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).
Going to Germany inevitably provides a time for reflection. These are our roots we're visiting, husband and I. After almost twenty years in Ireland, and driving on the left twice as long as on the right at this stage, (Whoa, a roundabout! Why are all these cars coming against us?) the trip has attached qualities of search and discovery to the experience of set dancing, in this case, the Augsburg set dancing group's third annual workshop weekend in an educational retreat centre in Violau, Bavaria, June 18-20.
It's the roots of our relationship that lie here, too. And we have now optimised the art of negotiating our way through set dancing events, thank God, which normally means that he gets beer, sleep and sightseeing, and I get dancing, and dancing, and dancing.
It's actually not that non-dancing Rainer can't dance. He has no interest. He can dance mathematically though. But the minute you turn on some music, he considers it a nuisance, a superfluous distraction from the road plan he has worked out in his unilateral logician's brain. (I also wonder how many people out there are in a similar situation, and how they cope. Write in, we'd love to be further educated!)
Usually I get what I want, because I know how to wear this intrinsically gentle creature of a husband down, how to chip away quietly, or nag in a way that he has nowhere to go but down the road of giving in. (Sounds familiar?)
But there are some instances, where he calls a halt to my gallop, and amazingly, I have come to respect that. And one such thing is his non-dancing. I get very protective of it, so much so that I pre-empt any eager well-meaning invitations from folks trying to be inclusive, with the quick answer, "No," to the question of whether Rainer dances. And yet, he has become part of the landscape, has met a lot of people in the process, and also like-minded ones, other patient or less patient non-dancing partners, that you can see hanging around with either tortured or impassive or amused expressions. Hail! long-suffering non-dancing partners, you're fan-tas-tic to be so supportive, and take it from an obsessive-compulsive, it's better to go with it than against it! There is loads to be said about journeying to Germany besides the dancing, but here's how the workshop weekend fared-
First things first after arrival: get an essential enormous paper bag full of sweet cherries.
A constant bombardment of cakes and coffee by the organisers, Diana Salb and Sabine Surholt with their helpers in tow, served throughout the ceilis and workshops, and as a consequence didn't find a hungry-looking dancer as far and wide as the eyes can wander. This really should be renamed the 'Augsburg Dance and Foodie Weekend.' Sample bio this and try out organic that, dance a bit of jive here and some set dance there, and talk about these steps, this and that figure. Feel cosily put up and well looked after in a country education and retreat centre. Step it out on the floor of the ballroom with a roof of staggered wooden-pitched enormity, which makes me wonder on Friday night how the sound will pan out. True enough, it tumbles and flips in the diagonal corner, creating a rich hollowness which makes it difficult to hear clearly. Out come two more amplifiers on Saturday that do the trick.
Too much white sausage, wheat beer, cheese pasta, hot liver pate, Kaiserschmarrn (an Austrian dessert) and sublime Torten (tarts) coursed through the insides leaving a sluggish feeling, and the dancing works hard to get the juices flowing. Supported by wonderfully creative, innovative and individualistic music though it did a first class job at that. And here were the two musicians who worked tirelessly, sweat trickling down their faces as they hammered and chiselled out their tunes.
Alan Finn plays the box with the Five Counties Ceili Band, and would be a familiar face to many set dancers. He is a full-time musician at only 24 years of age, a collector of model trains (!) and of various musical instruments that are never too far away from the urge to pick one up and play something that's going around in his head, and a performer who played for President Barack Obama. Yep, that's right. He was there, shook hands and talked to the American head of state-how cool is that? He also likes his greens, and has one of the sweetest smiles ever to be seen-girls, form an orderly queue.
Patricia Clark is also a full-time musician, and studied music with Alan in Limerick University. She teaches piano and fiddle, and is an astoundingly accomplished player. Her other passion is horses. Horses and music, both galloping, no doubt with her at the reins! She is from Northern Ireland, and as we start talking about the situation there, I find myself facing a Protestant with vision, who shares my own hope and that of many people for a peaceful future. In a way, she is a bridge by being who she is and what she does. Now, she lives in Ennis, and trad music is an enormously big feature in her life.
She attacked the piano with hot vigour, forcing music to penetrate every molecule in the air, simultaneously watching and working with Alan, who trebled like an Iceland pony with his two feet up high and down low to stamp out the beat. Then, the two looked at each other, and nodded, or not, and a key change, a tune change, a change in volume followed suit. Trad music bluebloods, when overhearing their heated conversations about tunes, soon leaving behind gawking lesser folk, it was like listening to a debate of scholars of any discipline who live, breath and eat the subject of their studies.
This time, Diana and Sabine, the two ladies who organised the weekend, opted for four ceilis instead of three, and all dancing held indoors instead of outside. This meant that everything was available under one roof.
And so here we were, for the third year in a row in this gorgeous part of the country, listening to the strange accent, trying to make sense of the beauty of the mountains and the welcoming, open ways of the Bavarians. Not unlike the Irish, really. Also quite laid back, easy going, warm and smiling. More and more, I have come to like Bavaria. It wasn't always like that. To the Prussians, Bavaria is a joke, much like Kerry is to the rest of Ireland! Anecdotally slow, (Prussian legend has it that when Hannibal crossed the Alps, he left behind the footsore and, um, thicker soldiers of his army, who settled in what then became Bavaria-no offense intended!) drinking litres of beer for breakfast, gazing at their own naval. But whatever the joking about southern Germans being slow or laid-back, their learning capacity is quick enough and they are also well able to take the mickey out of themselves.
From Ireland, Ger Butler was here too, jack-of-all-trades for the whole weekend, MC, sound tech, teacher, performer, supporter of the musicians. The workshops consisted of a variety of sets, sean nós, jiving and two-hands, the whole lot, and so he is the personification of 'buy one, get two free.'
The jiving on Friday night opening the dancing went down a treat, so much so, that one lady inquired where she could continue these classes with Ger. In Ireland? Aha. Where in Ireland? Not sure whether she means to be jetting over especially for it, or tying it in with a visit to emerald shores.
Saturday morning, we headed into town, Augsburg that is, with Alan and Patricia for some really refined coffee and cake experiences. Having developed a nose and taste for them, we picked up the scent instantly and tracked the best one to a coffee house straight out of Vienna. A mile-long gateaux-gallery to behold, out of reach behind pristine glass containers preventing an orgy, sent us reeling. Which one to choose? One of each, perhaps? It's the kind of sophisticated place where you'd expect to see Sigmund Freud philosophising the day away covered in a haze of Cuban cigar smoke.
The shops were loaded with vuvuzelas, and we nearly bought one for the craic, but then decided we couldn't do it to Alan and Patricia, who have already been tormented by us losing so much time over a lost parking ticket and then going astray on the autobahn. We made it back on time though, and the ceili started spot on with the improved sound quality.
And then there was the show bit in the middle of one of the ceilis-a policeman in a kilt. Well, you wouldn't know that he was a policeman, only that Diana, who is a policewoman, said that he is a colleague. So here we have a German policeman, in a kilt, and a Dudelsack, the unflattering German name given to the bagpipes. I looked at this beast of an instrument, and the way he had to puff and huff to get it going, and his nearly bursting cheeks-definitely a non-smoker. This thing, this Dudelsack, is a notch up in strangeness from the uilleann pipes, which are almost top of the pops when it comes to odd instruments. Everyone was then asked to gather round in a circle, and he proceeded to tell stories and sing songs and play airs, almost ghostly ones, and the lights were dimmed. I felt like I was eight years of age and on a school tour. Then, we all got up and were invited to do a medieval two-hand dance, where the lady strides forth in front of the gent, both holding hands, and then you look this way and that back at your gent, "as if in love," as Diana put it, who showed us the movements. That was sheer class, funny and different, and the pipe music solemnly walked with us.
I'm pleased to announce that the ceilis this time round generated the biggest crowds so far! And going there was good value, too. The accommodation and food were a very reasonable at €70 a head for two nights plus all meals for a double room.
At the first three ceilis all the usual sets were danced, but by request, the fourth and final one rained a multitude of more unusual ones down on the dancers, who were well able for it, because there are literally no beginners, and even a couple of women so super-confident that they danced in their bare feet! (Cringe, cringe.) Apart from Germans, there were some Swiss, Italians and Irish lads as well, all with their shoes on.
Overall, the set dancing brotherhood and sisterhood in Germany is getting bigger and more professional. Organisers are stepping up to the plate, presenting weekends that can hold a candle right up to the musical and dancing prowess of Irish ones. This one is certainly among the most upwardly mobile.
With attention to detail, Sabine Surholt and Diana Salb managed what is fast becoming an attractive mingling of Irish and German traditions. And just like set dancing is evolving in Ireland, so it will abroad. Let's observe the new strains, however small, added ingredients, whatever the quantities, shaping steps and approaches, and turns that might be executed with just a hint of a German tint.
