The Ceili Club in Glenties, Co Donegal, held their annual weekend of dancing in the Highland Hotel, 16–18 September, organised by the club’s teacher, Connie McKelvey. Set Dancing News correspondent Chris Eichbaum travelled from Waterford to Donegal to be there, accompanied by her friend Ane Luise Madsen from Copenhagen.
This is an ode to a friendship between two woman, who together just by themselves form a motley crew. One, exceptionally tall, Danish accent, striking model figure, the best of fun, doesn’t heed what anyone says or thinks. The other lately carries a razor number 2 hairdo in homage to her rebellious youth when Annie Lennox was all the rage. Standing in the ballroom with a skinny Scot-in-kilt, the two women looked at one another and nodded—“He could join the motley crew.” Another woman, hair shorn on one side and lopsidedly long on the other, would also make a fine addition. And looking at the folks at the ceili, there were more that would meet the membership requirement of oddballishly having fun as if no one was looking—a woman in the fanciest tights ever to be seen up north, and don’t get started on the girl who laughed her way through the ceilis, never stopped.
There is a place for everyone, and anyone, in the set dancing world, and here in Donegal at the Glenties weekend in the Highland Hotel, it really is loaded with (period) character(s)! Tea is served while you’re sitting, the scones are buttered, and Connie’s little helpers are doing the rounds with teapots, jugs of milk, bowls of sugar, homemade buns and apple tarts and bracks and sandwiches. It’s in a hotel, but fair play, dear hotel, you allowed the organising group to apply that home-from-home paintbrush.
And as in any good family, you have the different characters, like an ongoing soap opera, but better, because this is real life, this is who you are. Northwestenders, we could call it, or Only Fools and Dances. One Foot in the Set. The dancers, the music, all tell a story. The teacher, played exceedingly well by Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, incorporated a little role reversal. The Tory Lancers requires a movement where the gent looks into the lady’s eyes while almost reversing her face-on. Not satisfied with the feeble attempt at charm by a lady dancing the gent with her lady, Pádraig shoved the (real) lady out of the way and donned the mantle of lady with the lady dancing the man—are you with it? So, the lady that dances the gent practices becoming more charming, reversing her lady impersonated by a gent (Pádraig). No shyness here or fear of being talked about—er, yes, it did elicit some amusement. That’s okay, it’s all for the good of the workshop and learning. Let’s face it, let’s own it—set dancers are oddballs, in varying degrees and extensions. Viva oddballity!
The Vikings have done it again! One, anyway, came, saw and conquered—the brush dance, that is. Kathleen McGlynn, bless her, has a way of getting her students involved. At the end of her sean nós class, she got the brush out and showed the vital moves—how to hold it up, dance around it holding the stick, put it down, dance around again, and then the infamous part where you pick it up and lift your legs up over it, slow at first, and then on the double! The fast part is what everybody is always waiting for, with laughter at the ready if it goes wrong! So Kathleen finished and then passed on the brush to innocent onlookers. Some boldly go out and do some steps around the brush, others squirm and shriek and try to hide. And then, it was the Great Dane. Taking the brush, first time ever, growing bolder as she dances on, we are so proud of her, and of the brush dance, and of all the Irish craic, aren’t we? We clap and shout and egg her on, and she laughs, and the Viking shadows roll on. Later, we laugh about how this now is how she is known, the Great Dane, giving Denmark a new thing it’s known for besides pastries and the cook in The Muppet Show.
But there are sober aspects to all the madness. All oddballity has a safety net, an organised confinement. Just as well. Times are kept, bands turn up and deliver, and Connie flies around the place, taking every job from pouring the tea to doing the door. He goes smiling, hugging, welcoming and his generosity has no confinement, not that I have seen. Sliced fruit at your perusal, dear dancer, and different flavoured concentrates to go with your ice water—priceless caring on the rocks!
The Friday night ceili stormed it up with Matt Cunningham Ceili Band, two of whom (drums and keyboard) also play in the Galway Jazz Band, so the beat had a jazzy character, very sweet and bouncy. Joe Farrell, who MCed and called all the sets throughout the weekend, working the crowd well, yee-hawing and joking, had his job cut out for him, because the number of uncommon sets and the target of not dancing any set twice—which to my knowledge was accomplished, but hey, the sieve on my shoulders called ‘head’ might have lost some vital stats.
The only dance he didn’t call was the Eight-Hand Reel. Mooooah! In our set the only thing that went according to the Eight-Hand Reel plan was that we ended up still eight of us in the same spot we started out on. Connie sadly was not in our set to sort us out, so confusion reigned as to who was to do what. Ants would have spontaneously done better, organising themselves into Eight-Hand Reels is surely in their genes, whereas under pressure and with little time to think, humans, or some humans anyway, clearly revert to avoidance mode. We laughed—we have one up on ants there—and we can see something as comical, and this motley wannabe Eight-Hand Reel danced by at least 46 hands, or so it seemed the way they were flying around the place in our, er, group. If you were lucky enough to watch it, you’d have thought you’re being treated to a live show from the Comedy Channel.
Back to Joe, he did some great work, often pulling people out to fill up sets in such a funny manner, you couldn’t refuse him, often dancing himself while calling, his timing just right, and the gap between figures and sets on the button! And he had left the dreaded end-of-a-figure whistle at home—phew!
We were experiencing a different style of dancing up northwest as well. There is no battering here and the dancing is lower to the ground than in other parts, with lots of sliding and gliding. Except if you end up in a set with Michael Walker from Belfast, who has his own battering style and energetic twists, and messes up the sets—a howl! Often it looks as if any minute now he is going to bang into someone, but he never does. Perfect in his own way, and good fun to be with!
The music and the bands fitted the style of dancing. Somehow bands always seem to know what way they have to play for which audience, fair play! After Matt, the Glenside Ceili Band flooded the hall twice on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, pulling a big crowd on Sunday, which was remarked upon loads, seeing that it was the Kerry-Dublin football final. Box player Tom Flood bobs up and down as he plays, the most animated musician!
And the workshops? There were a good many of them! I hadn’t seen the Paris Set with its ‘set left, set right’ before, and Pádraig made the students practice that one until they all got it. The Kildownet Half-Set is half a Derradda, in some ways, but don’t get too cosy about it—all of a sudden it’s not like the Derradda! The Tory Island Lancers has the ‘here’s looking at you kid’ move and the hug swings—only in Donegal, a must for Glenties, of course.
In parallel you had an option to join Kathleen and Michael McGlynn for their ten-step sean nós programme, print-outs and all, and if you’re in the class, you can also show off your stuff at night at the ceili, when she calls forth her attendees to step it out with her leading on the floor.
On Sunday, you could get your fill of two-hand dances, and Donegal buckles under the weight of hundreds of them, and so do the minds of some dancers trying to tell one from the other. Connie, the man himself, was teaching, and how he knows all those dances and can tell them apart, no one knows! Like with Edie Bradley, Marie Garrity and other two-hand dance teachers, Connie seemed like a medium, receiving instructions from some other, bottomless source! Best feature of the workshop was the live music by the Gallagher sisters, Breid and Moyah. And the best dance has to be the Mazurka—down, down, up while you go round, round, and down, down, up while turning back, back! And dancing it with the Great Dane is best too!
It was a mad drive up, diagonally cross-country, yet worth every bit of rubber burnt. A Donegal-style weekend visit is a must a couple of times a year, just for the craic. On entering that endearing landscape, wild meets untamed, vast stretches of bog shine in hues of brown and red, covering all with low-growth ferns and heathers and bog cotton in a moist, sinking, engulfing, ingesting moor. (More than once in the past did I get stuck, and only the foot could be retrieved, the wellie left behind, claimed by the bog, the shed crowded with an assortment of one of a kind wellies.)
Donegal has preserved something that has nearly vanished in other places, the bits we dream about when we think ‘Ireland’. Thing is, Donegal wasn’t trying to preserve it. They don’t have to try and re-invent or rejuvenate or resurrect. It’s still there—touch it, dance it, in Glenties!
We left Paisley in Scotland early for the ferry to Larne, Co Antrim, and had a smooth crossing and drive to Glenties. After settling into our B&B, we went for a wee lie down to prepare for the evening ceili with Matt Cunningham, which was mighty.
Saturday saw an early rise for the workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneaney with no new dances for us but lots of technical improvement with steps. Looking for something to eat at lunchtime we found a charity event with all-you-could-eat home baking and coffee for a donation. Lovely!
Saturday evening’s ceili with the Glenside was well supported and, as usual, Connie McKelvey had supplied water and fruit for the dancers and the half-time baking was epic. One new dance for us tonight, the Sliabh gCua. A slow walk home to bed cooled us down.
Sunday morning brought a two-hand workshop, which stood us in good stead for the week to come. Then the afternoon ceili with the Glenside, which brought the weekend to a fine end—only one dance repeated all weekend.
Having decided to make a long week of our trip over the water, we began to seek out dancing and, on Monday, after a drive round the area, we attended Clement Gallagher’s class in Ardara in the evening. Seven sets danced, including a small party of German tourists who just dropped in to watch and were soon roped in to make up a set.
Tuesday brought a lovely day. We toured the coast, did some walking and had a lazy evening as we couldn’t find a dance close enough.
Wednesday was more walking followed by a 50km drive to Wilkin’s Bar, Church Hill, for a late evening of dancing. A bus party were entertained with waltzes and quicksteps and we, along with two other couples, enjoyed some two-hand. A long drive home got us to bed about 1am.
On Thursday we were walking again followed by a ceili at Gortahork with set, two-hand and ceili dancing. We were privileged to meet the king of Tory Island who was over on a royal visit and enjoyed a wee dance.
Friday saw us anticipating the Johnny Doherty Festival in Ardara. A busload of dancers from Glasgow was coming over and we saw many well-known faces. The first event was a concert by Fidil, three guys who played great music but there was no room to dance so foot tapping was as far as we got. Then there was a ceili with the Emerald Ceili Band who played a great session for sets and ceili.
Saturday brought us workshops with Mick Mulkerrin and Clement Gallagher. The South Kerry and Monaghan were taught to about eight sets.
The evening began with a concert by Cherish the Ladies who played some wonderful trad music. Don Stiffe also appeared and his traditional singing was superb. A quick run to the hall up the hill followed for a ceili with the Long Note Ceili Band. We had not heard the new band before tonight. Their sound was great for dancing and the expected addition of a flute will make ‘great’ even better.
