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).
A warm welcome awaited dancers from the four winds in Antwerp, Belgium, on November 7th. Set dancers, armed with home baked goodies and determined to have a good time, were rewarded by delightful music and four hours of spirited dancing.
The enthusiasm was palpable with up to five sets on the floor of the grand HAK (Huis voor de Amateurkunsten, Amateur Arts Building) hall close to the banks of the River Scheldt in the oldest part of town. The Lille (France) contingent, many of whom took up set dancing just a year ago, showed great competence as did dancers from Amsterdam and Zeeland (Netherlands), Brussels, Tournai , Antwerp and the Campine (Belgium). Hugo Magielse of the Antwerp group led the dancing while in the second half Philip Pinkse from Amsterdam and Carine Pliez from Tournai each called some of their favourite sets including the Clare Lancers and the Antrim Square Set.
Fifty or more dancers clearly got a kick out of dancing to the sweet jigs and reels provided by Carl and fellow musicians Gerard, Ron, Jef and company. Yvonne Mulcahy, president of the Irish Club of Belgium, expressed her appreciation for the opportunity the Antwerp ceili created for the diverse groups to connect.
Musicians and dancers alike grabbed another bite to eat before heading off in the dark on the long trip home around 6 o’clock.
Plans are afoot for more ceilis in the lowlands of northwestern Europe, including Tournai on February 5th, and Antwerp is all set for its next thé dansant (tea dance) on Sunday April 3rd. So if you’re in the lowlands you’ll find there’s no need to rest your shoes. Indeed, you can dance almost any night of the week:
Sunday Tournai Carine Pliez Monday Amsterdam Ineke Hoff Wednesday Antwerp Hugo Magielse Thursday Brussels Mary Brennan Saturday Lille Zaya Maalem
Máire Ní Ghabháin, Antwerp, Belgium
What a way to start 2011—sean nós dancing topping the public vote on the All Ireland Talent Show. At 12.05am on New Year’s Day, as myself and my nine dancers stood on the stage with Daithí Ó Sé awaiting the results, time stood still. We were just delighted to have gotten this far and done our families, communities and sean nós dancing proud. Presenter Gráinne Seoige waited to get confirmation of the winner in her ear piece before she announced, “The act with the highest public vote and going straight through to the semi finals is . . .” Hearts racing, fingers crossed, legs wriggling, nervous grins, lips twitching, hands being squeezed and clothes being tugged with the tension, finally the words came, “. . . Sean Nós ar an tSionann.” Not that I got to hear the “ar an tSionann” part with all the shouts and screams of joy from my troupe and our supporters in the audience. I couldn’t believe we had done it—a magical feeling that we got to share, not only with the people in studio, but all our supporters and family tuning in on RTE1 at home. We got to dance again at the end of the show, which was the best part of the night, so the children told me, “There was no pressure. Only let loose, throw a few shapes and dance your socks off with happiness.”
Before I go any further I want to say a huge thank-you to Set Dancing News and all our dancing friends in Ireland and around the world for their loyal support. For all the texts, emails, cards and Facebook comments we received and the votes on the night of the competition—thank you. Myself, Michael and the children were blown away by it all. It would not have been possible without you.
When we first entered the All Ireland Talent Show we did so to give recognition to sean nós dancing and our own styles that we have developed. Now that this is happening for us, Sean Nós ar an tSionann have decided that if we go on to win the All Ireland Talent Show (being very optimistic!) we will donate €10,000 of the prize money to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. We all know a child who has been in this hospital; they do great work and have given so many children a future to look forward to. I know there are a few children who attend my sean nós and set dancing classes who would not be at my classes if it were not for Our Lady’s Hospital. I really hope we can do it for them.
It’s a hugely exciting time for the children in the group who all returned to school on the 10th of January as TV superstars! I have to say that they are a joy to dance with. They absolutely love what they do, are full of ideas and are always so positive and happy—and full of mischief! We are really looking forward to the semifinals in early March. There’s lots of work to be done planning new routines and dancing at several different events around Ireland. Our next performance on the All Ireland Talent Show will be to a very funky piece by 4 Men and A Dog. So tune in to the semifinals on RTE1 March 6th and 13th where on one of these nights we need your support to do it for Daithí, for the west, for Ireland, for sean nós dancing and for Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin.
Edwina Guckian, Drumsna, Co Leitrim
December is prime time for dancing parties, and your editor describes a few he had the pleasure to visit during the 2010 holiday season.
A reminder from JohnnyA full programme of ceilis has returned to Cois na hAbhna in recent years, and dancers are giving them good support. Five ceilis were scheduled in December, and while two were cancelled during a spell of wintry weather, I was pleased to attend the remaining three. I’d had a dry spell of dancing in the previous few months, and hadn’t actually attended a ceili in Ireland since August. In that time I’d try to remember what all the fuss was about and drew a blank, but at the ceili on Sunday, December 5th, it all came back to me in the first eight bars of music—wham! I am indebted to Johnny Reidy, as well as my partners, for reminding me why I dance. I found an abundance of lovely ladies among the 25 sets, and three of my partners asked me for second dances, so I thought I must have been doing something right.
My next night in Cois na hAbhna was on Wednesday December 15th for Mike Mahony’s class ceili, which was nearly as busy as Johnny’s ceili. Mike’s popular class runs every Wednesday with a dozen or more sets in attendance. The Star of Munster Ceili Band made a welcome appearance, playing better than ever. The ceili was full of people from Mike’s class who were making their first attempt at dancing to live music. Bravely they occupied sides position and watched the experienced dancers with amazement. Then when it was their turn, the faces turned blank as they tried to remember and dance the figure, and we called the moves for them with amusement. Mike also called the Antrim Square Set, but the planned Boyne Set was replaced by a Ballyvourney Jig as not all the class had practiced all its figures.
Ennis has at least four set dancing classes a week, and another popular teacher, Maggie Hutton, held her class ceili the following Wednesday, December 22nd. She brought her own lights to decorate the stage, Christmas headgear for the Four Courts Ceili Band to wear and nearly two dozen giftwrapped prizes to hand out in the free raffle. Then around the third or fourth figure, I was dancing away when I caught the distinct aroma of a chip shop—had a snack van parked outside? No, in the kitchen Maggie and her helpers were cooking up hot goodies for the tea break. There, among the sausages, chicken legs, scones, brack and mince pies, I managed to grab a nice piping hot vegetable samosa for myself, first time I ever saw one at a ceili—perhaps the last ever as well because no seconds were available when I went back for another. In any case I’d always much rather dance than eat and I had my fill at all three ceilis in Cois na hAbhna in December.
Three wheels and one leg
We all go a bit mad when set dancing—that’s part of the appeal. There’s a welcome return to the kind of fun we had as kids, which doesn’t really happen anywhere else in our adult lives. When I went dancing in Vaughan’s Barn, Kilfenora, Co Clare, on Sunday December 12th, I was just looking forward to dancing five good sets and enjoying the perennially inspiring music of the Four Courts Ceili Band, and all that I did. There was a short interlude of madness which began when a tricycle made a tour around the Barn, driven by Paddy Rynne and carrying Maura Lydon in the basket! How this came about remains a mystery, but the dancers in the Barn don’t worry about such things and just enjoyed the spectacle. For an encore, the cycling duo were encouraged to attempt a brush dance, except that one of their own legs took the place of a brush! This required Paddy to lay on the floor and Maura to take one of his feet and dance her own legs over as if it were a brush. It didn’t work out too successfully for her, so they swapped places and the second attempt turned into a festival of uncontrollable laughter. The band wisely returned us all to set dancing after that.
It had been announced at a ceili in Cois na hAbhna on the 22nd that there would be dancing in the Barn the next night, the Thursday before Christmas, whatever the weather. It was one of the coldest nights of a long spell of terribly frosty weather, so I was dubious about a ceili taking place at all, but was heartened to see the lights on in the Barn when I arrived. Inside, though, we were just eight or nine hardy gents warming ourselves by a gas fire, with only one lady in sight, Mags Vaughan, the maid behind the bar. All the other ladies showed themselves to be too sensible to venture out on a bad night barely a day before Christmas. We soon called it a night and wished each other a happy Christmas on our way out.
Mild weather had returned by New Year’s Eve, so there was nothing to keep the ladies away. In fact some came from as far away as Dublin and Dungarvan, not only to dance and celebrate the New Year, but one group had an ulterior motive for meeting here. After a few sets, our host John Vaughan brought out a cake with candles in honour of an especially notable birthday for Doreen Corrigan, the set dancer from Dublin and famed “natural comedienne”. After more dancing, there was a full tea break and then one final set for 2010 before we counted down to 2011. The room joined hands for Auld Lang Syne, followed by a free-for-all of kisses, hugs, handshakes and the year’s first set, the traditional Caledonian.
