last updated 23 June 2011
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 66

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

A lover’s kiss

A touch that lingers, a kiss that is felt like a gentle imprint, satin-soft in its timelessness, but the lover’s domicile is far away. You know that only once in a while you can meet. So it has to count, every second has to count, every sight, every sound, every whiff, every unexpected turn. Live here, live now, cries out the past. Ghosts of the Venetian night tell their stories, silhouettes of gondolas and contours vaguely suggesting masks and wigs and period costumes, lanterns dimly illuminating small circles from the blackness they were born out of, hollow narrow alleyways, unevenly cobbled—it is then that Venice reveals itself to be that lover, long yearned for, broadly missed, waiting to be leapt into, patiently remaining silent in its lagoon bed. You know where your lover is to be found. You must travel hither with old and new baggage, seek, eyes wide open, or shut, allowing your heart to stretch. And then, you may feel caressed by the gentlest of wind, its lips brushing the soft hair beneath your ear, at dusk and dawn—this is its kiss. The midday sun yet will bring forth a different strength. Its kiss in sharp colours is vividly rendered onto retinas. Contrasts explode in a myriad of yellow flowers, maroon wings, turquoise feathers, purple-beaked, green-kinked, silver, gold and white flashes, all turning a gentle kiss into much-alive, much-awake passion and turmoil and heat. At nighttime the touch turns deep and dark, reaching into long-hidden places, testing sacred grounds and secretive spots. Together, the kiss will know you and find you, and enigmatic Venice, the lover in the shifting sand and porous rock, reunites you with yourself, the part that is soul, the part that is wanting and needing, provided you will let it complete its touch.

It’s the time of the Carnival, February. When taking the train into Venice, sit facing from whence you came, and move backwards along the timeline into the city-sized museum. Bend reality, dance on the corpse of reason, laugh in the face of sobriety—this is how a travel mag describes the Carnival spectacle. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Partly imported flamboyancy is in the air, and on the water’s slight rippling surface, the mirror images of houses, boats and poles are bizarrely twisted into floating wave shapes, crooked and somewhat warped constructs, dreamlike remnants of an era bygone.

People in period outfits wander through the alleys with fantastical masks in frozen expressions, white faces delicately shaped in plaster, unearthly clean, set off by glamorous headgear, fans, gloves, adorned with artificial fruit, animals, straight from a scene of The Magic Flute, invoking Papageno, moving with deliberate slowness, changing a gesture, a look, a tilt of the head with what seems almost puppet-like automation. But the eyes—the eyes are real! You’re accustomed to interpreting faces other than deadpan. Thoughtfully sad? Arrogantly lordly? Otherworldly cold? Aloof gentry of Venice? Blank sheets all, free to project onto.

Hundreds of onlookers also don masks, a feather bush, a hat or cape, wave fans and trigger the shutter releases of their cameras relentlessly. Flash, flash, flash—the paparazzi are out, some with professional machines, and professional elbow power, to get through to a few of the most photogenic actors in costume. I decide to go onto all fours and crawl through the heaving crowd of photographers—unreal indeed!

The year is 1271, and the world is about to curve into something much larger for one Marco Polo, who was taken on a sea voyage which lasted seventeen years and brought him fame as being the farthest travelled earth-dweller up to this point in history. A Venetian, he returned to Venice loaded with stories and images—and new trade routes which consequently changed economic enterprise by opening up far eastern commerce.

The year is 1477. Leonardo da Vinci lives in Venice, a prime example of one who perceived the world through eyes that were able to imagine the beyond and bend reality. Just go and have a look at the museum in Venice that houses a selection of his architectural, sculptural, mathematical and engineering works and blow your mind! We’re talking fifteenth century and mechanical devices that were meant to reduce friction, overcome inertia, and fly! Though Mona Lisa is not here, the mysterious smile that eludes interpretation can be sensed in all of his work.

The year is 1725, and Venice’s most famous citizen is born, Giacomo Casanova. The quintessential fiery romantic, Casanova, like da Vinci, was much more than a one-trick pony. Oh yes, he did court and have affairs with lots of women (he never married, although coming close on a few occasions), but that aside, he also was a philosopher of sorts, an adventurer, writer, a jack of all trades who sailed through life on irrepressible optimism and a laid-back manner (Irish, anyone?). A lover himself of all things hedonistic, he lived to a ripe old age and his image is now captured again annually during the Carnival—a black or white mask, a black three-pointed hat, a cape, a silver wig, low-voiced sweet-talk, slender necks kissed in the night.

There was also Titian, the painter, a native of Venice; Vivaldi, the composer of the lovely Four Seasons, and George Gordon Noel Byron, who was born in London, but chose to live in Venice. This is what he had to say about it: “My beautiful, my own, my only Venice—this is breath!”

Or listen to the voice of American author Fran Lebowitz: “If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined it. Venice is. Venice is better!”

And Welsh writer Jan Morris: “Venice will linger in your mind, and wherever you go in your life, you will feel somewhere over your shoulder a pink, castellated, shimmering presence.”

And, according to Leonardo da Vinci, “water is the driving force of all nature,” which is what Venice was wrestled from and to which it is returning in agonising slow motion, a modern day Atlantis.

A dream within a dream.

The year is 2011. Staggeringly, looking down onto the Alps as we fly over them, we are so close to the mountain tops that individual rocks and evergreen trees are distinct. Parachute out and land in the snow, in the snow-land that was created over millennia by an unyielding push of continents. Nose glued to window, eyes see wrinkled clefts in bare stone, mountain-folds interspersed with villages, many U-shaped rivers, motley crews of frozen lakes. Slowly, the commanding presence of the Alps gives way to gentler slopes and the plains that precede the Veneto region, and down sinks the plane. It’s good to be back, says an inner voice, and the heart makes a little bouncing movement.

As Patricia Rodaro, one of the volunteers to collect the Irish group from Treviso airport, leads the way out, we say that there is no need to bring us, that we could very well take the bus. “Yeah, right,” she says, and casts a sidelong glance that says “You’re crazy,” and proceeds to marshall us towards her car.

Organiser Stefania Sossella is wearing a homemade dress, specially tailored for the occasion, darkest green with big multiple shamrocks sewn onto it in a random pattern. Complete with weird stockings, she looks like a mix between an oversized leprechaun and a lost-cause addict to anything Irish. That’s not the only indication of a love of everything culturally Irish in bella Italia. We are looking at a Heineken glass full of beer. But this is green, green beer! The band that was flown in, Salamanca Ceili Band, a remnant of one called Tico Tico, and drummer-teacher-dancer Ger Butler are further testimonies. Not to mention the decorations. Celebrating all things Italian at the same time, the colours of the national flags are nearly the same, and Italians are proud of Italy, and Venetians immensely proud of Venice.

A concert on Friday night, and the stage is given to Brona Graham for a solo. She is left by herself, and sitting in her banjo-Buddha fashion, plays a piece, and maybe doesn’t realise the impact it has on listeners. They sit, absorbing, in perfect balanced attention, as Brona’s eyes only wander to the floor and back to her left hand; she is absorbed herself. The audience is holding breath, captive to it and shamefully, embarrassingly, prying through the keyhole into her musical world, into that which feels almost private. Stephen Doherty, accordion player, also plays a solo, and bursts out a fandango (“Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?”), a weirdly unexpected piece of music, easily compelling the audience with his skill.

And much has been said about Ger Butler the teacher, and Ger, the MC, but here, his main task was drumming. What is there to say about a drummer? Drums can be beaten, clobbered, touched, banged, rapped, hit, tapped, patted, stroked, brushed. They can give rhythm or drown out other instruments, kissing or bruising the tune. Ger has drumming talent, and the foremost is the gentleness of it without failing to drum out clearly audible beats. His drumming fires up a tune, or cools it down, precipitates a key change for a millisecond, finishes a piece in satisfaction.

Joining the band on and off at the ceili and at sessions were some Italian trad and other musicians, Andrea Palandri (fiddle) and Stefano Boldrin (mandolin). Andrea, a young man, is a crossbreed and speaks perfect English and a bit of German, but when he starts with Danish, I’m lost. Danish? He spent some time in Copenhagen. And of course, knows some of the Danish Irish trad musicians. How small is this planet of ours again?

Another man who joined the band was Daniele Volpe (guitar), Dottore (Doctor) Daniele Volpe, that is. And that brings us neatly on to a brand new topic—research into the connection between music, dance and Parkinson’s. Daniele thought it would be a good idea to try and offer Irish set dancing to people with Parkinson’s disease. He was hoping that the rhythm of Irish music in combination with the motor challenges in a group dance, most of all, taking off in time, might have a positive, a healing influence. And lo and behold, it has just that, and to top it off, the patients also enjoyed themselves whilst learning and practising for the big night’s performance. No surprise for set dancers there, but it is a surprise to learn how Irish set dancing could manifest an improvement for Parkinson’s sufferers. The coolest.

On the Friday night, they dance. The Italian set dancers each team up with a Parkinson’s sufferer. And they dance beautifully. Patricia says over pizza later, “Not only does it help them. It helps us, too. Because it feels good to help, to pass something on, to do a caring thing.” The Parkinson’s people laugh and clap their hands afterwards. It’s all moving, and the audience is moved, too. The night has the feel of an informal concert. The Dottore says a few words, the band’s young members play, a cameraman hangs out in different corners capturing the action, the Parkinson’s people feel inspired to do a few solo dances on the sidelines as Salamanca steps it up. All slightly disordered, terribly Italian, but all under the rule of Romano Baratella, Stefania’s partner. He’s Chief! And the Chief is pleased. The night is a success, and the next day brings a long workshop with Ger Butler teaching sets and sean nós.

