last updated 8 June 2012
Set Dancing News home page: www.setdancingnews.net

Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 70

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
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Contents:
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).

Havin’ fun in Cavan

Luck was with me as I arrived in Cavan for the second Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann or All-Ireland Fleadh held here in succession. I enjoyed it last year and became great friends with the town itself, and I had high hopes for an even better time this year. I was taking a big chance when I arrived at midday on Friday, August 19th, without having arranged any accommodation for myself. So my first port of call was the accommodation service at Fleadh headquarters in the courthouse, and they directed me to a private house in the nearby village of Ballyhaise, where I was welcomed like a member of the family and received all the comforts of home.

The town looked as good as I remembered it last year, and seemed to have even more signs, food options and rain shelters over sections of the street. Parking though was so restricted as to be unavailable in town, and thereby I discovered the convenience of the park and ride service which was on offer. Parking was easily obtained at the Cavan Crystal Hotel, where all the set dancing ceilis and competitions were held, and shuttle buses to town stopped frequently at the main entrance. At €2 for a single ticket, €3 for a return journey and €5 for unlimited rides all day, it was a useful service.

For set dancers, the most significant improvement at the Fleadh this year was the relocation of the ceilis to the Cavan Crystal Hotel. Last year, most of the ceilis were in a gymnasium on an army base, which the hotel bettered in every aspect—atmosphere, sound, comfort, floor, parking, access, convenience and so on. There was a great selection of bands as well, with Swallow’s Tail taking the stage on Friday night in peak form. They energised us enough to raise temperatures to tropical levels on what for me was a three-shirt night—and I really should have brought along more! I loved their Cashel hornpipe for its bounce—the springiest ever! I was gasping for air after all the figures and found relief at the back of the ballroom where there was a separate annex with fully timbered floor, oodles of space and refreshing open windows. There I asked a partner for the Antrim Square at the last minute when only one other couple was available, so we danced the first figure as a half-set. That worked nicely, though I felt distinctly lonely dancing the squares without the other couples. Fortunately we were joined by two more couples to fill the set for the rest. My set of the night was the Plain Set, which I did with a Cavan woman who packed some powerful dancing in a compact package. We promised each other we’d dance the Plain for the rest of the weekend!

On Saturday I dumped the car at the hotel and wandered inside for a look at the set dancing competitions in progress. I was interested to see the contest between the two over-35 sets, one from Clare and another from Kerry. This is a new category for set dancing competitions and it will hopefully expand to include more teams in future. I shuttled into town for the afternoon, danced on tarmac to the Deenagh Ceili Band at the gig rig, and then shuttled back in time for the climax of the day’s competitions—the mixed seniors. Six teams performed brilliantly, so well in fact that three were recalled to dance again to help the judges decide. In the end (which was close to two hours later than scheduled) the packed ballroom erupted in a unanimous roar when first prize was awarded to the set from County Clare. After collecting their trophies and generous holiday vouchers from Gerry Flynn, the set triumphantly danced the last figure of the Plain Set brimming with joy while everyone else cheered them on.

The ideal follow-up to that kind of excitement was the ceili with Johnny Reidy that night, which began without delay at 10pm. Johnny and his band are masters at keeping dancers on a high, and I marvelled at how they do that every time I see them, no matter how often it is. The ballroom was packed with more than fifty sets, yet there was still plenty of room and air available to those dancing in the back section. After the Antrim Square Set and a waltz and quickstep, I was expecting a halftime break when the Killarney Set was announced. I was a bit baffled as we started forming sets to dance it, until we were asked to clear the floor to make way for a demonstration by a junior set from Killarney which had won first prize earlier in the day. Their winning set was the Antrim Square, and I was delighted to see it performed so beautifully. My Plain Set partner and I would have won prizes ourselves later that night if only they had a category for over-35 exuberance!

Each day in town I made a pilgrimage to Cissy’s Kitchen, which for me was the non-set dancing highlight of last year’s Fleadh and seemed even better and more popular this year. In an old-fashioned Irish kitchen set up in a disused mill building by a stream in the town centre, three actors made the Irish past come alive. Cissy was the lady of the house, who lived there with her husband Mick and his mother. Their performance lasted each day from 2pm to 10 at night, all improvised as people wandered in and out of the kitchen. Cissy was the star of the show with her quick tongue and sharp wit. Anyone with a party piece was keenly encouraged to perform, and was warmly received by the spectators. On Sunday, Cissy spotted an actual priest standing at the door and ushered him in to pride of place by the fire. She requested him to sing Danny Boy, but he said he didn’t know the words of the song. When Cissy insisted, the priest looked up the song on his iPhone and read the words from it while singing! After that Seamus Fay, the famed Cavan lilter, dropped in and lilted a reel while Peggy McGovern from Leitrim danced a few steps. After an entertaining hour with Cissy, I went upstairs for another hour in the tea room, where volunteers served homemade cakes and tea for incredible prices (free refills). Both Cissy’s Kitchen and the tea room were operating to raise money for charity.

Last year a new competition was launched at the Fleadh for sean nós dancers, which was so successful that it returned again this year on Sunday. The competition was unique at the Fleadh as it was open to all dancers without the need for qualifying first at county or provincial level. As a result there were over sixty contestants aged eighteen and under, and twenty adult competitors. I got back from my trip to town in time to see a few of the teenage competitors and all the adults. Only thirteen of the twenty adults scheduled to compete actually showed up. One of them was apparently en-route to the hotel for most of an hour while everyone in the ballroom patiently waited. A few non-competing dancers performed during the delay, but eventually the judges gave up waiting and then quickly announced their decision. The top prize went to Una Ní Flatharta from Maynooth, Co Kildare, who received a plaque and her own holiday voucher from Gerry Flynn.

Scheduled for 10pm, the Sunday ceili actually began ten minutes early thanks to a ballroom full of waiting dancers and Matt Cunningham and his musicians who were all set up and ready to go. Matt’s promptness and efficiency (sometimes just two seconds between figures) yielded enough time to dance nine sets and two waltzes before the 1am finish.

After a long lie-in, a leisurely breakfast and a friendly chat with my landlady on Monday morning, I parked at the hotel, where I found a lift with a friend into town. I made one last visit to Cissy’s Kitchen, where the donkey was brought inside to entertain us, and to the tea rooms above.

The weekend’s competitions ended on Sunday night, but most people stay on for the Monday, which is a lovely relaxed day of music and chat. Some people only came today just for the craic. The big highlight of the day was a brush dance, but not your everyday, run-of-the-mill brush dance. The Fleadh’s main stage was a gig rig set up in the wide open space of a car park. Many hundreds of people congregated here at 4pm, most of them hoping to join in an attempt to break the world record for simultaneous brush dancing. I was amazed by the generosity in handing out 500 complimentary brushes to anyone wishing to join in. When collecting a brush, people had to sign an official register to get an accurate count of participants, as did the people who brought their own brushes. Among the musicians on the gig rig were Fleadh organiser and box player Martin Donohoe and Frankie Gavin, who was announced by Martin as the world’s fastest fiddler. Practice dancing was led by Marian Crowe, Edwina Guckian and Kathleen McGlynn, among others, and then everyone did the brush dance and it was repeated just to be sure. The sight of everyone raising their brushes in the air was unforgettable! At the conclusion, Martin announced that over 600 had danced, well beyond the previous record.

My attempts to shuttle back to the hotel after the brush dance were not successful. A couple of buses passed by without stopping and then no more were spotted at all during the twenty-minute walk back to the Cavan Crystal Hotel. I learned later that there was no shuttle service today at all, despite there being just as many people around as on the other days.

The Innisfree Ceili Band was scheduled for a 9pm start at the Fleadh’s final ceili, but they let the anticipation mount for an extra half hour—and it was well worth the wait. This was my first time dancing to the band and they were brilliant right from the first figure of the opening Corofin Plain Set. The music was irresistibly joyous, tremendously lively, deliciously varied, with thrilling tune changes, equally so for reels, jigs, polkas and slides, all from a ten-piece competition-style ceili band which won the ceili band competition at the Fleadh in 2008. They impressed everyone, with cheers erupting from the floor spontaneously. While I had skipped a set or two at the previous ceilis, I danced them all tonight—there was no way I was wasting that music! Unfortunately my Plain Set partner from Cavan was double booked for that set tonight, so we danced the waltz as exuberantly as we could. The night ended at 1am after eight sets and the waltz, an hour later than scheduled, but no one minded. In fact, there was no reason to leave at all as the hotel was packed with great sessions everywhere, but I had a long journey ahead and after a cup of tea headed home.

Cavan has a third chance to show the world how to run a Fleadh, as the festival is coming here again in 2012. They’ve certainly set a new standard which future host towns would do well to emulate!

Bill Lynch


Generosities

We were invited to stay with fellow set dancers for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Cavan town. What to expect? What to give them? They turned out to be no ordinary couple and offered no ordinary hospitality. This was hospitality to get a five-star rating. You’re talking electric blankets switched on when needed, tea ready in cups when coming home in the middle of the night, en-suite double bedded rooms, dinner on the table at arrival and a constant stream of “Is there anything else we can do for yez?” They are Margaret and Thomas McGlone. My goodness, these two are something else! And if ever you’re passing that way, give them my love.

First up on Friday night—the band with the loveliest name, according to a punter, Swallow’s Tail. A full house, what a great hand for poker, the crowd revved up, and the Swallows flying it high. Tommy Doherty’s harshly-exciting long-drawn accordion notes indicative of fanfares, complemented by Michael Hurley’s smooth flute thrillers fed the dancers steamy hot reels that contrasted regionally with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band (JRCB) on Saturday night. Two of the great bands, heavyweights, southwestern polkas dotted with slithering slides, set off by northwestern reel shots—these two go down so well back to back. Titans.

