last updated 24 April 2014
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 76

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

The Ballyfin revelation

It used to be a mystery to me why anyone would spend a week of their summer dancing in a tiny rural place like Ballyfin, Co Laois, but having gone there myself I have become much wiser. The week in question is Maureen Culleton’s annual Summer Festival of Dance, which ran for the week leading up to the August bank holiday Monday, 30 July–6 August, though I was only able to arrive on Friday after it was half over. This was the first time in at least ten years I managed to finish the August-September issue of Set Dancing News early enough to go dancing over the August bank holiday, and it was a revelation to discover what I had been missing.

On a glorious Friday evening featuring genuine summer weather, a rarity this year, I made my way to Ballyfin and discovered I wasn’t the only one on my first visit to Maureen’s week—Johnny Reidy Ceili Band were also making their debut here. Perhaps the heavens were in a perfect alignment, with the sun, moon, planets and stars in the ideal ceili configuration, but whatever the reason, we danced as if there were no tomorrow, sharing an atmosphere of intensely delightful magic. I remember feeling particularly overcome by pleasure during the Ballyvourney Jig Set and got a bit misty-eyed while the sides were dancing, recovering my composure just in time to house and square again! Johnny always draws a strong response from dancers after each figure, usually cheers and stamping, but tonight I noticed some people showing their appreciation in a new way—raising arms overhead and bowing up and down while whooping to express their total devotion to the band. Johnny, Martina, Eddie and Tommy all showed broad smiles, equally devoted to their fans. By the end of that ceili, Ballyfin had moved to the top of my list of favourite set dancing places!

Last night’s high lingered long enough to carry me through Saturday, beginning with Maureen’s workshop. For the beginners among us, including a group of a dozen French visitors, she warmed us up with the Ballyvourney Jig Set. The first of two treats of the day was the Ballyfin Set, an easy-going set of polkas which Maureen has revived herself, as remembered from her childhood when her mother danced it at home. My biggest workshop thrill comes from Hurry the Jug and I was in heaven when we spent most of the afternoon on it. Even better, there was a spare half-set which meant we had to dance it through extra times so everyone could do it, and a few lucky souls were required to do it every time!

Yesterday’s moment of fair weather was replaced by a threatening sky on Saturday, but the summer mood persisted in the hall during the workshop and ceili that night. The Glenside Ceili Band sound great in all weather but with the heat they coaxed out of the dancers tonight we needed all the doors open and were grateful for cooler air. The community hall in Ballyfin is a fine venue, with a well-timbered floor for long hours of comfortable dancing. On arrival for each ceili, plates of fruit were available to all at the entrance, and halfway through the ceili the side doors to the kitchen opened up and tables full of food were carried out to accompany the tea. Dancers were always helping out in keeping with the rather communal spirit of the weekend. Maureen never neglected the dancing and called most of the sets, and tonight rewarded us with a few unusual ones from her enormous repertoire—the Labasheeda, Durrow Thrashing and Ballyduff sets—as well as the usuals, which now include the Antrim Square and Moycullen. I danced with friends old and new, from Tipp, Galway and Kerry to France and Japan. By the end of the night my set dancer’s high had been replenished with a surplus for the days to come!

Sunday was a double-ceili day, with a session sandwiched in between. Music for the afternoon ceili was by Ceili Time with Enda and Seamus McGlone. I knew Enda from his playing with Copperplate Ceili Band, but this was my first time hearing the two brothers at a ceili. They played every dance with ease, from Antrim Square to Sliabh Fraoch, plus a couple of special waltzes, the Waltz Country Dance and the Waltz Cotillion, and quicksteps as well.

A music and singing session passed the time between the afternoon and evening ceilis, and Maureen even served fresh fruit salad, so many people stayed on and spent a full day here. The lucky ones were those in the dozen or so camper vans parked behind the hall, whereas others were staying in hotels, self-catering, B&Bs and private homes around the area.

In any case, no one wanted to miss the Annaly Ceili Band on Sunday night, one of the busiest ceili bands in set dancing and deservedly so. They played rousing reels with inspiring tune changes, and in the Sliabh Luachra and Ballyvourney Jig sets I found their polkas and slides to be as good as they come—plenty of tempo and lift even if they are from Longford and a long way from Sliabh Luachra. Every set was more fun than the last, with more people becoming infected with that dancing high Maureen supplied so much of this weekend. Maureen even gave Sean Duggan a moment in the spotlight when he danced a few of his always-hilarious reel steps for us.