Usually, set dancing weekends whisk you away from real life for a while, forget about stuff going on. Here, in Italy, it is the other way round. All around the dancing is a swirling eddy of sensual overload, and the set dancing events provide relief on solid ground—terra firma, that part of Venice called Mestre. It is built on soil, not sand, and spews out an industrial opportunity, providing jobs and reasonable accommodation for Venetians. Like an hourglass, Venice’s population is emptying, while Mestre is filling up with ex-Venetians.

Out of the museum, back into the light of harsh reality, but also off to the set dancing venue! Opposite the venue is a restaurant, a pizzeria. We eat a meal together there, and I ask some of the Italians whether they would eat pizza in Ireland? No. Tiramisu? No. Drink coffee? No. I take a bite out of that pizza, wagon-wheel-sized, looking back at me from the table’s surface. Ooh! That’s all it takes to make me a convert. No more frozen pizza from the supermarket.

Monday, we travel by vaporetto (water bus) out to the smaller islands of Murano, famous for it’s glass and glassy produce, and Burano, known as the lace-making island, but also notorious because all the houses are painted in different colours, with shutters in yet other colours and awnings, curtains often striped in another set of colours—anything goes! Burano is like a doll’s house version of Venice itself, narrower canals, smaller boats, houses no higher than two stories, fewer tourists, less hustle and bustle, and simply beautiful, as unique as all the islands in the lagoon.

At night, we meet with Stefi and Romano, and proceed to Padova (Padua), 30km from Venice, where their class is held in a dance studio. One wall is completely covered with mirrors. Romano takes charge, the Chief, and repeats one of the sets taught by Ger over the weekend, the Atha a’ Caoire. The atmosphere is between jolly, studious and tired. Almost everyone present also took part in the weekend, and many helped the proceedings, not to mention chauffeur services.

Stefi and Romano invite us to have a look at the second biggest piazza (square) in Europe, Prato della Valle, and my goodness, it is huge! In the darkness, some of the mediaeval buildings that hem in the place and prevent the square from swallowing the city, are lit by golden-bright spotlights, and a pretty fountain crowns the centre of it. Dotted around in neat little rows are permanent white, yellow and red tents, that, now deserted, sell local specialities during the day. And the experience provides a glimpse of how much more there is to discover about Italy.

Can I have one more life, please? Another 250 years or so?

Mario Giacori is not only a dancer, but also rides gondolas in competitions. Next time we come, he says, he’ll take us on a gondola trip unlike any other that you can buy, to places none of the official ones go to. Stefi too, whose parents are Venetian, invites us on a special Venice tour when we come back. Not if, but when.

Until then, I dream.

Chris Eichbaum

Set dancing and Parkinson’s

Dr Daniele Volpe briefly summarises his research on Irish set dancing and Parkinson’s disease.

On 25 February in Mestre-Venice, a concert of Irish set dance was organized by AFar (St John of God Association for Biomedical Research), the Parkinson Association of Venice and the Black Sheep Irish Dance Association. Gerard Butler and the Salamanca Ceili Band were invited to perform at the opening.

The AFar researchers presented the use of Irish set dance for rehabilitation as an important neurological pathology for Parkinson’s disease. In this project were included a group of patients with Parkinson’s disease with mild to moderate symptoms. They underwent the course of Irish set dance for six months conducted by two professional Irish set dance instructors belonging to the Black Sheep Association. All were evaluated before and after the Irish set dancing. The analysis of the data showed a significant improvement of motor symptoms (gait and balance) and a significant reduction of motor fluctuations.

Irish set dance is a dance with high social value. The rhythm of Irish music facilitates movement in this neurological disease. The motor learning of the dance steps, particularly of reels and polkas, seems to help gait initiation, and the rhythm as cueing improves gait impairment from freezing of gait.

The results of this project will be presented in the next World Parkinson Congress in June 2012 in Dublin.

Fleadh Florida

My wife Mary and myself went on Fleadh Florida, 3rd–10th February 2011. It turned out to be very interesting and enjoyable except for the long flights both there and back. When we arrived at Dublin Airport, the attendants at Aer Lingus’ desk told us that our flight was cancelled. They then booked us onto Delta Airlines the following morning to fly to Atlanta, and on another flight from there to Orlando. They booked us into a hotel for the night, including evening meal and breakfast, plus travel to and from Dublin Airport. I must say that Aer Lingus staff were exceptionally helpful in every way; they took the pressure off of us trying to find our own way around.

On arriving in Orlando the following day, I was in time for the first night’s dancing. The marvellous Ceili Time Ceili Band and also the well-known Annaly Ceili Band shared the various ceilis during the week. After a few days dancing at workshops and ceilis, I had to cool down a bit and save my legs!

The week’s event was well-supported by people from New York, New Jersey, Ohio and other states, as well as Canada. I must say the American ladies are nice to dance with. Set dancers here in Ireland and around the world are very pleasant to mix with. Pat Murphy did the workshops in his usual efficient way, but I must say it is hard to remember everything. Gerry Flynn, the chief of Enjoy Travel which organised the festival, was there in person and made sure everyone was well looked after.

My wife Mary and I fitted in some trips to various parts of the Disney World which was very interesting. We saw the train that goes inside the huge big globe showing the development of man from bygone ages up to the present time. Being strapped in for the fast speeding cars was nerve racking. I think this would suit younger folk, rather than the likes of us, however we did it just the same. We enjoyed trips around the various spacecraft that are on display at Kennedy Space Center, also Animal World and fancy birds of all kinds, plus the water rapids.

For the homecoming journey, we had Aer Lingus all the way direct from Orlando to Dublin. We might have to think twice before we go on such a long flight again. Its nice to go on a trip, but it is also nice to get back to our own nest safe and sound.

Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone

Patrick steps it out in Belfast

A wet and windy Saturday in Belfast was brightened with the arrival of Patrick O’Dea. His workshop on the 5th of February attracted a record-breaking attendance at the recently refurbished Crescent Arts Centre. Patrick’s clear and encouraging instruction had everyone jigging in a very short time. He taught four west Clare solo jig steps over the day with plenty of opportunity for clarification and repetition.

Patrick is a fantastic practitioner of traditional dance. His persona resembles that of a traditional man without the dark suit attire. Patrick is a young thirty-something who takes great pride in the way he presents himself. He may appear in a sky blue jacket or a tweed coat and even a tie. In one of the coldest Irish winters just passed, he turned up with no fleece or woolly hat! He has now acquired them.

His repertoire of traditional steps and traditional set dances is due to the continuous work and research which he endeavours to engage in amongst the older dancing fraternity. He was a protégé of Joe O’Donovan who taught him The Blackbird when he was just ten years old. Since this early age he learned many steps from Joe and his wife Siobhán travelling to many places. Since Joe’s death a few years ago, Patrick maintains regular contact with Siobhán, updating her on his escapades round the world. He has the highest esteem for Joe and Siobhán and continues to pass on the tradition of step dancing in the manner which would have made Joe proud. Patrick teaches traditional step dancing plus set dancing. However it is his repertoire of traditional steps which are unique to him, including many from the Munster region. It is very important to him to relate the history of each step, just as it is to the traditional musician passing on the tradition in teaching music. Many of the steps which Patrick has collected are connected to dancing masters no longer alive, leaving him to be the only living master able to pass their steps on.

Patrick’s style of solo step dancing is a natural portrayal of synchronized rhythm which complements the music. He is able to select steps based on the tunes played executing the intricacy and rhythm of the steps. His relaxed style with arms gently moving is graceful and effortless and is a pleasure to experience. He connects with his audience in a friendly manner demonstrating a great willingness to pass on a wonderful tradition. His skilful attribute in teaching steps is outstanding as he successfully passes on the intricate steps to all levels of ability.

Patrick has a genuine interest in people which enables him to make so many wonderful friendships throughout the world. Anyone fortunate to have experienced his company finds a truly genuine person whose company is infectious!

Patrick O’Dea is a phenomenon. Everyone in Belfast is now looking forward to a return visit to extend our repertoire.

Bernie Graham, Belfast Trad Society

Ballybofey weekend

The Aranderg Set Dance Weekend, 25–27 February, in the Villa Rose Hotel, Ballybofey, Co Donegal, began on Friday night with the Annaly Ceili Band playing lovely music as ever and so easy to dance to their rhythms. We had approximately seventeen sets dancing which was a respectable start to the weekend. Frank Keenan called the sets with Michael McGlynn on standby. Some of us retired to the bar for a while after the ceili but we were all thinking about Saturday so it wasn’t a very late night.

The sean nós workshop started at 10am with approximately twenty people. As usual Kathleen McGlynn broke all the steps down and made it look so easy. Her lovely style and personality enables all the dancers to relax and enjoy her workshop. Of course, none of this would be possible without the assistance of Michael, who prefers to stay in the background ensuring everything runs like clockwork.

Frank and Bobby Keenan began the sets workshop with approximately six sets in the morning and all present enjoyed it. Frank has a nice relaxed style and his easygoing demeanour is a joy to see. We broke for dinner at 1pm, recommenced at 2 and finished up at 5pm.

People took a little time off to relax in the evening before the ceili, while some of us took the opportunity to get a little shopping done. A music session began at 8pm in the main entrance to the hotel and it finished just before the ceili began at 10pm. The Copperplate Ceili Band provided the music for Saturday night. We had 25 sets dancing on the floor with a considerable number of people sitting so there wasn’t much space going to waste and it added to the atmosphere which was first class. Most people seemed to disappear after the ceili as the fatigue was setting in and we had more dancing to do on Sunday.