Roots are bigger than the crown of a tree, and stay long after everything else above ground has vanished. As for the husband and I, we are now in the new-root-forming business, all set to let them dig deeper anon. Two legs we have, an Irish and a German one, and they walk in step together.
When the month of June rolls around, I hear this question all the time-"Are you ready for Miltown?" They might as well be asking me, "Are you ready for the force five hurricane, named Willie, expected to hit Clare next week?" To prepare for the major disruption, I made sure to clear my desk of any unfinished work, recharge all my batteries (literally and metaphorically), stock up on tea and other essentials, bring in a full bucket of water from the spring well and give the kittens a large supply of clean litter. I'd be leaving the real world behind me for ten days and wanted to find all well on my slow, sore and exhausted return. On Saturday, July 3rd, I drove the short 24km down to Miltown, savouring my final bit of normalcy, anticipating the friends I'd be meeting and dreaming of the frantic sets I'd be dancing.
For those not yet baptised into the religion of set dancing and still wondering what I am writing about, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, is home to two simultaneous, ten-day-long festivals of set dancing and traditional music on the first week of July every year. The Willie Clancy Summer School has been one of the top events of the traditional music calendar for nearly forty years, offering many dozens of classes in traditional instruments over six days, plus ten different classes in dance and thirteen ceilis. Over the same period the Armada Hotel in nearby Spanish Point schedules eighteen hugely popular ceilis. With morning classes and ceilis every afternoon and night, it's an orgy of dancing for up to ten hours a day and I didn't intend to miss any of it!
I'm sure the entire town had been spruced up, but all I noticed as I drove through Miltown were the newly painted bright yellow double lines beside the curbs on all the streets. They successfully encouraged drivers to park elsewhere for the first half of the week but took no notice once when cars multiplied during the second half. Ireland had seen some glorious weather in June but by the start of July it had reverted to the usual dull and moist conditions which we have come to expect during this week. The infrequent appearances of the sun made us worship it all the more.
On that breezy Saturday afternoon I arrived at the Armada Hotel for my first ceili. The Armada is a large hotel on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean; the ballroom benefits from the best views of any venue in Ireland. Waiting for Brian Ború Ceili Band to begin the dancing, the gentle buzz from the early arrivals had not yet risen to the expected fevered pitch and already there was talk of numbers being down this year. I suggested we hold off judgement until after the first set. And so the dancing began, or in my case the doubling, warming up in the Corofin, going wild in the Ballyvourney and even adding forbidden spins to the Claddagh Set. One lady, fully booked today, asked me for a set on Sunday, and a double-loving partner even placed a standing order for two sets at every ceili for the week! The band was in top form and was cheered on by dancers all afternoon.
My Saturday night dilemma was which of the three ceilis to attend-at the Armada or the summer school ceilis in the Quilty Tavern and Mill Marquee. Quilty won the toss, so I went out to the seaweed-scented village to hear Taylor's Cross Ceili Band. This is a west Limerick band headed by box player Donie Nolan, joined tonight by two of the Four Courts Ceili Band, Joe Rynne and Seamus Hynes on fiddle and flute, Anita Bennis on second fiddle and Mick Willis on piano. Mick was running late so Anita played the keyboard for the first set or two. When we needed someone to complete a set, she jumped down from the stage to partner a lady. It was handy having two fiddles because Joe did the same thing later. It was my smallest ceili of the week, just six sets, but there was no lack of atmosphere and we perfectly fitted on the beautiful floor in the lounge. I've danced here with twice as many on the floor so was grateful for the comfort. The music was beautiful, almost orchestral. We were lucky to witness two solo performances, a song by Sean Garvey from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, who has a hauntingly deep, mellow voice, and a step dance by teacher Patrick O'Dea.
At the Armada's Sunday afternoon ceili, July 4th, any comments about numbers being down this year were laid to rest. Dancers eagerly queued out the door and around the corner half an hour in advance. The ballroom was in full buzz as soon as I entered; all seats were taken. As it became more crowded, sets began forming minutes before the scheduled start time. The dance floor was already packed even as the band took their seats. What was the cause of all this excitement? The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, as if I needed to explain. There was never a dull moment throughout the ceili; every set was as joyous and exciting as the last. The music was completely compelling, taking control of my movement and keeping me going through eight sets. Comfort was forsaken as the dance floor filled beyond it's capacity, with people dancing on carpet just to keep moving to Johnny's music. Despite using every ounce of our energy, or perhaps because of it, we all ended the ceili deeply satisfied.
The Mill Marquee was the summer school's main ceili venue, a structure erected especially for the week with solid walls, a canvas top and a parquet panel dance floor. It stood in the car park of the GAA playing field on the edge of Miltown Malbay and was where I ended up on Sunday night for more dancing to Taylor's Cross, though it was nearly a different band tonight. Donie Nolan and Mick Willis played with Connie O'Connell on fiddle and Eibhlín De Paor on flute for more rousing music. Visitors from overseas are one of the delights of the summer school, and in searching for a partner for the first Plain Set, I brought up the last available lady, just arrived from Belgium who never danced sets before, and we managed very well together. I next joined a set for the Cashel and raised my hand for a partner-I was rewarded with a French lady who spoke only with her smile. She danced beautifully and we were soon doubling around the house together as though we'd been doing it for years, much to the delight of her compatriots watching our every move.
Following four ceilis over the weekend I was not in the best of condition to arise bright and early on Monday morning, July 5th, for the first class of the summer school. When I finally dragged myself into Timmy McCarthy's class they were already finishing up the Ballyvourney Reel Set. I danced two figures of that and then the Ballyvourney Jig and Sliabh Luachra sets. Timmy's class is small, three or four sets, but there are a few loyal regulars who come every year, some of whom I see nowhere else, so it's a treat to dance with them. Timmy has a strong following in France, and he played a French bourrée for one lad to dance for us. And when the fellow couldn't follow some instructions, Timmy helpfully demonstrated and counted the step for him in French, "Un, deux, un, deux . . ." When I attempted a few doubles in the Sliabh Luachra, a lady from Switzerland asked me about it afterward, and I gave her a little demonstration. "Oh," she said, "We have that in our dancing. We call it 'chopping manure'." I thanked her for the fascinating information, though it wasn't terribly easy to keep a straight face. I chuckled my way through any doubles for the rest of the day.
Most of us at the Monday afternoon ceili were hearing the Merriman Ceili Band for the first time. I'd heard them a couple of years earlier, but my memory had faded enough that they were very new and fresh to me today. They played some of the sweetest music I've heard at a ceili, and from the warm spontaneous cheers and applause they received, I'd say all the dancers agreed. "Very tuneful," said one gent in the loo at the break. An abundance of children were a notable feature of most of the ceilis this year, as young as 7 or 8 and as mad keen to dance as everyone else. Mostly they danced with each other but they became quite friendly with grown-ups too and we all took great delight in sharing the floor with them. My two-sets-per-ceili doubling partner made a nice comment on my dancing, calling me "a gentle dancer," but I was somewhat dismayed that my maximum efforts in spinning her around the set didn't get a higher rating.
Two established favourites of the festival played for tonight's ceili in the Armada, dynamic duo Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, equally adept at reels and polkas and every type of music. Micheál even played a clever waltz which subtly turned into Shoe the Donkey, which I was delighted to do, not having danced it for what seems like years! The ballroom was packed, the dancing nonstop, hot and heavy, at least once Pat had coaxed out the last dancer to partner the last person with a raised hand. Even during the break Micheál kept the music going by playing recordings of country music and there were plenty who took advantage of it. There were loads of young guys battering their hearts out at the back of the room, especially in the last set of the night, the Lancers. It might look like they were showing off, but as Timmy pointed out in class, this is just exuberance, and there was plenty of it here. After the final figure everyone turned to the stage expecting the national anthem, but the reels continued. It took a few moments for everyone to register that there was still some dancing left in them and they resumed a set of their choice. The two sets of batterers in the back combined into one big set to dance a sixteen-hand version of the last figure of the Plain Set.
My morning class with Timmy was in the secondary school in Spanish Point, so each morning I got a handy parking spot at the Armada and walked over, and then came back for lunch and the afternoon ceili. On Tuesday, July 6th, the Four Courts Ceili Band, our local favourites, were playing their distinctive old-style Clare music. With eight musicians on stage (three flutes, two concertinas, fiddle, box and piano) they were approaching the size of the Kilfenora and Tulla bands. This year on admission, everyone in the ballroom was issued a wristband which was put on by a staff member after paying. It was the Armada's new method of controlling access, allowing us to go in and out through any of the doors, all guarded by members of staff. But I noticed that one of my partners didn't have a wristband. When I asked about it, she said she refused to be tagged like cattle! Other folks proudly wore an accumulation of wristbands to prove how many ceilis they'd endured.