Just as well the Fleadh progressed during the day in such a fashion that some breath-catching was possible. But before you hit the streets for the Fleadh, do drop in to the flea market in Virginia on Saturday morning. I bought a lamb there, made of straw with autumnal flowers in it, a forget-me-not, a jumper, a plastic-fur winter coat and presents for various people, all for under €30.

I headed back in the afternoon to the Cavan Crystal Hotel for the build-up to the grand finale of the senior set dancing competition. Mighty musicians were there to underline the dancing—Michael Sexton, Sean Murphy and Conor Moriarty, Tommy and Stephen Doherty and others not heard before but playing in such a way to make your ears stand up. That was just as well, because after watching group after group for hours, it all began to look the same, until that is, a team came on that connected with the audience in their liveliness and somehow managed to show that they really enjoyed dancing despite it having to be super-precise. They didn’t win though. How disappointing. Then again, Clare won. Can’t say nay to that either.

The whole point of competitions is not entirely clear. It’s about dancing sets in a manner that strives for perfect synchronicity. At the same time, set dancing in its purest forms, oldest forms, had no such ambition at all. The very nature of it and how it sprung up in Ireland forestalls this idea. Maybe this is more about the technicality of it, the rivalries, the thrill of the winners and the devastation of the losers, the gratification of getting something as near perfect as possible, the rehearsals and the build-up of tension at the event with the relief of it being accomplished, challenging oneself, learning, competing, winning, losing, the applause, the seriousness of a contest as opposed to what happens at a ceili. Such different worlds! And they don’t mix. Very few competition dancers also go to ceilis and learn sets. And vice versa. One such exceptional young fellow said, “If you’d put some of the competition dancers in a ceili, they wouldn’t have a clue how to dance any set bar the one they were drilled in for this particular competition.”

Downtown, lots of groups and individuals playing music outdoors, mostly busking, mostly young people. Two bits of noteworthiness: a teenage girl from Glasgow was playing a most unusual instrument, a hammered dulcimer. The sound emitted by it was faintly reminiscent of a table harp crossbred with a very quietly played organ and something ‘glassy’. The other bit was a guy running around wrapped in a fishnet which had coloured notes stuck to it. He explained that it was a ‘wishing net’, and one note read, for example, “I wish that my sister was nice to me. Aimee.” Aw, bless her!

On the main square at the gig rig, the Deenagh Ceili Band again launched their CD and a set was danced on the pavement—more ouch! Tom Skelly (JRCB’s banjo man) meandered around looking every inch a Sioux elder with his long ponytail, eating his ice cream—bless him as well! Did you know he only picked up music when he was forty years old? Some man! There’s a glimpse of hope for me—or none!

At night, back at the Cavan Crystal Hotel, JRCB conceive musical perfection that allows for a spring in a step, albeit a step which is not in top form and hurting somewhat. Dancing on marshmallowy deep banjo notes acts as a cushion, and the speed hurries you along gliding, sliding, skiing and touching the floor only occasionally. I found out that they are a band I can somehow dance to even if there is a niggling pain. Why would you, one might ask? Kicks and thrills!

And so, for the third ceili of the weekend, it’s JRCB again, and ’twas the best! The occasion was a surprise birthday ceili for Willie Kennedy in the Park Hotel in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. We went straight to it from Cavan; it’s on the way home, spot on. And everything about it was just immaculately right—the right atmosphere, the right band, the right people, the right venue, the right partners. Julia Kennedy’s idea to put on this ceili with their favourite band was also just right. A perfect afternoon, providing real feel-good factors. How generous of them!

Not many folks can say that they have an opportunity to celebrate life in this way—and all for the price of €10. Appreciate it all, while you can, act the maggot, wriggle away if you want to, go wild! Who cares? At a ceili, as long as you don’t devour other dancers, you can be as kiddy-like or clownish as you wish. Isn’t that a gift! Counting our blessings here, and the love in our lives, Willie is a lucky man to have generous Julia, who so blatantly cares deeply. And Cavan town was lucky to be able to have the honour of hosting the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil.

Chris Eichbaum


Dancing tour of Europe

This summer my husband Mike and I have been lucky enough to be able to take an eight week tour of Europe in our camper van. I began planning it the same way as I plan most of our holidays—by looking in Set Dancing News!

I found that our very first night on the continent there was set dancing in Amsterdam, with live music, as they have a ceili on the first Monday of the month. Ineke Hoff welcomed us warmly—I had emailed in advance, and she had been able to put faces to the names of the visitors they were expecting by seeing the photos from my birthday party in the June–July edition of the magazine which had arrived at her house that same day. The band which played in Mulligan’s that night was brilliant—I really couldn’t believe that they were all Dutch, and not Irish. The music swept away the tiredness we had been feeling from travelling and visiting the city.

By the next weekend we had reached the After Hours pub in Lille, France, where Zaya “Maya” Maalem was a real whirlwind, teaching the dances, demonstrating moves, choosing the music, chatting to everyone, not stopping for a moment! A couple of hours dancing in the hot and steamy downstairs room was followed by a chill-out drink, then a meal and a couple more sets in a restaurant nearby. We had met some of the dancers at the Glasgow weekend last year, so it was nice to see them again.

After this it took us two weeks to make our way a bit further south through France and Belgium, then east to Ipsheim, near Nuremberg, Germany, where Sabine and Bernd Menzel hold their annual set dancing weekend in a beautiful castle called Burg Hoheneck. The teacher here was Ian Hughes, who did a great job all weekend and taught several dances I had never done before. The music, which was excellent, was provided by Pat Walsh and Tom Doherty. All the participants were staying in the castle, and all the meals were included, so there was plenty of time for socialising and getting to know the other dancers. We were very pleased so many of them could speak English so well, as my level of German would have meant a very limited conversation! We were certainly made very welcome. One of the highlights of the weekend was when Sabine invited a buck set onto the dance floor to dance a figure of the Clare Lancers, which was done partly to the normal music, but interspersed with sections from The Birdie Song and Agadoo, with the appropriate actions, and finished with us all joining in for YMCA!

After this there was no more dancing for four weeks, until we got to Brittany. We didn’t make it to any of the set dancing clubs there, but we did try some Breton dancing at two fest-noz (Breton ceilis), one in Le Pouldu, and also at a huge festival in Quimper. I know many set dancers also enjoy Breton and other French dancing, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t do it for me, though it was good to try it in an authentic setting. At the same time, we were being bombarded by texts from our friends at home, saying what a great time they were having dancing to Matt Cunningham in Exeter.

While travelling it was lovely to meet with the other dancers, old and new friends. Thanks to all of you who welcomed us to your dancing events, and were kind enough to speak English to us. I hope we will be able to do it again some day, but in the meantime, Devon is a lovely place for a holiday, and we would love to welcome you at our club.

As a footnote, I’d like to say thanks to all the dancers who came to my fiftieth birthday party at Colyton in April. I really had a great time, and sorry about the fire alarm! The collection raised £120 for Oxfam, and there were other donations made separately too.

Maggie Daniel, Newton Abbott, Devon, England


Summer adrift

Chris Eichbaum spent much of the summer sampling a few of the many festivals in Ireland offering set dancing in the company of her husband Rainer. This concluding instalment of her adventure takes her from Gurteen to Kilrush, with plenty of stops in between.

Drifting impetuously—you can only do that if there is a stream to carry you, a flowing stream, otherwise you’ll be stagnant. That certain stream was filled by music—let the music set us adrift!

Lake after lake allowed for lots of drifting around in Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo. Weaving into it—Drumshanbo, again hosting the Joe Mooney Summer School, luring us up for ceilis and workshops. Um, well, it lured me, and I lured Rainer with a promise of a few sunny days (hope and pray) spent in this most yachty district of Ireland, moseying around marinas, swan-filled mirror-clear waterways, farmers markets, and lots of recuperating sleep. The last item got a teeny bit neglected, while all others featured big time.

We started with a ceili in a marquee in Gurteen, where country singer Patrick Feeney was involved with a summer festival. He was seen walking about with a high-visibility vest while the Inishfree Ceili Band was playing through well-balanced audio equipment, fine-tuned by John McHugh, whom Pat Murphy had cited to be “the best when it comes to sound.” John, Swallow’s Tail’s fiddler, is also not bad at taking pictures, boldly grabbing my camera and taking one of the few dancing pictures that feature my husband and me. Dancing in inverted commas, a step, step, step waltz—after I had proposed the deal that if he waltzes with me, we’ll leave soon. He likes that, leaving soon! As a non-dancer, it does get cold and the sets all look the same, I know!

And I can’t even claim that I’d do something similar for him, like accompanying him to motorcycle shows (not in a million years) or uttering ohs and ahs when seeing a Harley roar by (another million years). But the ohs and ahs where coming forth while hearing the Inishfree Ceili Band live for the first time. Marvellously executed tunes—no wonder they won the All-Ireland championship two years ago. They’re mostly young, and since they’re from the northwest, the tunes sound flutey-fiddly, and I found them to be quite similar to the Dartry Ceili Band.

More direct comparison was possible the following day when the Dartry played in the open air at the back of the Ramada Hotel in Drumshanbo, all looking super-cool in sunglasses, musicians’ versions of Keanu Reeves in the Matrix trilogy. A barbecue was laid out at the same time, and the sun was indeed shining, a fountain spurting pearls of water up high—wow, that was a perfect food-music mix. Ever swallowed a C sharp? Rolled a high A around your mouth? Squashed a waltz with your tongue? Ha ha, that’s what it felt like, classy!

The Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band then played in Drumshanbo. I was listening keenly and dancing the same way—so keen you get when you hear their tunes, you nearly overtake the band! And to finish off the Drumshanbo drift, the Glenside Ceili Band (“’twas down by the glenside, I met an old woman”) had the honours of topping off the week with a fine ceili on Sunday—winding down the dancers with their good humour.

And while there, I ventured up to the music tutorials and learned something new again about Irish trad. You can create your own ornamentations (and are expected to)—slides, cuts, rolls. Freestyle? Sounds like trad music is to classical music what sean nós is to step dancing. It challenges all ideas about music and how to learn it, and that proves to be the biggest hurdle. Having been taught that you only play what’s on the music sheet, note for note, adagio for andante, if it’s not on it, you don’t play it, now musicians of renown told me that in playing Irish trad music, at times only the key notes are left untouched, whereas everything else can be trebled, embellished, lengthened, trilled, cut and rolled. And depending on who you play with, all bets can be off!

Johnny Reidy Ceili Band (JRCB) played at the Hazel Tree near Mallow the Monday after the Sunday after Drumshanbo. Oh. My. God. Just rockin’ sets! Barnacled blistering bliss from the band that gives you what you pay for, note by note, each time, unwaveringly. With us in the car is Jim Senton, who plays trad music, and with every new tune that Johnny plays, we try to decipher which one it is. These ceilis in Mallow are great in the summer, there are no classes, so you get about nine sets and all reliable JRCB fans—atmosphere guaranteed!

Next, as a real drifter, I have to change my mind occasionally, just to prove I’m not at all hung up about something and quite happy to go with some flow or other. On Friday, I didn’t decide until last minute whether to travel nearly three hours to Ballyvourney to hear Striolán Ceili Band. That’s six hours of travelling for a few sets cautiously minding my heel. I saw the light and traded that ceili for a night in. Yep, correct. A night in, watching telly, for what that’s worth, but actually was blown away by classic violinist Midori followed by a special 1980s edition of the BBC’s Top of the Pops. At that time, it was all cool in black leather, long baggy jackets, sunglasses and bleached white hair with an amount of hair spray to cement it pointing skywards that would dwarf Jedward’s consumption of same. The dancing that we used to do was somewhat twitchy, staccato. The moves were all designed to show off and attract the attention of opposite sex. When you are young, it all feels absolutely right. Now, set dancing feels right, and skiing across the dance floor to the Abbey’s fathomless slides is adequately delectable for now!

On another timeline, I was told by the physiotherapist not to dance for two weeks. Two weeks! That’s a joke, right? Drifting nowhere, for all of a couple of weeks. Now I am really adrift. How depressing. Achilles tendonitis has to heal, and despite popular opinion, it was not caused by insane dancing sprees. Apparently these things can occur at any time. I was told I could dance “a little bit” (what’s that, I wondered) in trainers. On a somewhat higher note, the physiotherapist said she’d be interested to join a local set dance class. Never give up trying to recruit people, wherever you are!

Delving into my horde of set dance memories has lost its attraction after a while, and although the feet have not healed yet and there is very little traction control, I get up and hobble around the room for a while doing a few steps in trainers (doctor’s orders—ouch). I ask the physiotherapist if this was prone to happen again and she said, “No, because you are from now on going to do your stretches just before your dancing.” Right. Stretches. An eejit leaning towards the wall in a lunging position. Thirty seconds. Bend knees. Thirty seconds. Seat stuck out. Oh no! But the physiotherapy treatment is helping and I am beginning to allow some daydreaming about dancing in the square in Kilrush to JRCB, the Glenside and the Five Counties—getting very excited!

At the last minute, two weeks of treatment and exercise and cold packs nearly up, Rainer and I book a room in a hostel in Kilrush for the festival. Very spontaneous, and lucky we were to get a place to stay at short notice, but that is all part of the experiment, a shoestring weekend. One day to go, I feel like someone who hasn’t seen her beloved in a while, and I do my stretches like crazy, not only to be a good girl, but also to express some of the antsyness. I am packing two pairs of dancing shoes, prepped now with gelatinous heel insoles, and a mix of sun-rain clothes. Extra cuddles for the pets. Not that they need them, but I do, always feeling slightly guilty for going away.

And then, I danced one set to JRCB—and limped off the floor. Xxxxx! (This is where the worst curse you can think of would go.) So now there was a choice. I could turn into grumpy old woman and snarl at the husband like a demon, or switch to tourist mode. Tourist mode it was. So if you want to explore southern Clare, apart from dancing, here’s what to do. Spend some time walking the beaches. Take the musical boat trip to Scattery Island and let the guide take you on a mystical journey through the ages of round towers, legends, church ruins and holy wells, and the musicians will complement it. Tour through Kilkee (The Pantry is a must for lunch) to Loop Head and climb up the lighthouse (not if you suffer from vertigo) and amble along the top of the scaly cliffs to the squeal of gulls. Book a dolphin watching boat tour (bring your fleece and rainproof jackets). Finally take in Vandeleur Walled Gardens for a session that is held there as part of the festival on Sunday afternoon, in case your heel gives you trouble, or any other body parts, or disagreeing with the spouse that says you’re dancing too much. There is no such thing as dancing too much, quoting the physiotherapist.

There is a gift in all this, or rather two. One is the heightened appreciation of the ability to dance—it is not guaranteed. And second is more understanding and compassion for others’ inability to dance when they are encountering a problem. And there is a third gift—the excitement of looking forward to dancing again has probably been at an all time high. In a way, there is a fourth. Because I turned to music for comfort, appreciation for musicians is growing like the proverbial beanstalk.

So what is drifting like? Not as pure as I thought, not sure I got the concept really. Bang goes that theory. And now, I had enough of it. Let’s dance.

Chris Eichbaum


Fantastic night in Exeter

Matt Cunningham has for a long time undertaken a tour of England during the summer months, visiting among other places London, Heston, Basingstoke, Manchester, Bolton and Leeds and yet the people of the southwest counties (Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, Somerset) have up until now always had to travel a goodly distance to dance at one of his ceilis. That is, until this year, when the dancers of the southwest got together to host a fantastic (and fantastically hot) night in Exeter in Devon on July 23rd—their first big event for about ten years and we hope not their last as this event was a fabulous evening, leaving us tired but happy.

We had already danced to Matt’s music at the opening ceili of his tour on 15th July organised by Moira Dempsey in Heston, and Matt had played at our ceili-cum-party on the following Sunday afternoon, but we are also keen to support the out of the way or smaller events which don’t always get visited by dancers, so we set off for our third Matt ceili in high spirits. We think we can’t have too much of a good thing, and we were proved right.

The atmosphere was already buzzing with expectation when we arrived after our 130-plus mile drive from Hampshire on the first weekend of the school summer holidays. The hall had been beautifully decorated with bunting and lights, with a hand-written welcome notice for Matt and his band, and everyone looking forward to dancing and hearing Matt’s lovely melodies. Smiling faces were all around as we met again people we hadn’t seen for a while. We missed Maggie and Mike Daniel who host a class at Colyton but who were undertaking a “grand tour” of Europe this summer, visiting dance classes in Germany and France. Maggie spoke to Matt on the phone prior to the ceili though, and we’re certain she won’t miss next year’s event when she hears of the success!

Mary Bingham opened the proceedings and welcomed us all in her usual friendly and energising manner, and we started the night by dancing the Williamstown Set, which set the tone for a lively night.

The dances which were less well-known were called by Ken Lamport, John Earle and Colin Shapter, as well as Mary herself, yet we ran out of time for my husband Kevin to call the Slip and Slide; perhaps he’ll get a chance next year! The programme, like everything else in life, was subject to change, and Matt and his band, being very accommodating, included a few waltzes within the repertoire so we could continue to dance but at a slower rate. It really was a hot night and while we all needed to dance, we appreciated the change in tempo. Ita’s fiddle playing during the whole evening was particularly sweet; I kept thinking someone had smuggled in a flute somewhere!

Some dancers do not have the opportunity we have to get to classes more often than once a month in this part of England, and so they were keen to dance those sets that may have been unfamiliar to them, and were not averse to asking for clarification on steps, movements and some finer points of dancing technique or etiquette. Set dancers being a friendly bunch, there was always someone to oblige with the knowledge, or if they didn’t know, someone else would! That’s what’s so great about set dancers—always ready to give friendly advice when asked, without fuss or worry. Although I feel the poor unknown man from Cornwall I took in hand (literally) for the West Kerry may have ended the set feeling as though he had been in a wrestling match. I may be small, but I take no prisoners, and we needed to keep up with the other dancers in the set! He did continue smiling for the rest of the evening though, so perhaps there was no lasting harm done; and he did ask where we ran our classes, but I fear we may be too far for a weekly visit from him, but you never know.

Mary did eventually relent and give us all a break, and there was a beautiful spread of homemade cakes, biscuits and elderflower champagne for the dancers, which was readily consumed and greatly appreciated. Hospitality in this part of the world is hard to beat.

Just before we returned to the sets, Una Duffy and her sister Linda gave us a great show of a brush dance. Una lives in England, and Linda was visiting from Ireland, and it was great to see the sisters dancing with such synchronised energy and obvious enjoyment.

Another display that was warmly received was a sean nós routine by Aidan Vaughan, whose steps are deceptively simple looking; beating out a rhythm in a beautifully understated, traditional manner to the delight of all. These were two truly mesmerising moments of skill and talent in an entire evening of excitement, laughter and friendship.

