
The holiday really has to be experienced to realise how terrific it is. We had a ball and truly loved every minute.
The ash from the Iceland volcano even obliged us as we went over and back at the scheduled times.
I wish to thank Gerry Flynn, through your magazine, for such a marvellous prize and you also for the opportunity of doing the competition.
Roll on 2011.
Chris Gleeson, Kilfinane, Co Limerick
Many years of friendshipDear Bill,
Please allow me through the medium of your magazine to convey the following message to your readers.
I am no longer involved with Enjoy Travel as a visual journalist or coordinator.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gerry and Susan Flynn for the many years of friendship. I wish Enjoy Travel continued success with their events.
I would also like to thank Jim Kirby and Dermot Hegarty for their courtesy, friendship and help over the years.
More importantly I want to say a huge thank-you to musicians, artists and office staff.
Lastly, to my extended family, the set dancers I have met and worked with for many years, thanks for your support, friendship and caring ways.
I look forward to meeting all my dancing friends all over the world, as I continue my journalism, organising my own ceilis, teaching and calling sets for many years to come.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
A tribute to all the set dancers
The Holy Trinity Set Dancers of Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, England, organised their second annual St Patrick's fundraiser in March. We meet every Tuesday in the church hall to dance and socialise. All the money we raise from our class fees are used to help local and national charities. In 2009 we held our first fundraiser which we donated to church funds, a local hospital unit and a project in the Holy Land. This year we are supporting the Catholic Blind Society. To date we have raised £625 for the society from our fundraiser. We had a great night dancing; musicians gave their time for free. We also held a tombola with all prizes donated by the members and friends and organised by two of the set dancers. Our raffle was a huge success and again all prizes were donated, and tickets sold by members. We enjoyed stand-up bingo and a delicious supper with a variety of mouth-watering food supplied by our members. All in all the night was a great success and a tribute to all the set dancers. We look forward to many more in the future!
Margaret Moore, Sutton Coldfield, England
Showed their supportHello Bill,
We would like to thank all the people who attended the ceili in Heston, West London, on 16th April and showed their support for Gerry Cooney who is recovering from a stroke. He and his family were delighted with the turn out.
During the ceili, a presentation of Waterford Crystal was made to Gerry in appreciation of all his hard work over the past twenty years in both promoting and supporting set dancing, particularly in West London. The ceilis gave much enjoyment and raised money for various charities. On the night, the sum of £600 was raised which will go to a charity of his choice.
Please remember him in your prayers for his continued recovery.
Moira Dempsey and the West London Set
Good to have themHello Bill,
Some of the Skibbereen set dancers met Dave Corrigan, Fred Horne, Mary Burke and Kate Graham, all set dancers from Prince Edward Island, Canada, on holiday in west Cork during April. Having met them on many occasions during our visits to the Island, where we have taught set dancing, and enjoyed their ceili nights along with their hospitality, it was good to have them come and join us in west Cork. Along with dancing a variety of sets, they were delighted to dance the Skibbereen Set in the town of Skibbereen!
Bert and Annie Moran, Schull, Co Cork
More than happyDear Bill,
Please let me thank you so much for your wonderful, very personal report on my Erlangen weekend! I am more than happy that you and everybody else enjoyed your time here in town and look forward having you back again soon.
A warm thank you and hugs to all my set dancing friends from all over Europe for their company and friendship—looking forward to meeting many of you on the dance floor throughout the year. How much better can it get! Special thanks to Pat Murphy and the Abbey Ceili Band for travelling in severe winter conditions and to my husband Christian for his driving services.
Last but not least, thanks to the Unicum team for their professional support, watering some of us until 5am in the bar.
I am already looking forward to more craic in Erlangen when 'the boys' (Pat and the Abbey) will be back in town 11-13 February 2011!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
Truly memorable weekendDear Bill,
Just a few words to tell you about Gearóid's gang's fifth annual set dancing weekend in Belgium which took place in Brussels on 18 to 21 February. All the way from Oranmore in Co Galway, Gearóid Mulrooney and Pádraig Ó Ruanaí, with their Belgian helpers Stefan and Pascale, once again organised a wonderful weekend of set dancing with vibrant uplifting music played by ceili dance band Patsy McDonagh (box), Tom Cussen (banjo) and Tom Giblin (guitar). In his own inimitable style, Gearóid taught and called the sets giving dancers ample opportunity to enhance their footwork.