Bank holiday Monday brought spectacular weather and the festival’s final ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band. Everyone brought along fresh excitement for the day, not to mention fresh shirts for the frequent changes required to keep my partners from noticing how wet I was. I loved beginning with a Sliabh Luachra and the second Sliabh set of the day, the Sliabh Fraoch, was more fun than ever with the Abbey’s music. During a break between sets, Maureen started everyone singing Happy Birthday without letting us know who it was for, and then she suddenly surprised box player Ger Murphy with a present, which the crowd augmented with lots of cheers and kisses. Ger returned the favour just before the last figure of the Plain Set when he called on everyone to give three cheers for Maureen, and we obliged with pleasure. She had promised us it would be the best Plain Set ever, and indeed it was impossible for anyone to recall one better! At the end of the set, not only was there applause and cheers, but also the devotional bowing I had witnessed on Friday had spread like a flu virus!

After the national anthem there were lots of handshakes, hugs and kisses as everyone headed home, basking in a genuine and long lasting set dancing high. It may have dwindled by the time you read this, but I expect it will be back the next time I visit Ballyfin.

Bill Lynch

Violau midsummer

The Midsummer Set Dancing Weekend brought Johnny Reidy Ceili Band for a second visit to Violau, a village near Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, 22–24 June. Organiser Sabine Surholt reports on the experience.

Midsummer—a traditional date at Violau. More than eighty dancers met in the middle of the Westliche Wälder near Augsburg to spend a weekend dancing. As in previous years, our favourite teacher Gerard Butler had time to show us how to dance properly.

There was a big hello when many friends met on Friday evening as we started with our first ceili. There were people from all over Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Ireland—and Australia!

For the workshop Gerard had a lovely surprise—he taught us the Dublin Set. The choreography is rather challenging but the fun and the laughter we had were out of this world. Although it took us more than one workshop to learn it, none of us would have wanted to miss it. We think it is a great set and it is not only fun to dance it but also to watch it. Compared to the Dublin Set, the Roscommon Half-Set and the Longford Set were quick to learn. We even had time for some steps.

Some other activities took place in the foyer where people gathered there to work on large jigsaw puzzles. For other recreation there were tea and coffee, soft drinks and beer in the fridge and a never-ending variety of finger food.

Talking about food—the Bruder Klaus Heim lived up to its high standard again and offered a delicious choice. Due to the brilliant weather we had the great pleasure of eating outside on the terrace. For breakfast we were even allowed to pick some verbena in the garden for our herbal tea. We were very well looked after and the staff did everything to make us feel at home. We could even take a quick swim in the outdoor pool, thanks to the sunshine, but most of us sat on the edge and just cooling our feet and enjoying conversation.

Ceilis are always the most exciting part of the schedule and we were very happy to have the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band with us. It was very entertaining just to listen to the band’s music being played so well but it was even greater fun to dance to it. We had three lovely ceilis and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Still there was the odd interruption—people from the sixteenth century appeared in strange clothing and danced to historic music. That was the serious part of the weekend and it gave everyone a rest to sit and watch. Then Johnny Reidy played the Ballyvourney Jig Set, and the costumed dancers decided to dance the set in long skirts, bodices and bonnets. The important message here: Nobody fainted, we just had quite red faces.

After the ceili we loved sitting and talking and listening to some music by some of the dancers in session. Sometimes this goes on for the best part of the night. So usually on Sunday morning we feel a little older than the dates in our passports show. However, this year the average age was down by at least fifteen years! The boy’s choir of the cathedral of Augsburg first sang for us and then joined in the dancing. It was lovely.

So we spent a splendid weekend in Augsburg and decided to do it again—21st–23rd June 2013. Hope to see you there.

Sabine Surholt, Welden, Germany

Mournes and Bal Feirste in Gennetines

The Co Down based Mournes Ceili Band started their 2012 international career with a bang at Le Grand Bal de l’Europe in France in July. They were part of the group Bal Feirste who brought great Irish music and set dancing to Gennetines where Le Grand Bal is always held. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing or dancing to the band, they are a comparatively new band, but already well known in the northern counties of Ireland. They are led by Declan Magee (keyboard), and his three playing partners are his sister Donna(banjo), Joanne Grant (accordion) and Niall McCrickard (drums).