It is said that everything comes to those who wait. This year, the magic of Matt’s music and the camaraderie of dancing came to those who have waited a very long time. Let’s all hope that they won’t wait so long before organising another event. We’ve already said we’ll be back when they do decide to organise something, and next time, we’re booking a hotel, so that we don’t immediately have to drive back those 133 miles after an evening of energetic yet ultimately exhausting dancing.

Carol Gannon, Tadley, Hampshire, England


A ruby surprise

On 31st July, the Annaly Ceili Band was playing beautifully and the crowd were eating out of their hands while enjoying one of the many successful céilithe organised by bean an tí Maureen Culleton during the week of her summer school in Ballyfin, Co Laois.

As halftime arrived, Maureen asked for the special attention of everyone and announced, “We are delighted to have a special couple with us tonight who are celebrating forty years of wedded life together and unknown to them their family have put together a little surprise.”

There was total silence as many in the big attendance, including the couple themselves, did not know what was coming next.

Maureen continued, “I am delighted to welcome the family of Michael and Anne Mooney to Ballyfin.”

Michael was stunned and had to be “gently encouraged” back into the hall by some friends and Anne was in tears when Elaine, Niall, Cliona, Aoife, and grandson Eoghan appeared in the hall. One could feel the joy and emotion for the happy couple, who are to be seen anywhere that there is a good ceili. This is all the more noteworthy as Michael does not dance, but networks the hall chatting with one and all. Anne certainly dances and is in big demand at every ceili. They are a most popular couple who are ever-willing to help in any way possible.

This ceili was one of a series organised by Maureen and it was preceded by a session attended by people from all over Ireland. Many arrived because they knew that a surprise was planned for Anne and Michael. A beautiful cake was produced by the family and Lily Morrissey sang Happy Anniversary in dulcet tones—most appropriate for the occasion.

When Michael settled and Anne dried her tears they were very happy and relaxed receiving the good wishes of friends who had travelled literally from north, south, east and west of the country to be with them. Two very good dancers (Paddy and Martin from the Galmoy set dancers), invited Anne and Michael’s daughters for a set and announced to Michael that they had inherited their footwork from Anne—“as light as a feather.”

As is usual in Ballyfin a lovely supper was had by all, finished off with a piece of ruby anniversary cake provided by the family.

Dancing recommenced and the hall rocked to the sound of Maureen’s lovely voice and the beautiful music of the Annaly. The dancing community certainly knows how to support each other. We wish Anne and Michael many more years of dancing and listening to good music. Congratulations to both of them on this milestone reached.

Ger Boland, Kilteel, Co Kildare


Platform for heritage

The hills around Cloncannon, Toomevara, Co Tipperary, echoed with music and tradition on Friday evening 26th August when local man Sean O’Farrell once more hosted a platform dance to celebrate heritage week. Sean has been hosting this ceili for many years in a field on his farm just a few hundred yards from his home.

Sean, with the help of neighbours and friends, erected a platform and gathers musicians from the local area to play for the dancers. Once again Maureen Culleton from Co Laois was our MC. She is an accomplished dancer and teacher with her own school of dancing.

We had a fabulous evening’s entertainment with set and ceili dancing, and of course, a few waltzes. Our musicians were Anne Cantwell, Eddie Whelan, Michael Searson, Michael Dyer, Teresa Larkin, Ellie and Katie Cullen, Tommy and Andy O’Rourke and Muireann O’Dwyer.

The platform was put to the test as fifty dancers stepped it out to the brilliant music. As we relaxed in the setting sun and gazed across at the mountain known as the Devil’s Bit, we were treated to solo music from Muireann on her harp, followed by Rachel Curran on tin whistle. Teresa also gave us breathtaking tunes. Our singers for the evening included Tom Fahy and Catharina Ryan, and Anne Grogan and Gerry Loughnane who sang a duet. Some local little girls danced a jig.

I was delighted to meet Marian Carey who is the newly elected heritage officer for the area. Marian had her four children with her enjoying the evening.

As the evening light failed, Sean invited everyone back to his house for tea and confectionary. The night concluded with more set dancing in Sean’s kitchen.

Joan Pollard Carew


A wild rose

This is a little beer garden story. Bamberg in Germany is blessed with a number of most beautiful romantic beer gardens, spectacularly situated on the city’s seven hills.

On a Sunday afternoon in August, a few dancers entered the Wilde Rose Keller beer garden through hedges of roses and ivy. Love at first sight! Plenty of orange-painted benches and tables under hundreds of chestnut trees. Old wooden barrels and countless historical tools, used to brew beer in former times, were scattered everywhere. Every little piece carefully refurbished and painted for the guest’s delight.

Looking around, I easily found the object of my desire. Surrounded by timber buildings in the art nouveau style decorated with most beautiful old windows and wooden carvings was an old pavilion with a stage covered by a ceiling in the shape of a shell. What a place for some sets, a dream!

This little dream place is only open between April and September. Occasionally, jazz and traditional concerts take place here. The owners, a friendly local couple in their early seventies, allowed us to dance here for several hours, not knowing what kind of dancing that would be.

Three sets took the stage dancing the usual sets on these old boards that have been lying here for generations. During breaks, we looked down into the garden and over the rolling Bamberg hills. As the afternoon progressed, more and more local people arrived on bicycles, sat on the orange benches and enjoyed packed lunches they are allowed to bring and eat here. More and more tables were filled with pints of local beer, shandy or lemonade for the children.

None of these people had ever seen Irish set dancing before in their lives, but they seemed to like the music and dances. More and more children advanced towards the stage, imitating dancing steps to fit the music.

As the dancers, a mixture of advanced set dancers and beginners, invited interested children and adults to join a set, you could feel the attention of the whole beer garden focus more and more on the dancing craic. Small lapses in dancing the figures were answered with cheers, and after major mistakes, the whole set broke out into laughter. The atmosphere could not be more relaxed and happy.

About two hours into the dancing, the sky became black and serious thunder and lightning announced a heavy downpour. Immediately, everyone gathered onto the few benches and tables under the shelter of the pavilion. And as the rain turned the beer garden muddy and slippery, with dirty puddles that small children played in, the dancers happily continued to the cheers of all the people now sitting beside the stage. This kind of family atmosphere was unique and unexpected.

After dancing eight sets, the dancers joined the crowd at the tables to satisfy their own appetites with lunch. As more and more beer mugs populated the tightly packed tables, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

The people who left the Wilde Rose garden were exhausted but very happy. They said that they had never experienced such a community feeling before. And many people who had watched the whole event talked enthusiastically about set dancing. They had never heard about it before, but after this afternoon they were infected by the energy set dancing radiates to everybody who just takes the time to look and listen.

Once most people had left, many pedaling home on their bikes, the old owners joined us at our table to tell us the story about beer gardens in Germany. The Bavarian brewing order of 1539 restricts the brewing of beer to the time between September and April since the boiling process could cause fires in summer. Large underground cellar vaults and huge barrels of ice, cut from frozen lakes in winter, were used to keep the beer cool and drinkable during the summer. The hilly landscape of Bamberg was ideally suited to building those vaults.

To sell beer directly to thirsty customers, beer gardens were created by brewers, very close to the cellar vaults, shaded with large chestnut trees. Bavaria’s King Ludwig I enacted a law that allows customers to bring their own packed lunch, and after more than 450 years, this tradition is still highly appreciated in Bamberg.

See you again next year, my Wilde Rose!

Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany


A pleasure even when it rains

Weather and set dancers battled it out during the set dancing weekend in Kilrush, Co Clare, 12–14 August, and in the end there was a standoff as neither side relented. The weekend’s organisers set themselves up every year for a battle with the elements by holding three ceilis outdoors in the town’s market square. Some years they are blessed with good weather, but rain is an inevitable reality most of the time.

Early in the afternoon on Friday it was quite wet, so it seemed likely the opening ceili with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band would be moved indoors. Then later in the afternoon the clouds cleared and the sun blazed. A final decision was made to go for it outdoors, which is what everyone wanted despite the chance of rain, and as insurance a canopy used to cover the market was raised over the dance floor. Indeed any blue sky and sun was soon replaced by clouds, but the band, dancers and spectators were undaunted and enjoyed every minute. Only once did it rain enough to shove the sets in under the canopy, and once it stopped, the edges of the floor were reoccupied as they gradually dried.

The Glenside Ceili Band played for the Saturday afternoon ceili, and even though it was the driest of the three, there was still one brief bout of precipitation to contend with. Even after the rain ceased, the canopy seemed to save some of it for later splashing with the help of the wind. Mary Clancy served as MC, filling sets and calling. She made sure we did the South Galway and North Kerry sets as taught at her workshop yesterday afternoon in a fine, dry hall in a disused church. And we danced the Antrim Square and Labasheeda sets, both taught by Aidan Vaughan in his workshop this morning. This being Clare, we had a double helping of the Caledonian Set as well.

Musicians at the Sunday afternoon music session in the Vandeleur Walled Gardens took no chances and played indoors, which was a pity as it was dry. While rain was the dominant feature of the final ceili on Sunday evening, the Five Counties Ceili Band attracted the biggest crowd of dancers all weekend, who managed to find dry places to dance under the canopy while the rain came down. I expected the rain to surrender when the sun popped out and formed a rainbow over the dancers, but no, it came and went all evening.

But dancers never wavered all weekend. Wet or dry, we were only delighted to be dancing outdoors in Kilrush.

Bill Lynch


Rathgormack set dancing festival

The village of Rathgormack beside the Comeragh Mountains in Co Waterford came alive to traditional music and set dancing at the Dance ’Neath the Comeraghs Weekend from the 9th to 11th of September in the beautiful hiking and community centre. There was a welcome cup of coffee served with smiles from the committee on my arrival.