Rooster, Romans and Russians
Christmas spirit turned into hilarity during a night at Áras Chrónáin Cultural Centre in Clondalkin, Dublin, on Friday, December 17th. It began, respectfully enough, with a live tableau of Christ’s birth in the hall, with a stable, real farm animals and rows of hay bales for spectator seating. Actors dressed in appropriate swaddling clothes portrayed all the elements of the story without speaking a word. I arrived just in time for the birth of baby ‘Jesus’, who was held by a beaming ‘Mary’ for all to see. Once each of the three kings presented their gifts, the presentation ended as the cast stood together before the audience.
They all did a fine job, but my own personal vote for the best actor in the performance would have gone to the beautiful cock perched on a railing beside the manger. For most of an hour, this enormous, handsome, well-groomed chicken played his part to perfection, never ruffling a feather and impeccably behaved. He was singled out for special acclaim afterward, taking the praise and applause with grace.
Standing beside me at the back of the hall watching all this were two Roman centurions wearing helmets and armour, who either were attempting a long-overdue invasion of Ireland or perhaps had played a part in the show before my arrival. They appeared to be enjoying themselves so much that they were swaying to the soothing music accompanying the show, and looking quite good at it. Surely they’d do well at Jim Monaghan’s set dancing class taking place afterward! Jim extended them his personal invitation.
Jim teaches every Friday night here and afterward hosts a live music dance session. Áras Chrónáin is an old mansion which has been extended with a hall, and that’s where Jim usually dances. But as it was taken over tonight by the Saviour’s birth, the dancing was relocated to a lounge in the house possessing a good floor. In the midst of practicing the Cuchulainn Set, who should arrive but the two Roman warriors! They were immediately awarded a spot in the set and seemed quite content to dance with each other; just as well since there were no ladies volunteering to split them up. They gamely danced the Cúchulainn and stayed with us for a Kilfenora Set after that. I think we managed to persuade them to give up their invasion of Ireland and take up set dancing instead.
While we didn’t have the honour of a visit by baby Jesus, his parents or the three kings, we were just as pleased when a baby goat from the stable came by to see what we were up to. I hadn’t noticed that there were also a couple of puppies in the stable, but they spent much of the night with us—so friendly, docile and cute they were like stuffed toys come to life.
And of course we managed a nice bit of dancing. Four musicians (guitar, fiddle, banjo and bodhrán; minus the regular box player) seated themselves in the corner and played music just perfect for flying around the floor. Once everyone arrived there were enough dancers to make up two sets, though most seemed to prefer spectating. Two of the keenest dancers were both young ladies from Russia, one of whom I gladly partnered most of the night. (I have since learned that her first grandchild was born a few days later.) She told me she had been in Ireland six years and was inspired to take up dancing because of the film Gone with the Wind. The classic 1939 film is immensely popular in Russia and having seen it numerous times, she was impressed with the dancing at a ball in the film. (This made me curious to see the film, and in the first half of the first part, on the eve of the Civil War, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler dance the Virginia Reel and a waltz with the floor full of gents in uniform and ladies in enormous colourful dresses.) My partner said she had tried other types of dancing, but set dancing was closer to what she enjoyed about the dancing in Gone with the Wind.
While Áras Chrónáin couldn’t quite compare to the grandeur of a plantation house in the old south, it’s a great place for a fun class and an informal dance session every Friday night throughout the year. All centurions welcome!
Nenagh has its origins as the settlement of the Butlers of Ormond, whose castle, by and large still intact, overlooks the town centre. Today the town boasts many prosperous industries, which have arrived from all parts of the world. It’s a delight to see the numerous traditional shop fronts and the ninety-year-old fountains painted in the county colours.
Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan, Nenagh’s set dancing club, celebrated their 22nd birthday last summer. They hosted their fourteenth annual set dancing weekend in memory of Connie Ryan from 7th to 9th January at the Abbey Court Hotel. The club left no stone unturned to ensure that our weekend was superb in every way.
The weekend began with a mighty ceili on Friday night with music by local musician Tom McCarthy. Snow, frost and poor driving conditions did not deter dancers as crowds gathered and we had a marvellous ceili. Michael Loughnane was our MC and ensured that everyone was comfortable dancing as he called the moves for less familiar sets. Michael is a well-known dance master from Thurles and founder member of Thurles Ceili Club. He teaches classes in Thurles every Thursday night and Nenagh every Tuesday night.
Saturday morning, after negotiating frosty roads once more, we collected ourselves for our first workshop of the weekend. Pat Murphy began the class with the Ath a’ Caoire Set from west Cork. Pat told us the set was first published in the book Gliogaram Cos 1—Sets of County Cork in 1988 by Comhaltas in Cork. Teacher Joe Mannix from Clonakilty and his group of dancers have scooped numerous prizes with this little gem.
Pat Murphy launched the Port Fairy Set, which was composed by Fay McAlinden. Fay is originally from Northern Ireland and now lives in Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia. Pat told us that many areas in Port Fairy have Irish names and the area where Fay and her husband Morgan reside is known as the Green Triangle. They call their set dancing group the Killarney Dancers. Fay and Morgan have organized the Céilí Mór Irish Dance Festival in Port Fairy for many years. Pat told us that he visited them in 2005 and was delighted to get this set from them. We were privileged to be the first to dance this set in Ireland and all nine sets on the floor were delighted. We danced the first figure, a reel, before lunch and the remaining two figures, a hornpipe and another reel, in the second half of the day. With a line out and squares in the first figure, it took a bit of time. Always with endless patience and skill, Pat ensured that we had a good grasp of the moves. The changeover in the last figure is completely different to any move I have ever danced in any set. All in all, a new challenge to bring this set to ceilis for 2011.
When Pat was satisfied that we were comfortable with this set he then taught the Meelin Jig Set, another Co Cork set danced to four jigs and a reel. The jig figures begin with a house, ladies reversing all the way around while gents dance forward, a movement known as ‘shunting.’ Our workshop had an exotic conclusion when Pat taught two lovely two-hand dances, Tiara Tango and Caribbean Calypso.
Saturday night’s ceili got underway with the Plain Set and the wonderful music of the Brian Ború Ceili Band. Once more our MC was Michael, who is known for variety when choosing sets. He included the Moycullen, Boyne, Derradda and Claddagh. Pat called the Ath a’ Caoire and the Meelin from the earlier workshop. The night concluded with a superb selection of reels. It was marvellous to see the different sets that dancers decided to do. I saw a few sets dancing the Labasheeda, Clare Lancers, Moycullen and High-Cauled Cap.
Sunday morning at 11am we were back for our final workshop of the weekend. Pat Murphy taught the Slip and Slide Polka Set. It is from Co Monaghan and danced in four figures, two polkas, a jig and a hornpipe. Pat told us he got this set from Anna Pegley from Lexlip in Co Kildare. Pat taught two-hand dances to conclude the workshop. The Chapeloise is a lovely simple little dance, a version of the Gay Gordons. The second dance was the Whispering Foxtrot. Pat paid tribute to Janice Ward from Co Down who revives, shares and teaches these two-hand dances.
The grand finale ceili got underway at 2.30pm. We danced to the exuberant music of Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter. With Michael back at the helm as our MC we danced another delightful selection of sets including the Ballyduff, Boyne, Moycullen and Labasheeda, and Pat called the Slip and Slide from the morning workshop. We even had a few rounds of the Chapeloise, our new two-hand dance from the morning workshop.
We had a delightful weekend with some of the best ceili bands in the country. Pat is an excellent teacher and his love of dancing, its culture and history is infectious. The snow and frost that prevailed all weekend in no way marred our enjoyment. The warmth of dancing friends and the wonderful organizing committee ensured that we will be all back in Nenagh again next year to celebrate set dancing and the memory of the late Connie Ryan, dancing master from Clonoulty, Co Tipperary.
Joan Pollard Carew
A remarkable people, the Swiss. Insular without water, a confederation founded on an oath sworn between three tribes anno 1291 after the death of Rudolf of Habsburg, nowadays Switzerland is also known for producing Roger Federer, an intact banking system, skiing and snowboarding, chalets, lakes and alpine mountains, cool heads on grounded feet, and an admirable capability to deal with adversity. It’s a clean, punctual, sober little country.
We arrived on a mountain covered in thick fog, a twilight world with fading light. My husband and I ventured out for a walk, with eyes straining to penetrate the misty grey-whites, heavy boots tramping through the snow the only sound. Hands found each other, and after a while, as if by design, we stopped short. The silence, as only encountered in snow and fog, was absolute. Our breathing seemed to disturb it, so we softened it and held our breath for a short while, to hear the stillness. No bird, no dropping ice, no wind, no howl of wolf or hammer of woodpecker, no skid on snow of badger, fox or rabbit. Impenetrable fog and a darkness even deeper settled a few yards ahead.
“Everything is possible here, isn’t it?” said Rainer.
“It might be,” I whispered.
“This could be the end of the world,” he said.
“Or the beginning of a new one.”