If it's Tuesday night at the Willie Clancy Summer School, it's time for the Tulla Ceili Band! Each of the band's two ceilis are always enormously popular and this year was no exception with a capacity crowd filling the Mill Marquee. There was a lovely bounce in the floor matching the tremendous lift in the music. The atmosphere was sweltering with condensation raining down on us from the rafters, so I danced near an open door to get the best of the strong breeze coming through. That's where I had what was probably my set of the week, an exceptionally high-spirited Kilfenora Set with the liveliest of partners. Martin Hayes was one of the ten musicians on stage, and kindly played a long rake of solo reels with everyone standing around the stage in rapt attention. When he concluded there were shouts of "More!" and "Encore!" but mostly from fellow band members watching at the back of the marquee who preferred to leave the playing to Martin. After the encore they tried again but they had to return and play the final Caledonian Set for us.
The windows of the Armada's ballroom revealed the surging sea and deserted beach during the afternoon ceili on Wednesday, July 7th. The huge rolling waves were as much of a distraction while dancing as windsurfers were on previous days. For their first time here the Annaly Ceili Band played a beautiful ceili to a supportive, appreciative crowd. I was never as grateful for a Ballyvourney Jig Set as I was today-my partner for it and I had previously danced four Plain Sets together at four different ceilis and were overjoyed to finally get something different!
Memorable ceilis with the Kilfenora Ceili Band are pretty much guaranteed, and their Wednesday night appearance in the Mill was one of their best ever! They proved to be so popular that the staff had to close the doors once there were 600 people in the marquee. People queued outside, waiting for someone to leave so they could come in. The band demonstrated their mastery with each set, not only the usual Clare sets, but the Ballyvourney Jig at its proper pace. When they called the Moycullen Set, I expected many would sit it out and those that were dancing would have trouble getting through, but I was delighted to be proved wrong. The floor was full and it went smoothly even without calling as the sets helped each other. Bandleader John Lynch invited any musicians in the hall to join them; I counted twelve on stage, including several new young players.
Class on Thursday morning, July 8th, was devoted to sampling the different styles of dancing in Timmy's collection of Cork and Kerry sets, and to a rehearsal for those of us dancing a couple of figures in the dance recital tonight. Timmy chose an old version of a figure from the Sliabh Luachra where the gents reverse the ladies all the way 'round the set, plus a figure from the Ballingeary Set.
After nearly a week of dancing I shouldn't have been surprised that I had come down with ceili fatigue syndrome. My legs and joints were directly affected by my dance madness, but also portions of the brain had started to stop functioning thanks to my late nights and early mornings. I had become forgetful and prone to booking two ladies for the same set. A good night's sleep had become just a vague, distant memory. Did I take it easy and begin to pace myself? No way! I'd have time for that next week. Besides, how could I miss the afternoon Armada ceili with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh? In fact, they were a tonic for tired bodies. Their first set was the Corofin Set, which seemed to be the preferred opening set for most of the ceilis this week. I was commenting on this to a lady sitting next to me after the set was called, and had no intention of dancing it again. But then the malfunctioning brain did the right thing and asked her to dance, and luckily she was such a great partner that I rediscovered the beauty of the set. It was a high soakage kind of day and the band took no break today, so by the second half of the ceili I was drenched. I offered a quick change of shirt to one partner and she told me not to bother. I made the same offer to the next lady and she insisted I do it immediately! I rushed out wet and rushed back nice and dry while sets were still being filled.
The dance concert was fascinating not for the performance by my class, which went well, but for all the nationalities I glimpsed on stage-French, Australian and Japanese. We were last to perform, so as soon as it was over I rushed across town and out to the Mill Marquee for the second ceili of the week with the Tulla Ceili Band, already in progress. Not only were there more musicians on stage, I counted thirteen, but it seemed as though there were more dancers on the floor than at their Tuesday ceili. The programme of sets was much the same, and Martin Hayes played another virtuoso solo performance. Following that there was an interlude of sean nós dancing steps before the final Caledonian Set.
Before heading to my own class on Friday morning, July 9th, I made quick visits to three other classes. The Brooks Academy were practicing the Paris Set with five sets; a friend attending earlier in the week was pleased to report that there were nearly twice as many. Mairéad Casey and Mick Mulkerrin taught a large group of aspiring sean nós dancers in the Mill Marquee, divided into beginners handled by Mairéad and improvers under Mick's guidance. Probably the biggest class of the entire Willie Clancy Summer School was Mary Clancy's. She taught a few of the more popular sets danced at ceilis to as many as a dozen sets. Even today there were eleven sets dancing with as much enthusiasm and atmosphere as you'd find at any good ceili.
The afternoon Armada ceili saw the welcome return of the good ol' Glenside Ceili Band to Miltown. A friend once described their music as "chunky" and I haven't come up with a better word for their distinctive sound. They were kind enough to play a rare and quite valuable West Kerry Set today, plus the Cashel and Ballyvourney, making this a good ceili for polka lovers! It was a cool rainy day, yet perversely it was the hottest ceili so far, and I outdid my previous soakages. In place of a break, the band encouraged solo dancers to come forward to demonstrate their steps, but despite the abundance of superb sean nós dancers in the ballroom, this proved as challenging as getting someone to fill the last gap in a set. Johnny Reidy had arrived early for his big ceili here tonight and joined in the dancing for a waltz with his fiddler Martina O'Neill.
The nightly ceilis in the Armada had drawn huge crowds all week, and I imagined close to 1,000 would show up for Johnny's ceili tonight. In a stroke of brilliance, the Armada had installed a large marquee on the patio outside their restaurant especially for social dancing, with P J Murrihy resident there since Wednesday. A few dancers took advantage of it while the sets were in progress, and many more thronged to it in the break. As much as I was sorry to miss a ceili with Johnny, on Friday night I opted for the relative oasis of tranquillity in the Mill Marquee where the Four Courts Ceili Band were playing.
For our final class on Saturday morning, July 10th, there was just a set and a half present to dance Hurry the Jug. This set is one of the reasons I like to attend Timmy's classes every year. He's the only one I know of who teaches this fast-moving complicated dance, though it's a regular favourite in France, Germany and Australia. It's more like a céilí dance, such as the High-Cauled Cap, than a set, except that it's danced in an earthy Sliabh Luachra style to slides.
After class, I returned to the Armada where Mary Clancy was leading her class through the last of the five sets they had learned this week. Then to finish the class in style, everyone pulled their chairs into a big circle for a farewell session with music, song and dance. The talented group included a brilliant harpist, a fiddler and a singer-songwriter from Scotland, and Mary herself sang a couple of songs.
Brian Ború Ceili Band both started and ended the week of afternoon ceilis by playing on both Saturdays. Their music re-energised me and everyone else whose batteries had run down after a week of dancing. There was plenty of playful mischief, as I discovered when trying to take some photographs during the Connemara Set. One naughty lady lifted her short dress and flashed her panties so quickly that my trigger finger failed to react in time. This sent us into spasms of long-lasting laughter, and it's just as well I failed to take that picture, as I try to keep this a respectable publication!
It had turned windy on Saturday night, and I thought nothing of it until I entered the Mill Marquee. Inside the effects of the breeze were amplified by the flapping canvas top and shaking walls and floor. It almost seemed as if we'd be blown away into the air as in The Wizard of Oz. The Allow Ceili Band dispelled any such thoughts and overpowered the wind with their breezy tunes and vigorous playing. My first three partners were each called Ann-one is a regular favourite who's loads of fun; another I knew back in London and hadn't met for more than a dozen years; and a new dancer and Miltown resident attending the summer school for the first time. As they're from Co Cork, the Allow like to play polka sets, so we danced the Sliabh Luachra and Ballyvourney Jig, and I couldn't believe my luck when they announced the West Kerry Set. As we rushed up to get into a set, someone must have objected because the band offered to do the Connemara instead. Those of us on the floor shouted, "West Kerry! West Kerry!" and we won our polka set. But the reel lovers had their Connemara as well as the final set of the summer school.
A full night's sleep, my first in a week, seemed to eliminate all traces of fatigue, so I was raring to go to the farewell ceili in the Armada on Sunday, July 11th. "Irish time" does not exist for ceilis with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band-there aren't many events in Ireland where people arrive at least thirty minutes early, but it's standard practice wherever Johnny's on stage. Such was the anticipation that dancers began assembling into sets a full fifteen minutes in advance of the 2.30pm start, and by that time the floor was already full for the opening Labasheeda Set. I had found myself a set in an airy corner of the room with lovely sea views, and never danced anywhere else for the rest of the ceili. Everyone was on a dancing high after an exceptional week and I was touched to see three ladies frolicking on the grass when Johnny played a waltz and jive. The pleasure only increased in the second half up to the final Lancers Set. Just before the last figure the hotel's owner, Claire Burke, spoke a few words of thanks to all attending and involved in the week. Long after the national anthem there was still an electric buzz in the ballroom as people made fond farewells and gradually went on their way.