Friday night got off to a brilliant start with Johnny Reidy’s magical Kerry music keeping us energised and dancing from 9.30pm to 12.30am. The tea break was a sweet-toothed dancer’s dream with plates of cakes washed down with copious cups of tea or coffee. The tea breaks at each ceili saw a repeat performance of goodies, all home baked by the ladies in the committee.

Saturday was set dancing workshop day. I was honoured to direct the workshop and we had great fun dancing the Ballyvourney Reel, the Slip and Slide Polka, the Boyne and finishing with that wonderful but seldom danced Co Tipperary set, the Aherlow.

Saturday night we had the Deenagh Ceili Band and more magic Co Kerry music to keep us dancing.

Sunday afternoon we had our final ceili with Pat Walsh and Tony Dunne. Their music is superb to dance to. With their fabulous timing you can tap out every step.

We danced a good selection of sets all weekend. I was delighted to see the Moycullen being danced. I called the Ballyvourney Reel and Antrim Square sets.

Organiser Mary Murphy announced that she had resigned from running the festival, after this year. She stressed that she is not giving up dancing and that her classes will continue as usual. I was saddened to hear of her resignation as were all the dancers in the hall.

Mary and her beautiful daughters Bronagh and Leeann are synonymous with dancing and tradition all over Co Waterford and Kilkenny. These ladies have put a lot of hard work into the festival in Rathgormack for the past nine years; their input will be sadly missed.

Joan Pollard Carew


A silken bed in an historic house

The house sits empty these days. It feels lonely at times. That’s not how it used to be. There used to be a store in the back room, where many a story was told. The mechanical weighing scales are still there, now gracing the window sill with its lacy white curtains. The counter also is still there. And the doorbell. ‘Customer’ is what this used to spell. Now it means a visitor coming in. The house is owned now by an American couple who also are set dancers. But this year they couldn’t come, yet they rented the rooms out to people for the Dan Furey Weekend. The house and weekend match each other with their invitation to travel back in time. The house is loaded with Victorian knick-knacks—porcelain water jugs in colour-coded washing basins or prettily ornamental ladies’ hairbrushes on old-fashioned dressing tables. (The Dan Furey Weekend is loaded with references to the man himself, old-time step dancing expos, and vestiges of yesteryear—shoes, fiddles, a fortress hailing from Bonaparte’s era, tunes stretching way back, sets to follow.) Paintings in gilded frames hang on flowery wallpapered walls, depicting swans gliding lazily on lakes or fishermen in curraghs or portraits of girls and boys from the last centuries in soft pastel colours. The floors are strewn with rugs, some designed with oriental patterns in mind, and in some rooms the old black round knobs of light switches have been kept. Period features loom large in every nook and cranny and recess. A bay window is an inviting place to read one of the many ancient leather-bound hardback books laid out on the coffee table beside the armchair that is also festooned with a blanket for your knees. And look out and see the sea, a mere fifty yards away. The house likes it when people appreciate it. It likes when they come to stay, write comments in the guest book and look at the different ornaments, and make every second step of its staircase creak, always reminding you to be with it, to inhabit it fully, to remember the past and the age of the house. The owners have also installed a fragrancer; a soft-petalled scent of roses rises gently and penetrates all, above the slightly musty smell of old wood and linen.

The residues of the past are all around the old house, the village and the hall with its annex, forming an L-shaped building of bricked-up gothic windows buttressing the open wooden structure of the roof. The light in the hall is always diffusely orange-golden; it’s the light of Labasheeda. No matter how much the camera is adjusted, the intense yellowish tint remains. Dan Furey’s portrait remains up on the wall, flanked by his fiddle and dancing shoes. Ghosts of yesterday.

The house knows all this. And presently, it can hear music, travelling on sound waves across the village street, hitting its stony eardrums. The house almost, almost, wants to shake loose the foundation and jig around the grounds. The Abbey Ceili Band, yes, that’s what they are called, the house remembers from other years when this band visited. The house remembers those jigs! People coming back from the dancing talk about it—“Do you know, this fella I danced with said that this music was fabulous, although Ger Murphy is in Australia at the minute, and they had a sub on the accordion.”

The people steam sweat when they come in and one after the other take a shower. They gather in the dining room. “It’s so nice to be back in Labasheeda,” says one.

And the other, “Oh yes, I couldn’t wait to come here again. And to this house!”

One takes photographs of the interior. The house feels a sense of pride. The next morning, the people leave for a dancing workshop. “Timmy Woulfe is teaching,” says one of the guests.

And another, “He has an unusual way of teaching the polka step. Instead of down-two-three, he says it’s like an up-two-three, and explains this by way of imagining a line on the ground that you’d jump over.”

“I liked dancing the Aran Set again.”

Not that the house knows too clearly what all this means, but that seems to be what those bipedal creatures enjoy, hopping about in a manner to music. The people also seem excited about the prospect of having a particular band twice on that day, for an afternoon and a night ceili, the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. The way they are going on about it, the house thinks that this band must be high ranking among the ceili bands. A punter says that she needs her fix, and another that she is always giggling and smiling when they play because “they have that effect on me!” The organisers got them because they pull a crowd in the afternoon, and so they do here too. The number of dancers in the afternoon and night almost rival each other. In between the ceilis, one of the musicians stops by and comes into the house. We talk about music, and more about music. The musician says nice things about the house, and the house is brimming with pleasure, and tightens its pores so as to keep the good vibes locked in.

After the night ceili, the people come back to their temporary home, totally exhausted, but full of chat and laughter. They finally settle into their soft beds and fill the house with quiet snoring. The house likes that. Harbouring these bodies that have had such a workout and providing them with a place to rest. Walking-talking beings seem to need and want that. The house, it watches, and listens, and looks out from its many glassy eyes. It can see the following day the cars going by in one direction, to visit the graves of Dan Furey and James Keane, dancing teachers of the locality whose skills this weekend celebrates. Further then the procession goes on to a Napoleonic battery fort, a formidable tower in the middle of the field overseeing the estuary of the Shannon, on this occasion playing host to a large number of visitors, local musicians and dancers. A brush dance is performed within, a kid’s set, all champions—so the house hears later when people return for a while to change before the last ceili. These people, they are also packing their belongings. But their echoes now belong to the house, belong to Labasheeda, and fuse with all the echoes that are already present, and if you listen, you connect easily and joyously with the past that flows in a constant steady stream into the present moment and on into future ones. You jump on and off the river of time, dragging past moments into the present, like playing a tune that many have played before, a set danced now that was danced many times before, but redecorated beautifully, pulsating in its transitory garment. And it’s in this connection with the past that the present seems to become so powerful and vibrant, standing strongly on a pedestal of bygones. The house never thought that it shouldn’t dwell on the past because it owned and honed that past already, naturally combining it with what went before. A dance danced last year? Or yesterday? Or today? Same thing.

One of the oldest ceili bands, spanning more than a century of playing their music, much loved by many, performs on the Sunday afternoon—how many are there actually on stage? How many would there be on stage if all the band members were to assemble? All the ones that came and went through the ages? The Kilfenora Ceili Band carries that weight, the weight of the accumulation of time, like the house. These two are akin.

The old house doesn’t often wish it had legs and could move about, only sporadically. But something about this dancing almost made it wish it could, to see a ceili and the special light that seems to be in that hall—this peculiar golden glow, the light of Labasheeda set dancing. The house would peep into the yellow-lit windows, look down on the dancers, and imagine that it sees a lot of happy people. Martin Frawley claims, “This dancing makes a lot of people happy, people who otherwise might be quite sad and stay at home.”

Another happy punter beams, “How lucky are we?”

The house imagines being able to recognize some faces of dancers that have stayed at the house or have passed by. It imagines seeing them hurrying across the floor in leaps and bounds as if on invisible trampolines, laughing madly, long hair flying as it’s whipped about, dresses flowing, friends saluting, all enchanted and entrenched in Irish trad music.

The house is awash with music, played inside and pouring in from outside, with laughter, mirth and surprised faces when someone meets someone else they didn’t know was coming too, with hushed talk at night, children playing its chess board, with the smells of toast and coffee in the morning, the beep-beep-beep of mobile phones and alarms mingling with voices calling, the house itself helping to make some noise with its doorbell and staircase. Then the people, one by one, leave, and the house is by itself again. It hears the guests saying that they will be back next year for this weekend, and stay in the house again. That makes the house glow brightly in the afternoon rays of sunshine and it feels like putting on a couple of inches in height. It is all a bit like in the olden times, the rare auld times, when many people came and went and brought their stories and left with new ones. Now, a new wealth of stories was brought to the house, and in its long hours of contemplation, it will digest and integrate them all into its past and present. The dancers added to the ‘good will haunting’ of the house, now again full with the merry set dancing visions of the Dan Furey Weekend 2011.

The weekend was, is, and shall be going strong, and has made a full comeback. Come back in 2012 to invoke it again.

Chris Eichbaum


Three Sisters Weekend

Close your eyes and imagine the Grand Canyon, wide, dry and majestic, but instead with a carpet of greeny-blue eucalyptus trees, damp lush undergrowth and resounding birdsong.

That’s the Blue Mountains, about an hour and a half drive west of the city of Sydney, where we chose to have a winter festival of set dancing, the Three Sisters weekend. The Three Sisters are the most recognisable landmark in the area—three sandstone pillars that rise dramatically close to the lookout over the Blue Mountains at Echo Point, Katoomba.

I have a particular affection for this area as, in my well-spent youth before I discovered set dancing, I was an avid bush walker and climber, and I had famously been airlifted out of a four-day bush walk with friends as my knee collapsed under the weight of my pack. And around 1990 and less famously but most memorably for me, I climbed the first of the Three Sisters’ pillars with a friend of mine, made a cup of tea on the top and admired the view.