We turned around, carefully placing feet on the downward slope, and made our way back, when, very softly at first, a sound rode high to reach our ears from ‘the Last Homely House’—and it was Irish music. Louder and louder now, tufts of reels drifted across the snows and through the dark stumps of trees. Like an umbilical cord, it tethered us and led us back to light and warmth.
Herzberg, the location for the New Year’s eve set dancing event in Switzerland, 28 December–1 January, can be translated as ‘mountain of the heart’, and in this heartland, the Swiss and all others present were called upon to deal with just that. At an elevation of 750m, a big house all on its own peered through mists that were to stay for the duration of the event. The interior was perfectly clean all the time, and renovated to a modern, functional standard, including a cafeteria, a dining room and a hall. It’s a meeting place, a conference and retreat centre with an ethos. Food is organic when possible, and lunch and dinner always accompanied by a salad buffet and homemade bread. A spacious bubble, ready to take on a crowd of dancers of various nationalities. And all those characteristics the Swiss pride themselves in—efficacy, perfection, composure and reticence, were needed before the weekend was out, to deal with heart and soul, with expected and wholly unexpected big players, life and death, resuscitation, decision-making, fear, sadness, honour and dignity, discipline, song and dance, order and chaos, joy and movement, chill and warmth, beauty, exhaustion, duty, success, contentedness, friendship and love—all asserted themselves into the lives of the dancers over the few days that they got together there, and were moulded by the major impact the death of a dancer had.
Bernhard Horlacher, founder of the New Year’s event in Switzerland, was dancing at the first ceili when, while dancing the Ballyvourney Jig, he slid to the ground unconscious. Some thought he had an epileptic fit, others that he had fainted. But what had occurred was an embolism and a consequent heart attack. As he lay on the dance floor, a qualified nurse started heart massage. Someone else made sure his airways were open, and an ambulance was called. Various others helped in different ways, and the ones who couldn’t help respectfully withdrew. Some simply lent their calm energy. Without much ado, people chipped in to help, and a blanket was brought, his clothes were collected, his shoes taken off, his shirt unbuttoned. When the ambulance and crew arrived, they performed multiple procedures to try to revive him. Machines were brought in to help and medication was administered. They said that folks had done the exact right things and that nothing else could have been done, or done differently, which was a relief to hear. Bernhard got every chance, and he was not alone. They finally strapped him onto a stretcher and carried him out. People stayed up for a long while, trying to come to terms with what had happened. Talking softly in small groups, taking a drink or two, lingering thoughts, experiencing flashbacks, everything that followed was informed and shaped by having experienced death together and lived through an emergency, and the shock that came with it.
Inside the bubble, the thick fog outside seemed almost to shield me in a way from glaring reality and adorned the senses with a surreal coating. We were all tested. When death visited the living, our relationship with it became a focal point and a stark reminder of our own mortality.
“I am around the same age as Bernhard,” said Karl.
“It all comes in waves, comes up and then recedes again, to come up again,” said Andrea.
“I work in intensive care, and come into contact with death and dying on a daily basis,” said Gertrud. “It’s okay for me, but usually I don’t know the people.”
The following morning, all gathered to be told that Bernhard was dead. The decision was taken to continue the dancing after taking a break where everyone had a chance to share stories and thoughts about Bernhard and to take the remainder of the morning to do so. A card was created with photographs taken during his last dances, signed by everyone and then sent to the family. Led by Pat, minutes of silence were observed. The committee members, Manuela Morel, Eva Biedermann, Max Buchser as well as Pat Murphy, held the space beautifully, honouring death and life equally and allowing the event to be completed by continuing it in the way it was intended with added dimensions and depth.
In the afternoon, in a different room, the schedule resumed with Pat conducting workshops, and Triskell Ceili Band playing for the ceilis. Everyone stayed, and everyone danced. Pat’s soft voice told of how he had met Bernhard at the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo, and of his experiences with him over the years. Not only was Bernhard the one who conceived the idea of bringing people together over the New Year in Switzerland, he also organised the get-together for a few years .
Life, death, rebirth, closely woven, an eternal dance, a circle fulfilled. In honouring the circle, the living dance, the always-dying that is inherent in each moment is brought forward. By telling death’s story, illumination is reaching to the dark corners without which there would be no brightness. Everything is made of the same fibre. A community formed through necessity, to do what is needed. Reaching out, and reaching in.
At the ceili at night, energy and laughter wanted release, shoulders wanted to relax, feet wanted to tap and voices wanted to be heard. Everyone seemed to understand that process perfectly, there was no judgement or inappropriateness in anything. A couple of sets that were taught at the workshop found their way into the ceili, as well as the ones everybody knows so well and can dance nearly automatically. There were only a few beginners; most dancers had a good grip on the sets and were able to let loose. So many nationalities came together at Herzberg—Irish, Swiss, English, German, Belgian, French, American and Italian. Some had moved to Switzerland, like Sean Kennedy, who had married a Swiss girl, and settled in Interlaken. However, he always goes over to Ireland to see the major hurling matches live.
The whole of the McEvoy family from Co Louth had descended on Herzberg—Niamh on piano, Mairéad on flute, Fergal on box, Eoghan on drums, and mum and dad, Sheila and John, with youngest daughter Aoife in tow. Sheila told me that all the kids learned to play Irish music, several of them several instruments. Fergal and John farm, and the local Swiss cows, of course, had to be inspected. Cows and dancers alike could count on them keeping an eye out.
Triskell’s music became easier and easier to listen to, easy to dance to, and that is pretty much their style. ‘Harmonious’ is a word that comes to mind, and looking at the family, the close-knit kind, they are also at ease in each other’s company.
Dancing with young Aoife McEvoy that night was great. Here again is the next generation at its best—she’s a cool kid! There is so much bounce in her, mingled with that sturdy, slightly distant teenagers’ stance. Such vitality, and as is often the case when I come into contact with young dancers, under the cool exterior lies a switched-on mind and an ability to care. The future is in safe hands, if these ones are anything to go by. Life goes on, so it does, and it always finds a way. Dancing seems to be one of its simple and obvious expressions.
On New Year’s eve, skipping the afternoon workshop, three rebels set out for a fog-daring walk up the mountain behind the back of the house. To start with, there were loads of signs telling you exactly which way to go to which destination, how long it would take, and the distance of it. Trusting Swiss efficiency, they started out with no worries. Soon enough though, coming up to bifurcations, to the three walkers’ total surprise the signs were discontinued, so following their noses, with nothing else to go by in the thick mists, they trudged on regardless. Then they met a forestry car and its driver. Saved! Getting advice and directions, they set out on a different route again. But presently they couldn’t remember clearly what the fellow had said—turn right at little pathway into woods behind a stack of timber? Or was it keep straight until you meet fork in path and keep to your right from there? And he did say to avoid going up to the stones; they would be treacherously icy now. Needless to say, the three, after puffing and panting uphill on an endless, uneven staircase, hewn into the side of the mountain, arrived at very the stones they were to avoid, mystically appearing through the foggy veils. They went up and up, slipped and heaved, and when reaching a sort of summit, the clouds shrouding views gave way a little for patches of blue to peek-a-boo through, almost dazzlingly. One hour before dusk. Don’t panic! Aargh!
The world seemed utterly alien up there. Wind and low temperatures had caused fog to freeze, and bizarre banners of idiosyncratic icicles like wings of some long-extinct ice-age creature of the sky had formed on branches of trees. Exploding frosty shapes in pretty designs clad autumnal leaves, and although the walkers were truly lost, the beauty did find them.
Snow hysteria then tried to take hold of them, when, giggling, they started singing nonsensical children’s rhymes. And then all of a sudden, they stumbled upon a way they recognized as the way back! They should have played the lotto that day, so much luck was on their side, and just prevented the humiliating phone call, “We’re lost in the mountains! . . . Where? . . . Can’t tell, there is fog everywhere and everything looks the same! . . . We are, um, somewhere in there!”
On their return, they found Fergal and Eoghan in the cafeteria, practising tunes together. There was hot chocolate, homemade biscuits and cakes, and so the three were thawed and fed and comforted after their adventure.
We looked at death with a friendly, gentle eye, didn’t talk too much, nor too little, weren’t too loud or too quiet. As one, we congregated and knitted another bit of the ongoing story. We looked at life and celebrated the dying of an old year with a welcome for the new year with three kisses—left, right, left, the Swiss way. Fireworks were ignited, and the divine spark cut brightly coloured flares onto the night’s canvas. We wished each other a Happy New Year in many tongues. And right beside the festive champagne, decorations and salty snacks, three white roses stood in a vase on a grand piano, with a collection box for a wreath for Bernhard. A few days later someone who attended the funeral wrote, “We were at the funeral today which was sad and moving. Four sets or so danced the Ballyvourney Jig. Bernhard would have liked that.” And someone else commented, “I hope that people dance at my funeral too.” And another attendee, “Dancing at the funeral was for me, and for others I spoke to, a good way to do both, remember Bernhard and be cheerful at the same time.”