Le Grand Bal and Gennetines have been mentioned much in Set Dancing News and there is no doubt that for the 2,500 plus who daily attend this July week of ‘Glastonbury for dancers’ each year it is a very special international dance festival with dance workshops for the many regional dances in France (including dances from Alsace, Gascogne, Pays Basque, Poitou, Bretagne and Provence) as well as many others, this year including dances from Quebec, Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina, England, Ireland, Wales, Estonia, Israel, Greece, United State (Cajun and rock ’n’ roll), Sweden and Senegal.

All the music is live—yes, at all the workshops and bals (ceilis). The Mournes came into their own and their music added an extra level of excitement to the energy of the Bal Fierste dancers, both at the workshops, bals and the much acclaimed spectacle. Out of the ninety or so groups teaching at the festival, only a few are asked to provide a show, the spectacle, on stage. The Bal Feirste group of set dancers included well known Belfast set dancers Tim Flaherty, Fergus Fitzpatrick, Sean Leyden, Michael Walker, Vanessa Franchetti and Annette Collins, and were admirably assisted by French dancers Emmanuelle Delepine, Fanny Lhotte and Dominique Gely.

The high profile spectacle gave both the dancers and the band a chance to shine in front of an audience in excess of 500. Fergus, along with Tim, had put together a clever piece of seamless choreography incorporating figures from various sets as well as some French bourrées danced to Irish Jigs. The choreography allowed the dancers to show a remarkable blend of skill, energy and a joie de vivre that is uniquely Irish. The on-stage performance also included the singing skill and charm of the ubiquitous Michael Walker—where hasn’t he been seen!

I was at the spectacle and even my French is good enough to know that the audience were incredibly impressed by the skills and energy of the dancers, which were clearly raised to a higher level by the quality and liveliness of the music from the Mournes Ceili Band.

The Bal Feirste teachers Tim, Fergus and Sean, supported by live music from the Mournes Ceili Band, provided three two-hour workshops and two half hour ‘express’ workshops to show basic steps and more advanced battering steps, as well as two bals. The workshops, at times for over twenty sets, provided real attention to detail with clear guidance to the students in both French and English. At the workshops attendees enjoyed the lively reels, jigs, polkas, flings and hornpipes played by the band. The following sets were taught: the Williamstown, Claddagh, Cashel, Clare Lancers and Labasheeda, as well as the Kildownet Half-Set. The use of demonstration groups to show the figures (a picture paints a thousand words) and to repeat the more difficult sections where necessary, worked very effectively. The great music, a delight to hear and to dance to, considerably helped the group demonstrate the lively fun which is what set dancing is all about. The band helped considerably by being able to effortlessly, and quickly, adjust the pace of the music to suit the beginners’ and the teachers’ requirements. We were lucky to be represented by such excellent ambassadors of set dancing and Irish music.

The workshop students and the audience at the spectacle were wowed with the quality of the music and the dance tuition. This showed in the acclaim all received at the spectacle and in the enthusiasm of those attending the workshops and the many who were repeat attendees from previous years.

There were many impressions for me. Some that will stay forever include the music, which always managed to get all feet tapping, and the battering steps taught by Fergus and Vanessa, with clever attention to detail and at a pace which allowed all to understand. The humour of all the teachers was infectious and had everyone laughing and smiling. The overall impression for me was the energy and enthusiasm of the dancers and musicians which ensured memorable experiences for all.

Finally, congratulations to our extremely effective musical and set dancing ambassadors—they did us proud in very august company.

Ashley Ray, Ardglass, Co Down

Brogan gold

Mary and Tony Brogan celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in the Carlton Shearwater Hotel, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, on August 5th. Tony’s military training could be seen in the invitation—not only were we given a timetable for the day, we were given directions to the hotel and one email, one landline, and two mobile phone numbers to contact with our RSVPs!

Mary is from Galway and Tony is a Dub. Mary has been set dancing for over 65 years; she danced sets at house parties and American wakes as a child. Tony, a fíor céilí dancer, was introduced to set dancing when he and Mary returned from their honeymoon. He thought that the set dancers were a “wild bunch.” It was not unknown when the children were young for Tony to stay at home, minding the children, while Mary joined her brothers at a ceili. No wonder the marriage lasted fifty years!