Fast-forward twenty years, and not much has changed in the Blue Mountains. Cool and cloudy (8–13ºC) was the forecast for Katoomba for our first dance weekend and that’s exactly what we got, with a small bit of dampness thrown in—perfect dance weather!

The plan was to have an enjoyable weekend learning, dancing and enjoying some spectacularly good Irish music to match the scenery. We started on Saturday afternoon at a lovely hall just off the main street in the town—also managing to snag the interest of a few Zumba dancers who were leaving their class as we were getting set up for ours. You never know where new set dancing addicts might be hiding!

We spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon learning three sets, the first of which was the Gillen Set from Ferbane, County Offaly, a really lovely set of short reels featuring the “unwrap and tap” move in the last two figures. Next, we learned the Skirdagh Set from Newport, Co Mayo, which was unsurprisingly very like the Derradda with a long and repetitive jig figure, a lively polka with lots of long sevens, a reel and a waltz to finish.

After a break for a small mountain of food, Martin Largey then led us through the complexities of the South Kerry Set, which I have since learned used to be called the Cahirciveen Set. This set has a very interesting house and square move, unique to this set, and I saw it being danced in Portmagee, Co Kerry when I was there in the Bridge Bar in early July this year.

The locals at the Alexandra Hotel in Leura were most interested in the music and dancing at the Saturday evening ceili, with really fantastic music from Jimmy Mullarkey (accordion player from Tubbercurry, Co Sligo) and friends including John-Joe Noonan (bodhrán, Lissyscasey, Co Clare), Gabriel Calcagno (guitar, Sydney), Cam Mather (banjo and sound, Sydney) and Sam Walters (fiddle, Sydney). We drew a great crowd and danced the Gillen Set, South Kerry, Clare Lancers, a very muddled Corofin Plain (lots of new friends joined in!), the Antrim Square, Ballyvourney Jig and Clare Plain Set and made no dent on the already very dented floor of the pub. A long and enjoyable session ensued, with Jimmy and company playing into the wee small hours with a few impromptu figures of the Caledonian, some sean-nós dancing and a lovely Tyrone song from Fidelma Brannigan, before we crawled upstairs to bed.

The thought of gorgeous breakfast piled high on the plate got us out of bed on Sunday morning. Brekky at Lily’s Pad was a most outstanding repast of poached eggs, avocado, parmesan cheese, spinach on brioche for me and a large pile of pancakes and bacon for Martin. Aahhh, heaven—isn’t this part of why we dance?

A lazy wander around the picture-postcard town of Leura and then onto Katoomba, before we launched into the afternoon muscle-loosening ceili. We were joined by some new recruits from the night before who thought they’d give it a lash, and other friends, which all added to the atmosphere. Music featured here from two newish CDs—the Abbey Ceili Band Bothar na Reidhe (CDs collected and paid for in a Sydney hotel where Ger Murphy (accordion) had arrived in Oz the day before!) and also the outstandingly fast and popular new band, the Deenagh Ceili Band, with their first album Around the House. By 3.30 that Sunday afternoon, everyone was exhausted and ’twas time to say farewell and wend our way down the hill to home.

Nora Stewart, Bywong, NSW, Australia


Progress, evolution and the love of sets

In the last issue of Set Dancing News, Ian and Audrey McLaren from Paisley, Scotland, offered some of their thoughts after attending the Willie Clancy Summer School and the Armada Hotel’s week of dancing last July. This prompted a long discussion on Facebook during August attracting over sixty comments. A selection of the comments is included here.

Brian Saunders Interesting letters from Ian and Audrey McLaren in Set Dancing News. Personally, I can’t see anything contentious in them. The fact that the same dances are done in every ceili in Miltown, and indeed in many other places, has always been a bugbear to me. When I first started going to Willie Clancy, the Brooks Academy used to run the ceilis in the Community Hall. They called every set and included the sets which they had taught that week. This displeased those dancers who had not been to classes and gave the summer school ceilis a reputation of being for beginners. Hence the experienced dancers started going to the Armada. Because of complaints and the success of the Armada, Brooks Academy stopped calling the sets and often the choice of sets is left to the bands. The summer school tried running ceilis in the afternoon, but these were poorly attended and were discontinued. There have been other attempts to introduce a better variety, but these have failed as the majority of dancers seem to prefer dancing the same sets all the time. Perhaps we need a third venue at Willie Clancy for dancers who want to dance different sets, maybe to recorded music. Thank goodness for weekends like Basingstoke, where no sets are repeated.

Thomas McGlone Ceilis are meant to be free-flowing fun and are not classes, so there should be no need for a caller. I won’t say anything about beginners or sets I don’t like just now as I don’t want to offend anyone.

Elsebeth Rønne I think it would be very nice to be able to dance at least twenty ‘free-flowing’ sets instead of the usual ten sets, and I wouldn’t mind doing some homework catching up before a ceili. Aren’t ceilis in Miltown in July allowed be a little different from ordinary ceilis when so many very good dancers are represented?

Kate Howes I do like to dance a variety of different sets. However if they have to be called, it’s all stop and start and then takes the form of a class and the atmosphere dies! All concentrating, listening, no craic!

Carol Gannon How about dancing the less-frequently danced sets in classes, learning them throughout the year, and then they wouldn’t be so ‘unusual’ come the ceili. I feel classes should be just that: somewhere to learn new sets, not always a place to dance ones we know inside-out, otherwise the class becomes a ceili and we can’t progress our knowledge. Of course there needs to be a place for revision of those sets we do know and love, and classes are a good place for this, but trust the dancers! They are all well able to learn, and set dancing challenges us all on a variety of levels: intellectual and physical included!

It’s all about progress, evolution, and the love of sets!

Chris Eichbaum There is a real discrepancy between dancers here and abroad in my experience. More dancers here flock to ceilis and weekends where only common sets are danced, and if you talk to them they say they never go to classes and have no interest in learning different sets. There are some weekends who offer all different sets. Dungarvan in April aims at that. Let them all live and prosper.

Jenepher Parry Davies Though I only got there once or twice, I do remember dancing at the Quilty Tavern. A difficult venue to get to for those without cars but I seem to remember different dances were called to the favourites. But then, when I was over to Galway for a sets weekend I was told that it was nothing for the Connemara Set to be danced five times in one evening there—and the evening would never start and end without it. I personally don’t mind what’s danced—but then I don’t get the opportunity to dance so much that I have become picky!

Brian Saunders I recall that Quilty used to have a better variety a few years ago, but that was when they had an MC. Paddy Hanafin was there once and Timmy Woulfe, I think. This year, there was no extension to the floor and the main floor, which is lovely to dance on, can only cope with nine sets.

Laura Donnelly I am not sure of where these ceilis are that everyone is talking about, but I know that any ceilis called in the north of Ireland (around Newry, Belfast, etc) are almost all called and they’re not like classes and there is plenty of craic at them. The caller usually rhymes off the entire figure before you do it, an entire figure in about twenty seconds, (I never understand what they have said, but anyway) and then we all do it with the caller prompting throughout and it works great. Joe Farrell is one of the best callers around our area. He calls and manages to dance them as well. I have no idea how he does it. I would get myself all mixed up if I had to dance and call it, because I’d never remember what came next.

Maggie Daniel I agree with Laura, calling doesn’t have to interrupt the flow of the dancing or spoil the craic. I think calling the less well-known sets means everyone can enjoy the dance, and will be more confident getting up for everything. I think the best ceilis have a good mix of ‘old favourites’, where you can let your hair down, and less well known dances where you have to concentrate a bit. Variety is the spice of life!

Brian Saunders I agree, Maggie, I would be very happy if more ceilis adopted this formula. It’s interesting that when you go to a ceili where everything is called, you realise that the local dancers, in general, don’t know the sets, because their teacher calls all of them, so why bother to learn them?

Nuala Riordan How about the happy medium of a recently re-introduced set and maybe a new one at each ceili? ’Tis only by dancing them that we become familiar with them and grow to love them. Claddagh, Sliabh Fraoch, Moycullen and Antrim Square were all slipped in like this.

Paddy Hanafin Hi Brian, I am reading your comments and you bring back happy memories indeed of a time when Carolyn and I used to teach set dancing at the Willie Clancy Summer School. We taught a class every year for about ten years in total until work got in the way and I couldn’t commit to the summer school. I was asked by the summer school at the time to act as MC at the Quilty Tavern ceilis along with a few other of the teachers during the Willie Week. I would promise our dance students that I would call whatever sets we were teaching at the Quilty ceilis and most of the class would turn up and they loved it at the time. I can see and agree with a few other comments made here, and yes, the unusual sets can be called at a ceili but it has to be done in a way so as not to make the ceili like a class. I have heard one caller who goes into far too much detail, and yes, it does ruin the atmosphere and flow of the ceili. Certain sets are too complex and should be learnt properly first, but other sets can be danced easily with a little help from a caller. I think that what is more important is that the dancers should be able to dance their own local set properly as I have seen dancers dancing most sets at a ceili and yet not able to dance their own local set.

Oliver Creaney Calling at times can be very helpful, especially when some (elitists) would prefer if you didn’t dance in their set and especially not in tops and there are some of those all over the country. I started dancing about fifteen years ago and it gave me and my wife a new lease of life. Sadly she passed away January 2009, but I continued dancing and I’m no spring chicken so calling at ceilis is good for me as my memory is not what it used to be. I have to admit some callers are better than others and when Joe Farrell is calling at the weekend events he doesn’t repeat any sets apart from the Plain Set at the end of each ceili.