Thanks to the Swiss’ natural sobriety, the New Year’s eve event concluded the way it had been planned, with a workshop on New Year’s Day. Pat must have been wrecked, but he held the fort perfectly. At different points, unobtrusively and gentlemanly, he found fitting words to say that reminded everyone of what had happened. And he got on with the job, teaching sets like the Kildownet Half-Set, the Tory Island Set, the Clare Orange and Green, and a little treat was up his sleeve in the last half-hour of that last workshop. He introduced a new set, the Port Fairy, and gave us a preview by going through the first figure. My word, this is some set. Really different moves—no telling though! Everyone felt chuffed that Herzberg in Switzerland was the chosen location for a prelaunch of a new set to come on stream.
Leaving the slightly out-of-phase Herzberg, and returning to Zurich, most of the party from Ireland met at night for a meal. A few local specialities were tried, such as Rösti, which are a kind of shredded potato-bake, and things that were presented to the eater in a metal bucket or a dustpan or held in place by clothes pegs. Travel does broaden the mind, and occasionally the stomach. The food was plentiful and rich, and not forgetting Swiss chocolate—worth walking on your knees for a hundred miles for. But this is first and foremost the country of cheese, and melting it is a forté of the Swiss people. Fondue can be one way of enjoying it, raclette another. By some divine intervention, none got sick from the humongous amount of cheese consumed at the raclette sitting. Not to be rushed, this meal, but treated as a congregation of people in a ritualistic celebration of shared food.
The last day was spent on trains, boats, trams, funiculars and wooden sleds. Climbing up nearly 2000m to the top of a mountain called Rigi (it’s feminine, a ‘she’ mountain), slowly passing bizarre frozen waterfalls with meter long icicles that wind and water confected into spirals, straight or slanted, with at times an icicle on an icicle in a variation of a Russian doll. Through the steamed-up windows of the funicular, the world outside appeared vague and dreamlike, and people might pop up out of the mists suddenly, dressed to the nines in skiwear. Nothing obviously would stop them, these ski or snowboard or sled enthusiasts, not even not knowing where the hell they were going, other than downhill! This is of course what the nets are for that are dotted along the slopes, to catch skis gone astray, and bodies still partly attached to them or not. Dipping down from the mountain onto the lake, a ferryboat connects the little village at the funicular station with Luzern, a cobblestoned, wooden-bridged medieval town, with one house proudly announcing by a mural, “Goethe once lodged here.” And in a famous quote, he states, “Death is a commingling of eternity with time. In the death of a good man, eternity is seen looking through time.’
All was deeply rich in Switzerland, rich in spirit and spirituality, rich in reconnecting and connections, rich in emotion and action, rich in music, dance and smiles cast when truly being able to see each other.
And finally, the plane ascends above the sea of fog, allowing the high mountains’ white-topped heads to break through, declaring, “We were here all this while. But even we, old as the mountains, are but a flicker in changeless fires.”
“It was the best ever” was the general consensus at the end of the Malahide weekend held at the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, from the 14th to 16th January. Dancers travelled from all over Ireland, Europe, Japan and the United States to learn from Aidan Vaughan, Tony Ryan, Pat Murphy, Mick Mulkerrin and Michael Tubridy. They danced to the Slievenamon Group, the Four Courts, the Brian Ború and Swallow’s Tail ceili bands and delighted in the fact that Betty McCoy has already started to plan for next year’s event. Pencil in 13–15 January 2012.
This weekend is organised in memory of the late set dancing master, Connie Ryan. It was in the early 1960s that Connie came to Dublin from his native Clonoulty in Co Tipperary. He left the sugar factory in Thurles to become a telephonist in the Bank of Ireland. Whatever impressions he made in that area of his life are not recorded but he certainly made an impact on the Irish set dance scene.
He had been set dancing all his life. His father had been a dancer and house dances were held regularly in Connie’s home. Very quickly on arriving in Dublin he set about organising dance classes. His first love had been hurling and he ran the classes like a training session. He took a particular interest in helping men dance—he said women could dance naturally—taking them in a waltz hold and propelling them around the floor until they found a degree of proficiency. The classes were great fun but Connie took his role as teacher seriously and went to enormous trouble to make sure that sets were danced in the traditional style. His reputation spread and he was asked to give workshops all over Ireland.
He travelled the length and breadth of the country and the islands too. He went to the north at the height of the Troubles, teaching on both sides of the divide . He taught dances to members of an Orange Lodge and learnt their variations to teach back at his own classes. He resurrected sets that had been dormant for years. In 1981 in response to the huge enthusiasm he found himself surrounded by, he set up the Slievenamon Set Dancers and encouraged members to accompany him on workshops and his travels. Many of us discovered an Ireland we never knew existed.
During the past year, Betty McCoy, who was Connie’s dancer partner, contacted dancers who took photographs and video recordings of their times with him. This resulted in an interesting and evocative montage. It was shown on a big screen before each ceili over the weekend. It was sad for many people but younger dancers were delighted to see this exuberant man in action. Television programmes that Connie took part in were also shown, including a clip from the Glen Echo festival in Washington.
Connie’s death left a huge void in the set dancing scene. Happily though, many of his pupils became teachers and have continued to pass on his legacy. Pat Murphy, Pádraig McEneany, Michael Tubridy and Aidan Vaughan are among many who have travelled to America, Japan, Russia, Australia and all over Europe to teach another generation to set dance. And this brings their students to Malahide. The loyal Tokyo Comhaltas branch came again and David Barnaby and Linda Thomas came for the first time from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
With five dance teachers and four full bands this weekend has established itself as the primary workshop of the year. Old friends meet up and make plans for the dancing year. Newcomers are nurtured and encouraged and initiated into the set dancing world.
And for those with the stamina there are late night singing sessions. This year Joe Corscadden from Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, will be remembered for the Celtic tiger version of Kilkelly, as will Jimmy and Kathleen Donoghue from Portmagee, Co Kerry, who sang beautiful nostalgic old ballads.
And of course, the weekend is a fund raising event for cancer care and research. This year €4,000 has been donated, culminating in a total of €93,000 since its inception. The small committee of Betty, Michael Tubridy and Anne and John Grant have done Trojan work.
Betty runs a weekly dance class every Thursday at 7.30pm at the Ripley Court Hotel in Talbot Street, Dublin. She was gently chided by Mickey Kelly because not enough Mayo sets were danced at Malahide so, in the spirit of appeasement she taught the Mayo Lancers! And yes, Mickey is right—we should be dancing more Mayo sets!
During our recent tour of Australia we visited Margaret and Bill Winnett in Sydney. They come to the Willie Clancy Summer School every year. They have come for the last fourteen years and are planning already for 2011. They run a set dancing club and teach the various sets in their local community centre in Sydney every Thursday night. They always have live music and we danced the Antrim Square, the Connemara, etc, and they played a Caledonian specially for us. The night finished up with the usual tea and cake and chat plus a surprise birthday cake for Margaret and Bill’s daughter. We met dancers from Cork, Limerick, Antrim and Donegal who love to come together every Thursday night. It was very encouraging to see so many young Australians dancing the sets and doing The Priest and His Boots, etc.
Anybody going to Sydney can get information on www.sydneyirishceilidancers.com.au.
Frances and John Devitt, Ennis, Co Clare
For our friend Micheál Foley
A big thank-you to all the set dancers who travelled from all corners of Munster for our fundraising ceili in memory of our friend Micheál Foley and in aid of Marymount Hospice, Cork. Over 350 people took to the floor in St Finbarr’s Hurling and Football Club, Togher, Cork, for a mighty night of music and dance. The wonderful music on the night was provided by the one and only Abbey Ceili Band.
Our appreciation goes to the set dancers of Blarney, Carraig Na bhFear, Watergrasshill, Upper Glanmire and indeed the wider set dancing community for their goodwill and cooperation; without this help the night would not have been such a success.
We were so glad Micheál’s wife Siobhán and his sister Noreen were with us on the night—indeed Siobhán spoke movingly and thanked everybody for their support during Micheál’s illness.
A cheque for €5,500 was presented to Miriam Dennehy who represented the Friends of Marymount Hospice, Cork.
Our thanks goes to our sponsors, East Cork Scór, Atkins, Carraig Na bhFear Pharmacy and Ryans Supervalue, Glanmire, Co Cork
We would also like to thank you, Bill, for printing our tribute to Micheál in the last issue of Set Dancing News and indeed for promoting the ceili.
We wish you continued success for the New Year.
Ber Sheehan, Carraig Na bhFear, Co Cork
Sean nós feis
Sharleen McCaffrey (my girlfriend) runs sean nós dancing classes in Moate, Co Westmeath and Tubber, Co Offaly, on a weekly basis. To mark the end of the current term, all junior dancers took part in a sean nós feis in order to display what they had learned to their family, friends and members of the public. The feis was designated a Trad for Trócaire event also, and a total of €1,000 was raised for Trocaire’s worthy campaign.