Many thanks to Pádraig (a former Brussels set dancer) for initiating the trips to Belgium which began in Louvain in 2007 followed by weekends in Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and this year Brussels. The Oranmore and Brussels dancers were joined by our enthusiastic set dancing friends from Antwerp, Holland and Luxembourg. Many thanks to all for making this another (and hopefully there'll be plenty more) truly memorable weekend of dancing.
Mary Brennan, Brussels, Belgium
Increase our circleHi Bill,
This is an idea that I have been tossing around in my mind for a while, it's kind of "return the accommodation favour". The idea would be to offer accommodation to dancers for workshop weekends in your area, at no cost. Then when a dancer takes you up on this offer they must be able to return the courtesy visit, also free of charge, to a weekend of your choice in the visitor's area.
I would be interested in events abroad as well as Ireland, that way we could increase our circle of dancing friends. With the recession affecting just about everyone, I think there would be a demand for such a cost-cutting idea.
There are three such weekends here in Dungarvan each year, and one in Rathgormack, Co Waterford.
I don't know, Bill, if you would have space in your very full calendar of events for such a database.
Let me know what you think.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Christine Eichbaum on all her fine articles.
Celia Gaffney, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
I'd be willing to include such notices in Set Dancing News, though I'm dubious about their effectiveness given the magazine's bimonthly schedule. A more immediate approach to connect dancers offering and seeking accommodation might be to make use of Facebook (www.facebook.com).
Thanks to everyone
I would like to give my thanks to everyone who came to the Downhill House Hotel, Ballina, Co Mayo, for the set dancing weekend in March; to all the bands for the mighty music all weekend; to Ger Butler and Marie Garrity for the workshops; to the hotel management and staff; and to Chris Eichbaum from Set Dancing News. For being the first time, it was a wonderful success. As you know the proceeds from this weekend and the Diamond Coast Weekend go to Mayo Cancer Support and the amounts came to €13,476.
Again, I want to thank ye all. Looking forward to next year when our dates for the Ballina Set Dancing Festival are 4th to 6th March 2011.
Oliver Fleming, Cloontia, Bonniconlon, Co Mayo
From far and nearDear Bill,
On behalf of the Burrishoole GAA Club, I wish to thank people who came from far and near for making the recent workshop weekend in Mulranny, Co Mayo, 12-14 March, such a wonderful success.
The weekend got off to a very lively start with a session in the hotel lounge of Mulranny Park Hotel with the Burrishoole Bridge Band. This was followed by a ceili with Copperplate. On Saturday we were tutored by Pat Murphy and went through sets such as the Ballycastle, Boyne, etc. On Saturday night we had a ceili with Matt Cunningham and on Sunday afternoon we had the Brian Ború Ceili Band. On Sunday morning Pat Murphy put us through our paces and then there was sean nós dancing with Brenda O'Callaghan. That night there was music again in the lounge with the Amethyst Trio.
Our compliments and thanks must go to the management and staff of the Mulranny Park Hotel who catered for us excellently over the weekend. Situated overlooking spectacular views of Clew Bay, the hotel boasts an unrivalled picturesque setting. I would also like to say a massive thanks to Mick Kelly who put a huge amount of effort into organising this event. Finally, thanks go to Enjoy Travel for sponsoring the two tickets for the trip to Ibiza in 2010. The money that was raised for this raffle went to the Red Cross.
I look forward to meeting you all again soon.