Brian Saunders That’s the answer then—to get some variety you need a good caller or MC. In the absence of same the band chooses the sets.

Brendan Doyle Okay, I’m going to wade into this debate from two perspectives. First, as a dancer. I can remember the ‘normal’ sets because I dance them frequently. Anything new I learn at a class or workshop is remembered only if danced regularly. If a new set enters the repertoire (like the Antrim Square or Moycullen) old ones seem to disappear from memory (Claddagh). After all we can only dance eight sets at a ceili, so there is a practical limit on the number of sets a casual dancer like me will reasonably remember.

Second, as a musician, I find that if you play an unusual set (not supported by a caller) you will have an empty dance floor, as most dancers will use it as resting time. Even if there is a caller, many won’t try it as it is not easy to follow a set for the first time using a caller. So the caller is useful for reminding people who half-know a set, but not for people who have no clue.

Bottom line, as a dancer, I’m there to have a good time. It’s not an academic exercise to learn as many sets as possible. It’s a social night out to meet people. If I know my set inside out, I can have the craic with my partner and not be trying to figure out what to do all the time.

As a musician, I am there to please the crowd. To me the crowd is there to dance, and when they are sitting down it is because they are not being offered the opportunity to dance what they want to. Hence, musicians play what brings the crowd onto the floor.

I can totally see the point of doing many different sets, and it is important to keep them alive. However the average dancer is not interested in learning twenty or thirty sets. They do well (and are very happy) to remember eight or ten. Keeping that number in memory is a sufficiently large task for most dancers.

So maybe the dancers who are devoted to learning more and more should develop an inner core with more specialised events. And these be advertised as such so interested people know exactly what they are getting!

Chris Eichbaum And that is exactly what’s happening Brendan! Weekends like SetsMad in Basingstoke attract the people that do like the challenge of dancing uncommon, half-forgotten sets, be it regularly or occasionally. Teachers flock there too and it behooves them to do so.

Brendan Doyle It’s just disconcerting when some people complain to me for not playing more different sets when it’s obvious that the majority of people want the same ones. Bands have to please the audience, or else they are out of work!

Despite the above rant, it is fantastic to see, hear and read the devotees of set dancing debate their preferences of sets. It is vital for their survival that people dance them.

I always compare it to music sessions. Every musician knows the well-known tunes, but the advanced musician gets bored with them and needs greater challenges. Different tunes. Always looking for something new and challenging. Unfortunately to get it they need to go to different sessions.

Chris Eichbaum Ha, this time you have a good analogy—although wanting to dance different sets doesn’t mean somebody is an advanced dancer. I suppose the young ones, for instance, who we need to encourage, like their battering sets, the ones they know, which are foremost the commonly danced reel sets, so the platforms for them to meet and dance, places like Longford, Ennistymon, Armada, don’t take chances with doing sets people mightn’t know well enough. And also, like with music, you always have beginners who need opportunities to dance and experience ceili-thrills, which they can if they have learned the more usual sets.

Brendan Doyle The analogy is not perfect alright. To make a similar argument, simply wanting to play different tunes doesn’t make one an advanced musician either! And advanced sessions don’t provide callers to help the learners!

Do advanced dancers who know and love dancing lesser known sets ever wish they could dance them without a caller, other than at a class? After all, no matter how good, a caller does interrupt the flow of a ceili.

Brian Saunders I think Brendan makes a very valid point. For most dancers it wouldn’t matter if they did the same dances at every ceili if they only attended one or two per month. Ian and Audrey’s comment relates specifically to the Willie Clancy and Armada week, where they attended two ceilis a day—eighteen in total—and virtually danced the same sets every time. Personally, I only managed nine, because I couldn’t face doing the same sets all the time. Surely, at a summer school we should be entitled to a better variety.

Ian McLaren What have I started? Hee hee!

Facebook has recently become a hotbed for discussions about set dancing. If you’d like to get involved—all are welcome—please visit the Set Dancing News group page on Facebook. Go to www.facebook.com and search for Set Dancing News. The discussions are open so everyone on Facebook can read the comments. If you become a member, you’ll be able to add your own comments and can follow the discussion with regular updates in your news feed. The most popular discussion to date (160 comments and climbing) has spawned a proposal for an International Day of Set Dancing. Make your voice heard too!


Golden Star reunion

The Golden Star Ceili Band met for their fiftieth anniversary reunion on the 5th of August in the Auburn Lodge Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare, and followed on the 6th with another great night in the village of Quilty where they started off with their first ceili in 1961. Three of the original members of the band proudly took to the stage for the two nights. Michael Davoren, Charlotte O’Donoghue and Ray O’Donoghue were joined by many other musicians—J J Conway, Michael Kelleher, Des Mulkere, Jimmy Clancy, Michael Whyte, Jimmy Hill, Hughie Benn, Michael O’Brien, Owen Neville—some of whom passed through the ranks of the band over the years.

The Golden Star Ceili Band first played together on 18 June 1961, just over fifty years ago, at a ceili which packed the Leon Hall in Quilty. The ten members of the band gave it their all. Six of them were from Kilfenora, a village that is well-known for music and talent. They became so popular they were on the road six nights out of seven playing all over Ireland and even travelled to England for many big ceilis where they packed the halls.

The 1960s and 1970s were the golden age for the ceili bands where they were the main entertainment scene in Ireland and England. The Golden Star Ceili Band played for ceilis in halls, hotels, crossroads, festivals and fleadhs. They travelled anywhere they were booked and crowds of dancers danced their hearts out. The halls were heaven for set dancers. They came from all over Ireland, all roads, laneways and byways, by car, foot and bicycle. The band played all night and sent everybody home sweating and happy.

Back in the 1970s in Kilfenora hall there were big Christmas ceilis held where the Golden Star Ceili Band would open the night and Kitty Linnane and the Kilfenora Ceili Band would play the second half.

In the later years the music scene changed and the showband era started. The band became known as the Golden Star Band with different musicians and singers joining them. They went on to be popular in the country music scene.

Some of the members of the band have sadly passed away, but their music and memory lives on.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh ahanam dilis.

People travelled to experience and enjoy the glory days once again at the Golden Star’s reunion and danced in the amazing atmosphere on both nights. Thanks to all who turned out.

Michael Davoren, Kilfenora, Co Clare


“You look like ducks!

Letters and emails

Hi Bill,

We already had been to Miltown Malbay and Drumshambo, so last July we decided to visit the O’Carolan Summer School in Keadue, Co Roscommon, for the set dancing classes. We travelled with Isabelle and Joseph, who are set dancers and French bagpipe players. It was their first time in Ireland. They enjoyed it a lot, as we did too.

From Monday to Friday, Irish, German, Portuguese and French students had morning classes with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. We weren’t many, from three to five sets every day, but the conditions were ideal for good learning. As well as the sets we learned, it was good to see steps and different details of the dances again. Pádraig and Róisín took time for that and everybody could appreciate their teaching skills. As we’re French, we also liked the wooden floor in the ballroom. It doesn’t tire the legs and it’s very comfortable for dancing. Wooden floors hardly exist at all in France in ballrooms or community halls. That’s a pity as we like Irish dancing.

During the afternoons, we had sean nós dancing classes with Paraic Ó hOibicín. We met him a few years ago in Drumshambo. At that time, there were so many people it was not easy to learn. This year in Keadue it was a real discovery. During the week, we had plenty of time to learn Paraic’s steps. We were only about twenty people every day. It was gorgeous. Even if one time he said, “You look like ducks,” as a joke, to Isabelle and Sylviane, he looked pleased with that class.

The evenings were busy too—céilithe, a harp concert in Kilronan Castle, and music, song and dance with a friendly atmosphere in pubs.

We really enjoyed that week with delightful people, a lot of pleasant memories and dances to practice.

A thousand thanks to Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and Paraic Ó hOibicín.

Sylviane Pinter and Stéphane Sergent, Forcalquier, France

Remarkably well-looked-after

Dear Bill,

On behalf of French dancers attending the fourth Bal de l’Europe in Saint-Gervais, France, I wish to convey their fine appreciation for the various set dancing and step workshops which took place throughout the second week of August. Not necessarily aware of the place Pat Murphy and Michael Tubridy occupy in the dancing world within and beyond Ireland, many attendees felt remarkably well-looked-after by both gentlemen, as well as by the lively group of dancers calling themselves House Around.

The delivery, instructions and moves went as smoothly as ever, and it personally was a great pleasure to hear Pat’s voice sounding even more melodious in French than in English—despite the loud enthusiasm of the crowd!

The bals at night were popular and ignited explosive applause. Gilles Poutoux and Catherine Renard, two of the French musicians who had played three years ago, brought their accordions back on stage to provide music along with Michael Tubridy on the flute. The presence of an electric piano under the skilled light hands of Rachel Goodwin added a great spring to the music. An expert team of devoted sound engineers added their final touch and sensitivity overall to offer live music of a fine quality, nearly acoustic.

The highlight for me was watching a show put on by the group in the amphitheatre one evening for our greatest joy. All seats were taken and I was upstairs in the third standing row! Even the French show the night before didn’t drag as many off the dance floor.

The Irish natural joy of sharing, their spontaneity in presenting what they care for and carry within their soul, each showing their talent in improvising, composing, interpreting, stepping, reached me high up on the balcony—and I stayed on blissful summits close to the Puy-de-Dome for the rest of the festival. As a finale, I could not fail to accept their invitation to join the circle for the Maggie in the Wood figure of the Connemara Set. Beautiful sharing.

This reminded me from the tip of my heart to the tip of my toes how generous and open Irish dancers are, in the context of this very human and warm festival in particular.