When you're having this much fun it's hard to stop, so a few dancers dropped into Vaughan's Barn in Kilfenora on Sunday night to conclude their week, including groups from Australia, Denmark and Italy. The relaxed atmosphere here was the perfect way to ease back into normal life after the best week of the year.
There was something magical about processing down the aisle carrying a lighted candle in a cathedral in Lyon on Easter Saturday night and it was even more special to see a baptism by immersion when four young children between the ages of six and twelve were immersed, fully clothed, in a tub of warm water as part of their baptismal ceremony. You may rightly ask what association all of this has with dance!
A twelve-strong group of dancers were commencing a week long visit to Neulise, France, hosted by a group of dancers entitled Les Hirondelles du Forez (Swallows of the Forest) with their leaders Laurent and Ghislaine Pichen. Our week was spent teaching and sharing the dances and music of Ireland with our host group, visiting and dancing with other local folk dance groups, sightseeing, sharing tasty food, singing, telling stories and jokes and, in a nutshell, having a ball! Swallows of the Forest had spent a week in Ireland last August hosted by me and my friends.
The magic continued on the bank holiday weekend, 4-7 June, when a group of ten set dancers including myself travelled to Brest in Brittany to conduct a dance workshop at the invitation of Joël and Marie-France Perchoc. Friday was spent settling in, dancing at the home of our hosts and eating crepes! The work began on Saturday with a set dancing workshop. I taught Seit Dúrlas Éile (Thurles Set). There was enthusiastic applause and hearty laughter when we mastered the cross country hop. Michael Loughnane, the set's creator, would have been very proud of us. After a short break, sean nós dancing was on the agenda followed by a ceili. The attendance, atmosphere and standard of dancing were superb. I don't need to mention the tasty, home-cooked food for which the Bretons are famous and their generosity with same! The venue was totally suitable with comfortable boarded floor, good ventilation and perfect sound.
On Sunday we had a 9.30am start with traditional step dancing. On this occasion I taught the old-style jig. The dancers gave thorough concentration and commitment and as a result we were not only able to complete the dance but to add a few more sean nós steps to our repertoire from the previous day. After lunch the set dancers were ready for action and by 6pm they had accomplished Durrow Threshing (Co Laois) and Lough Neagh sets. It was delightful to have a group of set dancers from Dublin joining us for the workshop and ceili. After a welcome shower and change we were treated to a beautiful social evening at a famous creperie in the company of Joël and Marie-France, Jacqueline (president of the dance association) and Remy Balcon, and many Breton dancers who joined with us for the evening of Breton and Irish songs, stories and jokes. Carthage Daly played fiddle and Leslie Dunne was an excellent MC.
Monday morning we left for home with great memories of a fantastic week-end of music, dance, songs, tasty food, wonderful welcome, appreciation and friendship. Already looking forward to returning next year!
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
Regular readers expecting a directory of classes in the August-September Set Dancing News will be disappointed that it does not appear in this issue. The continuing work on improving the event listings has made the old way of presenting classes obsolete. Classes are now included in the listings on the new Sets.ie website and appear alongside ceilis and workshops, not in a separate list. All set dancing events now appear in one place.
By including classes the total number of events in the website listings has climbed to approximately 18,000 over the course of a year! On any one day in Ireland there can be up to fifty events, the busiest being Monday. The website has been improved to make it easier to find what you're looking for among all those events.
An example of the website appears to the right. On the left side of it below the map of Ireland, there are six main choices which control how the events are grouped-
Regions corresponds to the way events are listed in this magazine, which groups together Ireland, both north and south, Britain, continental Europe, etc. Countries and Counties, states and provinces narrow the listings down further. Use these to make it easier to find local events or when travelling. Venues presents a long list of every venue offering set dancing. Teachers shows every teacher and all their classes and workshops, and Bands does the same for ceilis. All events in all locations combines everything together so you can see at a glance what's happening around the world on any particular day.
With so many events, it can be hard to find what you're looking for, so there's a new control that highlights just what you're looking for. The first two listings in the example are highlighted in orange. Notice also the orange highlight at the left labelled weekends and weeks. Only weekends and other multi-day events are highlighted in this case. You can also change it to highlight ceilis, workshops or classes, or turn off the highlight if you prefer.
You can further customise the listings by choosing how times are shown, using either a 12 or 24 hour clock. Headings can be sorted alphabetically or by the number of events, which puts the busiest ones at the top. And you have a choice of font as well.
The website remembers the settings you last used and even the last heading you opened and will restore them when you return.
Further improvements are planned, and suggestions and comments from readers are welcome. With so many events, there are bound to be mistakes, so I rely on you to help me keep the information accurate. And despite the numbers, I believe there are many set dancing events not yet included here. All classes, ceilis and workshops open to everyone are welcome in Sets.ie. Send them to me by email, phone, text, letter, any way you can!
Spent the day reading my Set Dancing News. It arrived this morning so everything else went by the board. I first studied the photos to see how many of my friends are featured, then to the articles and all the other features.
One amazing coincidence-in May for our wedding anniversary I thought I would like to go away for a few days. Our two dogs always have to go in kennels when we go away, so I typed in 'dog friendly hotels' into the computer, the Renvyle House Hotel came up and after reading very good reviews, we booked a midweek break. I recognised the fish and chips in Chris Eichbaum's excellent report. We indulged ourselves, highly recommended. In fact, if you are not a big eater, one meal between two would do. Ten choices were on the breakfast menu, including lambs liver. The gourmet dinner included in the price was again fantastic-the rack of lamb cooked to perfection. Food in this hotel is second to none.
Our dogs had a wonderful holiday. They slept in our ground floor room. We brought their beds. There were two side doors we could avail of, one to the beach, one to the bluebell woods, so we didn't have to walk through the main hotel all the time, which was great.
I did see a notice which said if there was a group of eight or more the hotel would arrange for a local sean nós teacher to come in. I didn't realise there was a sean nós weekend in April-I do now and I will be booking shortly.
I would just like to thank Joan Pollard Carew for all her hard work with Enjoy Travel over the years. She has always given 100%. We will miss her so much on our trips, but will see her at the ceilis. I always love her articles, her clear calling of sets and great workshops-see you soon, Joan.
I would also like to thank all the Enjoy Travel staff, especially Gerry Flynn, for getting us all out to Ibiza this year. We really didn't think we would get going seeing no planes were flying anywhere because of the dust cloud, but he must have help from some divine power, as we did get there. The weather was fantastic. We had a ball as we always do. I won the holiday for two on the very first trip in 1998, and good fortune shone on me again this year. I won the trip for two for Fleadh Ibiza 2011, and my best friend who I met on the very first trip, Eileen McGuire, is coming with me.
Brenda Gaffney, Dowra, Co Leitrim
Yet again taken abackHi Bill,
I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody for their support for our Costa Del Clonea weekend, 9-11 April. We were yet again taken aback with such numbers turning up to our workshops and ceilis. All ceilis were fantastic. The bands we chose proved to be the key to the success of this weekend. The music would have you on the floor even if you intended sitting out for any set. Carmel Kearns yet again showed her experience and class at conducting a relaxed and very successful workshop. She is no stranger at teaching new sets and will always bring us the most up-to-date set that is being danced around the country. Thank you, Carmel for your kindness and patience. Thanks to Taylor's Cross, Copperplate and the Glenside; thanks to Clonea Strand Hotel; and thanks to all who joined us, far and near. A special hug and kiss to Chris Eichbaum who must have taken everybody's photo and then put them on a disc for me.
Thank God for the weather and proving once again that this weekend lived up to its name.
Bring on 2011, April 8-10.
Cheers, Bill, you're doing a mighty job.
Helen Kealy, Old Parish, Co Waterford
Full to capacityDear Bill,
Friday morning, 21st May 2010, the sun came out and shone down on the lovely village of Gortahork, Co Donegal, and I thought what a wonderful start to our second annual set dancing weekend. By midday our dancing friends started to arrive from all over the country and from such far flung places as Switzerland, France, Manchester and Glasgow. Of course I'm not forgetting my camper friends for whom we provided parking for twelve camper vans at the rear of the hotel.
I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to my lovely class and all the locals for their great support. Many thanks to our teachers, Pat Murphy, Marie Garrity and Kathleen and Michael Mc Glynn, who taught lovely dances at the classes over the weekend, and to our ceili bands, the Annaly, Brian Ború and Copperplate, who kept our feet tapping from Friday night through to Sunday evening. We even had our dancers take to the hotel veranda as the ballroom was full to capacity on Sunday evening. My compliments to the management and staff of the hotel who went above and beyond the call of duty to cater for all our needs over the weekend.