Anne McManamon, Newport, Co Mayo
Because of all of youDear Bill,
On behalf of the Sets by the Sea weekend, I would like to thank all of you wonderful people who supported our weekend at the Bellbridge House Hotel, Spanish Point, Co Clare, and made it a wonderfully successful first ever weekend here. We are very humbled by the amount of you who wished us well and came to the weekend for the craic! It was a successful weekend because of all of you. A huge thank-you to the bands for great music, the people who sponsored raffle prizes, to the fabulous session musicians and singers who kept us all entertained before and after the céilithe (and during one of them also!), to the fabulous hotel management and staff who went above and beyond the call of duty to make us all happy, to our families and friends without whose constant love, support, encouragement and help we could not have managed, and last but definitely not least, the great Chris Eichbaum who not alone worked hard taking photos all weekend but also brought half of Tipperary with her!
We are looking forward to next year, 11-13 March 2011, same place, with the same people, and maybe some new ones!
Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís!
Tina Walsh, Mullagh, Co Clare
Love the opportunity
The ladies pictured in the April-May issue at the adult education centre in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, were thrilled when they saw the magazine. They all live in our local refugee centre and are waiting for their visas. Sadly most of them will be refused and will have to return to their countries.
They are not allowed to work and they can be isolated, so they really love the opportunity to get about and meet people and get involved locally. Three of the women in the set come with me to set dancing classes and to the local ceili. They enjoy the dancing and it also helps them to integrate into the community.
I really enjoy reading your magazine and look forward to catching up on the news around the world. I lived in Chicago for a number of years and last year I was in Milwaukee for the festival which was a real treat.
May you have many, many years with the Set Dancing News.
Marion Landers, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Waterford
Tom Flood Senior, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, died suddenly on January 16th 2010. Tom was father of Tom and Aidan of Glenside Ceili Band fame.
Tom himself loved music. He brought his sons at an early age to music classes in Castletown Geoghegan and to local sessions. He encouraged them every step of the way to keep playing their music and it sure paid off.
Tom and his wife Madeline loved listening to Irish music and dancing to country and western music. They won many waltzing and foxtrot competitions.
Tom was a friendly family man who loved farming with his life-long friend and wife, Madeline. Tom's funeral took place at St Brigid's Church, Ardragh, where there was lots of Irish music played at the mass and in the graveyard.
Deepest sympathy to his wife Madeline, sons Peter, Patrick, Tom and Aidan, sisters, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, relatives and friends.
May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Patsy Finn, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath
On January 5th 2010, Berni Clune slipped peacefully away to her eternal reward after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Bernie was a founder member of the local group that started ceilis in St Patricks Hall, Delvin, Co Westmeath. At the monthly ceilis ever smiling, happy Berni was first to arrive with trays of her freshly baked flans for the tea break. We all miss you, Berni, on the dance floor and in the tea room.
Our deepest sympathy to her husband Jack, daughter Mary, sons Gerard and Alan, sisters, brothers, relatives and friends.
Lord have mercy on her gentle soul, always remembered by your set dancing friends,
Patsy Finn, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath
Seán Ó Sé
Our workshop weekend in Portmagee, Co Kerry, 30 April-2 May, went well but there was something different about it this time. On Saturday before the start of the workshop we held a private Mass in the hall for the late Seán Ó' Sé. Seán was a great dancer and with his wife Eileen was a tireless supporter of the workshop. Always ready to lend a hand and give generous donations to raffles, etc.
All Seán's friends from far and wide were there to remember him and support Eileen and the children. Their nephews, James Murphy and Brendan Casey, played and sang some wonderful music.
Seán died in December last year. He was our neighbour and everybody's friend and he will be sadly missed from the dancing scene.
Ar dheis go raibh a anaim dilis,
Beryl and Julian Stracey, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry
This is a letter to remember my close friends Marie and Pat Toner from Belfast. Pat died on January 1, 2010, rest in peace.
Pat loved his set dancing. I first met them at the Willie Clancy Festival in 1997 and I was welcomed into their company. Every year after that I looked forward to meeting them. In April 2008 they went to the Ibiza Fleadh and we had a great week. We always met once a year and then it went to two or three times a year as they also went to Longford in November. Pat was a lovely man and I will miss him in Miltown this year but no doubt he will be there in spirit watching us all having fun.