Pictured are the full group of junior dancers from the Dún na Sí, Moate, class who took part in the feis.
Sharleen also runs adult classes immediately following the junior classes in both venues. The classes take place Monday nights in Tubber and Tuesday nights in Moate.
Brendan Doyle, Athlone, Co Westmeath
Made of compressed beech
Just a brief note to let you know that a wonderful successful night was had by all at the very first ceili held in Ballinacarriga Community Hall, Ballinacarriga, Dunmanway, Co Cork.
Approximately 100 to 130 people danced the night away to the super music played by Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan. It commenced at 9.30pm through till 1am with a tea break at 11.30. People travelled long distances from Carrigaline, Ballyvourney and Newmarket. Such was the success that it augers well for forthcoming ceilis.
The floor, which was a pleasure to dance on, was only laid in August and is made of compressed beech brought in from Scandinavia.
This hall is used every night for indoor sport by people from far and wide. We also have a state of the art gymnasium. We look forward to seeing you down here some time. Will keep you posted on future upcoming ceilis.
Mairéad O’Connell, Ballinacarriga, Dunmanway, Co Cork
The full programme of ceilis in Ballinacarriga Community Centre is included in the listings.
At their highest standards
I would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to all the wonderful people who attended the Diamond Set Dancing Weekend in early November and helped to make it a huge success, and to all the ceili and country and western bands, entertainers and teachers who performed at their highest standards—we thank them so much. Thanks also to Enjoy Travel, Diamond Coast Hotel and Joan Pollard Carew who was there to catch ye all on camera.
As ye know, the Diamond Weekend, this year on 4–6 November, and the Ballina Set Dancing Weekend, which is coming up on March 4–6, are in aid of Mayo Cancer Support and to date we have raised €38,476. Again many thanks, looking forward to seeing ye again.
Oliver Fleming, Cloontia, Bonniconlon, Ballina, Co Mayo
Energy and enthusiasm
I am French, living in the High-Alps, and I have just visited the website about Connie Ryan. I am glad to read those 37 pages about him, and see all the photos. I wish to thank all those who have contributed to this website.
I lived two years in Derry in 1988–90 and I used to go set dancing several times a week and to most of the ceilis in the area. Once, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop in Donegal. It is there that I met the “mighty set dancing master Connie Ryan.” I was so impressed! He was a bomb of energy and enthusiasm. He was a sunny and cheerful man communicating his joie de vivre. He is someone I will never forget.
Even though more than twenty years have passed since that event, I can still remember him very well, and I can still hear his cheerful voice, as if this workshop happened yesterday.
Modestly, I can add that I have attended different workshops of traditional folk dances in France of course, but also in Austria, in Romania, Scotland, etc, for over than fifteen years. The teachers have always been very good in each country, but I must say that mighty Connie Ryan really stands out.
Françoise Martin, Hautes-Alpes, France
Françoise refers to a page on the Set Dancing News website (www.setdancingnews.net/news/connie.lp) which collects together many tributes to Connie and photos of his workshops.
Just a note to say how saddened I was to hear of the sudden passing of Joe Mannix from Dunmanway, Co Cork, on January 21st. Joe was loved by everyone and always had a smile on his face.
My first meeting of Joe was through dancing competitions about eighteen years ago, but I never got talking to him properly until the World Fleadh in Ballybunion in 2006 and that was around a kitchen table at a house where he and his dancing group were staying. They kindly invited me out for tea after a ceili, so we drank tea and talked and then drank more tea and at around 5am Joe offered to teach me the Ath a’ Caoire Set, a set local to him.
Well, we cleared back the table and chairs and I started learning. I had seven knowledgeable dancers from Cork teaching me a set, and it’s normally me doing the teaching and not the learning.
I have to say we had some fun in the house that morning and we finished dancing at around 8am and of course we danced a few other sets as well. I have taught the Ath a’ Caoire Set at a lot of workshops all over the world and I always tell people of Joe Mannix teaching me this set at five in the morning at a house party. He then helped me teach it in Ennistymon in 2007 at the Step to the West weekend.
Joe was a great man for introducing new blood, and should I say young blood, from Co Cork into set dancing and through him we all have met some great friends.
Joe will be sadly missed by his present dancing team of whom he was so proud and also all set dancers who got to know him through the years. His dancing group gave him a lovely send off at his funeral by dancing a set and I bet Joe was looking down from heaven to make sure they were square and their swings were perfect.
May he rest in peace.
If you were to attribute a colour to Fleadh Portugal, it would be a softly rich, deep orange glow. The new experiences, people met, dances danced—all orange. Coming away from it meant a stack of new faces and names, an overcoat of music classes, and a better understanding of what living life to the max entails. And finally, I can spell ‘fleadh’ without stumbling. It writes itself easily now. Could that have to do with one hell of a fleadh on the Algarve coast? Ola.
First, I was a bit nervous. Would I know anyone? And would I get to know anyone and feel a part of it all? Only one day into it, and all was sorted—I was sorted! The entertainment industry that is Enjoy Travel had pulled out all the stops from the start. I relaxed. No need to worry about anything.
For the uninitiated, Fleadh Portugal is a huge, two-week ball in a ten-storey hotel in a newer part of Albufeira town on the Portuguese coast, which gets taken over by an Irish and country and western music and dance crazed crowd, held this year from October 7th to 21st. Plenty big names from the circuit play here for social dances and ceilis in the afternoon and at night. Actually, the hotel staff said how nice it is for them to get a civilized bunch of people for the fleadh in October, after a summer filled with broken windows and drunken brawls.
This fleadh presents an avalanche of events, activities and opportunities ranging from sets, ballroom and sean nós workshops, to musical tutorials, humongous sessions, social dancing and ceilis, to organised tours, lying by the pool, swimming in the sea and shopping in the old town. It can be whatever the visitor makes of it—a relaxing, recharging holiday with plenty of downtime for reading that overdue book, or an exhilarating surf on the swell of all the events, or something in between.
There were people there that didn’t dance at all, who came for the Irish experience, the safety, the music. Others didn’t stop dancing till the small hours. More did a mix ’n’ match. You can dance at all times and in every place, you see. Even in the lift. If you don’t use it to get to your floor, you might use it for “joyriding,” as one smart lady put it. And if you’re lucky, you might get a quick ballroom lesson from teacher Michael Behan, “diaphragm to diaphragm,” while dropping downwards in the lift, creating a sinking feeling with an upbeat step. So whether it’s the ballroom, the ceili floor, the poolside marquee, the “blue room bar” (with its beautiful Moorish mosaic theme, and smoke free!) or the bushes (more in a minute of that), waves of people drift here and there, mingling in one venue or another in ever-changing combinations.
The bushes? The bushes are a meeting place for sessions during the day in front of the hotel. This lady told us over breakfast how she had gone to Mass and a fellow was sitting beside her she didn’t know, so they small-talked it. Then she asked him whether he would go to the bushes with her? He gave her a bewildered glance, obviously not knowing what she was talking about, but probably hoping—because he did turn up!
Staying with the lift for a wee bit, because there were many comical moments in it and around it, in one instance this is what happened to my friend Jenny:
She passed by the lifts, there are three in a row, with one button to press to call them at ground level. A lady was there, waiting, and asked my friend where the ceili was held. Jenny said, “It’s on the tenth floor.”
“Must I go up or down?”
“Er, up. You have to go up to it.”
The lady seemed unsure as to what to do about it next and remained inactive, so Jenny pressed the button to call the lift for her.
One lift arrived, and the door opened. The lady waited patiently nonetheless in front of one with its door still closed. When Jenny motioned her to the lift with the door open, the lady said, “Must I not wait for this one?”
Jenny recounted later how she had felt hard-pressed to keep a straight face, and when she finally ushered the good woman into the lift, quickly turned and laughed silently, but almost turned again to join her in the ride up to make sure she’d arrive safely.
And then there was the flying Chris. No, not me, another Chris, male, and of a somewhat less tall stature. Across from me in a set was an impressive young lady dancing, up for the craic, tall and strong. Chris was my gent. The girl across from me gestured to lock our arms under his when swinging in four, so we could lift him off the ground! And, oh holy smoke, we did, and poor Chris was treading air while buzzing around. We knew he’d be okay with it, so no bruised ego there. What could possibly be done to top that?
Here’s what. Seeing Mickey Kelly, resident teacher and MC, in drag, wearing a Flintstones leopard skin top with black tights and an outrageous curly blond wig, portraying Dolly Parton by miming a song—priceless. Ouch, my sides hurt so much from laughing. This was during a talent competition, there were three of them in drag, and it wasn’t clear for which particular talent their show got first prize, but there were no two ways about it, the crowd loved them!