We were beginning to wilt a wee bit by now but with only one more ceili to go we reckoned we would survive. An early breakfast after a 1.30am finish was brought on by our landlady taking part in a 30km cycle run round Glenties with her club. I was challenged to join her but declined due to the upcoming ceili! The Annaly were in their usual fine form and played to nine sets for an excellent end to a great week. Dinner that night was accompanied by a bottle of wine as before I had not been able to take a drink due to the driving.
A casual drive east on Monday followed by another smooth crossing finished a very refreshing week with old friends met and new friends made.
Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland
If you leave the big autobahns of central Germany and slow down to 25 miles an hour to follow the little back roads you might be lucky to find Proitzer Mill which nestles between high trees among the low hills—a place which seemed unperturbed by the rush of time.
On the first weekend in October the yellow sunflowers and crimson dahlias around the Mill seemed to be in a flurry of excitement as the tenth anniversary of the Irischer Herbst (Irish autumn) festival was coming up and dozens of cars wriggled down the aul’ rugged paths.
Soon after our arrival it became obvious that this old mill near the Schnega stream is a secret place of refuge for skilful musicians of traditional Irish music and set dancers from all over Germany, and even guests from Belgium and Americay were among us.
Many of them met as old friends, coming to Proitzer Mill for well more than ten years, and looked forward to a few nights of endless sessions and dances.
But in the joyful arrival you could sense the absence of one important person. Kerstin Kuhn, who together with Heike Nagorny and Robert Pich had organised the little festival for so many years and gave it her unique mark, had passed away unexpectedly and had made her last farewell from the Mill just a few weeks before. And so this year the festival was a little bit more special as we all, musicians and dancers, agreed to turn this year’s festival into a tribute to Kerstin and handed around the gift of music that brought us close to each other and the ones that were gone.
We could hear the first tunes soon after our arrival. After being fed a wonderful dinner with wholesome home cooking and baking and comforted by good company, we could have finished over a pint quite easily. But as soon as the first notes drifted through the air, there was no thought of finishing the night long before the morning dawned.
In the big hall with the wide arched windows, Mick Mulkerrin gathered enough set dancers on the wooden floor and soon we flew through the Clare Lancers. The beginners among us who had never danced a set before twirled around in awe and tried to keep their balance after numerous swings in the Connemara Set.
The next morning we started a set dancing workshop with Mick while Patrick O’Dea hammered the floor in another part of the Mill with the advanced sean nós dancers. At the same time there was a great choice of instrumental workshops taking place all over the Mill. Siobhán Kennedy gave the fiddlers and flute players beautiful new tunes and Mary MacNamara did the same on the concertina. Amazing sounds and arrangements could be heard when you laid an ear on the doors behind which the bouzoukis and guitars had their turn under the skilful guidance of Jens Kommnick. Combined with the vocal talents in the singing workshop of Angelika Berns it was truly amazing what had been offered to passionate musicians and dancers.
In the set dance workshop Mick did have a hard time ‘reeling us in,’ as a few of us danced a lousy polka step to the Monaghan Set—please forgive us! After showing a few signs of success we had a go at the Moycullen Set. And to get the beginners really confused with new figures Mick taught us the full Labasheeda Reel Set. We finished the five-hour workshop with the Corofin Plain, to be sure we had ourselves ‘reeled in’ properly.
In the meantime Patrick O’Dea taught the advanced dancers more steps for sets and some beginners had their first try at sean nós dancing.
In between all the dances we couldn’t help but to sneak into the dining room where lashings of gorgeous food and cheesecakes came out of the kitchen. And when the awesome goodies on the plates were finished we just hung on to listen to the lively sessions long into the early morning.
The following day the morning sun tiptoed along with ourselves into the beautiful hall and we gathered on the glistening floor. The workshop started with the Corofin Plain, and Mick made sure that our feet remembered how to dance a proper reel.
And to challenge the beginners with a polka step after all the reel steps, the Skibbereen Set was called, which made a girl from Skibbereen in the set really slaphappy—thanks again, Mick! At the end of the evening the dwindling numbers of dancers left us only with seven couples on the floor and we chanced dancing a very rare form of the fifth part of the Skibbereen Set with seven couples instead of four. No bother to any lady moving on to the third position for the swing, but what happens when seven gents face into the set? Well to make a long story short, we ended up doing a kind of musical chairs and much to our amusement Mick ended up swinging with Patrick while another man enjoyed swinging with more than one woman! Not set dancing at its best, but definitively a good laugh to finish up a most enjoyable workshop.
On our final night all the workshops showed what they had learned and we dancers were part of the programme. We were in awe of what had happened away from our dance floor. The talent and variety of music and dances was just amazing, and we couldn’t help playing and dancing into another early morning.
And while the voices and tunes and steps and sets drifted off into the colourful trees around the Mill, the first drizzle of this weekend fell on the wooden chairs in the flourishing garden, and the festival which started on Friday as a late summer’s dream had imperceptibly turned into a foggy Irish autumn on Monday morning.
Thanks to Heike and Robbie, who with Kerstin made the Proitzer Mill such a welcoming place and who had secretly acted behind the scenes to create another fantastic gathering of finest traditional music and dance. May they keep the strength to continue this wonderful work which enriched the lives of so many.
Go raibh míle míle maith agat!
Berit Voigtlaender, Salzwedel, Germany
Carol Gannon and Kevin Monaghan teach and organise events in England under the name of SetsMad. They also organise a weekend with that same name, and no ordinary weekend it is! The most recent one was 23–25 September in a hall near the city of Basingstoke. Chris Eichbaum was there and describes her experience in this report.
“Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” Being informed four weeks before the SetsMad Revival Weekend that your venue has fallen through due to a double booking would cause you some concern. Up pops a venue that the wise didn’t see, working out as a fantastic treat. You come up to it through fields of golden barley, harvested, yet still yielding a lingering smell of crops, accentuated by Carol’s pastries, hot and yummy on Sunday. You encounter a hall in the style of a country house, surrounded by trees and shrubs, out on its own one mile from Basingstoke. Clidditch Hall, in Hogwarts Lane, no, wait, it was truly called Cliddesden Millenium Hall, waving not Harry Potter’s wand but SetsMad’s own magic concept. Warm sunshine and pretty white clouds dotted across the blue skies welcomed the dancers that congregated from different parts of the UK and other countries.
There was Zaya ‘Maya’ Maalem from Lille, France, well-travelled, well-danced; Hilary Nic Íomhair from Carlow, calling a set sprinkled with a few words in Irish; and Václav Bernard and his wife Lenka and daughter Marketa, who drove over for the weekend from Prague. Drove? Yeah, they drove! They have done it before, further even, to Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, and if that doesn’t show commitment and an overwhelming desire that eradicates reason temporarily to dance 32 different sets in a few days, then what would? And then there was Siobhán Jones, originally from Canada, who kindly brought along Drew, her rescued greyhound, a true gentle beast, wonderfully laid-back, and admired by a good few, notably Tony Ryan, taking him for walkies. Andrea Forstner from Erlangen in Germany came over and brought with her a few of her dancers and Dirndl, a trad Bavarian dress, which they wore for a ceili.
The pennants were hung all over the walls of the hall in order to highlight this very international participation. The sets handpicked for the weekend each had a banner up for the county they were from. Not much is left to chance by SetsMad, other than the earth turning around its axis. And as much as you can rely on that, you can rely on them. Lean back. Enjoy the ride! Sample the sets! Go home full up!
Guaranteeing this were Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, earning another star for their unwavering presence when teaching, taking short breaks only, getting on with it, living up to the high expectations that the dancers and many teachers there brought with them. The McEneanys can be safely entrusted to deliver outstanding workshops, teaching in detail steps and all the moves, pointing out at every turn the way it was danced ‘back then.’ Their knowledge is vast, their concentration did not fail, instilling an instantaneous sense of accomplishment—yes, we have now danced this set, making it alive and vibrant again!
While these two have the necessary skills and memory capacity to remember it all, some dancers couldn’t at first! The many mistakes we made and the wild scrambling an odd time trying to get it were almost in reverence to the old sets! There is a fine line between taking things seriously and killing the fun, but the SetsMad weekend never crossed it, not once. There was a great atmosphere, because you can still relax and simply enjoy the dancing, meeting lovely oddballs like yourself (to continue that theme), the laughs, smiles and all-important craic. (In the first figure of the Connemara Jig Set, Tracey Mullen and I got first prize for most errors. I nearly came out strangled at some point in the special hold for the lead around). That was due to Kevin and Carol and their team above all. They are what they project. Never underestimate the pulling power of organisers! Second, the teachers. Yes, they make you work. Yes, they make you frown at times with concentration. And yes, they make you cackle with laughter too!
As do the callers. My first prize goes straight to Charlie Kiely for the most enlightening calling. The whole crowd can follow when he calls and I loved when he said how in the Jenny Ling the first few figures are “elegant” jigs, and then comes the “exuberance” of the fifth figure in slides. Class!
SetsMad are on a straight line, going up in fifth gear. This weekend had the biggest crowds yet, and the most pleasant venue.
Ceili Time, who played for the three ceilis, had a traditional rhythm that complemented the theme of the weekend, which is revival and variety. Enda McGlone, the accordion player, after all the playing he’d already done, was game to join the session back at the hotel. A few people took out their instruments, Maggie Daniels (flutes), Russell Gellman (piano accordion), and Róisín McEneany (flute), and finally Enda and Róisín played for a set that had formed in front of the lift doors in the foyer.
Enda said that there are some music scenes that are cut-throat, but all in all, not the ceili band scene. Mainly, they are good to each other, and the set dancers like this. Yes. We. Do!
Projection—yet another idea that makes this a weekend apart! A slide projected high up on the wall displayed summaries of each figure of all the sets that were danced where people might need a bit of help. Not all the sets were sent up the wall though! When the Ballyvourney Jig was danced, it simply said on the wall, “Get on with it!”’ Ha!
Dedication is what you need for this, and SetsMad have an ample supply of it. Variety, the spice of life, is sprinkled generously over the dancers’ feet, and old moves meet new technology seamlessly in this unique venture. The traditional sets are kept as close as possible the way they were when first recorded, but apart from that, the gadgets are all out to help teach and get them across. Serenity to look at the past, courage to change where it is needed by employing different strategies, and wisdom to combine both. SetsMad have done it, and the revival itself is being revived year after year to a bar that seems to keep getting higher. Each year more sets are added to the overall list of sets being danced. Each year, more folks flock here from more countries. Each year, something new and exciting is thrown into the mix.