Yours in dancing,
Grainne Walsh, Limerick
It was with great sadness that I received the email that brought the news of the passing of Tom Shannon, Doolin, Co Clare, on October 22nd 2009. Anyone familiar with Vaughan's Dance Barn in Kilfenora had to be a friend of Tom's. The Barn opened in 1991, and although he always denied it, I have to believe that Tom was the first one on the doorstep waiting to get in. Over the years Tom came to be the unofficial ambassador of Vaughan's, checking out the new faces and making sure that the regulars knew their names and where they were from. As much as Tom loved set dancing, he loved people more. He was always there offering a helping hand, a kind word, a big smile and "hello" to a stranger.
I asked Tom's friends at Kilfenora to share some of their thoughts about "the little man with the big heart." Tom's official spot on the dance floor was first tops in the top set directly in front of the Four Courts Ceili Band. There is now a memorial photograph of Tom displayed next to the band and the caption begins, "This is my place . . ." Tom would arrive early and stay near the door to ensure the best selection of dance partners. Everyone remembers that his absolutely favorite dance was the Caledonian. When the third figure came, with P J Danaher manning the position of second tops, you could tell that Tom was in heaven. He had a grin that could light the sky. If you stood out on the street you would swear it was the rolling of thunder that you were hearing from the batter of Tom and P J's feet.
When Tom became hospitalized in Ennis in the summer of 2009, his room was always flooded with visitors. As things took a turn, he was eventually moved to the Mater in Dublin. On our first visit, we entered the wrong Mater Hospital. The receptionist told us, "Thomas Shannon is in the hospital next to us. May I ask who he is? I receive quite a number of people coming in asking for him." When we arrived at the reception desk in the other Mater, the receptionist asked if Tom was famous since so many came to visit, even from America.
Tom Shannon was an ambassador-of the love of set-dancing and traditional music, the warmth and hospitality of the Irish people, and concern and caring for his fellow man. He is sorely missed by Josie, Jack and the rest of his family, along with his many friends. Rest in peace, Tom, and thank you for the memories.
Linda Collins, Baltimore, Maryland
It's so cool, it's the hottest. Savage, to say the least in X Factor generation language. Temperatures soared in late January enough to melt any lingering snows, and the place to go was the Step to the West Weekend at the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, in Clare—the package came complete with Miltown buzz included.
Shrewdly targeting the young crowd as well as the young at heart, top bands were booked in a place that easily slots into the upper end of the hotel market, not least because of its location. It overlooks the falls on the River Cullenagh, you see. The closer you get, the more the gushing waters roar at you, a bit like when dancing close to young ones battering it out!
On the grounds there is a bird house for doves, and about six donkeys. Quackers, a lovely young girl with one of the most radiant smiles, had noticed them, and over breakfast announced her intention to go out to feed them the leftover cold meats from her plate. I have to have faith here that most of you know that donkeys are herbivores-or else I might have to take to the streets to demonstrate for an enhanced education system.
"Quackers, donkeys don't eat meat."
"Oh, don't they? Are you sure? I'll try it anyway."
Later, she told me that the donkey had indeed not touched the cold meats, but devoured the serviette instead. No, this does not mean you can use them to dispose of your newspapers, lads!
MC and resident teacher for the duration of the weekend was Ger Butler, another shrewd move, because Ger appeals to all and fits into any situation, which is one of his strengths. Orchestrating the crowds and bands with confident grace, he doesn't have to ask for approval, people readily give it, no matter who they are or what stage in their lives they're at. After all, he is a lad from the country, and although a celeb in some regard, unassumingly retains the good nature of the guy next door without airs and graces.
This was also a theme of the weekend itself, a welcoming readiness in which all people present cosily take their places, because there is room for everybody. Releasing inner and outer children (the youngest dancer being 4 years old) is what Sean Longe's organisation excelled at. And then, if one is over sixty and heifer-jumping it around the floor, this represents a sight for sore eyes. Too many tabloid images present the most rigid and narrowest goalposts for acceptance in society. To hell with it! Men, women, teenager, tweenager, kids, young, middle or old aged, whatever shape-on the dance floor it doesn't matter! What matters are the smiles that pass between people, the warming hugs and handshakes, the way we accept each other. Let's keep it. Let's continue to look upon each other and ourselves more and more kindly. A lot of folks might not be aware of it, but I believe the reason dancing has become so precious to so many is exactly that it allows for a spaciousness that you will find hard to suss anywhere else.