I experienced a revelation in the Mazurka Set. Fifth figure, grand chain, to be precise. For obscure and unknown reasons, everyone in unison chained in such a way that hands were held continuously and without a break. You could have sent an electric current through the circle and all would have been affected alike with a shock. That chain encapsulated it all, and no words were needed then, just to feel it, sense it, becoming aware of it. The individual dancer dissolves into a chain that feeds itself, linking with another link to form a bigger connection. Realising it, that moment, demarcates a new understanding of dancing in its entirety for me. On the tenth floor, the ballroom (nice floor) gave it to me. The dancers jointly gave it to me. The music, provided by Tony Dunne and Pat Walsh, made it possible to experience. Eureka!
Tony Dunne? Who’s he? Tony is a box player from Fermoy, Co Cork. But not any old box player. He is a musician who “can get sober on music. Music can fill me up, and music can make me drunk.” He talks about as if it was as essential to him as food and drink or a fifth limb that cannot be amputated without fatal consequences. He states that “music is the conversation.” And when you watch him play, you can see this. You will see and hear in your multisensory brain a music played utterly from the emotional and spiritual cores of self. For example the hornpipe he plays takes on an elusive circling quality without losing rhythm and rhyme. Hearing him vocalize extremely well what he feels when playing made it easier to translate and understand the musical output. From now on, I will look for that in a musician, the way music might fill them up and make them sober (or intoxicated)!
And slightly intoxicated too was a group of people who each had a divine and colourful cocktail in the Irish bar next door. Here, in black and white, we saw a clip from 1976 of Willie Keane dancing on a huge TV screen. His battering with the four heels in it is most inspiring, as is the kick-out he puts in before taking off for the house. Grand little connection between times and countries. The same group ended going back to the hotel for dinner and the ceili after with music that made them sober! The Annaly’s sharp beat whacked them over the head and instantly woke ’em up.
What would have woken anyone up too were three lads of three different ceili bands dancing a set at the same time—Brian Boru’s Joe Hughes (box), the Annaly’s Sean Thompson (box) and the Copperplate’s Brian Ward (banjo) who, with his wife Alice, danced many times during the week, and a nice batter too! Same as the Copperplate’s Eamonn Donnelly (piano), a great jiver-driver. Tony Dunne also ventured out at least once. Multitalented, the lot.
If all that dancing leaves you breathless and wanting for some sit-down time, you can always go and listen in or contribute to the sessions MCed by Mick Mackey from the most wonderful town of Clonmel. I’d say that, wouldn’t I, because it’s the town I love so well! Mick is an old hand at directing and staging the sessions, quietly holding the space. There is normally a big gathering after the night ceili and social dance, like a sauna at times with all that body heat. You’ll see and hear an Eintopf (stew) of singing, sean nós, old-time step, storytelling and tunes, tunes, tunes!
Tunes bring me on to something else again. Didn’t I bring my tin whistle, which so far has often mournfully looked at me at home and still shines with an unused, just-bought glow. I had vowed to go to the music tutorials to have a go at learning a tune or two. First, it’s really hard not to make the thing screech, as in scree-eech, but the good news is that you’re not alone making potentially lethal noises. There’s a fair few others who also try, and scree-eech. Moving on from level one, there are some folks who have played a little longer, and others who have played longer still and are getting really good at this business. All sorts of instruments mingled here, and how Geraldine McLynn, our tutor, managed us all, I just don’t know. We tried our fingers and breath initially at the Toronto Waltz, which was spot on for me to learn some half-notes. I used to play recorder and tenor flute, which are similar, yet not the same as tin whistle, so the fingers wanted to do what they knew best, and the damn things often resisted moving on to a new way of closing and opening holes.
Pleased enough with some small progress, I got ambitious. Questions about whether I was going to the social dance in the afternoon before the ceili were now answered with, “I am going to the music tutorials,” with the tip of my nose slightly raised. All of a sudden, I was in it—the musician’s domain. There was no hesitation now in pulling aside real musicians and pestering them with a lilting of The Boys of ’45 to see if I was getting all the bits of the tune right. But inexplicably, not one of them could make reels or jigs out of my excellent lilting, and I just don’t understand why!
What folks did make reels and jigs out of in another instance was a first-rate rain-defying outdoor ceili one day when little streams of water gathered around the edges of the floor and the band turned up the volume to overpower the downpour. There was this atmospheric sense of “I’m dancing in the rain, just dancing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again . . .” And a day later we were happy out again when the helium-fusion centre of our solar system made a slightly belated but much worshipped thereafter show of herself, and the tanner-topper-uppers congregated by the pool on the loungers.
All that is hungry and thirsty work, so never mind that there was so little sleep despite daily resolutions—“Tonight, I will go to bed early. Tonight, I have to catch up on sleep.” I still was at breakfast always on time before it finished, and in all fairness, staff were quite tolerant of sleepy heads strolling in casually after 10am, the official closing time. Buffet-style hot and cold, continental and full Irish, and irresistible, irritatingly yummy little croissants. Lunches then weren’t really needed, but offered for as little as €3 for soup and roll or sandwich. Dinners were included, and you could eat as much as you wanted, choosing from a salad bar, three different mains and a veggie option (usually pasta or rice) through to the hip-loving desserts. There was a fruit choice too. Many a plate was piled high with the fruit, for a good conscience, as one punter put it, surrounded by various creamy, chocolaty, crème brulée tartlets and cakes. Dessert time was my quiet time. Full concentration on the home run!
The calling of sets and the teaching of workshops was shared by Mickey Kelly in Hawaiian shorts and Sheila Gormley, Co Fermanagh, without Hawaiian shorts—well, she was dressed properly, what are you thinking, tut tut! Sheila taught some beginners’ set dancing, which was a great idea. Her calling was laid back and confident, easily understood even by me, who at times struggles with a few of the northern accents. I struggled at times in the past with Mickey’s accent too. Having said that, the dancers could follow him okay, and having known him a long time might help! Teaching the Mayo Lancers was class, helped by his ever-present dancing partner Maureen Halpin, the great woman behind the great man, and kisses were let loose in the third part of it, dished out like storm-safe clothes peg. Mickey would also ask other people to call a set occasionally, and Hilary Nic Íomhair interspersed her interpretive calling of the Sliabh Luachra with a good few Irish words. I learned one anyway—timpeall an tímeans house around.
Ben Cassidy conducted a sean nós session, and since most of the participants had done a bit before, they all hopped along nicely. Ben’s unique way of doing it—his arms are as involved as the feet—is infectious. He simply started dancing without big preliminaries, everyone followed and the whole thing extrapolated into what sean nós is supposed to be—enjoy dancing to music, relax, find your style, keep the whole body involved in its natural shapes and loosen those shoulders!
And on a second-hand information note:
Pat Murphy, don of set dancing, was there for the second week, and his being there naturally provides quality assurance. One lovely comment was made about Pat’s calling—not only was it gentle, she said, and non-screaming, but he allowed dancers to choose their own hold in the lead around for the fifth figure of the Cashel, on the lady’s waist, or over her shoulder. Making a case for evolution again!
Two young country and western musicians and singers, Stephen Doyle and Sharon Nixon, gained prominence. There is a lot of fab country and western music around the Fleadh, but those two performers stood out. Both from Northern Ireland, Stephen is the type of crooner who induces a good feeling in the audience, him being a dote! So much of what he brings across and is picked up is due to his personality rather than stage-persona. What you want to do with him is bring him home with you! And Sharon is almost the female complement of that. As we sat at breakfast together talking peace in the north, and she proudly displayed in a girly kind of way her honky-tonkin’ guitar tattoo on her “bizeps.” Sharon knows no fashion boundaries, and you can always spot her a mile away by her funky, unconventional clothes—Arabian nights one minute, Natalie Wood with a dash of hippie the next.
And not only does this Fleadh bring people from Ireland and England (mostly) to Portugal, it also does its bit to attract the natives to Irish music and dancing, blanketing more landmass with Irish culture. Cristina Rodrigues, staff member of the hotel, showed up curious at one of the workshops with her friend and colleague Anna, and consequently came to the ceili later to dance the set learned. She wrote, “Probably the best days of my life. Thank you all for such great days. I loved it! Now I’m really a bit Irish.” The set was none other than the Claddagh, and after doing it only a couple of times, Cristina got the cross chain. A beautiful young girl, she took to dancing like a (Portuguese) duck to water.
The recipe for this mega-event has proven successful, that’s undeniable. And apart from feeling secure among the tunes and songs and dances and in the hotel, having had that comfy feeling of being taken care of, as well as taking care of each other, there is safety in (Irish) numbers, and there is no need to look over your shoulder. Distil the whole thing and you’re left with exactly what it says on the tin—craic, and then some.
It had been ten weeks since our extended trip to Willie Clancy week (21 céilithe in sixteen days). Our legs had recovered and were ready for a top up. A quick search of Set Dancing News revealed the set dance weekend at Glenties, Co Donegal, 17–19 September,. The fact that our all-time favourite band, the Copperplate, was playing twice had nothing to do with the decision. Honest!