Marie Garrity had a lovely two-hand workshop on Sunday morning from 11am to1pm and it got people loosened up and ready to rock for the afternoon. Ceili Time provided the music for Sunday’s ceili and it was a fantastic afternoon.

Everyone enjoyed the weekend and I send special thanks to all who took part. The success I hoped it would be so until the last weekend in February 2012, I wish good luck to one and all

Liam Gallen, organiser, Aranderg Weekend

Irish, English and American ceili in Oxford

The Shamrock Set Dancers from Headington, Oxford, England, were formed five years ago by Jim and Clare Flanagan. They are now ably led by Paula Johnson and together with Jim and Sue Crick from the Basingstoke Set Dancers they took to the floor at a ceili at the Mason’s Arms pub, Headington Quarry, Oxford, on March 4th. This was an extraordinary evening of music and dance drawn from a wide range of Celtic, English and American traditions.

The set dancers danced a demonstration set then everyone joined in with Paula calling the North Kerry Set and the Siege of Ennis ceili dance. Irish sets were for many a new and mind boggling venture but enthusiasm was unrestrained and all were soon immersed in the new experience. Hopefully some converts will stick with it. We were lucky to have on hand the expertise of Chris Bland, a much respected caller of English and American contra dances in his home county of Cumbria and he soon had everyone jumping. The dance extravaganza extended further with a display of step clogging from Sue Crick and Joan Monks from Dublin representing the Ridgeway Step Clog Dancers. We were also treated to an extremely robust Northumbrian rapper sword dance by a team of rappers who happened to be in Headington at the Mason’s Arms for a national rapper competition weekend.

Music and song was delivered and received in equal measure of enthusiasm and appreciation by a wealth of musicians numbering some 25 or so, the most numerous of these being from the Oxford Fiddle Group who perform Celtic, English and American material around Oxford and regularly further afield across Europe. Local ceilidh band, Mouse and Trousers, pub band Far From Home and Americana band The Ozarks were present in full and even local Haddenham Shamrock Sessioners and West Cork based Goleen Rovers were represented. Multiplicity is common in the traditional scene so some performers claimed membership of two, three or even more of the above units. Finally we were led in a couple of rousing unaccompanied choruses by local performers Alan and Julie Kimber-Nichelson.

The whole evening was made even more poignant in that we danced at the Mason’s Arms, not only the first home of the Oxford Fiddle Group but more importantly the spiritual home of the Headington Quarry morris dance team. Cecil Sharp, William Kimber and the Headington Quarry morris team were influential in inspiring the English folk revival of traditional dance in the early days of the last century. This arose from a chance meeting of the team with Cecil Sharp in Headington on Boxing Day 1899. William Kimber ultimately laid the foundation stone at Cecil Sharp House, the London headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Association, and yes, it was his granddaughter and her husband who sang at the ceili.

So, a ceili in the truest sense of the word. A great time had by all—you bet!

Shall we do it all again? You bet!

David Kay, Headington Quarry, Oxford, England

Nostalgic in West Limerick

West Limerick Set Dancing Club is synonymous with joyous hours of set dancing and traditional music. The homely Devon Inn situated in the heart of the village of Templeglantine, Co Limerick, was home to the club’s annual set dancing weekend from 25th to 27th February, a week earlier than in other years.

The weekend was underway at 7pm on Friday evening when Mairéad Casey gave her first sean nós workshop. I counted twenty dancers strutting their stuff with gentle instruction from Mairéad. I was delighted to see a number of very young dancers in the class. Gearoid Keating, Mike Murphy and friends were making seisiún music by the cosy fireside. I tore myself away to the ballroom just in time to grab a chair. The first ceili of the weekend was superb. We danced from 9pm to 12.30am to the brilliant music of the Allow Ceili Band. Dancing the usual familiar sets with the Antrim Square and Moycullen in the mix, it was pure heaven as this band played their hearts out. The night concluded with a magic selection of reels. The scene was set for the weekend.

Saturday morning at 10am, Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy began the first set dancing workshop of the festival with the Caragh Lake Jig Set. Pat told us that he got this set from Muiris O’Brien. Danced to four jigs, one slide, a reel and a hornpipe, it is an easygoing set, though not danced much at ceilis in recent times. I remember dancing this with Michael Loughnane in Thurles about twelve years ago; it was one of the popular sets at ceilis there at that time.

Pat and Betty taught the first part of the first figure of the Port Fairy Set before lunch. With lunch behind our belts, we returned to class and they continued teaching it. This set has three figures danced to a reel, a hornpipe and a reel. Pat told us that it was composed by Fay Morgan, who is originally from Northern Ireland but now resides with her husband Morgan in Victoria, Australia. Some wonderful choreography is in this set with line-outs and squares and we had a brilliant time learning it.

Our third set of the day was the sweet little Ath a’ Caoire. Pat told us he got this set from dancing teacher Joe Mannix. Pat said this is a gentle set just like Joe himself. It has five figures, alternating polkas and slides, and finishing with a hornpipe. I love this set and have such fond memories of Joe and his set dancing team winning at the Sean Dempsey festival in Manchester over the years. On two occasions his dancing group won trips to Ibiza dancing this set.

I was invited to join Pat Murphy, Betty McCoy, Timmy Woulfe, Mairéad Casey, Josephine O’Connor and Kevin Larkin for dinner—the craic was mighty! I heard a few stories of rolling in hay barns, and sorry readers, can’t divulge the details. It suffices to say we were in stitches from laughter.

The second ceili got underway at 9pm with Striolán Ceili Band giving us music to lift our hearts and feet. We had a wonderful selection of sets beginning with the Caledonian, and we danced a mighty West Kerry and Borlin Polka. John Joe Tierney called the Sliabh gCua and the Clare Orange and Green. The Clare Lancers and Kilfenora also got an airing and the last set of the night was the Ballyvourney Jig. I retired to my bed but I know that some of my friends stayed up to chat and party to the late hours.

Sunday morning was very relaxed as our workshop began at 11am. Pat and Betty taught the Slip and Slide Polka Set. Pat told us that he got this set from Anna Pegley, who lives in Leixlip, Co Kildare, and also gave us the Fermanagh Set. Anna has been teaching dancing for numerous years to both adults and children. I love this set and brought it from Pat’s January workshop in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, to my own classes and ceilis and I am delighted that it has been well received. This set has four figures danced to two polkas, a jig and a hornpipe. The final set of the workshop was the East Mayo, which has three figures, reel, jig and polka. Nothing too tricky in it; a nice relaxing set to conclude the workshop.

Chairperson of the club, Ann Curtin, thanked Pat and Betty for their tremendous instruction all weekend. She thanked everyone for supporting the workshops and weekend and reminded us that the afternoon ceili was starting at 2pm.

Betty McCoy told us that she had, as always, enjoyed the weekend and meeting old friends and making new ones. She then announced that for personal reasons she would not be travelling to teach workshops in the future. She said that she had been coming to west Limerick for the past nineteen years; her first time was with the late Connie Ryan. I am sure I was not the only one in the ballroom to feel nostalgic.

The final ceili of the festival was another three hours of magic. The superb music of Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross ensured that our dancing spirit was well nourished. We had a diverse selection of sets, starting with the very popular Caledonian; we danced the Slip and Slide from the morning workshop. I was nominated to call this set as Pat Murphy had come down with a chill after all his teaching and ended up with laryngitis. I also called the Williamstown Set. We danced the Kilfenora, Cashel, Plain, Connemara and Ballyvourney Jig.

Another successful weekend closed later on Sunday night as musicians gathered for a big seisiún late in to the night. I bade farewell to old and new friends and made the road short for Shrone and home.

Joan Pollard Carew

Springtosh weekend 2011

The Trentham hills, Victoria, Australia, came alive with the sound of Irish music and battering feet again during the last weekend of January when the Melbourne Claddagh Dancers held their annual Springtosh weekend, 61 people taking part in the workshops.

Friday night saw a session at the Trentham pub, commencing with Ina Bertrand walking through a couple of sets for newcomers and as a reminder for others in preparation for the ceili. Several sets were danced before some entertaining musical items, which were provided by both locals and some of the people attending Springtosh. As people continued to arrive throughout the night more dancing and entertainment took place until well after 10pm.

Saturday morning started with seven sets dancing in a workshop led by Kirsty Greenwood teaching Seit Durlas Eile, the Thurles Set. Following morning tea, the group was led by her husband Richard in a workshop learning the Bonane Set and the Rozsa Waltz. In the afternoon Richard and Kirsty introduced weighty matters—how to throw your weight around or just have fun doing figures from various dances amongst much laughter and enjoyment.

This year’s dinner also had a new venue, the Cosmopolitan Hotel. People enjoying eating outdoors under the canopy of a huge tree. This was followed by a short walk down the main street to the Mechanics Hall for the ceili.

At the ceili we were joined by many locals and at one stage had almost one hundred people on the floor dancing the Siege of Ennis, not one person sitting out. With the live music once again provided by Paddy Fitzgerald and friends, the hall vibrated to fantastic music and dancing until midnight. During the supper break we were entertained by Claire Patty, a solo singer with a superb voice, which echoed around the hall with incredible clarity of sound and diction; she accompanied herself on the harp. A great night was had by all, musicians and dancers.