You want sets? You got sets! I am going to bombard you with them, because that’s what’s happening at SetsMad. In total, 32 sets were danced, with no repetitions and a first appearance for the Caledonian! The complete list in alphabetical order: Aran, Ballyduff, Ballyvourney Jig, Ballyvourney Reel, Borlin, Caledonian, Caragh Lake, Claddagh, Clare Orange and Green, Connemara, Connemara Jig, Corofin, Durrow Threshing, Gillen, Glencree, Inis Meain, Jenny Ling, Kildownet Half-Set, Kilfenora, Labasheeda, Clare Lancers, Moycullen, Plain, Skibbereen, Slip and Slide Polka, Sneem, South Kerry, Tory Island Lancers, Tournafulla, Valentia Right and Left, Victoria Jig and West Kerry.
Kevin Monaghan and Carol Gannon are already down in the annals of set dancing for inventiveness and loving traditional sets—not only eight or so, but hundreds of them. That’s how many there are. Hundreds. So much to celebrate, so much sets madness still to do!
PS Two funny bits to add, to once and for all do away with the notion that you can’t have fun when dancing out-of-the-ordinary sets. I had to rush off while dancing the Kildownet, (um, it was a photographic kind of a reason) leaving poor Maya, who was dancing my gent, with George Hook, who had been idling. And that’s how they carried on, George as me, dancing a woman, with Maya as herself, dancing the gent! Hilarious!
The other bit is that last year I went grotesquely wrong in the Slip and Slide Polka, and ended up being shown how to do it right, singled out by Pádraig. Cringe! This year, I made the same mistake again, I couldn’t believe it! And next thing, here is Pádraig, pulling me out, showing me again, and with his elephantine memory pointing out that I went wrong in it the same way already last year. Double cringe.
On one of my regular trips to the city of Cluj-Napoca in Transylvanian Romania I was sitting with a group of my lively young colleagues and someone said, “Do you know Raluca dances too?” That’s how it started. Raluca Calimac, it turned out, is a member of a competition dance group called Izvorasul and choreographed by Daniela Calimac (Raluca’s husband’s aunt). One thing led to another, and we agreed that next time I was in Romania, we would have an informal workshop where Izvorasul would give a display of some of the local dances and I would have a shot at teaching them a set.
Two months later in October I was being led up and down a maze of stairs and through endless corridors in an old building in the centre of Cluj-Napoca. The sound of music, singing, whistles and steps started filling the air with an electric vibrance. Round one last corner and we were in a marvellous dance hall with a sprung wooden floor. A group of young dancers were practicing a local dance that was just amazing. The Port Fairy Set is a piece of cake compared to what they were doing. All the dancers were singing and whistling at the same time as dancing. Legs were flying in the air, there were complex lead arounds with multiple turn-unders, pass-throughs while being turned under and high gates that I don’t know how you can teach. The ladies were often doing something different from the gents, everything was synchronised and fast. It was spectacular.
After a brilliant show, Daniela Calimac turned the entire group over to me and said, “They are all yours!” Romanian rhythms and steps are quite different from our slides, polkas, reels and jigs. There was a lot of laughter as we practiced steps, swings, house arounds and squares. Romanian elements kept creeping in and the odd arm had to be moved and bodies re-positioned, but great enthusiasm and energy kept everything moving, and by the end of the evening we managed a pretty good Ballyvourney Jig Set.
With Raluca acting as translator, Daniela explained the traditional dance scene in Romania. It is not taught in schools and is danced mostly only by the older generation in the country. There is a state organisation that helps dancers, but mostly only competition groups, and not groups that are involved in teaching. They were envious of the organisation in Ireland. As with sets long ago, many Romanian dances are only danced in small areas. In Romania the costumes are important, varying radically from one village to the next, waistcoats with brightly coloured tassels or intricate gold embroidery, or a simple blouse but with a hat with a garland of flowers. In some small villages, everyone goes to church in their formal costumes, and after the service there is a dance outside the church .
Many thanks to Izvorasul and their warm reception. I look forward to the next visit!
Andrew Podzorski, Frankfurt, Germany
You editor was amused to note that Andrew is a Scot of Polish-English parents who lives in Germany and teaches Irish dances to Transylvanians.
The weekend of 21st–23rd October saw dancers from every corner of the country and even from across the pond flock to the Lough Erne island of Lusty Beg in Co Fermanagh to honour the memory of the late, great Eamon McKeaney. Although revellers were treated to a typically wet Fermanagh welcome, a three-day festival of music, song and dance was enjoyed in the idyllic surroundings of one of Lough Erne’s natural treasures.
At the opening sets ceili on Friday night our resident weekend caller, Teresa McKeaney, ensured that we were kept on our toes, with barely time to regain our breath between sets. The inimitable Innisfree Ceili Band were in flying form, providing music for a huge crowd of enthusiastic dancers who danced to their hearts’ content and the craic was ninety! With such high energy dancing, there was great demand for jugs of water and juice which needed replenishing frequently by the staff. Tea, coffee and biscuits were supplied during the break.
Before the last set the chairman of Shannean Set Dancing Club, Sean Flanagan, outlined the background to holding a set dancing weekend in memory of Eamon McKeaney. Eamon was a founding member of the set dancing club and a fine exponent of both sean nós and set dancing. Sean told the assembled dancers that Eamon and his wife Teresa had taught set dancing for many years in Fermanagh, Cavan and further afield. It was through the class in Blacklion, Co Cavan, that the club was formed. Sean went on to thank the Innisfree Ceili Band for the excellent music for what was a thoroughly enjoyable night’s dancing.
All too soon the ceili was over but the night was only beginning as we settled into our first post-ceili singing and music session of the weekend which went on for an hour or two or three. Some did not go to bed at all!
At the morning and afternoon workshops on Saturday, Mick Mulkerrin, along with Deirdre Tobin, put dancers through their paces. With great skill (and patience) they taught the Skibbereen, Clare Orange and Green and Jenny Ling sets. They had an excellent demonstration set who looked so professional they made it look so easy—until you came back into your own not-so-professional set! Mick and Deirdre have a very nice easy traditional style and they make dancing look effortless.
Saturday night’s ceili was another three hours of magic. As usual the members of the Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band played their hearts out and ensured that our dancing spirit was well nourished. Both band and sets were in fine fettle and the night passed in a flurry of feet, high good humour and many were sorry to hear Amhrán na bhFiann at the conclusion!
Mick’s teaching skills were very much to the fore again on Sunday morning as he taught the true Connemara style of sean nós dancing.
Occupying the stage at the final ceilí of the weekend was the Brian Ború Ceili Band who were in dynamic form. They played lively music for the surprisingly energetic dancers—after all some had been dancing since Friday night with very little rest. This rounded off nicely a great weekend treading the boards.
In true McKeaney style, impromptu singing and music sessions sprung up throughout the weekend. Anyone who had a song to sing or a story to tell was invited to participate. The singing was not limited to any genre; we were even treated to a Saw Doctors’ cover by Eamon’s brother Brendan! His song choice naturally reflected the occasion as he gave a rousing rendition of The Joyce Country Ceili Band. Eamon’s youngest son Seamus also entertained and delighted crowds with a vast repertoire of humorous songs, some of which would have been sung to his father (when he was a child) by his grandfather, the late Eddie McKeaney (Seamus’ great grandfather). It is great to see the tradition being passed on.
As Sean Flanagan made his farewell thanks, one thing that stood out in his mind was the brilliant atmosphere at all three céilithe and the many happy smiling faces he encountered.
Mary Elliott, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
The Heidelberg Set Dancers held their annual set dancing weekend from 30 September to October 2 in a hotel on the edge of the German village of Shriesheim, near the historic city of Heidelberg. Two Set Dancing News correspondents, Chris Eichbaum and Carol Gannon, were there and each filed reports. This presented your editor with a dilemma—which one to pick? Shirking that difficult decision, both reports are included here, so you can be editor yourself and choose to read Carol (next paragraph) or Chris (next article)—or both!—to find out what a great weekend it was.
I have written before about dancing in mainland Europe, the enthusiasm among dancers there for workshop weekends and the dedication, attentiveness and enthusiasm of the attendees. The experience we had in Erlangen in February and again whilst teaching in Prague in the spring was revived in a beautifully balmy end to summer in Heidelberg where Mairéad Casey was the teacher at a weekend that has a fine pedigree.
The weekends in Heidelberg, organised by Henning and Andrea Brouwer, Heike Günther and Bernd Fallert, have been running for the past fourteen years, and the experience and knowledge gained in those years shine through at this fantastically well-organised event. The workshops were well attended, with dancers watching the display sets intently prior to practising the figures for themselves and then dancing the set from beginning to end. The sets were then danced at the ceilis to further reinforce the learning, and boy, were the students keen!
As I have said, I love a workshop, but I admit that during the Saturday morning workshop, in which Mairéad Casey taught the Skibbereen Set, amongst others, I strolled off into the German forest in search of peace and quiet, leaving Kevin to partner Mairéad and demonstrate the intricacies of the set. So it was off to the woods for me, with the beautifully warm sun of an Indian summer sending soft golden beams of light through the sweet chestnuts, oaks and pines. I really was a long way from Skibbereen!
On my return after an hour or two spent in isolation, the atmosphere in the classroom was one of great contrast, but I felt that everyone who attended the workshop had enjoyed their morning as much as I had enjoyed mine, and it was wonderful to see so many smiling, if hot, faces. The weather was unusually warm for early October, and the windows were thrown open for the entire weekend. There was a buzz of excitement about the hotel, and I determined to join in for the dancing of the Skibbereen during the ceili, where I was whirled through the figures by my partner Franz. However, there is always awareness among the dancers on the continent of control, and although the sets are danced with much energy and vigour, there is never a hint of feeling unsafe or any danger of slipping. I found my dance partners very mindful to be in the right place, at the right time, by the correct route.
There was for me, a lovely feeling of relaxation combined with concentration over the entire weekend. As an organiser of dance weekends, I really appreciate the distance travelled by Henning’s team over the past fifteen years, which ensures dancers can experience a weekend where the organisational machine runs smoothly and from which everyone benefits. Workshops and ceilis started on time, staff were on hand at all hours of the day and night, and even joined in with the dancing. Meals, tea breaks, cakes, taxis—all appeared as if by magic, with no fuss, no fluster and much good nature.
Even prior to our arrival at Frankfurt airport, the organisation involved in the weekend was apparent and added to our enjoyment and appreciation. We had transfers from the airport arranged via email with Heike, and we met with other dancers from the UK who had arrived by other airlines at differing terminals: not easy to arrange, but a very welcome service, and our return to the airport on Monday afternoon was also beautifully managed.