Well friends, all that is left for me to say is a very big Donegal míle buíochas to all who supported our set dancing weekend and made it such a great success. If you enjoyed it as much as we did we hope you return again next year for our third annual Féile Damhsa Gaelach which will run from the 20-22 May 2011. In the meantime, keep dancing for the rest of 2010 and I hope to see you along the way.
Idir an dá linn bainígí sult as an damhsa agus go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo arís.
Madge O'Grady, Falcarragh, Co Donegal
Generous nature of set dancers
Sarah was born in 1997, a daughter to Breda and John Burcheal. She was born with Down's syndrome and had a serious heart complaint. In the summer of 1998 she had a life-saving operation that changed her life for the better. She is has been attending mainstream school in Scoil Bride in Clane, Co Kildare, for the past seven years and is excelling at her work.
For the past two years, Sarah has been attending the Special Olympics Club in Naas where she trains every Monday night for basketball. She was one of two girls from the club chosen to represent Leinster in the Special Olympic Games held in Limerick in June this year. Both girls did their region proud as they both came home with a gold medal in their categories. There have been great celebrations in her school and her parish since she has returned home from Limerick.
Sarah's participation in Limerick was facilitated in no small way by the generous nature of set dancers. A ceili was organised by Sarah's aunt Catherine and friends. Sets were ably called as usual by Frank Keenan. The ceili raised €1,100. What a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
Ger Boland, Kilteel, Naas, Co Kildare
Much more dynamicHi Bill,
We want to thank you for publishing information about our weekend and session. On the 5th and 6th of June, we invited Maureen Culleton and she came with nine people and there was also a group of eight from Dublin. So it was wonderful for us because it was much more dynamic with all of them and they were very good with all of our people. It was a great moment.
We hope see them again if we come to Ireland.
Best wishes and many thanks,
Marie-France and Joël Perchoc, Plouzane, France
The enjoyment we witnessThe Connie Ryan Gathering committee would like to thank everyone that made the 2010 weekend, 11-13 June, such a success. We would like to thank the management and staff of Halla Na Féile, also the bingo organisers for finishing so promptly to make the hall available on the Saturday night. We say thanks to our loyal sponsors for various donations towards running the weekend. To all the bands who played fabulous music during the weekend and to Pádraig and Róisín McEneany for the great workshops, we say thanks. Lastly but most importantly, we thank most sincerely the set dancers who travel from far and wide to attend the Connie Ryan Gatherings. It is the energy generated by yourselves on the dance floor and the enjoyment we witness that gives a small committee like ourselves the impetus to continue running the Gathering and from what we witnessed again this year the Gathering has a great future. The bands are booked for the 2011 Gathering with Ken Cotter and Ger Murphy on Friday night, the Glenside Ceili Band on Saturday night and the great Johnny Reidy on Sunday afternoon. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany will again conduct the workshops, making this weekend something to look forward to. There is a very big change to the 2011 Connie Ryan Gathering in that we have decided to move the weekend to the village of Holycross, Co Tipperary. This is mainly due to the Cashel hall committee not being able to confirm our booking request for next year in time. Holycross has a beautiful community hall with plenty of facilities in the locality also.
So to round up we hope to see you all in Holycross, 10-12th June 2011, for yet another mighty Connie Ryan Gathering.
Billy Maher, Goulds Cross, Cashel, Co Tipperary
Mary Cahill and Christina Reape, lost their beloved sister Philomena Gaughan (née Heneghan) on 16 May. The funeral was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Leigh, near Manchester, England, followed by interment at Leigh cemetery. They were originally from Mayo. Phil was only 52 years old and had struggled with cancer for the last couple of years.
Chris, Mary and her husband Pat and the Gaughan and Heneghan families would like to say thank you to all set dancers and friends for their kind tributes and attendance at the funeral Mass at this very sad time on the loss of their dear sister Phil.
Barbara Aherne, Manchester, England
I am a member of Siamsa Charman who hold ceilis in the Riverbank Hotel in Wexford during autumn to spring and we also hold weekly set dancing classes in Clonard Community Centre, Wexford, late September to April.
From September '07 to April '08 we were delighted to welcome to our classes and ceilis a lovely Japanese girl by the name of Yukiko. She came to Ireland for one year to improve her English and she spent most of that year in Wexford, firstly attending English classes and then later working while continuing to improve her English. She then spent some time touring around Ireland before returning to Japan in the summer of '08. Yukiko had already attended Irish dancing classes in Japan before she came to Ireland so she was already familiar with some of the sets and steps.
All of our class were delighted to hear Yukiko's news that she got married on 18th of April this year. Her husband's name is Goro and they danced some sets at their pre-wedding party where Yukiko wore a traditional Irish dancing costume. On their wedding day, Yukiko wore traditional Japanese dress.
They do their dancing in Nagoya and their dancing teachers name is Koko from Tokyo. They have their class once or twice a month.
Mary Hayes, Wexford
Johnny Reidy never looked happier than he did at the Armada Hotel's farewell ceili which concluded its enormously popular week of set dancing in July. He might have been smiling because this was one of the best ceilis ever experienced by set dancers anywhere, or perhaps it had something to do with the members of his family who came along for the day. Johnny's wife Pauline and daughter Diane were there, as well as Pádraig Teehan, who has recently become engaged to Diane.
Another freshly engaged couple from Ennis, Co Clare, were surprised with a celebratory cake and bouquet of flowers when they came to a Sunday night ceili at Vaughan's Barn, Kilfenora, in July. Sean Murphy is box player with the Merriman Ceili Band, who were well received at their first ceili in the Armada in July. His fiancée is Sarah Power, who has been set dancing for many years.
Two Sligo CDs
The most recent All-Ireland ceili band champions are the Dartry Ceili Band from Sligo, who earned their title last year at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Tullamore, Co Offaly. For those who have yet to hear them, and especially for those who already know them, their new CD, The Killavil Post, is highly recommended. The music contained on it is beautifully polished, in perfect unison and very moving, equally for feet and emotions. Their selection of tunes is varied and inspiring, and two songs included on the CD are excellent.
Look out for them at upcoming ceilis. They're playing for a junior ceili at the Fleadh in Cavan on August 18th, but a better option for full-size dancers is their ceili in Rathcormac Hall near Sligo Town on September 11th, when they're planning a CD launch. If you can't make it then, keep an eye out for them in future listings and check out their website, www.dartryceiliband.com, where you can order the CD.
Sean nós is hot at the moment, with more people enjoying it than ever. The first CD specifically made for sean nós dancing has been recorded by Tommy Doherty and is called, suitably enough, Dance Sean Nós. Tommy plays every track on melodeon, an instrument we hear too seldom when dancing, and is quietly accompanied on piano for some of the tracks by Maria McHugh or Stephen Doherty. All the top tunes for sean nós-ers are here, the Bucks, Sally Gardens, Miss McLeod's and more, plus jigs, hornpipes and flings, and even two tracks combining reels with jigs and hornpipes. The BPM (beats per minute) measurement is given for every track, and the range of speeds from 70 to 132 among the nineteen tracks is suitable for all dancers, beginning and experienced. Miss McLeod's is even available at three different speeds. Tommy is a box player with Swallow's Tail Ceili Band, so you can be sure all the tunes are highly danceable. They're all beautiful listening as well. Contact Tommy for your copy.
While all of Ireland was basking in glorious sunshine, 45 people set out from Clonmel to meet their good fortune, without knowing it at the time, and join what was for most of them their first set dancing weekend away at Sets by the Sea, 12-14 March, in the Bellbridge Hotel, Spanish Point, Co Clare. Attending all-ladies classes at home with lots of beginners, their know-how was low. When the question was raised whether there would be "any real men," my stomach lurched, and I thought, what have I done by obliging their wish to go away on a weekend and bringing them to Clare, of all places, with Johnny Reidy playing twice, of all bands? Maybe my wandering mind had left me altogether, and as they were happily chattering away in the bus going up I was contemplating how to wriggle out of the responsibility in case it went pear-shaped.
On Friday night, most of them were indeed shell-shocked. When they came in the door and saw the frolicking and heard the speed of the band, jaws dropped one by one. The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band made them marvel, freeze, feel overwhelmed, excited and laugh madly, to name but a few responses that were uttered by the time they had recovered enough to talk. And then what happened is that one of the most intriguing human traits kicked in—resilience. Mustering determination, they started to join the dances, and by and by settled into the luminous energy flying around until it became obvious that they had made it—all had danced and survived their virgin sets.