Sunday saw a slightly slower start to the day, still with six sets, as Ina Bertrand led the workshops on the East Galway Set and Glencree Set in the morning. The increased temperature, high 30s, slowed some dancers down but many were still on the floor for the mini-ceili in the afternoon before heading off home after a most enjoyable and successful weekend.

We look forward to next year’s Springtosh with some new and familiar faces amongst the participants.

Colin McMillan, Melbourne, Australia

Right place, right time, changed life

It is now ten years or more since our first “follow your nose” trip to Ireland brought me and my wife to this place, where magic happens. Sue, always a dancer, was curious about a reference to “set dancing”, and that curiosity led us to Michael and Mary McGeeney’s B&B in north Tipperary. What good fortune that it was on the night of Mary’s weekly class in Terryglass!

The class was followed by a few figures danced in the pub, to which we were invited and, having nothing on our agenda for the next day, (the Burren as it turned out) we readily accepted their warm invitation to join them for their dance evening in Lorrha.

After a great evening, and a sail on the lake with new-found friends the next morning, we travelled on, but the dice had been thrown, the spell woven, and our lives were to change forever.

Back home, more good fortune led us to Joe O’Hara who, for many years, shared with us not just the figures but the rich nuances of regional style and social history that form the set dance heritage which, though not our own, we try our best to respect.

Through Joe and his friends we were also re-acquainted with our own English traditions of music and dance, and Sue can now often be found wearing clogs and keeping alive steps that might have been born in the cotton mills of Lancashire in the nineteenth century. I may be playing the box for morris dancing, a tradition with origins that predate written history and can only be guessed at.

Why this reflection on what might, or might not have been? I am sitting once more at Michael and Mary’s table in Tipperary, looking out across Lough Derg to the hills of Clare, brilliant in the January sunshine on this, our 17th dancing trip to Ireland.

We have just enjoyed our third visit to the superb weekend of dancing in Nenagh, hosted by the inimitable Michael Loughnane. Michael ably guides us through a great variety of sets, and we had three awesome ceilis. Pat Murphy shared with us some interesting sets to take home and work on, as well as some neat little two-handers.

This might have seemed enough, but we broke our journey here to visit Donal Morrissey’s class in Birr, and last night we joined Gerry Tynan at his class in Ballinasloe. And I fancy there will be more dancing tonight!

We have done this many times, here and in England, using Set Dancing News as our source for weekly classes and ceilis, and we have found nothing but the warmest of welcomes. It is healthy to dance outside your regular group and, even when the class is working on a set you might regard as familiar, we find nuggets of information, jewels of detail to take home with our memories. The learning never ends!

So, five days out from home, and the thick end of forty sets and two-handers danced. Legs that ache, joints that creak, and a laundry bag the size of Dublin. And we’re not finished yet.

Sure, we have other things in our lives that interest us, and satisfy us, but it is dancing with other people that really triggers the endorphins, hits the happy switch, and stirs the soul.

We shall return with much to share at our dance home in Basingstoke, where visiting dancers receive as warm a welcome as we have on our travels, whether it is a Thursday evening, a ceili, or a full weekend of dance.

To those who have helped us along our dance journey, we say, thank you.

Jim Crick, Newbury, Berkshire, England

12th Killarney Gathering

The beautiful scenery, folklore, music and tradition of Killarney, Co Kerry, was further enhanced when hundreds gathered to celebrate and take part in the Gathering Festival of Irish music, dance and song, March 2–6. This year the festival celebrated its twelfth birthday.

The first ceili on Wednesday night was in the Heritage Centre in Scartaglen. Revellers and dancers who arrived early mingled and danced with locals to the music of local Sliabh Luachra musician Jerry McCarthy.

Thursday night the Gleneagle Hotel was buzzing with dancers and musicians as crowds gathered to dance to the Copperplate Ceili Band. Pat O’Brien did a brilliant job as MC for the night. We danced many local polka sets including the Ballyvourney Reel and Sliabh Luachra and I was delighted to see the Mazurka getting an airing. The music was, as per usual from this Co Tyrone trio, a dream to dance to. We danced from 10pm until 1.30am.

Later some retired to the backstage bar to enjoy the continuing seisiún led by Paddy Cronin, John Brosnan and Paul DeGrae.

Friday night we had two ceilis. Our first was in the hotel ballroom and started at 8.30pm. We danced to the wonderful music of Mountain Road Ceili Band with Ann Keane as MC. We danced our first Borlin Set of the weekend and had great fun with the Newmarket Meserts, which has six figures danced to five jigs and a hornpipe. All was going well until the fourth figure and the high-gates—the high-gates in the Clare Mazurka is nothing by comparison. It was a miracle that someone didn’t get strangled in our set! We split our sides with laughter. The remainder of the ceili passed without as much adventure as we danced more familiar sets.

The second ceili of the night was in the INEC centre and began at 11pm. Having danced ourselves almost in to a frenzy we continued stepping it out to the exuberant music of the magical Abbey Ceili Band. We did the West Kerry, South Galway, the local Auban, and of course, the regular Co Clare sets.

Saturday morning at 10am we had our first workshop of the weekend. Crowds gathered early to enjoy Pat Murphy’s class. Our first set was the Blacktown Set. I had never heard of this set before now but thought it a little gem, great for a class or called at a ceili. The simple moves and brevity of the figures might possibly help it become one of the favourite new sets on our dancing programme. We had great fun with the last figure danced to a march. Pat told us it was danced in a one-two beat style called ‘jazzing.’ I discovered that shaking your ass helped you to hold the timing and mentioned this to Denis O’Connell, who shared my laughter and comment with Pat.

The Port Fairy Set was the next one that Pat taught. I was dancing it for the third time and didn’t have much problem with all the squares and line-outs. Concentration is of the upmost importance with this set. It has three figures danced to a reel, hornpipe and reel. This would be a superb set for competition, with its beautiful choreography. We got through the first figure before lunch.

Back in the class after lunch, I was delighted to note that the sixteen sets who started out in the class in the morning had returned. Pat finished teaching the Port Fairy Set and began by repeating the first figure again.

The third set of the class was the Fermanagh Quadrilles, another nice, almost-forgotten set. It has five figures danced to alternating reels and jigs. This little set was another of Connie Ryan’s favourites.

Saturday night our first ceili was held in the ballroom as we danced to the magic that is Deenagh Ceili Band. Ann Mangan was our MC. Once more we danced a great selection of sets including the Clare Orange and Green, Jenny Lind and Claddagh interspersed with some familiar sets. The music was heavenly and the floor a dream to dance on.

The second ceili of the night saw the one and only Johnny Reidy on stage in the INEC. We danced the West Kerry, Moycullen, Sliabh Fraoch, Ballyvourney Reel and a selection of the more usual sets. Pat O’Brien and Ann Mangan shared the calling.

Sunday morning we had our final workshop of the weekend. Pat taught the Newmarket Plain Set. He told us he had fond memories of learning this set from Ger McAuliffe in Newmarket, Co Cork, on Whit weekend back in 1992. It has seven figures, the first four danced to polkas, then a slide, hornpipe and finishing with a reel. We had nine sets on the floor to start and another set gathered later in the morning. Pat concluded the class by calling a few figures of the Loughgraney Set

Our final ceili of the weekend began at 2.30pm. Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band was all set and raring to go. We began by dancing the West Kerry Set, Pat Murphy called the Newmarket Plain Set from the morning’s workshop and Timmy Woulfe called the Boyne Set. The Antrim Square got an airing and of course we danced a selection of the Co Clare seven.

The weekend was magic as usual. We had seven ceilis and a choice of set dancing instructors. Of course while I attended Pat Murphy’s classes, Timmy ‘the Brit’ McCarthy had a huge beginners’ classes and Mairéad Casey gave superb sean nós instruction. The weekend was packed with concerts, instrument and singing workshops, and of course sessions morning, noon and night. This festival is continuing to grow and prosper due in no small way to the wonderful organising committee and the warm welcome to all who attend.

Joan Pollard Carew

Ardrisaig workshop day

Letters and emails

Hi Bill,

A group of dancers from Glasgow hired a mini-bus last November and travelled west to Ardrishaig in Argyll, Scotland, to take part in a workshop. The workshop was being hosted by Leonie Sweeney, originally from the Co Cork portion of the Beara Peninsula. She used to live and teach sets in Aberdeen, before moving to Argyll in 2002.

We had a lovely day learning West Kerry and Borlin Jenny and then finished with a Ballyvourney Jig. Leonie and her husband Ron had beautiful homemade soups and breads for us for lunch which were most welcome on that cold snowy day. We would like to thank Leonie for organising this and we hope to have a repeat this year as well.

Patricia Marshall, Glasgow Set Dancers, Scotland

One of the best

Dear Bill,

Well done to Tom and Sean Longe for once again organising a super weekend of music and set dancing; for the warm welcome to set dancers from all parts of Ireland, England and further afield; for the hotel staff who were so friendly, especially Eamonn, chef at the self-service counter, ever smiling and so happy to serve us hungry people; and for the freshly baked, melt-in-the-mouth scones with jam and cream, served up free of charge at the tea breaks. We could not be better looked after.

Thank you, Tom and Sean. Looking forward to next year already, please God.

Patsy Finn, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath

The beauty of Copenhagen

Hi Bill,

Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers would like to thank Chris Eichbaum for the beautiful review of the workshop in Copenhagen 2010 appearing in Set Dancing News February–March 2011.