Gretta Enright put it this way. "Every day," she says, "I thank God for set dancing." She and her husband Pat go everywhere. They used to dance all the time, then Pat had an accident with his leg and they were out for ages. Gretta took it up again, and Pat, who was hesitant at first having lost some confidence, followed suit and they haven't stopped since.
Sean Longe is the main protagonist here as organiser of the weekend, and credit has to go to him for wisdom beyond his age (not yet 30, here, here), but he said that the idea for it came from his late mother. His parents used to bring him out to ceilis when he was in secondary school, and he began to love it. His mother sadly died in 2004, and Sean went on, with the help of Tom, his dad, to realise the dream of a set dancing feast in Ennistymon four years ago. I was there and remember that the buzz was there also from the word go. You're doing lots of things right, Sean!
But when it comes to saying a few words, Sean finds it difficult, but can't wriggle out of it. This is when he looks young and almost vulnerable, but definitely growing, because not only is Sean good for this bomb of the weekend, it also challenges him to stretch and start to feel more comfortable in the skin of a presenter. There is already a noticeable change over the few years. I am sure a lot of us can relate to that kind of shyness, and in a way, it makes him one of the crowd and a good example. So much can be achieved, so many dreams realised. Well done, and thank you, Sean, for the inspiration you have unwittingly provided, especially for the younger folks.
Friday night, the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band fortified their reputation once more and kick-started the way for a high that folks stayed on all through the days and nights. I remember years ago driving a Yamaha XT 500 motorcycle—with a kick-starter. A most stubborn machine, wearing out my poor right leg, and usually I was soaked in sweat before I was able to drive the bucking bronco. With the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, the start is always the same—they just go, no matter what, and deliver precisely what you'd expect. Mind you, the soaked-in-sweat bit is still familiar! Nowadays though, it's merely an indication of the brilliance of what's happening-call it savage, anyone?
More dancing then in the bar after the ceili, with music provided by local musician brothers Colm and Hugh Healy, Brian McLoughlin and Brian Mooney. 'Twas past three in the morning when I headed off to bed, and I think I was one of the first to go. At the breakfast buffet, when asked how they were this morning people answered, "Hanging in there," or "Ridiculously tired," and "Barely present." But you know what, they were all joking, and we laughed together about what they said conspiratorially. This is the kind of comment you'd want to hear, Sean!
On a little Saturday morning stroll to the waterfall, taking a quick look at the donkey on the way for signs of very bad indigestion, I was well impressed. As you look back from the falls, the hotel towers above the river, flowing at its feet as if in reverence, and the white doves adding a peaceful note, saying that all you can find here is positive. True too.
The workshop yielded a good old crop with the Derradda Set, and the carvery lunch for starved dancers was yummy, all the meals were, actually. The hotel did a great job. The ballroom was ice-cold, which meant that you wouldn't sweat too much, and I heard loads of compliments about it. Though Ann Mangan's class (she had shipped down sixty from Killarney) felt the pinch when lined up in it for a group photograph—hence some are wearing their jackets. Water was freely available, as were tea and coffee and homemade scones at the breaks, which is unusual for a hotel. More often than not, one has to pay if one wants tea. All operations dancewise went smoothly, the know-how accumulated in the past four years clearly showing . They also gave out the daily papers at reception for free; they're still in the bag. A homely open reception-lounge area invites you to spend some time lounging on the settees. My room itself was huge, with a river vista, big enough to dance a set in the middle of the floor. The restaurant perches above the waters looking out to the falls and the town yonder, and crowning it on a hilltop, the old cemetery and ruined church.