Hoping to see familiar smiles at the next bal,

Warm regards,

Nina Watrelot, Falcarragh, Co Donegal

Our little secret

Dear Bill,

We would like to thank everyone for their good wishes on our recent marriage, which took place very privately on July 2nd at Basingstoke Register Office.

We had a very quiet wedding, with only a small handful of people knowing what was happening; in fact we didn’t even tell members of our own families until after the event! Those who did know beforehand included our very good friends Sue and Jim Crick, who did a magnificent job of keeping our little secret, helping us organise events and making beautiful meringues for the party on July 17th! They were also our witnesses at the ceremony, even supplying fresh rose petals as confetti and taking the photos on a beautiful sunny day.

Another person to whom we owe particular thanks is Matt Cunningham. Matt plays for us on his tour of the UK every year, and this year, we arranged for the usual Sunday afternoon ceili to be extended to include an evening party for our wedding celebrations, and we invited our family and non-dancing friends along to the event.

Matt is a neighbour of Kevin’s family in Galway, and there would have been no-one more apt to play at our wedding party then he. We approached Matt with the idea of providing the music for us whilst we were in Birr in May and swore him to secrecy; which he too managed very well! Our very heartfelt thanks to Matt, his son Joseph, Aidan Vaughan and Larry Cooley for the lovely music they played all afternoon and into the evening.

We know everybody loved it, and it was wonderful to see the dancers taking the non-dancers onto the floor for a few figures. Great fun, especially after the champagne!

We also had a group of local young musicians playing jazz after the ceili and during the early evening, and Larry sang The Girl from Ipanema with them, which was greatly appreciated by Carol as it is one of her favourite songs. How Larry remembered that fact we have no idea, but it was a lovely part of the evening.

We danced a waltz to Si Bheag Si Mhor, one of Carolan’s many beautiful tunes, and which we also had played during our wedding ceremony. Matt also included the tune The Bucks of Oranmore in the repertoire, as this is one of Kevin’s favourite pieces. This music will always be special to us, so many thanks for including these pieces.

There were so many good things about the day, and so many good wishes from everyone who attended that we were quite overwhelmed, and if we forgot to thank anyone in person on the day, we hope they accept this as personal thanks.

We appreciate the friendship of you all, and look forward to seeing you all at more dancing events throughout the years.

Kevin and Carol Monaghan, Tadley, England

Not only was this a ceili

Hello Bill,

I just wanted to send along a couple of photos that I took during our visit to the SetsMad ceili on Sunday July 17 in Basingstoke hosted by Kevin Monaghan and Carol Gannon. We arrived to find out that not only was this a ceili with Matt Cunningham’s band playing but it was a celebration of the marriage of Kevin and Carol. Apparently only Jim and Sue Crick were in on the wedding as they stood for the happy couple.

My partner Eoin and I had a great time meeting new people and seeing old friends and acquaintances, but couldn’t stay for the festivities planned after the ceili as we had prior commitment with family.

Cheers,

Anne Duffy, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Totally overwhelmed

Dear Bill,

Please allow me to sincerely thank all my set dancing, social dancing and musician friends and promoters for their good wishes during my recent illness and surgery.

I was totally overwhelmed by the hundreds of get-well cards and text messages I received. The teapot and Mary have been kept busy with visitors to our home. The support and kindness of all is as good a medicine as one could hope for. I look forward to meeting you all playing music and enjoying your company in the near future.

Sincerely,

Danny Webster, Loughinney, Co Kilkenny

As enjoyable as possible

Hello Bill,

Just had another terrific week of dancing and finished it on Sunday and Monday of the bank holiday weekend, 31 July–1 August, in Ballyfin, Co Laois. I enjoyed two excellent ceilis which were enhanced by our hostess Maureen Culleton. As last year, the experience was so good I marked it in my calendar for this year and it lived up to my expectations. I put all this down to Maureen and her tireless drive to make it as enjoyable as possible for everyone. She even invited people for a post-ceili singsong. Here is the lady herself pictured below with the Abbey again—this time complete with Ger Murphy. (He was on his honeymoon last year and was filled in for by Matthew Kelleher.) It was definitely worth the travel and will do so again.

Thank you Maureen.

Nuala Riordan, Boherbue, Co Cork

The development of our project

Dear Bill,

As promised I am keeping you up to date on the development of our project, namely, training aspiring set dancing teachers. We do not make any claims to authority in this respect; just to impart whatever experience we have acquired so that the students may, in turn, approach whatever classes with confidence.

Our first session took place September 10th in the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry. Nineteen attended, with several others unable to attend the first session. All but three were under thirty, not that that makes a difference and yours truly was allotted the first session.

It was an in-depth study of the formation, steps and movements of the Cashel Set, preceded by teaching basic threes as for junior children upwards. Obviously, the teaching method was the most important element and this was time consuming, but necessary. Other issues, like control and timing of calls were discussed, with the result that time ran out and social concerns required that the class had to finish dead on time.

The next session with Anne Mangan in charge progressed to reel steps, culminating in teaching the Plain Set. Week three fell to Joan Pollard Carew and again students got an opportunity to study another different style of teaching. Hopefully, approaching the end there will be adequate time for discussion and sample classes by as many as possible. I am fairly certain, from my observations that they will not be the least bit fazed at the prospect.

At the end of the course it is hoped that those who will take a class of their own will have acquired the confidence needed. In the meantime one student member of our committee will assist the MC at each ceili and will get the opportunity to call a set as they decide. The next such arrangement will apply at our November 12th ceili at the Earl of Desmond, with music by Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross.

Sincerely,

Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

A fair distance to come

Hi Bill,

I would like to thank all the dancers who supported the Birmingham set dancing weekend at the end of August. Triskell played some lovely music and Pádraig and Róisín McEneany did the workshops, which all who attended really enjoyed.

A lot of the dancers travelled a long way and even though I don’t know all their names, I know their faces and how far they had come to support me. Some of the supporters only managed to attend perhaps one of the events but still had travelled a fair distance to come. You don’t always have the time at the end of a weekend to thank everyone personally, but I am really grateful for their support.

The help of Linda Reavey, Mary McParland and Kate Howes and all the help I had with the floor and equipment was very much appreciated. Hopefully we can do it all again next year.

Many thanks to you all,

George Hook, Birmingham, England

Angry and loud

Dear Bill,

Irene has danced her way round the tri-state area and left us breathless. Her partner, ‘Dense-Air’ is still with us though. She really should take him with her. I feel his presence when I walk up and down the stairs. He was indeed a loyal dance partner, leading the way before she even arrived. I’ve heard he causes joint pains and shortness of breath as he steps it out with his hurricane partners. Irene’s musician, the wind woke me up at 3am with his roaring and moaning. His tune, angry and loud, didn’t vary at all. That must be what a banshee sounds like, I thought.

The rain is only sprinkling the windows now and I feel lucky not to have lost electric power. But even from up here on the fourth floor, I still hear ambulance sirens and police cars. Outside, the Hudson flows gently. It almost seems to have a look of embarrassment that it was forced to invade those new apartments on its banks. When Irene circled around the trees that line Boulevard East, she whipped off most of their leaves and left them tired, but still standing.

I know she kicked higher in other areas and her dance was more aggressive in many parts of this tri-state area. I hope all dancers on this side of the ocean are safe.

Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey


Swallow’s sets and Eddie’s ultimate

Set dancers in Ireland are blessed with the huge number of excellent ceili bands playing for ceilis. Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band from Sligo and Mayo is one of the top favourites, as popular with young dancers as with the regulars who have been enjoying them for many years. The band has a brand new CD, Suas Leat (up you go), featuring five sets—Antrim Square, Ballyvourney Jig, Claddagh, Kilfenora and Moycullen. Two bonus tracks are included, one of jigs, another reels, each over seven minutes long. Sean nós dancers and teachers will undoubtedly appreciate these, and all set dancers will enjoy the great selection of sets and all the rousing tunes that go along with them. Suas Leat is available from the band at their gigs.

Anyone dancing at a ceili with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band will know that piano player Eddie Lee is a exceptional country singer and musician. It’s Eddie who sings the waltzes and quicksteps at Johnny’s ceilis, enticing full floors of dancers out for a break from the sets. Eddie has just released a new CD of songs called The Ultimate Social Dancing Album Volume 1, and it does exactly what it says on the tin! There are 21 tracks, all at a tempo suitable for learning dancing and uniquely arranged. Most albums mix the different dances, but on Eddie’s CD you get five consecutive jives, followed by five waltzes, five quicksteps and five foxtrots, with a seven-minute slosh at the end. Among the musicians playing with Eddie is the one and only Johnny Reidy. Pick up a copy when you meet Eddie at a ceili, or get in touch with him for more info.


Wicked shirts

Ian and Audrey McLaren’s comments in the last issue about fashion also piqued the interest of several readers. Ian mentioned he now wears “wicking” shirts, which miraculously draw moisture away from the skin. (One wonders where it then ends up.) Consequently, he only has to change once per ceili, if at all, whereas he would need four changes of ordinary shirts to keep himself presentable to his partners.

Several calls have come in to Set Dancing News headquarters seeking a source for these shirts. Their availability is unknown in shops, but they are readily available to purchase from internet shopping sites such as Amazon and Ebay. Ian obtained his shirts this way, and your editor has just taken delivery of a pair of black wicking polo shirts which he hopes to try out once this issue is in your hands. They were ordered from amazon.co.uk for £7.90 each plus £4.99 shipping, a total of £20.79.

Look out for future reports on whether the shirts live up to the claims.


Articles continue in Old News Volume 69.

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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