Chris has been in Copenhagen before, covering the Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers’ autumn workshop. In last year’s report, she focused on several individuals, for example Anne Luise’s red shoes and Jørn’s Cape Breton dances. This year, she aimed at the surroundings, showing the beauty of Copenhagen in her photos, speaking warmly about the dancers and her positive comments on the way we try to arrange the weekend in a social atmosphere.

It is of great importance for a small group of dancers such as ours that our efforts are put into a greater context by a “real” Irish person and displayed in Set Dancing News. We all appreciate what Chris is telling everyone about us!

Jørn Borggreen and Elsebeth Rønne, Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers

Enjoyed this

Hi Bill,

Just read a copy of December 2010–January 2011 issue and enjoyed this. Have checked Set Dancing News out on the web so will be looking at this regularly.

A great magazine! All the best for 2011.

Myra Harte, London England

Heaven for set dancers

Hi Bill,

The newly refurbished parish hall in Moneenroe, Co Kilkenny, was heaven for set dancers on the 19th February. They came from the four corners of Ireland for this one, first for here. I spoke to people who drove all the way from Kerry. The ceili was such a success that the dancers are already asking when is the next one—22nd October hopefully. The Annaly Ceili Band from Longford played and they did not disappoint, sending everybody home sweating and happy.

High on the list for commendation was the way everything was organised including the car parking, the food, and of course, the friendly welcome everyone received on arrival. Special thanks to all who called the sets on the night and sincere apologies to Syl Bell for the mix up in the Plain Set (my fault).

Yes, Moneenroe is now one of the top venues in the country, a credit to all. A very special thanks to all the dancers on the night, you really did Moneenroe proud. The local miners contributed towards the building of the hall and such was the atmosphere one could hear them dancing in heaven.

It was a big undertaking but I would like to thank Donal O’Neill, chairman, along with Michael McDonald and company for the help they gave me. So lads take a bow. Last but not least a big thank you to the ladies in the kitchen for everything.

PS Roll on the next ceili—yoohoo.

John Ryan, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny

Ceilis starting too late

Hi Bill,

Talking to set dancing friends, ceili band members and organisers of ceilis, the majority think they should start a bit earlier, 9 or 9.30pm.

From the set dancing point of view, I feel waiting until 10pm is too long before a ceili starts and too late travelling home afterwards. I also think more people would be encouraged to go especially those working next day.

Perhaps organisers would consider starting the ceilis a bit early to help the ceili bands and dancers.

Best wishes,

Rosemary Claffey, Ferbane, Offaly

Sad but also memorable time

Hello Bill,

A few days ago the new Set Dancing News was in my letter box [written on 9 February]. The article on our event in Herzberg, Switzerland, looks great and I loved to read it. It greatly expresses the atmosphere and intense days, the sad but also memorable time we spent there. A big thank-you to Chris Eichbaum for her beautiful words and for having put so much dedication and time into it. Thank you also very much for having set the article in a great format and for adding the photos.

One person without whom the event wouldn’t have been such a success is Pat Murphy. He was a great friend during those days and always found the right words after the tragic event. He did a wonderful job showing a variety of sets from all over Ireland, and calling the sets at the ceilis. I also wanted to pass on my gratitude to all the dancers who found their way to Herzberg, for their help, enthusiasm and friendship. And last but not least, a big thank-you to Triskell Ceili Band (Mairéad Gavney and Niamh, Fergal and Eoghan McEvoy) for their great music—we loved having them and their beautiful music and cheerfulness accompany us through those days in Herzberg. I hope it won’t be the last time they’re in our country.

We look forward to seeing lots of dancers soon on a dance floor in Ireland or elsewhere and maybe even in Herzberg from 29 December 2012–1 January 2013.

Best wishes,

Manuela Morel, Bundle of Fun Group, Switzerland

Goodbye to Betty

Hi Bill,

Thank you for the support for the West Limerick Set Dancing Club Weekend see page 29, for sending Joan Pollard Carew to do the reporting, and for the sponsorship [two Set Dancing News polo shirts were awarded in the raffle]. We hope you enjoyed the event.

We think as organisers the weekend went very well. We had the best three ceili bands in the country at the moment and the support we got for the ceilis was wonderful—thanks to all who supported us. We would like to thank Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy for their set dancing workshop, and also Mairéad Casey for the sean nós; they all worked very hard to make the weekend a success.

It was with a heavy heart we said goodbye to Betty McCoy this weekend. She announced at the end of the Sunday workshop that this would be her last time travelling to any workshop event. Betty accompanied Connie Ryan to the very first one in Templeglantine, run by Athea Comhaltas nineteen years ago, and she has been the main tutor at the West Limerick event since Connie’s passing. She chose different teachers to accompany her through the years, but her participation was important to our club because it seemed to keep Connie’s presence at the workshop. Thank you, Betty, for all the years of dancing you provided us with.

Thanks to all the dancers who supported the workshops and the ceilis throughout the weekend. We had new faces and some old faces revisiting and it is great to see them come back with their children growing and they now have time to travel out once more. Thanks to the session musicians who provided us with great music in the hotel over the weekend.

With humble thanks,

Ann Curtin, West Limerick Set Dancing Club

A huge lift for Birmingham

Hi Bill,

I am just winding down from the weekend in Brum see page 14. What a terrific success! It just seems to get better each year. The crowd we had were such great fun, I never stopped smiling and laughing all weekend and I think all of the dancers did too. Johnny’s music was, as always, outstanding, just a huge lift for anyone. Thank you the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band and to George Hook, who is the most wonderful sound technician.

I would also like to thank the following people who contributed to the weekend in various ways—Margaret and John Morrin for a fabulous workshop, Pat and Betty Quinn, Linda Reavy, George Hook, Matt Dolan, Martin Roche, Mary McParland, yourself and Chris Eichbaum for all the photography, Sean Longe, Emma Brogan and Gráinne Kelly for their display of dancing and of course, not least, the old langer, Pat Crotty.

I hope all the dancers who travelled from all parts of the UK and Ireland had a super time and will return for St Patrick’s weekend next year for more. I have found a lovely hotel near to the venue for next year so you can enjoy the weekend into the small hours with a drink or two. I don’t let the grass grow!

Thank you all once again,

Kate Howes, Solihull, England

An experience not to be missed

Dear Bill,

My wife Anne and I have just had a wonderful long weekend (3–8 March) in Padua, Italy, staying with a good friend made through set dancing, Lucina Tretti, and meeting up with Paolo and Claudia Moretti. Paolo is a dedicated set dancer, but Claudia, like Anne, is not a set dancer, but like Anne and Lucina, is a talented cook and all-round ‘foodie’.

The experience and hospitality, especially the food, were wonderful. I also had an opportunity to go to a set dancing class, which needless to say, I grabbed with open arms!

I am writing to let any other travellers know that if they get a chance, please do go to the set dancing class in Padua. The class, which Lucina attends, is on a Monday night, 9–11pm, and is taught by Romano Baratella and Stefania Sossella. I understand that Chris Eichbaum also visited the class recently after Ger Butler’s workshop weekend in Mestre see page 21.

The class is an experience not to be missed. Romano and Stefania teach steps and sets. They are dedicated to the traditions of the Clare and Connemara styles of dancing, including sean nós, and their concern for detail and tradition is keeping alive many things which we, as dancers in Ireland, frequently overlook or forget in our present rush for the experience of a new set and, in my view, our desire to dance to ever faster music.

Romano and Stefania pay particular attention to the detail of the sets and over the years have learned so much from teachers such as Pádraig and Róisín McEneaney, Gerard Butler, Pat Murphy, Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey, and in the early days, over fifteen years ago, from their friend Mary Fox. Romano and Stefania are to be congratulated for their dedication to and respect for detail and tradition, which they are clearly passing on to the very able dancers in their class. We are all lucky to have such dedicated Italian teachers and practitioners promoting this important part of Irish culture, which brings so much enjoyment to so many people in so many countries.


Ashley Ray, Ardglass, Co Down

New Year’s Day charity ceili

Hi Bill,

The fourth annual Carlow charity ceili had a new venue this year—Carlow Hurling Club rose to the occasion and fitted the eighteen sets on the floor comfortably. Thanks to the efforts of many of the dancers we had an array of savoury sandwiches and mouthwatering cakes for the break. Danny Webster played a blinder, as usual, and played for eleven sets, as well as waltzes, quicksteps and two-hand dances. Jack Byrne entertained us during the break, guitaring and singing.

We raised over €1,500, which we shared between three charities—Bishop Harrington’s school for the blind in Kenya, Carlow Rape Crisis Centre, and Goal.

We would like to thank everyone who helped make the ceili such a success. Yours sincerely,

Geraldine Byrne and Hilary Nic Íomhair, Carlow

Café des Orgues

The French Flanders village of Herzeele contains a rare treasure hidden inside one of the solid brick buildings lining its streets. The Café des Orgues, or Organs Café, is a unique dancing venue, though from the street there’s little to set it apart, just a discreet sign. Inside there’s an ordinary looking bar, and it’s only when you pass through to the back that you feel like you’ve landed in another world.

Here there’s a large hall with a fine timber floor surrounded by wooden tables and chairs. There’s no need for a stage as mounted on three sides of the room are three enormous mechanical organs. Two of them are fully two storeys high and elaborately decorated with carved floral swirls and paintings; they were manufactured in 1912 and 1926. The third is in a more compact Art Deco style from 1939. They are all air-powered, controlled by punched cards and with a sound imitating a big dance orchestra. The café opened in 1965 and they have been making music close to fifty years here.