Whiling time away in the bar after lunch gave way to the afternoon ceili with the one and only Abbey Ceili Band. A new face was in it this time round, sub Ralph Morgan on banjo. Off they went and off the crowd went with them, off their rockers! It's like letting yourself fall into their rolling lap of music, giving over to it and into it, being stroked by the flowing tide that is their trademark. Full marks to the second ceili, too, no doubt at all.
On the voyage went. A session in the bar, this time plugged in, with people dancing who just couldn't get enough stepping it out. Watching them with my friend, a guy called Tim Clarke joined us. He lived in the US for a good while. My friend asked him if he had ever been to Argentina. He looked blankly, and I wondered aloud whether he looked like someone who has been there? "Yeah," he said, "I get asked that question all the time." And we collapsed around the floor laughing. Then, more mileage was got out of it by painting pictures of him driving down from Utah without brakes, until he arrived in Argentina, but being unable to stop, looked down later to find himself exclaiming, "Oh, look, it's Antarctica!" Being in such a great wisecracking mode, Tim topped it when this fella John came over and said he bought an ambulance and wanted to convert it into a camper van. Tim said, "That's interesting. See, I have a camper van, and I want to convert it into an ambulance." Gee, 'twas up a notch from the meat-eating donkeys.
Must be the whole ambience that caused us to be so giggly and on high-energy nonstop. Lots of laughing during dancing, too. Loads of people letting their hair down, particularly at night when Swallow's Tail released their tunes. They are a band that I have known for years, but only more recently come to fully appreciate. In their music, now I feel I am able to hear just how much they all love it, how much they love to play it. I used to think that they weren't great interacting with people, but now I know that this is their style as a band. They are their own brand of musicians, true-blooded, and hence melt into it. Brona Graham joined them on banjo and she's my favourite, which means that I probably grinned ludicrously with satisfaction. With this band, all you have to do is allow the musical storm to wash over you, hop onto the Swallow's Tail and let it carry you away with it—fear not, you won't be dropped! One of their best nights. Full marks to ceili number three.
There were so many young people at it, everyone it seemed that I have ever seen anywhere, plus hordes of them that I hadn't, partly thanks to John Fennel, who trains kids in set dancing and step dancing locally, having toured with a show called Hell for Leather. John is mad, of course. And the set dancing scene owes him big-time. He actually brought over sixty kids and young people to that ceili, he told me. The battering was such that it must have been audible miles away, probably awakening the dead on the hill, and I hope they had a ball listening and starting to dance, bones clanking!
And again a session, and again it was past 3am before I tore myself away and dragged the aching and—alas!—ageing body off to bed, just to emerge a few hours later to be ready after a scrumptious breakfast for the morning workshop. When I came in, there was a woman knitting, in her dance shoes. Not exactly what you'd expect to see, but hey, set dancing has drawn in the weird and wonderful, hasn't it? I ended up dancing with her. Claire was her name, from Canada, and she's taking master classes in sean nós dancing here. In the process she discovered set dancing last "fall". Also in my set were the organisers of the Prague summer school. They loved it in Ennistymon, and weren't they lucky, because Ger was teaching the gorgeous Clare Orange and Green. One of the most fun sets to dance, as far as I'm concerned.
And to finish us all off, the Five Counties played for the last ceili on Sunday afternoon. During it, Emma O'Sullivan, decorated sean nós dancer from Connemara, performed. If there was one word to describe her dancing, what would it be? The word that came immediately to mind was soft. There is no hardness in her dance, no noisy clattering, no huge drama. Her soft style is absolutely captivating. Everything about her and her dancing spells "I love this to bits." She smiles all the way through, her whole body engaged engagingly, in a round, soft, rolling way. Fab. And amazingly, she only learned to dance sean nós four years ago, but has taken audiences by storm. No wonder, because her style is uniquely gentle yet technically of a high standard. And then, make way for Aidan Connolly, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, and yes, he got 21 ladies lining up for hugs and kisses, and you should have seen his face—ever so chuffed and revelling in it!