We set off on Thursday and stayed with a friend in Co Down and attended a class at Carryduff where we practised our Lough Neagh Set.
Friday morning saw us driving across Co Down, where everything was painted the county colours red and black, even some cows. We arrived in Glenties in the afternoon and soon got our bearings.
9.30 eventually arrived, Triskell was the band, and there was an uninvited guest in the room, a bat which flew about all night. Joe Farrell had wound everyone up to fever pitch with his usual style and we set off with a Kilfenora, Fermanagh, Clare Lancers and Antrim Square before the break. It was a warm night and Connie McKelvey, the organiser of this wonderful weekend, had refreshments organised with endless jugs of iced water along with slices of orange and grapefruit and bunches of grapes. After a short tea break we carried on with a Cashel, Moycullen, Ballyvourney Jig and finished with a Plain Set. It was a very happy crowd that walked home after that.
Saturday morning broke all too soon and we were back at the hall with a big crowd for a workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. When I heard the music playing as we entered the room I guessed that we were going to be taught the Melleray Lancers—happy days! That took the entire morning session and in the afternoon we learned the South Sligo Lancers. I should explain that my wife Audrey and I are very new to set dancing and are still learning a lot of dances. We were again well catered for with water and fruit.
That night we hurried along the road for the evening dance with the Copperplate and were not disappointed—they were in fine form. Joe Farrell was in his Down shirt for the evening and started us off with a Corofin Plain followed with a Connemara, Melleray Lancers called by Pádraig and Caledonian before tea was called. After the break we danced an Antrim Square and a Cashel before a display by eight dancers from Kilkenny who danced a Slate Quarry Lancers in costume. We restarted with a High-Cauled Cap and finished with a Plain Set.
Sunday dawned and we headed into town for a workshop of two-hand dances by Connie McKelvey and Anne Connaghan before it was time for our next fix of Copperplate. This was to be called by Clement Gallagher from Ardara, as Joe had headed to Dublin to the All-Ireland football final.
We started with a Connemara followed with a Donegal Set. A Pride of Erin Waltz helped to cool us down a wee bit before a Mazurka and a Derradda and the break. After the break it was a Fermanagh, Cashel, Antrim Square and a Ballyvourney Jig to finish a fantastic weekend of dancing. The Ballyvourney finished just as Down lost the All-Ireland.
We extended our trip a bit and managed to attend a dance in Ardara with Clement Gallagher on Monday night where we did a Caledonian followed by a Ballyduff, Newport and a Derradda to end up with.
Then it was back to Scotland, counting the weeks until our next excursion to Ireland. It’s five, by the way!
Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland
Holiday company Kavanagh Travel held their inaugural Halloween Dancing Festival from Friday 29th October to Sunday 31st. The beautiful Dolmen Hotel in County Carlow just outside Carlow town proved to be an excellent choice for this event. Situated on the banks of the River Barrow, within luscious green grounds, the huge event centre and ballroom is a dancer’s dream with its fully sprung maple dance floor.
The event opened on Friday night at 9.30pm with Stephen Doherty’s Country Music Roadshow, followed at 11.30pm with the fantastic John McNicholl and Band. The atmosphere was magic, dancers mingled and danced together, and strangers became friends.
I became a member of the Kavanagh Travel team as their set dancing specialist last May.
The set dancing events began with my workshop on Saturday morning. I taught the Aherlow Set from the Glen of Aherlow in Co Tipperary. It has six figures danced to two polkas, a slide, followed by a polka, a hornpipe and finished with a polka. I was delighted to have a number of beginners in the class. Thanks to the accomplished dancers for their patience as we moved at a slow pace to accommodate the beginners. Everyone had a brilliant time. It was a treat to share the enthusiasm of the dancers as we stepped it out for over two hours.
After an appetising lunch, dancers gathered to the ballroom for the afternoon social dancing to the Barry Doyle Band. Danny Webster made a guest appearance; Barry invited him on stage to sing. No problem to this multi-talented Co Kilkenny accordion man.
Our first ceili of the weekend saw the mighty Neily O’Connor Ceili Band on stage from 8.30 to 11.30pm. As MC I didn’t spare the dancers, musicians or sets and included the Aherlow Set from my morning workshop. I was delighted to see my pupils from the morning workshop out dancing and as usual the established dancers welcomed and encouraged them in to their sets. A young Rathmore, Co Kerry, dancer requested the Sliabh Luachra Set and Neily played music to die for in true Sliabh Luachra style. This was the first time that Neily played this side of the country and dancers are still raving about the band. Neily thanked everyone but paid special thanks to the Davitt Showband for allowing him to use some of their equipment thus saving him setting up time. It is wonderful to see this camaraderie between musicians. Immediately after our ceili the Davitt family six-piece showband took the stage. We danced our feet off to waltzes, quicksteps, jives, slow waltzes and foxtrots until 2am.
Sunday morning, I conducted the second set dancing workshop of the festival. By popular demand I taught the Boyne Set. My beginners once again were the first to arrive, which gave me a chance to do a few basic steps with them. We spent over an hour and a half on the set, dancing and repeating each figure. I was delighted to have established dancers at the class as they were happy to assist me. A special thanks to local dancing teacher Peter O’Neill, my dancing partner for demonstration who was happy to help. Peter, you are a gentleman and a wonderful friend.
Our Sunday afternoon ceili got underway at 4pm. The three mighty Co Longford men in the Annaly Ceili Band kept toes tapping as they doled out superb reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes. The music for the West Kerry Set had me almost getting knotted up in the microphone lead as I called the set—my feet were itching to dance. No dancer escaped as we danced a total of ten sets. Of course we danced the Boyne from the morning class. I also included the Moycullen, Labasheeda, Cuchulainn, Sliabh Luachra and Antrim Square. Many dancers travelled long distances to join in the ceilis. Looking from the stage I could be in any county in Ireland as I greeted set dancers who have become my extended family.
Dinner eaten and refreshed, if a little tired, we gathered for our final ceili of the festival. The Copperplate Ceili Band graced the stage. This Co Tyrone band has three brilliant musicians and plays for ceili, social and fíor céilí all over Ireland and Europe. We had a mixed ceili to accommodate social dancers. I still managed to get eight sets danced starting with the Plain. I also included the Lispole, Borlin Polka and Derradda. The ceili and the festival closed with the Antrim Square Set. Halfway through the ceili we had complimentary tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits. This twenty-minute break gave everyone a chance to chill and re-energise.
The atmosphere was super all weekend. Dancers were loud in their praise of the festival and delighted with the bands selected for both the social dancing and the ceilis. Hugging old and new friends, I headed to the nearest mug of coffee and my bed.
Joan Pollard Carew
This year for the thirteenth time the Heidelberg Irish Set Dancers welcomed set dancing friends to their annual weekend in the beautiful setting of Schriesheim north of Heidelberg, Germany, where the weather was doing it’s very best to display how a beautiful autumn weekend near Heidelberg should look like with blue skies and multi-coloured trees.
On Friday afternoon, October 1st, the weekend began with approximately 120 dancers from near and far gathering in the Hotel Scheid (pronounced ‘shite’, which always generates little smiles on the faces of our English-speaking friends), happily greeted by the Heidelberg dancers and friendly hotel staff. A large crowd from Ireland had already arrived the day before to enjoy a trip through the local woods and villages. In the evening the first of the weekend’s four céilithe was on the menu with Triskell Ceílí Band providing their fabulous music. The night was not finished after the ceili—it went on with chats amongst friends and even more music. I still wonder how Triskell could join the session after having worn their fingers out playing such lively and great music for the ceili. It was good the hotel was fully booked by dancers, so there was no one else who could have complained about late night music!
Bean an tí for the weekend was Mairéad Casey. She led us all through the welcome ceili and was back on duty on Saturday morning for a three-hour workshop to share the Williamstown and Fermanagh sets with us—astonishing how many got up to join the lesson despite the truly late (or early?) night before.
The afternoon was filled with another ceili with music provided by Triskell, and the music was as brilliant and lively as the night before. I took it a bit easier as there was another ceili waiting for me after the dinner break with music provided by the Abbey Ceílí Band who produced an electrifying atmosphere from start to finish. That night the hall was filled to the brim, laughing faces everywhere and dancing continued till one o’clock.
After another rather short night, Sunday morning was planned to relax and to have a really long breakfast, but Mairéad took the opportunity and volunteered to hold a one-hour workshop on sean nós steps which was really well accepted by the tireless dancers. Others had a session sitting outside in bright sunshine or went for a walk.
Time flew and the last ceili of the weekend came. Again the Abbey provided fantastic music, members of Triskell were seen dancing, and everyone was enjoying themselves to the very last note and dancing step.