Adding further to our box of delights were the bands that played over the weekend. We had two ceilis (Friday night and Saturday afternoon) by the moveable feast that is Triskell Ceili band, with newest addition Bronagh Needham taking over from Mairéad McEvoy, who is on maternity leave, and two by the spine-tingling Abbey Ceili Band, on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It was great to see Niamh, Aoife and Fergal McEvoy of Triskell dancing their socks off to the Abbey during the Saturday night and Sunday ceilis after playing so hard themselves in the preceding ceilis! The Abbey also had occasional additional members in the talented forms of Heiko Ruhmkorff and his son Ciarán who played fiddle with the Abbey during some of the sets. Not every band would be so accommodating, so good on ya lads!
There is a fabulous rapport between Henning and the bands. Genuine warmth and friendship has built up over the years, and that bond of friendship and rapport becomes evident in the playing by the bands during the ceilis. The welcome given to the musicians and the absolute pleasure on the faces of the dancers, the applause, laughter and genuine delight would be hard to beat. I asked box player Ger Murphy what it is that keeps the band playing so energetically, when they have so much else to do in life and he confirmed that it’s the feedback from the dancers. I have often wondered whether or not musicians get a chance to study the dancers, and if they do, what they think and here was my answer—“It’s the dancers that make it all worthwhile. It’s such a buzz to see everyone enjoying themselves. If we get a good feeling from the dancers, it adds to our playing. We couldn’t do it without them.”
The same can be said for Triskell. They brought with them a veritable entourage of 25 people from Ireland, eighteen of whom are attendees of John McEvoy’s set dance class in Louth. They danced the entire weekend with broad grins on their faces, despite staying up till the early morning and defying the good-natured pleas of the barman to go to bed at 4am, or was it 5? Also with the group was Noel Devery who along with John McEvoy did a great job on calling sets even whilst dancing! Not easy to do, I know, but greatly appreciated.
The friendliness and openness of the weekend was an eye-opener too for Mary Reilly, a visitor from Australia who got chatting to Fred and Patsy Rooney from Surrey. She told them she had arranged her European trip specifically to include the dancing with the Abbey, but she doubted that she would be believed, on her return to Melbourne, that she had really danced to the live music she has admired in recorded form for so long. There was an easy solution to this—a quick word with the lads, and there’s Mary smiling happily with her favourite band, captured digitally for posterity, and a germ of an idea for a trip down-under for the Abbey.
So, come Monday morning, the dancing was over, but did the organisation stop there? Of course not. There were airport runs to do, rooms to clear, lost property to return to rightful owners, rooms to book for next year, and, believe it or not, guided tours to the ancient city of Heidelberg to be undertaken. Kevin and I joined Roberto, Erika and Eva on a walking tour with Heike as our guide. The Monday was a bank holiday to celebrate the reunification of Germany, so the city was not crowded, and we had a lovely few hours, strolling through ancient streets and crossing the River Neckar via the Old Bridge to climb Die Philosophenweg (the philosophers’ way), which afforded great views of the ancient city from its vantage point and much time for contemplation, as we were too out of breath after our climb up the valley slopes to talk much! The climb was a great way to stretch out those muscles used in dancing all those sets! We have left the exploration of the castle and shopping till next time. And of course, there will be a next time—how could we not go back? We don’t get to dance much in Ireland, where there seems to be less enthusiasm for workshops, but with so much great dancing on the continent, so many dedicated teachers, organisers and dancers, we don’t feel we’re missing out, and I can promise you I won’t miss any of the workshops next year!
Heidelberg and JedwardJedward, the comical twins and pre-teen heartthrobs, did not board a private jet back from a gig in Estonia. They went on a normal Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Dublin, business class. With them they brought fan mail from girls whose previously dark lives were transformed by Jedward’s hyperactive show. They said so in the letters and albums. Adorned with feathers, glitzy bits, photographs, poems and eternal love declarations in bold colourful letters, same as could have been sent to Elvis at one time, were read by the brothers, touchingly, in almost complete silence. And just how do I know that? By accident or other, I was seated in the row across the aisle and behind them, a prime viewing location. Most of the flight, I pretended not to be interested. With the bored air of ‘who are those jokers anyway,’ I was looking here and there, reading the in-flight magazine, feigning to be snoozing, all the while flinging quick glances from under the eyelids over to where they were. They looked so young—spotty teenagers, to be precise. And yeah, there was the hair. That hair. It seemed to be in the way a lot.
Also present, with less vertical hair, were the musicians from both the Triskell and Abbey ceili bands on their flight home from the Heidelberg weekend. Triskell this time were joined by Bronagh Needham on flute, since Mairéad McEvoy is on pre-maternity leave. Talking about Bronagh is so much more straightforward than saying something about Jedward. There’s no two sides to this argument— she is neither a spotty teenager, nor just learning her skills. Daughter of Peg McGrath, renowned flute player who has a reel named after her, Bronagh has neither played only since yesterday, nor came to fame through an obscure voting system on some television talent contest. She grew up with trad music and teaches it. When she played with the rest of the band, at her first ceili, she found her flute feet quickly. Afterwards, she said, “The bug has bitten.” Watch this space, as you might see her with Triskell in a venue near you shortly—and if it’s not near, it’ll be worthwhile driving to.
Two ceili bands for a weekend that hosts four ceilis—that’s like any heavyweight weekend in Ireland. Heidelberg has been on the go for fourteen years, and over the years tweaked and changed things around to make this German weekend like Irish ones. So whichever way you turn, you’re bound to run into a musician—eight from Ireland, plus local ones. And you run into folks from Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, and England too. You can even dance a set with a Tunisian guy called Nabil, hotel staff extraordinaire, who jumped out and joined a set when being asked because we were short of someone. The staff apparently ask to be on each year for this event, they so love it, although it means gruelling long hours—the last people were evicted from the lounge area after 6am, long after the breakfast lady had come in.
Accommodation is cheap, €35 per person for a twin or €30 for a triple room, and dinners are about half price to what you’d expect a decent meal to cost back in Ireland. Vineyards, castle ruins, cobblestoned village roads with quaint timber frame houses and coffee houses and beer gardens invite you for strolls and tea breaks, and good public transport can bring you quickly into Heidelberg itself, from which a group of Irish re-emerged after a shopping spree loaded with carrier bags. But the weather this time around made it—summer! 26 degrees and counting. Sunglasses, and a place in the shade with a cold drink, and all windows wide open. The jumpers that were packed remained untouched, as did the bed socks and hoody. Soaking up the warmth of sun and people and dancing, you have to love this cosy place and lively event.
And there was a distinctive Heidelberger Willkommen—specially manufactured T-shirts for the Abbey Ceili Band featuring an emblem and the inscription ‘10 years Abbey Ceili Band in Heidelberg’ for all the members of the band. There were gifts for all the musicians at the end, each called individually, and the clapping didn’t cease and no one got bored by the gestures of appreciation.
Mairéad Casey led a set dancing workshop on Saturday morning, and held the crowds well at the ceilis, sharing the calling of sets with John McEvoy and Noel Devery, strong hands and knee-deep in the tradition of old time step dancing, which they displayed at the nightly session. And playing fiddle for them was Aoife McEvoy, also a strong hand, the youngest of the McEvoy clan, and a clan they are. She dances and batters, and treats the fiddle no different!
At the ceilis, different sets were danced at all times, and maybe I shouldn’t have, but I ventured for Hurry the Jug. I snuck into a set knowing that most of the others knew what they were doing—bar me, not a notion. Well, never before was I as confused, and that means something, because I am confused a lot at the best of times. Bread crumbs on the floor might have helped in other circumstances, but nothing seemed to work. And just as I was copping on to some weird chain or other, it was over. In my defence it has to be mentioned that I started my Hurry the Jug life as a woman and after 30% of the dance had gone by was made a gent. But now, I want to learn this badly.
So, apart from that calamity, the oddity sets all went very smoothly, like the Borlin Jenny. Lately when writing about events, I seem to talk a lot about the unusual sets being danced—lads, are we on to something? And particularly away from Ireland, folks are making a valiant effort to spice up their set dancing lives. The Heidelberg set dancers are some of those who check in online with other dancing groups in England and Europe to exchange which sets they did at their classes.
Admittedly, I used to think less kindly about set dancing events abroad, ever before I went to check them out. I used to assume that they would be not well attended, have mediocre dancers only and have bland and slow ceilis. Sackcloth and ashes for me! During one of the reel sets, the Abbey would stop for two bars, like they do sometimes at ceilis in Ireland, to let the battering take over and tap out the rhythm. And what you’d hear would cause a quick flick to the Armada Hotel in the mind’s eye.
What a successful marriage the Heidelbergers have created among the vineyards—dancing a host of different dances, messin’ to your heart’s content, battering the crap outta the floor and letting fly.
It appears the trend for attending workshops is on the rise in England. Mick and Sharon Carr organised a weekend of Cork and Kerry set dancing at St Bonaventure’s Centre in Bristol on a beautiful sunny weekend, 21–23 October, and were rewarded with ten sets on the floor for the Saturday workshop, a number which surprised Timmy, but which is becoming more usual at workshops in the UK and Europe.
It was great to see so many dancers enjoying Timmy’s idiosyncratic teaching style. There was much good humour and excitement during the workshops, and on our arrival, we barely had time to change our shoes before we were hustled into a set to dance the Ballyvourney Reel. We were promised a few more sets before taking a break for tea, and we rattled through the Sliabh Luachra and the Ballyvourney Jig before mercy was shown.
After the break, Timmy took the assembly through Hurry the Jug! We then moved on to the Borlin Polka Set and the Mealagh Valley Jig Set, with what Timmy called its “elegant” third figure, and finally finishing off our whirlwind tour of the southwest of Ireland with the West Kerry and Jenny Ling. Timmy kept everyone amused with his anecdotes and stories surrounding the history and provenance of the sets—how he came to dance them and those involved in retaining the local style of dancing.
There was a ceili during Saturday evening with Padraig Ó Sé, Jeremy Spencer and Gary O’Brien, who played like dervishes, with plenty of time between figures, and longer between sets in which to catch the breath.
We hadn’t been able to attend the Friday ceili with the local Polka Pests band, and we could not stay for the Sunday events, but by all accounts, the music at the ceili was even faster than on the Saturday, and for a while, the west of England was transported across the Irish Sea, and everyone went a little polka crazy!
Ceili time in BristolTo read the Set Dancing News in detail, or through its pages just merely glance,
One soon realises there are many workshops and ceilis where you can learn new sets and enjoy a dance.
One more venue has again been added to that hall of fame.
St Bonaventure’s in Bristol is the name.
For some time past we thought about having a workshop and ceili of our own.
It meant we did not have to travel, and we were practically at home.
Sharon our dance teacher put forward the motion.
The vote was carried it was considered a marvellous notion.
Timmy McCarthy was now contacted with immediate haste.