During my visit on a Sunday afternoon in February, two of the organs took turns supplying music, playing a constant selection of two or three minute tunes, one after the other, for ballroom dancing. Most of the people there were spectators, but a few were clearly regulars and superb dancers. Anyone was free to get up and dance as they wished; the floor was not at all crowded. I was kindly accompanied by Zaya Maalem, a set dancing teacher from Lille, and two of her dancers, and we got up for waltzes and tried a few other dances. The organs played marches occasionally and Zaya wisely suggested dancing the Gay Gordons for them—I never before had this much fun dancing it! Tangos and other Latin style dances were plentiful.

Dancing to organs was once common in the Netherlands and Flanders. A Dutch friend recalls being dragged along by her parents to them as a teenager in the 1970s. A Belgian dancer informed me of another organ café on the river in Antwerp city centre, Café Beveren, though there is limited dancing space. A collection of nine organs can be heard in a dedicated museum in Haarlem in the Netherlands. For a taste of the sound, the Café des Orgues is featured in several YouTube videos. Search for it by name, have a look, and you’ll then find many more examples of organs elsewhere.

But the Café des Orgues appears to be unique in that it is ideal for dancing with its spacious floor. The village of Herzeele is located in northern France between Dunkirk and Lille just off the A25 motorway. The café is signposted in the village. The organs play on Sunday between 4 and 10pm, all year except January.

Bill Lynch

Joe Mannix

A dark cloud has descended among us as we come to terms with the loss of our good friend, Joe Mannix. We awoke to numbness on Friday 21st of January to discover Joe had passed away. Words could not express the feeling of emptiness.

Joe lived for his dancing. The passion ran through his veins. He was our leader, friend, challenger, photographer, bus driver, fellow dancer, ‘the boss’, and now he will no longer be able to share his passion with us. Joe was so special, quiet but jovial, witty but yet so placid, that friendly, warm smile will forever be in our hearts and the deep affection and admiration that we hold for him will remain with us forever.

For the past 25 years Joe portrayed his true passion for the traditional style of dancing and music through the branch of Comhaltas he formed—Craobh Atha Caoire. Over the years he has put many a dancer through his hands, both young and old, and he always had an eye for any new and upcoming dancer who could wear the green uniform! He always supported local events and the year was not complete without taking part in the Bantry show and Glengarriff’s annual competition, to name but a few. Although Joe knew nearly every set in the book we always danced either the Atha Caoire or Borlin sets in competitions. He was so proud when we won a competition which was usually celebrated with a cup of tea and a Jaffa cake but Joe was also very gracious in defeat and he always thanked and shook hands with the judges no matter what the result.

We also travelled further afield with Joe. Jig Gig on TG4, Manchester competitions, the trip to Germany and, the icing on the cake, two mighty trips to Ibiza were all fantastic occasions we would not have experienced without Joe. People from the non-dancing world often wondered what was taking us set dancing to the island of Ibiza—much to Joe’s amusement! Joe’s easy going, gentle style of dancing was admired by all where ever he went and as recently as last year he travelled to Australia to pass on his talent.

As his team we would like to thank Joe for all the journeys we shared, the many experiences we encountered near and far, the memories that we hold so fond in our hearts and the large circle of friends that he turned into a family. His sudden departure from us left us devastated, lost without ‘the boss’ who always had the final say, but we will always be grateful for everything he did for us. We promise to keep Joe’s memory alive because he made us what we are today.

Finally as Joe always said, “Keep smiling, it will be fine on the day.”

May you rest in peace, dear friend.

From the Senior Atha Caoire Set dancers

Caheragh Ceili Group honoured the memory of the late Joe Mannix with a ceili held in the community hall, Caheragh, Co Cork, on February 21st. Joe was our dancing teacher for the past twenty years and in that time he made a huge contribution to the social and community life of our catchment area.

His untimely passing left us in a state of shock and created a void that will be difficult to fill. Friends and admirers of Joe travelled from far and near to be with us on the night. The music provided by Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan, both personal friends of Joe’s, was exhilarating and uplifting. The response from the dancers was instantaneous and many of Joe’s favourite sets were danced on the night.

It was a fitting tribute to a person totally committed to the teaching and preservation of ceili and set dancing. Everyone went home happy in the knowledge that they had made a contribution to his memory and thanked the Caheragh Ceili Group for giving them the opportunity of doing so.


Carmel Barrett, Bantry, Co Cork

Sighle O’Kane

Sighle O’Kane, a well loved set dancer from Belfast, passed away suddenly on 21st June 2010, leaving her husband Eugene, five children and eight grandchildren. Throughout her life and in all her activities, Sighle was an inspiration to others. She had an enthusiasm for life which she radiated to all those she knew, family, friends and fellow set dancers alike.

Her immaculate silver hair, ever-present smile and vibrant clothes made her instantly recognisable in classes and at ceilis across Ireland. From her first introduction to set dancing, she was hooked and it remained her abiding passion. In set dancing circles, due to her genuine interest in people, she made many friends who will miss her dearly.

Sighle will be remembered for many things, her care and support to others, her love of literature, art and travel and also her sense of humour and love of a bit of banter.

For those who knew her, it was a privilege to be her friend and whenever dancing in a set, Sighle will be there in spirit dancing with us.

Barbara McDade, Belfast

Move yourself, get up and go
Favourite dancing shoes occupied.
Rhythmic movements in Heaven’s halls.
Encouraging others to dance.
Being a great and stirring example of all she expects from others.
Radiating youth and vitality.
Ever a bubbling enthusiast for life and set dancing, regardless of distance to be travelled.
Her dancing agenda and venues, always a priority to be enjoyed.
Never old, always youthful in activity and attitude.
Her departure a great loss, a terrible blight, a tragedy so suddenly visited on her beloved family and friends.
A life glowing with energy and purpose.
Unstinting in ability and effort.
Always dancing, ever inspiring.
“Sitting this one out,” she may be indeed.
Resting in heaven, yet still here in our hearts and experience.
Have we the breath, the get up and go, as she had?
Are we forever in dancing shoes, eternally energising the halls of glory?
Ruffling the angels’ wings with her insistence and sheer joy.
Simply get up and join her out there on the dance floor, enjoying the fun and the companionship. Up and out there in her dancing shoes and flowing dress.
Here on earth among us, unseen now, but still dancing.
Her image never clouded, but alive and encouraging.
Take a well-earned and deserved rest, Sheila, you’ve done more than enough.
Eternally youthful and vigorous, ever near.
Enjoying your reward, mindful of us always, as we are of you and yours.
The dance goes on.
God bless you.

Cormac Wylie, Sighles’ brother

Mary O’Brien

It was with great sadness and regret that the Durrow Set Dancing Club, Durrow, Co Offaly, heard of the untimely death of Mary. She was deeply involved in the club since it was formed in September 1999. She organised the tea for the classes every Tuesday night and for all the ceilis during the year. She was called the “little tea lady.”

She had a great love of the Irish music, especially Davey Joe Fallon and Carousel, the dancing, meeting people and the chat at all the ceilis.

After a short illness Mary lost her battle for life and died peacefully on the 16th December 2010 in which she donated her body to cancer research.

May her gentle soul rest in peace.

Martin Newton and the Durrow Set Dancing Club

Bernhard Horlacher

Our New Year dancing festival in Switzerland took place for the first time in Herzberg, near Aarou this year. It was a beautiful and successful time once again, in the lovely Swiss mountains, where we had a gathering of dancing friends from various parts of Europe. Many of us have known each other for many years, from different places we have gathered to dance and celebrate together, so it was really a community of friends travelling to be together for the New Year.

This year we were saddened by the sudden passing of a lovely friend, Bernhard Horlacher, who died suddenly during the festival. Bernhard was a long-time friend to all of the regular dancers in attendance and was extremely popular with everyone. Bernhard and I first met many years ago, when I was teaching the set dancing class during the early years of the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo and he attended this lovely festival with his dancing friends from Switzerland. Being like-minded people who loved to dance and have fun in good company, we quickly became firm friends.

Over the years we kept in touch and whenever we met, we had many discussions about music, dance, love, life and all of the other subjects that were important to us. We never, as far as I remember, discussed religion or politics—they were lesser subjects for other people to figure out.

My first trip to Switzerland, to beautiful Beckenried near Lucerne was arranged by Bernhard and it seemed like a trip to wonderland. Over the years there were many others and invariably, whether we met in Ireland, Switzerland or another European country, we had time for a chat and update on our lives and adventures. Sadly this will not be possible again now.

I will miss my friend Bernhard. A little consolation is that we were chatting as usual and exchanging friendly advice, just minutes before the start of his favourite set, the Ballyvourney Jig Set, which he was dancing just before he left us.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Pat Murphy

John Murphy

John was born in Newtown Hamiltown, Co Armagh, January 18th, 1938. One of ten, it was no surprise that, a few days short of his eighteenth birthday, he headed for Ealing, London, to seek a new life.

Round about the same time, Teresa Fitzgerald, left Glin, Co Limerick, on a similar mission. They met within a few months and the rest is history. Fifteen years later, with Siobhán and John (junior) in tow, the call of home brought them to Glin where John took up immediate employment as a lorry driver with Joseph Hogan Ltd delivering ready-mixed concrete and blocks. Why Glin rather than Newtown Hamilton is unclear and irrelevant. Hogans were the chief beneficiaries because, for the next 31 years, John delivered the goods with unassuming efficiency.

Meantime, the set dancing bug had become an epidemic and the Murphys, like so many others, became infected. They were both founder-members of the West Limerick Set Dancing Club, consistent contributors to every venture till ill health struck about ten years ago.