At this point it is vital to say how much help they received from all different corners—from the experienced dancers in their own group who relentlessly took the beginners out; the Bellbridge Hotel staff, who were informed about their coming and went more than the extra mile to accommodate the group and continuously throughout the few days enquired whether they were okay and if there was anything they could do; and to all you marvellous people out there who realise when there is a beginner at large and graciously and generously assist and take care of them. How beautiful this is, this patient spirit of humankind, I thought, not for the first time, that dancing together can bring out the best in us. I cannot thank you enough, lads.
Saturday morning, tapping into the ghost of yesterday, or perhaps into a premonition of what's to come in the summer, laughter, dancing and music almost appeared to waft out from the ballroom of the Armada Hotel, which is a stroll away from the Bellbridge. We sat outside, eating Moevenpick ice cream, donning sunglasses, taking off jackets and reminiscing about the past and present. During Willie Clancy week, this is the epicentre and epitome of mad and wild set dancing, and its proximity to where we were dancing now merged yesteryear with today most intriguingly. I guess people flocked to this weekend with the expectation of a true summer buzz, and expectation turned into reality.
Tina Walsh, the organiser of the weekend, first timer also, found it in her heart and mind, despite all her own worries and stresses of running a big weekend, to repeatedly make everyone feel welcome, and she went the extra mile in the most professional manner.
For instance, when we arrived, all were met at the door by Tina with handshake and guided on to a buffet with free coffee, tea and homemade cakes. How is that for a welcome? (All of the teas and cakes at the céilithe intervals were free too, by the way.) And a session in full swing provided the musical backdrop. Tina wore a blue polo shirt with 'Sets by the Sea 2010' embroidered on them; punters wanted to buy one immediately. But best of all, I thought, was a magnificent banner, hand painted by 21-year old dancer and artist Mairéad Casey, depicting a deep blue sea and surf rolling into the strand which is overshadowed by cliffs—ah, freedom! And because it was Mothers' Day on Sunday, every mother got a copy of a poem handed out at the entrance, (and if you weren't a mother, you got one anyway) which also said thanks to people for coming to the dances. Nice touches, I have to say.
Staff also were exceptional, probably the most alert, smiling and helpful I have ever experienced in a hotel. The winning formula of good location, the best of bands, a great floor, a lovely hotel and strong leadership that thinks things through in a professional manner was applied beautifully here. The feeling the organisers and hotel staff gave the dancers of being cared about is what made the difference. One of the ladies in our group said she was never before served a simple scone so dolled up with fresh strawberries and all the trimmings. Would I recommend it? No doubt whatsoever.
So after surviving and managing their first ceili on Friday night and listening in on the jigs, reels, singing and sean nós at the late session, the Clonmel group spent Saturday playing golf behind the hotel, some as many as eighteen holes, walking the beach, and going shopping in Miltown Malbay. I wouldn't have necessarily thought of Miltown as a great shopping destination, but there you go. I was told that there was a bargain rack in a boutique, and before the weekend was out, the ladies had all but emptied it, going back for more and coming into the hotel laden with bags. A couple of them even went swimming in the sea.
Being shattered from the night before, they only gathered together in the hotel again for the meal, to stock up on energy for the ceili to come. This time they were even more adventurous with their dancing, fair play to them. Most even lasted as long as the fast and furious blast of reels that Micheál Sexton played at the end. A local man, I relished the vigorous attack of buttons in his unique and easy to identify style—a full and complete note gives way to the next, so that a string of them resembling the pearls of a necklace envelop the listener. One of the finest players there is, to my mind, and beautifully backed on piano by Pat Walsh from Cobh, Co Cork.
The Sunday ceili started on a slower note, with Aidan Vaughan accompanying Swallow's Tail on the drums. But from the second set on—hey presto!—higher gears were found and, vroom, vroom, we were motoring again with more torque! At some stage during the ceili, Kevin Hassett got up with Tina's nine-year-old son Daniel, and together they started to step it out. Slowly then, Kevin took himself off the floor and left Daniel to perform on his own, and gosh, I have never seen a boy so concentrated and focused—I bet he had forgotten there was anything else between heaven and earth bar dancing!
This weekend broke the unwritten rule requiring workshops during the day because there were none. The pendulum has swung fully the other way. I like workshops so I missed them, but what's also true is that eating ice cream looking out to the sea or sipping cappuccino listening to a scheduled session in progress is not to be scoffed at either! It will be interesting to see what happens next on the set dancing scene, ever-changing, ever-evolving.
The Clonmel group for one were gobsmacked by the friendliness of everyone and also by the young people battering and having such fun. "We can't believe they are doing this here, and not drinking themselves into a stupor, and dancing with such vigour! Surely, this is one of the best weekends?"
The only answer to that could be, "Yeah, this is high voltage. It's as good as it gets." This was in response to watching as well the true Johnny Reidy Ceili Band followers who climb every mountain to dance to belted-out, warp-drive tunes, high-kicking and high-jumping it. Long after coming home, the Clonmel gang still talked about it, still laughed about it, still raved about it. They truly have more zest in their step now and a fierce glow in their eyes. Talking about being thrown in at the deep end, but for all that water, they learned to swim, and the only outcome was being fired up! All thanks to a well-laid-out, sparkling few days on the dance floor in a comfy hotel. And that more and more elusive ceád míle fáilte, the inclusiveness and warmth emanating from so many bodies, hearts, and minds—you can still find it here in the west by the sandy banks of Spanish Point, in the cosy Bellbridge Hotel where an open fire is lit all day. Ah, yes, class.
PS, I was since asked to "puh-leaze" take the classes out again next year. And there was another request-to speed up the music in class! Johnny Reidy, you've done it this time!
The ash cloud that threatened all aviation around Europe caused worry to dancers, musicians, artists and everyone concerned with Fleadh Ibiza this year. Finally getting the green flag just in time, flights left UK and Irish airports for Ibiza on Thursday, April 22nd. Some people lost out on a day's holiday but most were happy that the event took place at all.
Things were a bit slow to get underway on Friday. The wooden floor by the pool was a day late getting erected but dancers still had a great time indoors in the main ballroom where the timber floor was already in place.
The festival properly got underway on Saturday morning with set dancing workshops followed by afternoon social dancing and ceilis, all by the pool. After dinner each evening we had a ceili in the main ballroom and social dancing in the lounge of the Seaview Hotel. Clement Gallagher took care of the fíor céilithe in the ballroom of the adjacent Aura Hotel. Mick Mackey and session musicians revelled nightly in the Aura Bar. The format was set for the remaining seven days of the fleadh.
In workshops we danced the Monaghan, Ibiza and East Mayo sets. Frank Keenan brought us a very old Co Cork set, the Allow Set. He revived this set from notes passed on by his mother-in-law. It's a nice little six-figure set with the first three figures danced to jigs, followed by reels, slides and a hornpipe.
TG4, the Irish-language TV channel, was on hand to make a documentary of the festival. It was amusing to watch the antics of some people who endeavoured under any circumstance to get in front of the television cameras, and just as amusing to see the skirmishes of others to avoid the limelight. It is proposed that TG4 will show footage of the event sometime in the autumn.
We had an exhibition of set dancing by the Galmoy Set Dancers under the leadership of their teacher Mick Doyle. This talented group danced the Slate Quarry Set and also the very colourful hurley dance, performed with the aid of hurling sticks. The Dublin Set also got an airing when a group of Dublin dancers led by Tony Slevin gave us an exhibition by the pool in the brilliant sunshine. Sean nós dancers Sean Duggan and Catherine Tully were joined by Ben Cassidy and Gerry Tynan in a lightning display of reels.
Dancers were delighted with a new set dancing teacher during the festival. Co Kildare teacher Syl Bell and his dancing partner Liz Hand gave us two lovely classes. With their relaxed yet meticulous style of teaching the class was a dream. They taught the Ballyduff and Cúchulainn sets. These two teachers have a wealth of experience all over Co Kildare and further afield.
The ash cloud was far from our minds as we danced to the superb ceili bands Triouge, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, the Annaly and Ceili Time. All the dancing areas were crowded most of the time, but everyone just tightened their belts and danced to their hearts' content.
The talent competition by the pool was the finale of the festival. Mick Mackey hosted this show with music by session musicians. He is an experienced, popular and talented MC. Tess Jordan from Rahan, Co Laois, now living in Birmingham, was the popular winner with a verse she composed about the ash cloud threat and her subsequent journey to Ibiza for the festival. The afternoon concluded with displays of flags, T-shirts and fancy dress.
Time had fled from us once more and another Fleadh Ibiza had come to an end. Saying goodbye to dancers and musician friends makes me sad. Events like these are about rekindling old friendships, making new ones and sharing time, hope, dreams, and most importantly of all, miles of dancing for years to come.