In 1977 Mary started dancing with a group in her house on Saturday nights. Eileen O’Doherty was one of the group. Eileen and Mary attended Connie Ryan’s class and also classes in the Pipers’ Club and passed on the sets to the group in the house. Mary has been teaching sets ever since. The céilithe that Mary organised in St Joseph’s School for the Blind will be long remembered. The hospitality was second to none—we were offered tea before the ceili, during the break and after the ceili.

Mary and Tony started their celebrations with Mass at the hotel, followed by a delicious meal for about 150 guests. More than 100 of us joined the fun for a wonderful ceili with Matt Cunningham, Ita Cunningham, P J Daly and Larry Cooley. It was a ceili in the true sense of the word—a social gathering with music, songs, storytelling and dancing. The entertainment and variety thereof surpassed anything we had ever experienced. The dancing started with Mary and Tony’s first waltz; Mary insisted that we not leave them on their own on the floor for too long. The first set of the evening was the South Galway. There were some interesting variations in one of the figures and Mary told us not to worry as there would be classes starting in September! The dancing was interrupted by strawboys, and even though they were well disguised, Celia Gaffney recognised a certain fiddle player from Kilfenora. As is the custom, the bride and groom were kidnapped to join the set.

Marie O’Sullivan from Youghal, Co Cork, and Marie Philbin from Galway showed us some lovely steps, danced to wonderful hornpipes, carrying on the tradition of Marie’s father and Joe O’Donovan, two great dancing masters who did so much for dancing.

Mary’s oldest brother, Seán Burke, is a great seanchaí and told us yarns about the observation test and the digging, and filling in, of holes.

A buck set took over the dance floor. Mary and Tony’s son Cormac, looked very fetching in a blond wig and short dress. I am not sure about the tights and socks! It is rare enough to see an adult mother and son partnering each other in a set but rarer still to have both of them wearing dresses. Mary outshone her son in the fashion stakes—she was as elegant as usual and her handbag had the same material on it as her dress, lovely! How she danced in those high heels, I do not know. Liam O’Shea was not quite so fetching in his granny grey wig and grey skirt. Anthony Pepper had a lovely blue-green-pink-yellow ensemble but had a very strange accessory on his head. The sartorial prize for the buck set should maybe go to Jimmy Gavin, who purchased his outfit in America, memorable t-shirt and tights! Breda Hopkins (Kildare), Fionnula Brogan (son Darragh’s wife) and Siobháin Brogan (Cormac’s wife) were the wardrobe mistresses so the bucks did not have to bring their own dresses and wigs.

Mary’s youngest brother and his son danced a double brush dance to the tune of Some Say the Devil is Dead to great applause. Tommy Carey brought two friends along to sing The West’s Awake. Matt Cunningham referred to them as “the three wild men from Headford.” Their harmonization was just amazing. Jimmy Padden sang Are You There Moriarty and Dave Culligan sang The Roads of Kildare, as he had often done so in St Joseph’s, when he was drumming with the Michael Sexton Ceili Band.

Chris Droney and Antóin MacGabhann played some lovely tunes for us and, as Mary said, “You don’t often get to hear someone who has been playing the concertina for eighty years.” We were truly honoured to hear Chris on concertina and Antóin on fiddle.

The dancing continued with sets and social dancing and a wonderful ‘set’ of rock ’n’ roll music . Mary prevailed on Matt to play a solo and he enthralled us with Mise Éire.

With all that dancing and listening, Mary and Tony knew we would need more than great music to keep us going so they provided us with superb sustenance during the break. A lovely touch was that the brack was supplied and buttered by Breda Hopkins and the St Joseph’s kitchen staff, carrying on another well loved and remembered tradition.

I retired soon after the official party ended but I believe the stories and songs went on till the wee small hours. I am sure that everyone present at the anniversary ceili would like to join me in thanking Tony and Mary for giving us such a wonderful day and great memories and to wish them many more happy years together.

Hilary Nic Íomhair, Castledermot, Co Kildare

Disks from the Allow Ceili Band and Ger Butler

From the very first note of the first track, the new CD by the Allow Ceili Band, called Rince Go Maidin, sets feet tapping, head nodding and eyes searching for a partner and three couples! This is pure set dancing music, rousing, steady and good fun, with plenty of polkas, reels, jigs, hornpipes and slides to dance a couple of sets. In fact you can dance both the Caledonian and Sliabh Luachra sets, though the tracks are scrambled among the fourteen on the disk—the tracks to use for each are listed on the cover.