John and Teresa danced the latter years away as they lived, gracefully and in perfect harmony with one another, ever ready to co-operate as long as it didn’t attract attention. He would cringe in such a situation. John’s modest demeanour masked the exceptional craftsmanship which he had in abundance. One would need to peep into his workshop, which of course was discreetly situated at the rear of his house, to savour the hidden expertise which produced mini-carts, toys, etc. And I strongly suspect his only apprenticeship was his own giftedness.

Even though inevitable, John’s passing evoked real regret among his many friends as was evidenced by the large contingent from his native Armagh. To my knowledge he never donned footballing gear but the Armagh jersey draping his coffin was the only sign of closet allegiance I ever suspected.

John was a noble Christian, a gentle man who, I suspect, never even harboured a malicious thought about anyone and will be missed greatly, not alone by Teresa and extended family, but by the many who were fortunate enough to make his acquaintance.

Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

Margaret Sadler

It is with deepest regret that we have to say our dear friend died on 23 September 2010. Her love for Irish set dancing was immeasurable. After enjoying a holiday with Enjoy Travel in Ibiza 2004, she came back home to England and decided to start up set dancing classes in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, which was a great success and encouraged many to participate and enjoy it.

After a very short illness she died peacefully in St Luke’s Hospice.

Rest in peace, dearest friend. We love and miss you.

Mary Wilks, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England

10th Longford Sean Óg Festival

Physical entities race around the house at high speed, avoiding a collision at the last millisecond, zooming past each other, repeating the activity at the next corner as couples yet again whirl towards each other and glide past with only the space of a sheet of paper between them. Not unlike the Large Hadron Collider, the dancing particles are accelerated by music, rather than magnetic beams, to almost incredible velocity, but the entities remain just about in control of their movements as they swish by. It looks like birds on the wing, songbirds, chaffinches perhaps, that quickly swoop to pick up a morsel and ascend again—gone in the blink of an eye. That’s how sets are danced at the Sean Óg weekend (18–21 November) in Longford, housing, swinging, twirling, looking in and away, catching someone’s eye for a nano-moment, then on to something else, clothing, shoes, hands, hair, pooled and combined in dancing force—whooee!

The Sean Óg weekend is a wild horse—no, not only is it a horse, it’s a stallion! At times, I lost the reins, and it galloped madly away with me barely clinging on to its mane, before I wrestled my way back into the saddle and, hurray, at the controls again! So much to do, see, dance, listen to, so many people to meet, observe, such diverse situations to photograph. Intermittently it’s like you’re in a dust-devil being hurled this way and that, landed in one place and picked up straight away again to be dropped somewhere else. Who needs any other drug, any other means of having a time away from budget talks?

The blitz started on Thursday, 18 November. The Annaly Ceili Band played for the initial night, which had the feel of a VIP party for the select few. At one point, Kevin Hassett showed a few sean nós steps—they do look unique, I have to say, kind of Kevin Hassett-esque. And throughout the spectacle that is Sean Óg, more VIPs were carted into the show—it’s name-dropping time! Emma O’Sullivan (All Ireland Talent Show sean nós dancer and just back from touring China) , James Devine (Guinness Book of Records’ fastest tapper, 38 per second), Edwina Guckian’s sean nós dancing kids (bound for fame through the All Ireland Talent Show), and sean nós dancer Liam Scanlon (Scór champion, first time see, never will forget). Ger Butler was also seen sean nós dancing, both at his workshop on Saturday morning and, as a special treat, on the counter of the bar late that night. Add a white limousine carrying its special cargo, the winners of a radio quiz, some mad people from England (ah, lets name them—the Birminghammers!), a furniture-moving nun, a knitting Great Dane, a guinea pig aptly christened Nathy later (after Nathan Carter, a country and western singer who performed on Saturday afternoon), a huge quantity of young people to generate the energy that zapped furiously, and a pint of stuff, um, I mean, a Pinch of Snuff, and you end up with an explosive mixture that would put the wildest chemistry class experiments to shame!

Pinch of Snuff, by the way, is a band. Jim Butler plays in it, Ger’s older brother. On Friday evening, when no containment would have been strong enough, no force field powerful enough, no fences high enough to rein in the mounting excitement, an outpouring of crafty, deeply held tunes by said quartet provided the appropriate outlet for feet that just wouldn’t hold still any longer!

The Abbey Ceili Band, in flying form for the ceili, picked up on the charged atmosphere and dragged it out some more, in such a way that the Cork quartet’s music made me feel a stone lighter, which is, by default, a good thing, sailing smoothly across the floor with lots of wind a-blowin’ down from the stage.

James Devine danced on tiles. He, who is the fastest tapper in the world, collided with his own typhoon of taps. They splinter, and shards shower down on the listener’s ears so rapidly they become a rhythmic knife-edged tingling, then to cool down, a slow rumble, like the climb up a roller coaster. And then it’s down, down, ever faster! When you watch him dance, tappity-tap, visibly and audibly a world half-way between percussion orchestra and machine gun (pellets only) opens up wide. James, originally from Co Clare, has lived abroad now for ten years and is after moving back to Ireland recently. He also took to the set dance floor, and was seen having no trouble at all. James said he was interested in taking up set dancing now as well, and joining a class, so watch this space! The session and craic on Friday night continued in the lounge until sleep time, which for some was considerably less than sufficient. What the heck—Longford happens only once a year.

The morning workshops on Saturday were split between the bit of sean nós in the Annaly Hotel and the Longford Arms Hotel, where Pat Murphy was in full swing teaching a set—and no spaces left. Nine sets were on the floor, all full. Never mind, two of us imagined six dancers were with us—no bother. Actually, because of that, it shall not be forgotten! But onward we must dance, and the Abbey were on for a second slot, an hour before the afternoon social dancing, and let me tell you, they played as zestily as they did the night before. Some of them played on in the sessions—no stopping them!

Thrown in for our amusement, we had country and western music in the form of Nathan Carter on Saturday afternoon. Nathan appeared a very stylish, handsome young man in a gleaming silver-gold suit and a mighty accordion. I daresay the girls particularly love him! A rising star on the country and western horizon, who later shared the stage with Fergus Harman and Carmel McLoughlin, both of whom provided cameo appearances with class.

During the Saturday night ceili with Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band, Sean Nós ar an tSionann, the group of children that Edwina has been teaching, took to the floor in pink and black outfits. They are so cute to look at and astonishingly good at their steps, which seem to come easy, but I do know that they have worked hard and practiced loads to arrive at this point. The future of the oldest form of Irish dancing is in good hands and feet! Following on, Liam Scanlon performed sean nós. I hadn’t seen him before, but the whole scene really came to vivid life when Emma O’Sullivan joined him and the two stepped it out in accord. Walk your life, dance your life! Sean nós is becoming more and more familiar to set dancers, taking its appointed place in the Irish dancing family, sharing foot, time and soul space with sets, ceili and two hands.

The tail end of the Swallow’s playing at the Saturday night ceili turned into a concert. Puffed up by the likes of Brona Graham (female banjo-Buddha) the last blast of tunes had the audience mad-clapping, musicians standing up to play, unable to remain seated, and the roof was in danger of lifting off! Never before has that happened, not in my reckoning. It wasn’t to dance to—it was to scream to! Down on your knees, and fan-like gyrations of the head, hair flying, those were the days—I wonder who else remembers. Later, Micheál Sexton took up a concertina and played along in the after-ceili session. All the bigwigs assembled, crème de la crème of trad music.

The events up for grabs at this mega-festival are indeed like dust devils that blow you here and there, and they are everywhere. So are the people, going hither and thither, dancing in and out, even in the reception area, where an impromptu two-hand dance session was born out of the enthusiasm of some folks to go over and recap the two-hands from Pat Murphy’s workshop earlier on Sunday morning.

Among the heavyweights of ceili bands at their best, the man himself, Johnny Reidy played on Sunday afternoon—love you, Johnny! And to roll out that last night, the Five Counties Ceili Band, again enriched with Brona Graham’s banjo that seemed to play itself! Alan Finn on accordion riffed it and later on jumped off the stage to join a hooley after the ceili which was making set dancers dance disco, line and freestyle and went on and on and on as if no one wanted this to stop, ever! Accordingly, the faces on Monday morning at half past dead for breakfast told a story!

Twas the place to be. A music and dance fair, with carousels to suit everyone. And a round of applause to the young people who made the finest buzz around. The festival, once a foal, now ten years old, makes its parents brim with pride.

If the set dancing world was trying to reach a critical mass, one of the main contributors without a shadow of a doubt is the Sean Óg Festival, unsurpassed in terms of variety, dancing time, with six ceilis and plenty of social dances, set dancing and sean nós workshops.

And as befits the Technicolor Sean Óg weekend, the husbandry of it has been in hands that have sown and reaped a bountiful harvest—the suitably bustling and crowd-serenading Ger Butler; the irrepressibly high-spirited Gay Cassidy, who at the same time wears a cool head; the cheerful, irreverent and technically competent Bill Quirke, at least when it comes to the tying of balloons; and steady-strong Rosemary Suzin, who was presented a lovely gift in honour of her contributions, as was Gay, who was visibly touched by the presentation.

The Longford weekend has become the touchstone in the Copacabana of set dancing, something everything else that aspires to be dancing fireworks will be measured by.