Joan Pollard Carew
Ibiza here I comeLast year I came to Ibiza,
the journey was early and long,
But it couldn't hold a candle to the one I've just come on.
The confusion it all started about a week ago,
Just as I dusted my case off to get my things ready to go.
A volcano erupted in Iceland and there I wished it would stay,
But then before long the news it came on,
the whole thing was heading our way.
There were dust clouds and ash clouds, volcanic eruptions,
Oh how could it cause such almighty disruptions?
Words like 'paramount' and 'safely' were going around in my head,
From the time I got up in the morning
till the time I went back to my bed.
So how am I to travel? There'll be no planes in the sky,
'Cause if I don't get to Ibiza I think I'll surely die.
One day I was going, the next I was not,
I thought the good Lord, He had me forgot.
Talk about being up and then falling down,
For all the news on the telly had my head going 'round.
First Willie Walsh and then Gerry Flynn,
Those two gallant Irish men bravely stepped in.
Willie went up and he tested the sky
and fair play to him we were able to fly.
I thank them two boys, they didn't give in
and now I was happy for my journey could begin.
I got up at midnight to be ready for one.
No time for canoodling or any of that craic,
That might have to wait until we get back.
But maybe between the jigs and the reels,
We might have time for a quick little squeeze.
All I could think of was heading for the sun.
I just couldn't wait to get out of Brum.
The taxi arrived and we climbed all aboard,
In no time at all we were hitting the road.
With joy in our hearts we journeyed along,
Now you would think that nothing could go wrong.
But all of a sudden we started to slow,
Our taxi pulled in, it just wouldn't go.
Stuttering and spluttering it started again,
He coaxed it along for another few mile,
And once again I started to smile,
but alas the smile didn't last very long,
for back on the hard shoulder we found ourselves on.
Now our taxi was really broke down,
Soon the smile on my face quickly turned to a frown.
He sent for AA, it took half an hour,
Who just informed us that we got no power
We started to panic, time was running out.
"Get us a taxi!" we started to shout,
those two boys were just arsing about.
You know I felt like giving them a clout.
Somehow we forced him to give it another go
And we started praying to all saints that we know.
Our prayers they were answered with Gatwick in sight.
We rushed up the stairs with all of our might
and the Enjoy Travel man was a most welcome sight.
So here I am now and I've reached the last day,
Hasn't it been fantastic? I really must say.
I've danced and I've sang and I've had a ball.
I just don't want it to be over at all.
Any chance, Gerry, that you could extend?
For I don't want it to come to an end.
So to all of you here the best of good cheer,
Till we all meet again, please God, next year.
Tess Jordan, Birmingham, England
We Nova Scotians were thrilled to welcome dance master Pat Murphy back to our province this year. Not only do we always enjoy the opportunity to experience Pat's exemplary teaching style, but this year our annual Easter Set Dance Weekend offered him the best weather in years. Compared to the snowfall of 2008, 25ºC was more than a pleasant surprise. Visitors from Prince Edward Island (Islanders) and Ontario rounded out the local contingent of eager dancers.
We began the festivities on Friday night with the opening ceili. Between chatty reunions, we danced many of the usual suspects-the Mazurka, Kilfenora, Antrim Square and Cashel were among the choices. Lively music was provided by our usual pub band of Kevin Roach and Jane Lombard and friends.
Saturday is workshop day, and as usual, the studious Nova Scotians turned out in droves. We are known for our attendance at workshops; numbers match or even exceed those at the ceilis.
Pat introduced the Skibbereen Set as the kind of dance to begin the day; it's easy-going, not too hard, and he had lovely new music from the Abbey Ceili Band to accompany it. Pat explained that we should think of the gliding movement that characterizes this set as 'dancing on eggs.' No wonder this elegant dance was once a competition set. In case you ever doubted that every wheelbarrow figure is different, this one has an advance-retire, turn and twirl!
A simple catered lunch was provided right in our cozy mansion. A planned session attracted extra musicians, including Pat playing Jane's accordion.
The second set of the day involved some general confusion, not because of the moves, but because of its name. Some of us in one set were convinced that we were doing the Frères Nantes, and others were equally convinced that we were doing the Connemara Jig Set. There were some pointed disagreements, until someone checked in Pat's book, Toss the Feathers. When we discovered that both names applied to the same set, red faces replaced the arguments, and we turned our attention back to the instruction. Later Pat explained that the Frères Nantes weren't French and weren't brothers; the name is a misunderstanding based on an Irish word for a flower (Freres Nantais). No wonder we were confused! In any case, whatever it's called, it's one of our favourite dances, with the fun tug-hug move and its smooth, flowing quality and precision.
We finished the afternoon with the Lough Neagh Set, a new one for many of us. Despite being full of arches and chains, for ladies and gents, this lovely set flowed nicely and we caught on quickly enough.
The Saturday night céilí mór was time to apply our learning, as in the Skibbereen and Connemara Jig (apparently the preferred name) and to revisit oldies like the Corofin, Clare Lancers, Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, and that favourite of the Islanders, the Monaghan.
Sunday is the day for our usual dance session, except we stayed at the weekend venue, a lovely Edwardian mansion in south Halifax. The sunny, warm weather had us worried at first-would anyone come? What did we get, but the best of both worlds-beautiful weather and great attendance. People were happy enough to come inside and dance as long as they could spend their breaks on the front steps or side porch, soaking up the rays. We also enjoyed lovely refreshments. One of our dancers, John Brett, makes and sells his own Tideview cider, and it's even tastier with orange juice than champagne is!
Monday evening is time for our weekly dance class, but again we remained at our distinctive venue. Pat started with the Aran Set from Inis Mór. Maybe it's because we're Maritimers, but we love this island dance with its waves. We also had fun with the double-armed turn followed by either a single arm turn or two single-armed turns depending on what part of the dance you're in-once we figured it out. We wound up the weekend with a quick step called the Cindy Swing and the Lomand Waltz.
Let's hope that next year brings the same good weather, good company and good dancing.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
I was really curious about dancing in and exploring Derry, or Londonderry, or whatever you prefer to call it, like The Walled City, with its symbol of fourteen oak leaves, during my visit to the Frankie Roddy Weekend in the Everglades Hotel, 19-21 March. A city tour guide who briefly spoke to the audience at the opening ceili, inviting folks to partake in a guided tour for the ridiculous price of €2, said, "Whatever you call it, call it 'legendary'." Judging only by what you see and hear in the media, this city doesn't exactly feel like a safe place to be, especially with a southern car registration. But what I was really curious about, rather than staring at the brutal history like a visitor in the zoo peering at something eerily and exotically thrilling, was what helped people overcome one of the deepest divides that human history has created. Because this is what is happening there—a transformation of something that was, into something else that is, with a hope of what it may become. What a privilege to be a witness to it for a little while, to this process of peace, born out of the hottest ashes and on the strongest wing of faith.
Many different ways could be chosen to look at this weekend we spent up north, like all the different angles taken to achieve and assimilate peace. Hang on—of course, the dancing! No better way to celebrate coming together across the divide than with dancing. Not only does it not matter on the dance floor what you do for a living, dance also doesn't ask for credentials in terms of religion, nationality or an individual's past. It invites us to live the moment to the fullest and enjoy while we can, and in a way, this mirrored beautifully and clearly the attitude of people there.
"You can't lie down to it," says Sean Herron, one of the committee members of the Derry Set Dancers, referring to the Troubles. He used to have a shop, and Martin McGuinness's mother frequented it. He and his lovely wife Maura raised nine children in Derry. It is ever only a minority that is hard-line, and the main populace tries to go on living as best they can. "You get used to it," he said about the bombings, like living close to an airport—at first, you hear the planes' thunder, but after a while you stop noticing. Human resilience, huh?
On Saturday morning there were bomb scares in town, and Ann Mulroe, who is the local teacher and secretary of the organising committee, said, "I imagine peace going before me, and behind me, and beside me. I walk in a bubble of peace." Sounds a powerful visualization to me, fit to fight fear and defeatism.
What is visible in every corner of Derry is the desire to move on. New shopping centres have opened, a posh big tourist office helps dress up the quays, diverse restaurants to suit different tastes sit on the banks of the River Foyle. And just there as well are the initial works of what is going to be dubbed the Peace Bridge, a sweeping, curved design linking the shores for pedestrians.
Derry cannot be what it was, and slowly emerging is a population that create their own ways, mostly without being conscious of it. Parts still feel raw, fragile even, torn to the verge of transformation while clinging onto a yesterday that is fading. The murals in the Bogside at Free Derry Corner, art on gable walls depicting scenes from the Troubles, are a bold statement and reminder of what is still bubbling under the new surface—an outpouring in colour of surplus emotions. You'll see anger, grief, despair and hope with a capital H—the last mural shows a huge symbolic white dove on a colourful background.