The Allow are based in Freemount, Co Cork, and are called after a local river (pronounced AL-oh). They came to prominence as the 2007 All-Ireland ceili band champs, but regular set dancers in the area had already enjoyed dancing to them for years by then, so ceilis are important to them. Rince Go Maidin is the band’s first CD—contact them to get a copy.

Mr Sean Nós Dancing himself, Ger Butler, released a DVD dedicated to his favourite subject in 2010, Learn Sean Nós Dancing, and this year it is available in a new package from new distributors. Ger teaches ten steps for beginners, each explained and danced slowly several times without music, then repeated several times to slow music. The camera is locked on Ger’s lower legs all the time, making it easy to practice along; his explanation covers the essentials. The steps follow each other in sequence and after the tenth one, they are all danced together, slowly first and again at speed. The ten advanced steps benefit from the same treatment.

There are a few bonus bits of video—Ger dances a sean nós jig and a brush dance with his brother Colin. Best of all, the DVD concludes with a young team of set dancers from Abbeyknockmoy, Co Galway, expertly dancing two figures of the Roscommon Lancers Set. The step they use is included as one of the advanced steps. Music is by Tommy and Stephen Doherty and another Butler brother, Jim.

Learn Sean Nós Dancing is available from Sharpe Music at

The weather report from Kilrush

Nothing beats the pleasure of dancing outdoors in the summer, which is why set dancers keep a special place in their hearts for Kilrush, Co Clare, and the August set dancing festival organised by the local branch of Comhaltas. Three free open-air ceilis in the market square—what more could you ask for? Well, good weather, of course, but when Friday, August 10th, showed up dry, sunny and warm, I thought—Yes! Perhaps this is the year for 100% precipitation-free dancing in Kilrush. It never happened before in my experience but surely someday it has to happen!

It was such a nice day that I got stuck in heavy beach traffic, followed the sat-nav along miles of back roads to get ’round it and arrived in Kilrush with no time to spare for the start of the afternoon workshop. On a day like today an open-air workshop would have been bliss, but even indoors in Teach Cheoil it was excellent. The venue is the former Church of Ireland parish church, and with the soaring pointed windows and marble and stained glass angels looking down on us there are few dance halls like it. The dancers were a mix of experienced regulars and total beginners, which Mike Mahony from Shannon handled with ease. The highlight of the day was some much-needed practice on the Ballykeale Set, which hasn’t crossed over into ceilis yet as not enough know it. Mike is one of those responsible for reviving it and he promised to call it for us at this evening’s ceili.

When the workshop ended at 4pm, there was time to go exploring in the fascinating graveyard surrounding the old church, and take a tasty meal in Crotty’s Pub facing the square.

The ceili was well-timed to begin at 7pm, just as the sun became low enough to shade the platform in the square. While the floor sloped at a slight incline and was made of old plywood panels which have had a long and hard life, the dancing could only be labelled as very comfortable, thanks to the unlimited air surrounding us. Clear blue sky makes the best ceiling of all! Bands even sound better outside, with a purity never heard confined in echoey dance halls. Tonight this made Brian Ború Ceili Band’s music seem new and exciting, yet it also felt timeless, as though we could have been dancing a century ago, or a hundred years in the future. Perhaps we would have danced the Ballykeale Set back then, and perhaps will in the century hence, but it was a treat this evening that is worth repeating often. And thanks to the partners who kindly accompanied me all evening, even the sets I dance at every ceili on cruise-control were a delight. Halfway through the final Plain Set the street lights blinked on to relieve the deepening twilight, and when I got home the stars were shining brightly enough to make me think another good day was coming.

Rising on Saturday morning I thought I caught a glimpse of sun and blue sky, but cloud had taken over by the time I arrived for the mid-afternoon ceili. Never mind—Johnny Reidy Ceili Band can brighten any gloomy day! Dancers had converged here from the farthest reaches of Clare and all the adjacent counties, with a handful from beyond. A friend visiting from New York (great dancer but never heard the band before) had listened to all our praises for Johnny’s music, but when she heard the first eight bars before the first figure of the Corofin Plain Set, there was a distinctly sour expression on her face. Later she said she loved the music, once she got used to it. During that first set there were a few, very few, drops of rain for a moment, with none the rest of the ceili, so it probably wouldn’t be far off to say it was a 99.9% precipitation-free ceili. And several times while Johnny was playing the clouds parted to let the sun shine down on us—the ensuing cheers were as big as those we gave Johnny after each figure, so the sun must be as popular as he is! We finished dancing at 5.30pm, which left time to relax, chat and take refreshments alfresco at Crotty’s, the Kilrush equivalent of a Parisian sidewalk café.