It had to be organised quickly, no time to waste.
Another meeting was called, Sharon was in the chair.
It was well attended, we were all nearly there.
Who would do what was discussed at great length.
Many volunteers offered to help at this great event.
The back-up team was very experienced, they did it before.
They were in charge of refreshments, decorating the hall and collecting at the door,
Also making sure that from the dancing nobody was left out,
That is what set dancing is all about.
I will now fast forward and dwell on the day.
Time moves on and it was upon us without delay.
21st October, here we go.
At the ceili that night the Polka Pests stole the show.
The music they played nearly raised the roof,
And the speed the sets were danced at was the proof.
On Saturday and Sunday the workshops went very well.
Timmy McCarthy was in charge, and many stories and jokes he did tell.
The sets he taught with panache and style.
His stories and jokes caused many a laugh, and many a smile.
The revival of sets from Kerry and Cork are his forte,
And these were the sets he taught each day.
When Hurry the Jug in our set went a little pear-shaped, and to say the least we had a slight bit of chaos,
Timmy was delighted, you could tell by the expression on his face.
He was soon in the middle of the set pretending to give out and at the same time having the craic.
He had us soon in action and back on track.
The ceilis on Saturday and Sunday we will not forget.
To Padraig Ó Sé, Jeremy Spencer and Gary O’Brien we danced many a set.
The rhythm of their music reflected the Kerry and Cork style.
If dancing sets were calculated by the metre then we danced many a mile.
Workouts in the gym you can now forget,
Instead take up Irish dancing, and learn the West Kerry Set.
Of the many sets danced I can only remember some,
Into my mind the rest will not come.
I know some other pen will pass that test,
And with clarity describe the rest.
I now have not much more left to say or write,
Only thank everyone who supported us for the workshops by day and the ceilis by night.
Sharon and Mick, thank you both, to organise this event took a lot of effort, dedication and time.
I am now finished and have come to the end of this little rhyme.
Sheamus Garry, Bristol, England
The adventure of visiting a new town was one of the factors that attracted me to Éigse Oriel, a set dancing weekend in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, 14–16 October. In fact, the entire county of Monaghan has not often been within range of the Set Dancing News radar system, and I can only remember dancing once before in the county more than ten years ago. After arriving on Friday evening, I wandered the town centre but rain and rush hour traffic overwhelmed any other impressions of the main street. The weekend venue, the Glencarn Hotel, stood proud over the town and was buzzing with activity. Conferences filled the meeting rooms, the restaurant and bar were busy, and out back a big van emblazoned with the name of Mike Denver, the Irish country star, was being unloaded of equipment for a midnight concert.
The weekend’s opening ceili slotted in just before that big concert, and on my arrival I was welcomed by organiser Marie Curley. She remembered my only previous visit to the county in June 2001 when she organised a workshop and ceili in the village of Ardaghey near Monaghan town. Ger Butler joined us and he too remembered the workshop—it was the first one he taught at the age of 19. He claimed he was nervous about it, but I can only recall that he handled it with the same relaxed confidence he shows today.
The Éigse Oriel weekend featured ceilis with two southern bands and workshops with two northern teachers. First up was Cúpla Ceili Band from Carlow at the opening ceili on Friday night in the smaller of the hotel’s two ballrooms. Variety was the order of the night as we danced quicksteps and waltzes sung by drummer Pat Ryan, sets (Corofin, Ballyvourney, Cashel, Connemara, Plain) and two-hands (Spanish Jive, Circassian Circle, Eva Three-Step, Breakaway Blues). Cúpla create trad music which is irresistible to dancers, thanks to Richie Kelly’s mastery of the piano accordion. He magically made it sound as though there were more than just two musicians on stage. After the ceili, many dancers stayed on for the late social dancing which the hotel holds every week, but I headed back to my digs for some much needed beauty sleep.
The Glencarn Hotel was so busy on Friday night that they were fully booked that night, so I found myself a bed in clean, well-equipped B&B four miles away. After a quick breakfast on Saturday morning I headed back to the hotel for a day of workshops. Ger Butler was here to teach sean nós dancing and attracted about two dozen eager learners, all ladies, mostly young. Marie Garrity from Omagh was also on hand for those of us oldies more interested in two-hand dancing. We went through a quick succession of dances with names evocative of another era, like the Valentino Jive, Tiara Tango, Avalon Foxtrot, Lomond Waltz and Dinky One-Step. After a morning of this my brain became fogged and blended them all together, the only cure for which would be lots and lots of practice on a regular basis.
Ger did actually get one gent to dance briefly in his sean nós workshop when Irish presidential candidate Seán Gallagher visited on a campaign stop in the hotel. After a round of friendly handshaking, he gamely attempted a few steps and looked good while doing it, much to the delight of the large campaign team accompanying him. He visited Marie’s workshop as well and she played a jive for him—no bother to him at all! His minders were impatiently watching the clock to keep him on schedule but Sean kept dancing till the music stopped. That evening a poll reported that he was the frontrunner in the campaign, and we were all heartened by the prospect of a dancing president in Áras an Uachtaráin.
In the afternoon Ger’s and Marie’s classes came together. Ger first taught the Shannon Gaels Set, a competition set from Roscommon he learned from his father, and then Marie continued with even more two-hands plus a welcome review of the ones she taught in the morning.
The weekend’s top attraction was a pair of ceilis by the Abbey Ceili Band on a visit from the depths of Co Cork. Their music always adds a thrill to set dancing, no matter where they happen to be playing. The majority of the sets were Clare favourites, in common with ceilis most everywhere, though the rarer Labasheeda was one of those. Rarest of all was the Monaghan Set, at least for those of us on once-a-decade visits to the county. Polka lovers were grateful for the Ballyvourney and Cashel sets. And there was a repeat of the Circassian Circle, which has the enormous advantage of allowing all the gents to dance with all the ladies, at least if the band plays enough music. Miraculously, the Abbey played exactly enough so that after dancing with dozens of ladies, I finished with my original partner! The hotel’s rather grand main ballroom was an ideal venue for big ceilis, with plenty of space and comfort.
The Sunday morning workshop was quiet and relaxed, with Marie showing us a few new two-hand dances from her inexhaustible supply, as well as reviewing some of yesterday’s. The hour’s break before the ceili didn’t offer quite enough time to obtain lunch in the very busy hotel, but any lingering hunger was soon relieved when the hotel staff generously provided plates of fruit on all the tables in the ballroom before the music began and served a generous feed during the break with tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot items. The two Maries, Curley and Garrity, handled the calling at all the ceilis smartly and unobtrusively, but some wires got tangled during today’s Cashel Set when the second figure was somehow overlooked. You could pick out the sets which don’t pay attention to directions—they were the ones (mine included) dancing the missing figure, whereas those following Marie were all blithely dancing the next one. We had a triple dose of plain sets, Corofin, Kilfenora and Plain, an unprecedented third go at the Circassian Circle, and more of the old favourites, including a Connemara to finish.
The Abbey Ceili Band received the warmest of responses from the appreciative dancers, as did the organisers, teachers and hotel staff. I was pleased to attend such an enjoyable weekend in Monaghan, and to meet old friends and make new ones. I hope it will be much sooner than ten years before I return to the county again!
Party in Portugal, the package holiday based in Albufiera on the Algarve organised by Enjoy Travel, took place 6–20 October. Globetrotting Set Dancing News correspondent Chris Eichbaum was there and sent this report to fill everyone in on the fun.
It lay out on a table in the full sun, after 2pm when the heat was searing—a closed book, entitled The Book of Friendship. All around, people of a certain predisposition were pressing buttons, blowing into metal or wooden string instruments, their brows furrowed in concentration, some bowing over sheets of paper with hasty scribbles on them, some with eyes closed, some tapping their toes, others in still postures, moving only the part of the body required to extrapolate tunes and keeping in time with everyone else. “Again,” shouted Patsy, and after the first bar everyone picked the tune up for a third, fourth time. In this circle of music and apprentices thereof, all else faded away. A radio raining down pop songs, a mechanical sound emitted from a vent nearby, traffic noise and hooting horns all tried to penetrate the rounds without success. The group of people in the music tutorials remained undisturbed by outside hums. As the tune finished, all stopped for a wee moment in time, re-emerging from the deep well, and people looked around in recognition at one another. Having been there together, in the well, they went back in again as the next set of tunes was called. The friendship book sat at the right place here. Musical bonds melted into friendship. Dancing bonds too lead in and on to friendship. If you want it, it’s served on a plate.
Take Maurice and Ger Boland, for example, salt of the earth people, never putting themselves forward. Yet Maurice has just won an international award for pioneering research on breeding and fertility in cattle and sheep. Principal of UCD College of Life Sciences, vice president of the university, dean of the Faculty of Agri-Food and the Environment and appointed head of the School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine. How about that for a clever and accomplished man in the dancers’ midst! Professor Maurice Boland was one of the leading scientists in the world who developed a technology of transferring embryos in a non-surgical way which was implemented and is used today all over the globe. Not that anyone would have known. He dances, smiling away, a gentleman contributing in no small way to the good-natured etiquette in set dancing. Simply by being himself. Ger really wants him to be recognized for his pioneering award, the highest scientific accolade, and she said it quietly, gently, in the most non-boasting way. And here they were, in Portugal, enjoying the sun, the dance, each other and their circle of friends. Anam cara!
Talking about the sun, its heat was penetrating cold skeletons from a lower-than-average-temperature summer in the British Isles that failed to induce any sort of outdoor barbecue ambience. It took a few days until everyone believed that the jumpers could stay in the wardrobe, even at night, and extra water consumption was needed simply to balance the fluid loss, never mind when dancing. Seventy people from Co Limerick were brought along by Ita McQuinn, cheering on Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band, braving high temperatures. More, many more set dancers were here than last year, or else many more were dancing sets. Either way, overall, the set dancers were in a superior majority this time round, all the ceilis were danced on full floors, no matter which band played or how tired the legs.
The unusual amount of warm sunshine in unbroken blue skies led to a build-up of heat on that tenth floor where the night ceilis took place, which in turn led to people migrating more often. Hey, weren’t you just seen in the ballroom? And you, at the session? Those two, downstairs jiving, now dancing to Salamanca Ceili Band? And tired some of them were! Why wouldn’t they be when dancing all morning, all afternoon, all night? Every day anew? What happened to the good intentions of pacing yourself? Actually, with so many different events on at all times in parallel, drifting from one to the other is done easily, and you’ll meet the same faces, first at the ceili, then at the session, then at the social dancing, then back at the ceili, and later on in the Blue Room. The what? The Blue Room, where after 1am the dancing continued, was furnished in such a way to conjure up images of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca or Liza Minelli in Cabaret, with the Galway Jazz Band completing the illusion when they played on the final night of the first week. Midnight in Moscow, heaven on dancing earth! You’re looking at the 1950s here, musically, and before the Enjoy Travel band came on in the Blue Room, Carlos, the hotel pianist, played and was joined by some local people showing a dazzling array of smoochy steps in ballroom style.