"It will take a hundred years," someone commented, "before it will be truly peaceful."
I cannot fully understand or claim to know what it feels like to have lived for so long in a war zone. But what I think I am able to pick up is the depth of spirit it has given to the people who live here. It doesn't take long, if you're willing to go there, to venture into deeper realms, to skip clichés and strip off the role playing, and see the true selves of people, risking being touched and stirred. And all weekend I too was moved and struggled with tears, a mix of compassion and the elation that comes with great hope, and also remembering the dead, the injured and the bereaved on both sides, and everywhere else in the world. But this, Northern Ireland, is quite unique, and the Nobel Prize was rightly awarded for a vision of 'moving on'. I can't think of another country where this has worked to the extent it is working right now in the north. And somehow, I had to travel up there to fully appreciate it. At times, it's not enough to hear about something. At times, we have to engage with and live near and make contact with a certain process, and oh boy, this is one such worthwhile occasion!
The Derry Set dancers gathered for the fourth year to organise a set dancing weekend in March. A lovely venue for the event, the Everglades Hotel—"We have never been bombed," stated the manager—boasts four-star luxury, which is evident the moment you step out of the car and haul your luggage across the car park where a porter stands ready to open the front doors. In your room, you find a welcome plate of toffees and fruit on the sideboard, and on your bed a fluffy white gown and white slippers and a rubber ducky for the bathroom—a replica of Goldilocks' natural habitat. At the huge breakfast buffet you can have everything your heart might desire in the morning, including whiskey in your porridge, beside the cream and honey—just help yourself! I tried a minute amount on the third morning of our stay, to gear up for the long journey home, and found it peculiarly good at bringing out the oaty taste.
The dancing was varied with three workshops to choose from on both Saturday and Sunday—Pádraig and Róisín McEneany for sets, Kathleen and Michael McGlynn for sean nós, and Marie Garrity for two-hand dances. As there were contingents from Corsica, Carlow and Edinburgh, plenty of folks participated, because partly what they came for were workshops. All teachers hail from the more northern parts of Ireland, with the lovely, confident Marie from Omagh being the closest to Derry. The sets taught also included a northern one, the Fermanagh Quadrilles, besides the Boyne and Dunmanway. Kathleen's workshop included new steps that she taught for the first time, to jigs, and I was thrilled and puzzled to be shown them. One in particular was ever so nice, and the way Kathleen dances them—simply, with effortless lift staying lower to the ground than most young folk—makes for easy-to-follow learning. At one of the ceilis, she encouraged all her students to take to the floor and dance with her and around her, and they did, and I loved to watch them. There is no need, the display seemed to say, to be terrified of dancing sean nós, or overawed by it, or saying nasty things to yourself like, "Oh, I am too old/awkward/stiff/stupid/not good enough for it." At night, singing sessions were organised, and I mean organised, complete with songbook, and if you really felt you couldn't sing, you could show a step, recite a poem or tell a joke. And Róisín played the flute for Pádraig, who showed us an old-style hornpipe.
Music for the Friday and Saturday night ceilis was in the able hands of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, and the Copperplate played on Sunday. I found Saturday night especially rocking, with a good crowd that interacted with the band and fired them on. All the ceilis oozed easy togetherness, not least because of Joe Farrell calling the sets. He is something else! He works the crowd well, and has them eating out of his palm, a great addition to the ceilis and got us going no end. Dancing with him is just as energetic as his calling, so I made sure the laces were tied properly! At the second nightly session, Kathleen McGlynn gave us a demonstration of her fine sean nós, and husband Michael sang a funny song. There were mostly songs, some recitations and poems—the whole scenario aptly relating to the soulfulness of our journey through the weekend.
The Sunday ceili was enjoyed by a crowd who resisted going out—good weather was engulfing the city, which by no means is a common occurrence in March! The sun was a true bonus, bouncing off the houses and roads and the big unbroken wall encircling the inner city (fit for at least six people to walk on it abreast), enticing some sea gulls who flew wailing over the Foyle. We did an exploratory walk, finding a craft village and a haven for sore feet in an old small cemetery with ancient graves.
There is this lovely sculpture, called Hands Across the Divide, at a roundabout at the end of the existing bridge—two men reaching out with their right hands to one another, almost there, almost touching. It sums it up perfectly. In our dancing of course, we have no such problem, we touch and are touched all the time and no second thoughts. Maybe if the world danced some more. The Derry Set Dancers are on the right road here. The north of Ireland is not that far away. Actually, it's definitely moving closer. Please continue the process.
I had been walking through a cruel and arid desert, mouth parched, skin burnt, limbs weak. Then, on the horizon, a flickering, shimmering image—hopefully not a Fata Morgana to trick the mind! This is how the Shindig weekend in Tralee, Co Kerry, appeared to me—a looming oasis in what seemed like an endless stretch of snow, ice, being cooped up at home and cancelled ceilis. I had developed distinct tiger-in-a-cage symptoms, complete with feeling increasingly contrary (the husband breathed a sigh of relief as the day of departure for Tralee dawned) and eating all the chocolates in a ten-mile radius in sheer frustration.
I set off in already lifting spirits in anticipation for what was the seventeenth Shindig Festival. I was ready to dance to anything, in any old place, with any sentient being. Ah, but this was no cow shed in which cassette tapes were played. Dear Johnny Reidy Ceili Band was first up and on hand to infuse tons of tonic music into the body and nurse it instantly back to vigour. Bang, bang, bang! Magical music wand waved, feet were lifted, limbs restored to nimbleness, hearts gladdened, and corners of mouths went up and up in helpless smiles and mirth. Everyone I talked to was like, "Isn't it great to be back dancing, to be out again, to meet up again?" Cabin fever, adieu!
The sean nós workshop with Ger Butler beforehand was the first time I danced since before Christmas, not counting a ceili and a few classes. I didn't mind one bit that I had done it all before, and more than once. Floating through the movements to slow music, it was the perfect warm-up. And then, Caroline Hanafin, who is in charge of the Shindig together with Paddy Hanafin, spoilt it all! We started chatting during a break, and talking about steps, and she said, "Do you know this one?" And when the music came on again, we went off to the side and she showed me a lovely sequence. Back again, hello ambition, my eagerness to learn was setting in, and I knew these steps would now be going round and round in my head and feet until I got them! I warned Caroline that the phone might be ringing in the middle of the night, asking her, "How did this go again?" I really enjoyed it, and the challenge.
Pat Murphy taught sets on Saturday, ranging from the slightly better known, like the South Kerry, to the newest (it's in the second book) to make the teaching circuit, the Lough Neagh (nice, nice, nice). Also thrown in were the Valentia Right and Left and Boyne, the latter having been taught a few times now. Pat has become, according to himself, quite an opportunist. If there is something you want to do, do it. Seize the moment, muses he. Yes, I can relate to that. Must be that I am getting older and less concerned with what people think, and more concerned with joie de vivre. Like dancing a set at a workshop that I might never dance again. So what? Just because I might never climb the Eiffel Tower again doesn't mean it's pointless to do it in the first place. The experience of dancing (or climbing or whatever) is what counts, the journey is the target, not the destination. That's how I see it. How do you see it?
Meeting people was another much-loved aspect of this weekend. That was truly wonderful here. I got some great hugs, comments, dances and bright smiles to see me through the week! I just hope I did everybody justice by giving back what I received so generously. Hearts seemed to be a tad more visible this weekend. And maybe that's just because I was so receptive and open.
On Saturday night, the Copperplate played their socks off. Fantastic, they must have been on something, or else onto something! The atmosphere was solidly rocking, amassing momentum for lift-off fuelled by what can only be described as Kerry-speed music. But Copperplate aren't from Kerry, far from it, but it has obviously rubbed off, rolling down from the mountains and straight into the amplifiers! Eamonn Donnelly and Brian Ward from the band were in such good form that they were seen dancing their second pair of socks off while jiving during the break. Lads, way to go!
And a word about Brian Ború Ceili Band, who played on Sunday afternoon. I was curious, because it's been a while since I'd heard them. In a nutshell, I had to leave halfway through the second half, and this lady said to me, "How can you leave while this fabulous music is on?" and I have to admit, they were great. Watch the next time the banjo player Theresa Hughes breaks a string in the middle of a tune—you will see her brother, Joe, on the box in agony over it, his facial expression going, "Ah, for God's sake, here she goes again," while she bounces off the stage and roots through her stack of spare strings—funny, funny!
I am never too sure how much influence the audience excites over the musicians, and in this case there is no way of knowing. The air was sizzling, and enjoyment is too soft a word to capture the aura glowing in the room. Maybe if you'd come back at night, and it's still bright as day, you'd know how much people lit up while dancing!
But leave, I had to. It's okay too, because I learned to count. After seventeen, there is eighteen.
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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