This weekend couldn't wait to be written about, it literally jumped onto the computer screen, urgently pushing me to get to work on it the morning after coming home, me still in a half stupor but unable to resist, trying to keep up with it, speed typing, while it asserted itself, opening all the sizzling, crackling, thrilling moments once again, proving that Sean Longe's weekend has truly flown the coop for the bright lights of set dancing Vegas.
So, this weekend's rating? Going up and up.
Christmas came and went and at last, the long wait was over! January saw the running of the eighth annual Termonfeckin Set Dancing Weekend. Like any good wine, this weekend just gets better with age! An Grianán, hidden in the Co Louth countryside, hosted yet another memorable weekend. A more ideal location couldn't be imagined. Dancers arriving Friday afternoon were treated to the famous Grianán tea. They were warmly welcomed, helped to settle in and gathered afterwards in the main hall for the official opening. An Grianán boasts a most beautiful dance floor, a thing which is increasingly difficult to find at set dancing weekends. As the years go by the body grows less sympathetic to hard floors so this floor was a real treat!
Michael McGlynn officially opened the weekend. We were entertained by an array of local musicians and dancers, each displaying the richness of talent, which is abundant in this part of Co Louth. Singers, dancers and musicians of all ages gave a real Termonfeckin welcome to visitors from as far away as Great Britain, Germany and Italy.
Feet hit the dance floor for the first ceili to the sound of the local band, Triskell. A wonderful selection of tunes kept the feet tapping and pulses racing into the night. A period of extra-time was even played at this ceili, when latecomers from Italy joined us for a great selection of reels.
After breakfast on Saturday, time for work had arrived! The main hall saw fifteen sets take to the floor and under the careful eyes of Pádraig and Róisín McEneany the Boyne, Armagh, Dunmanway and Limerick Orange and Green sets were taught.
Kathleen and Michael McGlynn taught sean nós steps. Kathleen with her clear instructions and easy style could make anyone dance! Her class displayed their day's work during the ceili that night.
Old-style dancing was also on offer. Michael Tubridy, with his 'band of merry men and women', danced the morning away in the parlour. They revised old step dances in the morning and the Priest and His Boots was also taught.
In the afternoon dancing shoes were replaced by walking boots and runners, as some dancers, led by Ann Devery, took to the countryside. Housing around was left behind as the sea breezes and country air revived the aching bodies.
Members of Triskell Ceili Band held tin whistle and flute workshops where young and not so young played together. Saturday afternoon also saw the inclusion, for the first time, of a singing workshop. Local man Páid O'Hare, with the help of a large group of singers, strummed his way through the afternoon. Red is the Rose and other popular ballads were to be heard along the corridors of An Grianán.
Saturday night saw the arrival of the Cork band, the Abbey. Lively music kept the large crowd entertained well into the night. A session also took place in the parlour, where local musicians and workshop goers performed some newly learned tunes and songs. Feet danced, tunes were played and songs were sung well into the early hours of Sunday morning.
Sunday in Termonfeckin was not, as the Lord intended, a day of rest. Beauty sleep was sacrificed for a sean nós and two-hand workshop. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn, with the help of Donegal man Connie McKelvey, taught some lovely barn dances and waltzes. Before dinner, we were once again gathered into the main hall. Fear 'n tí, John McEvoy hosted a social gathering of weekend dancers and local people. The local branch of Macra (an organisation for young farmers) entertained us. New friends and old friends sang, played, recited and danced, moving us to laughter and tears.
The Abbey Ceili Band did not disappoint in the afternoon. They played great, lively music. We could have stayed for the night, but unfortunately, Monday morning was drawing near.
When not singing, dancing or playing, eating was generally in order in Termonfeckin! Though feet and bodies might have ached, this in no way curbed our appetites. Hot meals, homemade brown bread and cakes meant that we all went home a little heavier! Unfortunately for us dancers, we have a full year to wait for the next instalment.
Every effort is made in Termonfeckin to ensure that the dancers are catered for and enjoy the weekend. The organising committee of John and Sheila McEvoy and Jim and Margaret Finegan are to be commended on once again putting together such a wonderful programme.
Mairéad Devane, Skerries, Co Dublin
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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