Andrea Brouwer, Walldorf, Germany
The city of Bamberg is situated in the region of Franconia in the north of Bavaria. Bamberg blends harmoniously into a landscape of seven hills, like ancient Rome, above the wide valley of the Regnitz River shortly before it flows into the Main. As it was once the seat of a prince-bishop, it is called ‘the Rome of Germany’!
In 1993, this impressive area measuring 250 hectares was placed under the protection of UNESCO as an international cultural treasure. This makes Bamberg one of twelve sites in Germany and 400 worldwide that have been recognized in this manner.
As I am from Erlangen it is easy for me to travel to Bamberg, only 35 minutes on the motorway. I have long-term connections to the city. My sister-in-law lives nearby and when I was only 19 a friend took me on my first flight ever in a small aeroplane over the city. What I did not know that time—the best was still to come!
Three years ago I was asked by the leader of the Bamberg public high school and adult education centre to start Irish set dance classes there and see if it catches on. Bamberg was an empty spot on the set dancing map. It is no longer!
For my classes I have a most beautiful hall as the school is based in a perfectly converted former power station very close to the historic city centre. I started with 24 dancers, nearly all girls and most of them around 25 years of age, due to the fact that Bamberg is a university town with lots of young people.
I remember we started with the Clare Lancers, the line-up and the mighty music of Michael Sexton Senior, which always gives a big buzz. Over the past three years we got through the Connemara, Kilfenora, Derradda, Cashel, Ballyvourney Jig, Antrim Square, Plain, Moycullen and many more sets. And this was squeezed into only fourteen evenings per year due to the semester curriculum of the university.
We had so much fun together and ‘my girls’ never had a problem dancing the man due to the missing men. Some of them accompanied me to other set dance weekends in Germany and took part in my own weekend in Erlangen in February. They steadily grew into the set dancing world and totally love it.
Celebrating three years together, I thought we should do something special—maybe organizing a genuine set dance event in Bamberg? I asked Tony Ryan from Galway if he would like to teach my ‘Bambergers’. He didn’t hesitate a second! What a pleasure to bring Tony over!
Tony is one of those teachers who most appreciate the tradition of set dance. “Tradition is not old fashioned or out of date,” he says. “Dancing is not for yourself but it is to complement your partner.”
Eventually we got the big dance hall of the converted electrical station for the 18th of September. Gathering all my Bamberg girls together and hoping to attract some more dancers from Erlangen, we ended up with more than sixty participants from all over Germany, Switzerland and Prague. Even a couple from Albuquerque, New Mexico, on a European tour, caught this day with Tony Ryan in Bamberg.
On Saturday Tony taught us steps and sets, including the South Galway, Fermanagh, Williamstown and Moycullen. The more girls for Tony the better; he handles them all with charm. Oh, Tony, if you only knew—we really love you!
He told us that the day was more than just a workshop and a ceili: “You could have the best band and teacher in the world, but the weekend would be nothing without the love and the spirit of the people! The bond which is formed through this can create friendship for life.” A few participants were beginners but Tony gave them all the confidence they needed: “We don’t want geniuses. The most important person that comes to a ceili or workshop is the one who is starting off the first time.”
The Bambergers were really enthusiastic about their day. They spoilt all of us with homemade cakes, tea and coffee and made their guests from near and far really feel welcome. Weather-wise, this weekend was one of the most beautiful—not a cloud in the sky and a warm sun embraced us every minute on Saturday and Sunday. Some call it Indian summer, we call it Franconian summer. Of course, we made full use of the terrace outside the venue.
For the evening ceili I could not make up my mind which ceili band from Ireland to invite, so I decided to invite them all! The tremendous hall of the old power station has been beautifully renovated as a conference, concert or dance hall and equipped with a powerful sound system. We danced to the music on CDs by the Abbey, Matt Cunningham, Swallow’s Tail, Johnny Reidy and many more. With this fantastic music we danced three hours away without any effort.
After the ceili we made our way through the romantic streets to chill out in one of the town’s most attractive pubs. We had a great time in an historic Wirtshaus (inn) with timber interior, two-storied, neat and cosy, situated beside the old town hall, magically illuminated at night. The old town hall is also known as ‘Island Town Hall’ because it sits between the spans of two bridges over the River Regnitz. It is impossible to mention all the beauties Bamberg is packed with—you can only come and see it yourself!
To give the weekend visitors a chance to discover the city more closely, I booked a professional tour guide for Sunday morning, a real Bamberg ‘original’ with no problem switching from Franconian into English. He guided a group of twenty of us for two hours, passing most historical monuments and buildings, telling us informative and funny stories so that no one ever lost interest. Did you know that the hops for Guinness are produced here? We finished our tour in one of Bamberg’s beer gardens on one of the seven hills, offering an outstanding view while we enjoyed a real Franconian meal—Schweinsbraten und Klöß (roast pork and dumplings). Hmmm. I know some buddies from Ireland who would love that! Oh yes, not to forget a Maß—a mug filled with a liter of beer.
Well fed and relaxed, everyone went for an hour or so of siesta, then we met again to finish the weekend dancing some sets in the Emerald Isle Irish Pub just around the corner from the old town hall. This Pub was chosen by Guinness as one of Germany’s most beautiful pubs! The owner, Ray from Dublin, who has lived in Bamberg for many years, allows me to dance in his pub a couple of times every year.
Having Tony with us was pure pleasure for everyone. This weekend was a dream.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Dungarvan branch celebrated another successful weekend festival of set dancing from 1st to 3rd October. Dancers gathered from early Friday evening in the harbor town of Dungarvan in the shade of the breathtaking Comeragh Mountains. The friendly family-run Lawlor’s Hotel on Bridge Street housed the festival again this year.
Welcoming everyone, committee chairperson Mary Rossiter said she was delighted to see so many dancers return again this year. “It’s encouraging to see new people joining us. I know you are itching to start dancing,” she said, “and we have the wonderful Annaly Ceili Band back again this year. I am privileged to declare the festival open.” Dungarvan dancing master John Creed had compiled a fabulous list of sets for the night. In all we danced nine, including the Claddagh, Derradda, which I called, Moycullen, Antrim Square and Labasheeda. The ceili concluded with the Plain Set.
The first workshop of the festival began on Saturday morning. We had two brilliant tutors, Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, a couple to be reckoned with when it comes to perfection on the dance floor. Our first set of the class was the Black Valley Jig Set, a set of four jigs and a reel from the Kenmare area on the Cork-Kerry border. I particularly like the square in this set, which is easily danced at any ceili with a good caller. The second set was the Slip and Slide Polka, a little gem from Co Monaghan danced to two polkas, a jig and a hornpipe. Lunchtime loomed and dancers had a relaxed lunch in the hotel bar.
The afternoon workshop saw the Glencree Set from Co Wicklow danced. The first four figures are danced to polkas, then a jig and it finishes with a waltz and everyone breaking in to a general waltz around the floor. For fun, Pádraig announced that this was a competition. The winning couple was John Creed and organising member Mary Duggan. Local Co Waterford set, the Sliabh gCua, was the last set of the workshop. It is danced to all polkas and has five figures. I remember dancing this set many years ago at ceilis around the country; it seems to have lost popularity in recent years.
At the end of the class I was delighted to join friends for dinner in the hotel dining room. We had a delightful meal. Our only concern was would we be able to dance after we had nourished ourselves so well!
With Tim Joe and Ann O’Riordan providing the music we were soon energized. John Creed had again compiled a magic selection of sets including the Corofin, Newport, Sliabh Luachra, Clare Orange and Green, Sliabh Fraoch called by me, Black Valley Jig from the workshop called by Pádraig and Mazurka called by Maureen Culleton. The ceili finished with the Connemara. The atmosphere was superb all night long.
As the sun shone from a cloudless sky on Sunday morning, crowds gathered for the final workshop of the weekend. We danced six different two-hand dances including the St Bernard Waltz, Back to Back Hornpipe and Waltz of the Bells. Our workshop concluded with a repeat of the Slip and Slide Polka Set.
The afternoon ceili was well attended. We danced to the mighty music of the Brian Ború Ceili Band. We danced another great selection of sets, the West Kerry, Moycullen (called by myself), Antrim Square, Labasheeda, Kilfenora, Ballyvourney Jig and Sliabh Luachra. The ceili and festival finished with the fabulous Plain Set.
Both Mary Rossiter and John Creed addressed the crowd with their thanks for everyone and wished them a safe journey home. John has dedicated his life to teaching dancing all over Co Waterford and further afield. He has worked tirelessly teaching and reviving set, step and ceili dances, thus ensuring our traditional dances are kept alive and passed on in their purest form.
This weekend was very well organized. The ceili bands were amongst the best in the land. The teachers did a brilliant job and the committee greeted us with a wonderful warm welcome and baskets of sweets to keep our energies flowing. With over fifty years of Comhaltas in Dungarvan I salute you and wish you continued success. This weekend was truly a feast for the spirit.
Joan Pollard Carew
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357