Here’s an example of a typical day’s schedule. Morning—set dancing workshop, parallel ballroom workshop and an outdoor session parallel to that. Afternoon—social dance from 2pm, the outdoor session turns into a musical tutorial at the same time and later, ceili under the marquee. Night—parallel ceili and social dance starting at 9pm, also with some music at times in the Blue Room. The big organised session, led by the one and only Mick Mackey starts at 10pm. All three events finish at 1am, and the ones still standing mosey down to the Blue Room for the late night social dance until 3am. And then some die-hards play cards.
Friends also met for a pre-collation cocktail in the nearby Irish bar, facing the hotel—in case you didn’t know where the craic was. You do this on holidays, of course. Special occasions. Banter and tease, because the company is good and easy, and can be wholly trusted. And with friends, dancing is at its best when two people (social) or a group of people (sets) blur the boundaries between self and the dance, allowing all to unite. This happened here in Portugal, several times, and it’s still the most vivid memory.
What about the set dancing workshops? The tuition in set dancing was shared by no fewer than four teachers, Pat Murphy, Mickey Kelly, Sheila Gormley and Ger Butler, who MCed the ceilis and led workshops. Pat is an extraordinary caller, apart from being an extraordinary teacher. He is actually a teacher, and that training might have contributed to his unfailing sense of how much to say, when and how to stimulate the crowd, and read what is required with any given dance population on the floor. Ger had a full floor to oversee when showing some sean nós steps, and all the sets workshops managed to draw in big crowds. The mornings heated up quickly, so the dancers were in their sun-gear (hats, glasses, creams, fans) under the shadow of the outdoor marquee.
And you might dance again with someone you met here, and begin to feel more comfortable, checking out and testing some boundaries (how far can you go with the banter?) and now you are on the way to making friends. Little by little, a thing called trust builds. Little by little, you relax. Little by little, loneliness is ousted.
Read about some of the musicians now—
Stephen Doherty is this year’s All-Ireland champion on flute, and you might be excused if you didn’t know because the instruments that set dancers see him play are accordion and keyboard. He is also a full-time music teacher and has toured internationally. At times he stands in to play the lead instrument in Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band as a sub for older brother Tommy. Now, he also plays in the new Salamanca Ceili Band on the accordion, with David Doocey on keyboard, Brona Graham on banjo and Ger Butler on drums. And they play a very young style, coming from an area that has crafted very traditional players, so in a way, they can play both—very conservative and also extraordinarily funky. At times, Stephen leaves the tunes behind and goes off on some other membrane, just to hollow back without effort to pick up the tune again wherever he chooses to. The rapport between those young musicians is visible and the cord strung between them swings strongly back and forth. Carrying the torch in their hands and moulding the wax in a contemporary fashion, this is how new traditions are created. You guessed it, they are friends.
The ceili bands here, Annaly, Taylor’s Cross and Salamanca, for the first week of the two-week spectacle, could hardly be more diverse. The way some tunes were interpreted by Taylor’s Cross from west Limerick was unique and unusual in that it took a moment to recognize them and then the spirit became clear—roll them out over hills that come down in different shapes, flap a wing across them to add some air. The Annaly have a heavier beat, sharply cut, clear as a knife’s edge. Then offset the two against Salamanca, the very name implying exoticism; young musicians with ample alive tunes, steaming ahead, going forward.
And then there are the sessions. They construct a different set of music, ballads, storytelling—the fringe hooked onto the mainstay of dancing. Well, for a number of punters, the sessions are the mainstay and everything else a fringe!
Still for others, all the music and dancing is but a container for a holiday in the sun. Fair enough, too—whatever you fancy! And if you’re into dressing up or reciting poems, then there’s a space here too when the competitions are on for fancy dress and talent. Think you’ve got the X-Factor? Let it loose on an appreciative big audience.
The whole fleadh event in Portugal is one big playground and you should treat it as such. Experiment with the diversity of happenings, where taking an active part in it is an offer, an opportunity or a challenge, depending which way you look at it.
But inside the typhoon of music and dance, there is always the dead calm in the eye of it. Head out to the pools and spread a towel on a sun lounger and let everything gently pass by. Read a good book, doze, soak up the sunshine belting down, laze with a drink by your seat, take a dip in the water, let the Li-Lo gently rock you. Or take one of the day trips to places like Fatima, walk down to the beach, go shop, have a look at the quaint old town, where you can indulge in a lunch under palm trees on one of the many strand cafés dotted along the promenade, and indulge in the guilty pleasure of people watching. After all, it’s supposed to be a holiday. You will need to keep reminding yourself of it inside the whirlwinds. Or maybe a friend will do it for you.
On our arrival Friday evening 28th October, we were met with a courteous welcome from the receptionist at the Clonea Strand Hotel, Dungarvan, Co Waterford. The warmth and comfort of a glowing fire in the foyer, surrounded by comfortable seating, was an invitation to relax, you have arrived! Helen and Paddy Kealy were there to welcome all and straight away we knew we were with friends and so began a week-end of delightful music, endearing company and fantastic dancing at the West Waterford Hooley.
A different selection of sets was danced throughout the three ceilis over the weekend—no duplication of any set, what a wonderful idea! A list of sets was placed on each table so all dancers could look forward to the delights of the evening.
At 9.30pm, so began our first ceili of the weekend to the music of Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter. What a wonderful start! At any given time during the night, eight sets danced happily to such favourites as the Newport, Ballyvourney Jig, Sliabh Luachra, Labasheeda, Moycullen, Plain, Corofin and (a new set for most of us) the Caragh Lake Jig Set. All of the sets were called by Helen, who with fun, laughter and the occasional “yee haa” got everybody on the dance floor in high spirits. Hilary Nic Íomhair and Syl Bell gave a helping hand in calling sets in their unique style to the delight of the dancers.
The sweetest man I know, Paddy, kept us supplied with an ample amount and colourful selection of bull’s-eye sweets! Dancers were kept busy dancing, talking, smiling and chewing. Our tea break was a treat. Helen had scrumptious home baked cakes for one and all and local set dancers were on hand to serve the tea in a very organised way.
Saturday morning began with a workshop from 10.30am to 1pm with Margaret Fitzgerald and her associate Mary. A good teacher, rather than just imparting information, brings out the potential that already exists in each individual student. Margaret was an excellent teacher as she took us through the quickstep and jive with enthusiasm and encouragement. The workshop continued after lunch from 2.30 to 5pm. We polished our jiving steps and proceeded to dance the basic steps of the slow waltz. The workshop was equally enjoyable, fun and successful for both Margaret as the teacher and dancers as her students.
A short rest was next on the agenda followed by a superb meal. The main course included a wonderful choice of beef, salmon, monkfish or duck and vegetarian option. All three courses were beautifully presented and a delight to the taste buds!
At 9.30pm, we were ready to dance the night away to the music of Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band. Among the sets called were the Sliabh Fraoch, West Kerry, Kilfenora, North Kerry, Boyne, Derradda, Newport and Mazurka. Once again, happy faces and tapping feet graced the floor. The good humour was contagious as Helen kept the spirits high and Paddy hit the target each time with his bull’s-eyes! Our tea break was once again a delightful treat with a selection of home baked cakes. The evening came to a memorable close with Donie Nolan’s powerful rendition of Sweet Dungarvan Town.
Sunday morning afforded us the time to reflect, relax and appreciate the wonderful time we enjoyed in Clonea. Rainy days and grey skies made no impact as we were cocooned from it all weekend.
Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan graced the stage at 2.30pm for our final ceili. The Cashel Set got the feet moving and among the other sets danced were the Caledonian, Black Valley, Antrim Square, South Kerry, Clare Lancers, Borlin and Connemara. I arrived in fancy dress—did it bother me that I was the only one in such attire? Mmmh! As the afternoon progressed, witches, goblins and characters with very colourful hairstyles joined the hooley—great fun! A raffle (all proceeds towards a special needs school) was generously supported by set dancers and numerous prizes were distributed.
Helen thanked all who helped in making the weekend such a success. In return we thank Helen, Paddy and their team for the care, generosity, good humour and friendship—key ingredients for a successful weekend.
Geraldine Byrne, Carlow
A set dancing weekend without a workshop is like going to the cinema to see a film and not having any popcorn—totally unimaginable, at least for a dedicated workshop-lover (and popcorn consumer) like myself. But having just spent a workshop-free weekend in Listowel, Co Kerry, 21–23 October, I sure could get used to this. There was dancing galore, so much so that I found myself still exhausted and out of breath three days afterward, yet I still had time for late snoozing, leisurely breakfasts and thorough exploration of the streets, shops and cafés in town. It may have once been the case that a weekend was judged by its workshops and teachers, but dancers today are most interested in ceilis and bands, which is only natural when there is such a wealth of superb ceili bands in Ireland! The weekend’s four ceilis featured a well-chosen selection of four top bands.
Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band started things off at the Friday ceili. Their legendary reels were powerful that night, but I was knocked out by their awesome polkas. The Sliabh Luachra Set, the third set, combined delicious Kerry tunes and tempo with the richness of the band’s indigenous Sligo style. Then in the second half my dreams came true (and those of my partner) when we jump-kicked and doubled around in a Borlin Polka Set. As satisfying as that was, the band outdid themselves by following up with a Ballyvourney Jig! It’s nearly unheard of to have two polka sets in a row, but if this is a new trend, I’m all in favour!
Listowel has an abundance of character, evident from a good wander on Saturday, with a maze of streets, all lined with old shops and pubs, and a spacious square where the Listowel Arms Hotel, our venue for the weekend, is situated. Even the back streets are filled with quaint cottages built of cut stone. Writers have colonised the town and call it their own, and local author John B Keane is honoured by a life-size statue which looks uncannily real. Judging by the delicatessens, cafés, restaurants and gastro-pubs I passed, Listowel seems like a great place for foodies. The café I lunched in had no bother fulfilling my request for a toasted goats cheese sandwich, something I’d hardly find anywhere else outside of home.