Chris Eichbaum

Darby O’Gill’s Set Dancing Weekend

The homely Darby O’Gills Country House Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry, was the venue for a new winter set dancing weekend from Friday 26th November to Sunday 28th. The weekend got underway with a ceili on Friday night when we danced to the music of the Five Counties Ceili Band. The music was brilliant as usual from this wonderful young band. The atmosphere was exciting as we danced the usual selection of sets with no caller.

Saturday morning at 11am, Timmy Woulfe gave his first workshop of the festival. We had a great morning’s dancing as Timmy taught the Skibbereen Set. This little five-figure set is danced in a smooth easy style to polkas and slides. After lunch Timmy taught the Paris Set, one of my favourite old Co Clare sets. It also has five figures, the first three danced to reels then a jig and finishing with a hornpipe and march. Timmy danced each set through at the end of each class. He has a special gift for teaching that embraces dancers at all levels of dancing. Timmy is thorough and delights in explaining the style, culture and steps for each set.

Triona Mangan began her sean nós workshop at 3.30pm. She began with beginner steps but quickly moved on to more advanced footwork when she saw the high standard of her class. All ages were represented.

Saturday night’s ceili began at 9pm. The exuberant music of Deenagh Ceili Band kept us all energised as we danced most of the usual sets, with the exception of the Boyne Set which I called. This new young band has lots of energy and played some of the most unusual reels I have heard for a long time.

The festival concluded with an afternoon ceili on Sunday. Local musician Neily O’Connor and his band kept us dancing from 2.30 to 5.45pm. We danced a nice selection of sets including the Claddagh and I called the Moycullen. The ceili concluded with a selection of waltzes and quicksteps. This local band is a treat to dance to with solid music and the magical Kerry lift. It must be something in the air down in Kerry that gives its musicians this magic.

Pat Gill, the manager of Darby O’Gills Hotel thanked everyone for attending. “I hope you all enjoyed your weekend,” he said. The weekend was well organised and we had delicious home cooking to keep us energised. We enjoyed complementary tea, coffee and yummy scones during the break time at all three ceilis. The management and staff can be proud of this festival and their warm welcome to all who attended.

Joan Pollard Carew

Happily ever after in Copenhagen

Always wanted to be inside a fairy tale? Delivery is nigh.

Once upon a time, snowy Copenhagen greeted visitors from Ireland with a white downy blanket that could be seen out of the plane’s window as it approached Copenhagen airport. Thick snowflakes lazily rained down on them once they set foot outside, the sound of their footfalls approximating “crunch, crunch, crunch.” What a difference eight inches of the white stuff made to the appearance of a city! All was muffled and all slowed down. Winter wonderland, the Danish way, and all rejoiced in awe—but one!

One of the visitors was grumpy. The reason? No mittens. No hat. No boots. Meaning he was cold and getting colder. A first snowball fight left one visitor and Ane Luise Madsen, co-organiser of the set dancing weekend, drenched, hysterical and super happy, but the grumpy man was still grumpy! A pair of gloves, for ladies, was bought, because they were the first to come his way, and a furry hat with ears that made him look like 007 gone wrong. He then donned a padded coat, borrowed from the Great Dane, the aforementioned Ane Luise, who kindly left her apartment to the visitors to live in for the duration of the Copenhagen set dancing weekend at the end of November. But it wasn’t that which turned him from grumpy frog to prince of the dance, it was the kiss of a snowball! He thawed in more ways than one, slowly, when he was christened with a lovely freezing snowball right where he felt it, and that changed his tune! Not only did he then make snowballs, he shovelled massive amounts of snow, with propelling arms, from car roofs, whipping it onto the other snowball-warriors! And finally, he laughed, and from then on in, the weekend felt warm to him as he warmed to the snow, the Danes, the dancing, the fairground that is Tivoli, the get-together, eat-together, live-together community that was formed for the occasion—with lasting effects. And they all danced happily ever after!—which is how it should end, isn’t it?

The Irish visitors were blatantly well looked after with taxi rides, never ending servings of food, coffee and tea, slippers and gingerbread. Not a lot of Danish kroner were spent, other than on a ride in a hellish machine in Tivoli park that shoots up with you sitting strapped in a chair on the outside of a tower-like structure, some 150 feet above the ground, and then drops you down like an out of control lift—the screams can still be heard at the far end of the park! The visitors took the plunge, literally, and one of them, at least, was screaming too as stomachs left their designated areas. That can be crossed off the list now! Consoling the senses, there were Christmas lights glowing by night, a sweetish scent of baked waffles, the spicy aroma of gløgg in the dark air, and snow, snow, snow completed the fairy tale feel—had they gone through the back of the wardrobe?

Tivoli, the amusement park, and its Christmas markets could have easily gone wrong and degenerated into a big over-the-top tinsel town. But they didn’t. The Danes got it absolutely right. Wooden toys, candles and tasteful decorations were skilfully dispersed and added an archetypal, almost rural nostalgic feel. The electric light show encased a huge replica of a sailing ship anchored in a lake, and also included a weeping willow, all in blue, at the centre of the fair.

Back in base camp, which was a fine hall almost across the road from Tivoli, set dancing brought along a homely feel, a piece of Ireland as it were. Amazingly, Ger Butler, resident teacher for the second time in Copenhagen, taught three polka sets—more or less. Big surprise! So in the well-warmed hall, the Borlin Polka removed any lasting memory of feeling the pinch of cold from outside. The other two sets taught were the new Seana Gael and the Ath a’ Caoire.

An endearing mix of Danish, English and German was spoken and everyone attending seemed at ease with kauderwelsch. When Patrick Culleton from Dublin, who has lived in Copenhagen a long time, opened his mouth to speak, there was no doubt as to where he was from originally. And then, he turns around and speaks Danish. My goodness! He admitted that his parents find that strange too! Although the visitors could detect no accent, Patrick said that his Danish was layered with a Dublin accent. Ulrike Matzen, a German lady, has chosen Denmark as her residence, set dancing as a hobby, and music as her profession. She is no stranger to Irish lands and has travelled to Miltown, Listowel and other places to dance. Here, the visitors met her in student mode—you could almost see her mind at work trying to take in the lessons and the sean nós steps, and succeeding.

Here is a place which seeks to rival legendary Irish hospitality in that whatever you do, however you feel, whichever way you dance, whatever you wear, it’s okay. Wanna have a little snooze behind the musicians at the ceili? No problem. Feel like dancing in over-sized men’s socks? Fine. You’re a gent and would like to dance the lady? You’re welcome. Help yourself to a fourth bit of drømmekage baked expertly by the resourceful Elsebeth Rønne? Go ahead! Need someone to show you a bit of lindy hop, balboa, tap dance? Here is Jørgen Olsen, the dancing machine that never stops, ready to show one and all. Long after the weekend is officially over, the teacher departed, the lights dimmed, he is still there, counting out the steps, “He-bah he-bah he-bah heeee!”

All that dancing kept everyone from being chilled, the sean nós kept people on their toes and heels, and the polkas kept feet darting across the floor in a one-two-three rhythm.

The four Danish and English Irish trad musicians played furiously fast polkas for four hours of a ceili on Saturday night, just in case the dancers cooled down a little and needed additional internal heating switched on to full power. They later showed a bit of mercy in their unusual fairy tale style reels.

Meanwhile, parts of Copenhagen are like a doll’s house—cobblestone roads, timber frame houses with massive white fascia boards, and a white horse being led around a castle courtyard. Around the corner are canals with small boats and barges, now clad in softening white layers of snow and icicles mystifying their outer skins. And as in a fairy tale, there is a royal family here in Denmark—I wonder have they tried set dancing yet? And would they meet the set dancing fairy? Because the visitors surely did! All that magic!

Visitor one showed visitor two around the city centre, because he had been there before and wielded a map, turning it this way and that. His superior knowledge brought them to the finest places, all given a peaceful appearance by the snow. When the white horse was being led over the cobblestones in the distance, as the visitors peered at it through falling snowflakes, there appeared to be a horn attached to its forehead. The horse was part of what must be the Danish equivalent of the Wiener Hofreitschule, where white horses perform in a spectacular show of traditional riding school tricks, pirouettes and dressage acts. The visitors meandered through streets broad and narrow, ending up thawing chilled toes in a library café from a place time forgot.

One of the most magical sights ever were bicycles coated with a thick layer of transparent ice, and the icing on the cake were the icicles extending earthwards from handlebar, spokes and saddle! Santa surely would have loved a ride on these—throw on a bit of tinsel and ivy and Rudolph might have been able to stay in his warm stable!

On Sunday there is always a session in a pub downtown, and on this particular Sunday, the Danes and visitors headed there after the official closure of the weekend—and after the tap dancing lesson. In the smallest place (don’t bring a cat), five people took turns dancing various bits of sets, whatever came to them, whatever they wanted to try out. Pleased with themselves, going home was the only thing left to do, but, our main protagonist, the snow, could not be swayed to take only a cameo role, and decided to fall so heavily that the airport was closed, and one of the visitors was left stranded for the day, until she too was able to fly home. She happened to sit beside a woman from Gweedore, Co Donegal, whose sister happens to dance with Madge O’Grady in Gortahork. Small world? You bet! And back in Ireland? The snows had travelled with the visitors! And perhaps the snow queen too!

Chris Eichbaum

PS A Christmas hat that was bought at Tivoli with an extra long tail, complete with cowbell, that can double up as a scarf, went on to become a big hit at an Irish Christmas party. You will have to go to fair Copenhagen though to get one for yourself. The visitor who purchased it there will not part with it, ever.

Articles continue in
Old News Volume 65.

There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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