The hotel preserves an atmosphere of grandeur from another era. It’s squeezed between a tight corner of the town square at the front and the River Feale at the back. At the Saturday afternoon ceili, the wall of windows in the ballroom afforded a magnificent view of the river (noticeably rising after heavy rain) and the grounds of Listowel Racecourse beyond. The view is a great excuse to dance here during the day, but an even better attraction today was the Deenagh Ceili Band. It didn’t matter that only one of the band’s regular members, Sean Murphy (banjo), was playing with them today—he and the two subs, Timmy Collins on piano and Richard Lucey on box, played blazing music that was a joy to dance to. The five reel sets included the Labasheeda, and among the three polka sets was the gorgeous West Kerry—and a Ballyvourney to finish. A Saturday afternoon ceili doesn’t bring out dancers in the same numbers as at night or on a Sunday afternoon, but those dedicated few of us were mighty pleased to be there.
I do have to correct the record here and mention that it wasn’t actually a workshop-free weekend. After the afternoon ceili, Edwina Guckian took over for a couple of hours of sean nós dancing instruction. She attracted a small but highly motivated group of dancers and inspired them not only with her amazing steps and teaching expertise, but also by her own dedication, enjoyment and love for sean nós.
Never mind the River Feale outside, inside our own levels were rising too—energy levels, that is—with the arrival of the Five Counties Ceili Band for the Saturday night ceili. Eight members, all playing as one with a lively, seductive spirit that inspired shouts, cheers and stomps from the floor all night long. We started with the Kilfenora when I joined a lady with her hand in the air who modestly claimed she didn’t know the set, but turned out to be a fine dancer and had not a bit of bother keeping up. In the second half she returned the favour when I joined a set and raised my hand. During a waltz I had hoped for some recovery time, but was invited up by a like-minded partner—we probably made at least two dozen laps around the floor. After the final Lancers Set there was no stopping the dancers. They cheered and beat the floor until the band played a few more precious bars of reels before the national anthem.
As is often the case, I arranged my accommodation at nearly the last minute, but was fortunate to end up in a fine house on the edge of town, near the river. The couple in the house welcomed me like a member of the family and encouraged me to make myself at home and sleep as late as I wanted. So after a late Sunday breakfast and an even later cup of tea with homemade fruitcake, I finally made my way back to the hotel with loads of time to spare. The Listowel Arms is as homely a hotel as you’ll find, with plenty of comfy chairs and sofas perfect for taking more tea while waiting for the ballroom doors to open.
Even from the far side of the hotel lounge it was easy to see when the doors opened—you couldn’t miss the long queue! For a climactic finish to the weekend, the final ceili featured the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. Legions of loyal fans follow the band everywhere they go, so there’s no shortage of fantastic partners and a highly charged buzz in the hall for a full three hours. Dancing to Johnny is like coasting downhill on a bike—the music seductively appeals to our primal instincts, moving us without the need for conscious thought, maximising the shared pleasure of our partners, freeing us from physical effort of dancing. Until the music stops, that is, when we realise we’re overcome with an immensely satisfying feeling of total exhaustion.
And that’s how I felt on leaving Listowel, a weekend of the best bands and most delightful partners in a little town full of character and personality. While I love a good set dancing workshop, it was a real treat to spend a weekend dancing with such enormous pleasure.
I decided wouldn’t it be fun
Dancing sean nós
For all the nation to see.
Well, when I got the email
About auditions for the show,
They were looking for acts,
I thought, here, let’s go!
Phone calls were made
To Mary and Micheál,
Who said they’d be glad,
Let’s hope we don’t fall!
And so the M and Ms were born.
We’d be going to RTÉ,
They liked the video,
Rehearsals commenced with glee.
It was exciting, it was fun,
To be up there on stage
In front of the cameras,
With the audience to engage.
We had a great day
Up there in RTÉ,
Dancing on An Jig Gig,
Mary, Micheál and me.
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
Once again at the end of October, it was time for the Wednesday class in Glasgow, Scotland, to head to the Halloween Weekend held by the Carryduff Set Dancing Club in Co Down. We flew from Glasgow to Belfast on Friday arriving at our hotel in time for a wee rest before dinner. All the conversation over the table was “What will we do tonight?” and “What will we start with?”
We headed to the hall early as we had lots of friends to meet and greet and new friends to make and it is easier at the start of the night rather than using dancing time. Long Note Ceili Band were on stage and it was nice to see Brian Ward and Ciarán Kelly again. We noticed that they had added a flute to the line-up and wondered what effect this would have.
After a short greeting from Rosaleen Murphy, and with Joe Farrell in fine voice, we were off. The new line-up sounded great with lots of drive from the flute and eighteen sets were soon having a ball. A fine half-time home-baking supper readied us for the second half and all too soon it was Joe saying, “Sadly we have come to the last dance of the night—a Plain set.” We wandered back to the hotel tired and happy.
Saturday morning brought fresh baked scones and homemade jam before a workshop from Pat Murphy and we ran through the Connemara Jig, Dunmanway, Birr and Clare Orange and Green sets over the day.
The evening ceili was fancy dress (optional) and we saw ladybirds, pirates, vampires and a particularly manly tiger amongst others. Brian Ború were on stage with a changed line-up (temporary I am assured) and 21 sets were off! We managed to get in eight sets early, including two of the sets we learnt at the workshop, and so Joe’s “Sadly . . .” line was for the ninth set, a Plain that was extended with more reels for anyone who wanted to keep going. We did two figures of the Caledonian.
Sunday morning took us to a two-hand workshop with waltzes, tangos and foxtrots being tried, then after a quick lunch it was on to the farewell ceili with Ceili Time. A satisfactory fifteen sets danced the afternoon away before, all too soon, it was time for us to head to the airport for our flight home. Farewells were said and next meetings planned before the taxi arrived to whisk us off.
We did 25 and a half sets over the weekend with only a Plain Set repeated each time and a Clare Lancers repeated after a request. We had been planning to return next year but our minds were certainly made up for us on Sunday afternoon. My wife Audrey won a weekend pass in the raffle and being canny Scots we have to use it!
Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland
Friday: Kilfenora, Fermanagh, Williamstown, Clare Lancers, Cashel, Claddagh, Ballyvourney Jig, Plain. Saturday: Corofin Plain, Derrada, Moycullen, Clare Orange and Green, Connemara, Connemara Jig, Antrim Square, Newport, Plain. Sunday: Caledonian, Borlin, Labasheeda, Sliabh gCua, Clare Lancers, Boyne, Roscahill, Plain.
We (Fumio and I) got married in the Japanese style in April in the Ikutama shrine in Osaka. Although much later, we had the wedding ceili in September in a restaurant in Osaka. Many people came to the ceili, about forty musicians and fifty dancers, and some other friends! It seemed like a ceili in Ireland! (We had been to the Half-Door Club Weekend in May this year and last year.)
We thought hard about getting great clothes to dance in at the ceili. I converted the wedding dress so that I could dance in it. Fumio rented the medieval-style suit.
We are very happy to dance a lot with nice music and lovely friends. Usually we dance in Mr and Mrs Kubo’s class in Osaka. The Sainak Ceili Band always plays the music for us. Of course, they also played for the wedding ceili.
If you travel to Japan and Osaka, please join us!
Natsuka Chiba, Osaka, Japan
Do not lose the recipeHi Bill,
We are just home from a most wonderful weekend, 23–25 September, in beautiful Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. We decided to venture over there because our good friends Jim and Sue Crick had invited us many times and had regaled us with stories of how good it was.
And was it good!
The hospitality, friendliness, music, venue and dancing could not be surpassed. We danced thirty-something sets over the weekend, none of which were repeated. The variety and clarity of the callers was excellent and the display monitor on the wall for some of the sets was a novel and very successful idea. Well done to all.
If these are the ingredients for a magic weekend, please do not lose the recipe.
Thanks to Kevin Monaghan and Carol Gannon and all their helpers, to Ceili Time for superb music and Jim and Sue for looking after us so well.
Mary and Michael McGeeney, Ballinderry, Co Tipperary
The network of regularsDear sir or madam, As many people will be aware, the set dancing weekend in St Anne’s Community Centre, Birmingham, England, 1–2 October, was intended to be our eighth annual event led by Pat Murphy. Unfortunately Pat was forced to pull out at the last minute because he was unable to travel.
Thanks to the support provided by Set Dancing News and the network of regulars, most people wishing to attend were made aware of the situation in time to avoid unnecessary disappointment.
Despite this a significant number of people still turned out for the two-day event and as well as an enjoyable time being had by all attending, we were still able to raise £550 for two local charities.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to all involved and in particular those who still turned up to support us. I am sure they would all like to join me in wishing Pat all the very best and we look forward to things being back to normal for our event in 2012.
Many thanks for your support.
John and Sharon Holian, Birmingham, England
The pure genius of the musiciansDear Bill,
We would like to express our appreciation to Sharon and Mick Carr for organising their first, and very enjoyable, set dancing weekend, 21–23 October, in Bristol, England, with Timmy McCarthy.
The weekend kicked off with a ceili on the Friday night with lovely steady music from Polka Pests.
On Saturday and Sunday, Timmy led us through a selection of polka and jig sets and the wonderful Hurry the Jug. To the long-term dancers, many of the sets were familiar but there was still plenty for all to learn. Timmy reminded us of some of the finer points and styles that have been lost over the years. He also showed us a version of the long square in the Black Valley Jig which he obtained in recent years from Dan Breen.
During the workshops and ceilis we were supplied with copious cups of tea and cakes.
The music on Saturday and Sunday was provided by Pádraig Ó Sé, Garry O’Brien and Jeremy Spencer from Kerry. The Saturday ceili was unusually relaxed but Sunday more than made up for it when the pure genius of the musicians shone through.
We do hope this will be the first of many.
Moira and Joe Dempsey, London, England
Since my commencementDear Bill,
Just to say a heartful and sincere thanks to all who wished me good luck on my interview in the last edition of Set Dancing News.
Since my commencement of set dancing classes with Joan Pollard Carew in Templemore, Co Tipperary, I have enjoyed each ceili, having great fun and craic, and here’s hoping to many more.
Thanks to all,
Martina Ceaser, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Really enjoyed themselvesHi Bill,
Please can you include a thank-you to everyone that supported our set dancing weekend in Listowel, Co Kerry, 21–23 October. They made the weekend a huge success. The atmosphere was brilliant and everyone was in great form and really enjoyed themselves. Also a thank-you to the bands, who really gave it their all! We would also like to thank Edwina Guckian for her wonderful sean nós workshop which everyone really enjoyed. We are looking forward to another successful weekend again in 2012.
Thank you Bill for your continued support.
Jerry O’Rourke, Michael O’Rourke, Mary Philpott, Stepping It Out Set Dancing Club
Beautiful dancing and teaching
A “grand merci” to Fergus Fitzpatrick and Vanessa Franchetti for their excellent teaching in Nice, France, over the weekend of October 8th and 9th. Our club Dansetrad promotes all types of traditional dancing, not just French, so it was with much enthusiasm that we welcomed Fergus and Vanessa from Belfast to teach set dancing in Nice. The weekend was a great success, with over three full sets. There was also an informal get-together in a bar in Nice with some lovely live music and dancing.
Three sets were taught at the workshops, with a good mixture of polkas and reels. The Ballyvourney Reel and Mazurka sets were taught on the Saturday and the Moycullen Set on the Sunday. Time was taken to teach the basic reel and polka steps, which was much appreciated by everybody, and to develop the style of the dance, particularly the Ballyvourney Reel which was danced to such fast polka music! There was even a little time left on the Saturday afternoon to cover more advanced footwork.
But again, many thanks to Fergus and Vanessa for their beautiful dancing and teaching.
Raymonde Dozol and Olivier Pécheux, Nice, France
Shrieking with delight
At the end of October, the Sean Dempsey Set Dancing Club held its 24th festival and it was a huge success, thanks to the wonderful people who travelled from all over Ireland and the UK.
We appreciate very much the tremendous effort many people made to be part of the festival. A special thank-you to all the competitors, teachers and parents. The standard of dancing was outstanding. Thanks to Mary Felton, Jim Kelly and John Houlihan, the adjudicators, who worked tirelessly throughout the day and did a superb job. Thanks to Edele Farrell, Steve Proscol and Paul Daley who played brilliantly for the competitors. We thank the callers, the sound men and the inimitable Timmy Woulfe, who did a very enjoyable workshop, ably assisted by the lovely Joan Pollard Carew. Thanks to Chris Eichbaum; it was a pleasure to have her over to report on the festival. Thanks to the local people for placing adverts in our programme and thanks to everyone who helped in any way. A massive thank-you to the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band who played magnificently at all three céilithe and had the dancers shrieking with delight.
After over twenty years of involvement with the club, we have decided to step down. We hope this will free us up for more time on the dance floor. Being involved was a brilliant experience and we met lots of lovely people and made some beautiful friendships. We would like to thank everyone for their help and support and we owe a debt of gratitude to the good people who were only a phone call away if we needed sound advice. Your help was appreciated more than you know.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Bill Lynch and his staff for the great magazine and for the excellent service over the years.
Once again, thanks a million to you all.
Josephine and Colman Murtagh, Blackburn, England
Hear them at lots of ceilisHi Bill,
Thanks a million to everyone who supported the recent charity ceili in Maudabawn, Cootehill, Co Cavan, September 23rd. We raised €1000 for a cystic fibrosis isolation unit in Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin.
Eamonn Donnelly and the new Copperplate Ceili Band provided fantastic music and we wish them continued success and hope to hear them at lots of ceilis throughout the country in the future.
Geraldine Carragher, Cootehill, Co Cavan
Never ceases to amaze us
We again had a wonderful time on holiday in Galway, 2nd–9th November. Connemara was glowing with fantastic colours (blue, orange and green, yellow) since we had sunshine all the time and just enough rain to give lovely rainbows.
At the Galway Bay Set Dancing Weekend in Salthill we met and enjoyed getting to know Mick Mulkerrin and Deirdre Tobin. They are very pleasant and good teachers and dancers. We hope to see them again. Our appreciation for Tony Ryan and Pat Murphy continues to grow. Their engagement with dance never ceases to amaze us.
We thank Gearóid Mulrooney very much for his hospitality in Tuam on Monday, 7th November. We are also grateful that all the dancers there in the Ard Rí House Hotel accepted us so nicely. We only regret not being able to come more often.
Unfortunately, at the Tuesday ceili in Monroe’s Pub, while a very cosy and beautiful place to dance, we missed this hospitality and were disappointed that the dancers were not even able to organise two sets.
With best wishes,
Monique and Luc Jucquois-Delpierre, Düsseldorf, Germany
Keeping the dancers happyHi Bill,
I would like to thank most sincerely all who attended the Galway Bay Set Dancing Festival at the Clybaun Hotel, Salthill, 4–6 November, all our overseas visitors from Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Corsica, Germany, USA and England, and of course all our local and Irish set dancing friends.
Grateful thanks to Mick Mulkerrin and Pat Murphy for their wonderful tuition, and to the Matt Cunningham, Four Courts, and Glenside ceili bands for their fine music and keeping the dancers happy.
Looking forward to 2012; details to follow in Set Dancing News.
Tony Ryan, Galway
Old set, new setDear Bill,
I am prompted by the Facebook comments in the last issue to put pen to paper and add my thoughts to the debate on old and new sets. Firstly we, as dancers, attend céilithe to dance, listen, respond to, internalise and above all enjoy the music being played. We meet friends old and new and show our appreciation for the wonderful culture we are lucky enough to be immersed in. We should come with a spirit of open-mindedness and acceptance of the plan for the event. I understand that we all have our favourite rhythms, reel, jig, hornpipe, slide, etc, but at a ceili our respect for all music is desirable. We can always play our favourites in the car or in the kitchen.
On a few occasions, not many, I’ve been greeted by the comment, “Well what new sets are you doing today to try to confuse us?” Or, “If you don’t do the Connemara or Clare Lancers I won’t come here again.”
I reply, “Let’s dance, enjoy the music and each other’s company no matter what the set is.”
On the other hand, the organisers have to show sensitivity when choosing the sets for the ceili. In my opinion, the sets we select have to be danceable, meaning that dancers enjoy success with the minimum of instruction or calling. A little challenge is okay but total confusion gets us nowhere. I have enjoyed including sets like the Paris, Doire Colmcille, Williamstown, Durrow Threshing, Slip and Slide, Black Valley, Borlin Jenny, South Galway, Cúchulainn, Birr, Borlin Polka and West Kerry to name but a few. All of the above are beautiful dances and fit into the danceable category. The response has always been positive—“That was a lovely set,” or “I’d like to do that again,” or “We should learn that at the class.”
The organiser or caller should prepare well for the ceili. Giving a long-winded instruction at the beginning of each figure is not a good idea in my opinion. If there is a move to look out for, just emphasise that in clear, audible, encouraging and reassuring language and let them off. Just enough instruction and get the figure under way is sufficient. We should also remember that we are speaking to an intelligent, well-informed group of dancers so we should avoid speaking in ‘classroom tones,’ demanding and commanding attention. All the musicians who provide the magnificent music for our céilithe come with a musical tradition and style from their local area so we should try to ensure that we include sets which give them the opportunity to play that music for their own and our enjoyment.
I thoroughly enjoy every ceili I attend and I sincerely thank all the organisers to provide us with such wonderful entertainment. I wish all dancers, musicians and organisers the best of good health, good dancing and God’s blessing. I thank all who travel from near and far to regularly attend the events I organise, and who dance and celebrate every set in a spirit of joy, inclusivity and positivity. Your gratitude for my hospitality during my summer festival is deeply appreciated together with your photos and comments. I look forward to meeting you all at the Gandon Inn Weekend, 9–11 March, and at the summer festival, 30 July–6 August.
Maureen Culleton, Camcloon, Co Laois
From far and wideDear Bill,
Many thanks to Timmy McCarthy, Pádraig Ó Sé, Gary O’Brien and Jeremy Spencer for a weekend of rousing polkas, wonderful workshops and great craic in Bristol, 21–23 October.
Thanks too to our local set dance band, the Polka Pests, to all those who helped over the weekend and to all the dancers who came from far and wide to enjoy and contribute to the great atmosphere.
We danced polkas galore, including the West Kerry (several times), Borlin, Black Valley Square Jig, Jenny Ling, Sliabh Luachra, Ballyvourney Reel and even Hurry the Jug in the ceilis.
And there were lovely cakes and lunches, and the sun shone on Bristol.
What more could one ask for?
Sharon and Mick Carr, Bristol, England
Such music to our earsHi Bill,
It is great to be able to get a chance to say a big thank-you to everybody that attended our West Waterford Hooley Weekend in Clonea Stand Hotel, Dungarvan, Co Waterford.
We were delighted with such a massive turnout, meeting all our set dancing friends from far and near, and even getting to know new set dancers, which always makes for a great weekend. Thanks to all our bands—Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter, Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan and Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band. Sometimes I wonder do we appreciate how lucky we are with such music to our ears. I also want to thank them for their patience while we called the sets.
A big thank you to Margaret Fitzgerald for her excellent class of jiving and quicksteps. This lady is one hardworking woman and leaves no stone unturned. We were without doubt tested to our limits !
Our Sunday ceili raised a very nice sum of money towards our local special needs school in Dungarvan. Tickets were sold prior to and during the ceili and in all a total amount of €3600 was raised, so who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?
Thanks to everybody for making this weekend the success that it was. We will continue to hold our weekends as long as we are blessed with good health and wonderful friends.
Bill, as usual, keep up the mighty work!
Helen and Paddy Kealy, Old Parish, Co Waterford
Above and beyondDear Bill,
Friday morning the 21st May the sun came out and shone down on the lovely village of Gortahork, Co Donegal, and I thought, what a wonderful start to our third annual set dancing weekend. By midday our dancing friends started to arrive from all over the country and from such far flung places as the United States, France, Manchester and Glasgow. Of course I’m not forgetting my camper van friends for whom we provided parking at the rear of the hotel.
I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to my lovely class and all the locals for their great support. Many thanks to our teachers, Pat Murphy, Marie Garrity and Kathleen and Michael McGlynn, who taught lovely dances at the workshops, and to our ceili bands, the Annaly, the Brian Ború and the Copperplate, who kept our feet tapping all weekend. We even had our dancers take to the hotel verandah as the ballroom was full to capacity on Sunday evening. My compliments to the management and staff of the hotel who went above and beyond the call of duty to cater for all our needs.
Well friends, all that is left for me to say is a very big Donegal míle buíochas to all who supported our weekend and made it such a great success. If you enjoyed it as much as we did we hope you return again next year for our fourth annual Féile Damhsa Gaelach which will run 18–20 May. In the meantime, keep dancing and I hope to see you along the way.
Madge O’Grady, Falcarragh, Co Donegal
We are truly gratefulHi Bill,
On behalf of my daughter Deirdre and myself, I would like to thank everyone who attended our ceili in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, on the 6th of August. It was a brilliant night with fantastic music played by Striolán Ceili Band. We would like to thank all the people who helped on the night, and also the people who brought spot prizes with them. To those who highlighted it on the local papers and passed around flyers, we are truly grateful. A total of €1827.50 was raised for the Irish Cancer Society.
Teresa and Deirdre Lenihan, Newcastle West, Co Limerick
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357