Saturday evening was free of dancing so not to clash with a concert in Teach Cheoil, and there was more music on Sunday afternoon in the Vandeleur Walled Garden. The garden and surrounding forest was once the estate of the Vandeleur family, who developed the town of Kilrush, but now the land is publicly owned and the restored garden is a tourist attraction. Today there was a double attraction of free admission and a music session, and the weather was good enough to encourage the musicians to play outdoors. As I admired the flowers the music accompanied me to the far end, and I couldn’t resist taking some of the garden home with me—I bought some trees and flowering bushes.

The threat of rain at the evening ceili had been deemed real enough for the organisers to deploy a canvas canopy over the dance floor. We missed the sky over our heads while dancing, at least until the rain actually started after a few dry sets, and once it started it never stopped. But neither did the dancers thanks to the Five Counties Ceili Band, who’d never let precipitation or any other distractions get in the way of their powerful music! Anyone who wasn’t familiar with them before this ceili became immediate fans, and the packed floor for every set was ample proof. Dancing was especially tight because the edges of the floor were wet from the too-small canopy, so everyone just squeezed tighter for a bit of dry floor. Pity about the precipitation but overall the weekend was about two-thirds dry and still terribly satisfying.

We still await the year when we have a weekend of three 100% dry ceilis in Kilrush, but in any weather it’s always a highlight of the summer’s dance calendar!

Bill Lynch

Under the Rose Dome stars

History was made on Saturday 26th August, in Tralee, Co Kerry. Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club in association with the Festival of Kerry support group held the first ever ceili and dancing workshops in the magical Rose Dome, the big marquee which is the home of the Rose of Tralee pageant.

Proceedings began with two workshops in the two smaller domes. Triona Mangan gave a sean nós workshop, and Timmy Woulfe and this correspondent gave the set dancing workshop. Timmy taught the Ballingeary Jig Set, a variation of the Ballyvourney Jig Set danced to five slides with a break between each figure. I taught the Cuchculainn Set composed by Michael McGlynn from Co Louth. This set had four figures, jig, two reels and a hornpipe. Triona had fifteen dancers in her class and the set dancing workshop had four sets.

The ceili began at 6pm. It was evident early that we were going to have a great evening of dancing. The Striolán Ceili Band played their usual brilliant music, as we danced a great variety of sets including the Ballingeary Jig and Ballykeale sets.

The atmosphere was magical. The beautiful dome had coloured spotlighting but what really added to the magic was the starry sky appearance of the ceiling lighting. Dancers travelled from near and far to enjoy this special experience. Eddie Whelan brought a coachload of dancers from the Carlow, Laois, and Kilkenny area.

Complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits were available and enjoyed all through the day by the dancers. Hopefully this will become an annual event, adding our traditional culture to an already superb and very successful festival.

Joan Pollard Carew

Welcome Home Kerry

Enjoy Travel held their inaugural Welcome Home Kerry festival from Sunday 26th to Thursday 30th August. The spectacular Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, was home to the event.

I attended all five ceilis. It was wonderful to meet up again with some old friends who frequent the Enjoy Travel events all over the world. Local set dancers came along in good numbers to enjoy the five great ceili bands. Sunday night got off to a mighty start with the Long Note Ceili Band all the way from Co Tyrone. The music was superb and we danced a nice selection of sets, thanks to the MC Mickey Kelly. Monday night’s ceili saw Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band on stage. The floor was packed all night as a large crowd of locals attended this ceili. On Tuesday night the Annaly Ceili Band played their hearts out as visitors and locals danced the night away to the brilliant music. The local Neily O’Connor Ceili Band played magic music on Wednesday night to the large crowd of dancers who gathered. Thursday night was the final ceili when we danced to Con Herbert and Mountain Road Ceili Band.

Each night locals and visitors continued their dancing to the numerous social bands in the ballroom. I was delighted and privileged to catch up with Catherine and Jimmy and the Moynihan Brothers. One of the best ambassadors of music and song, Dermot Hegarty from Co Longford, delighted the crowds with his songs as he closed the night and the dancing section of the festival, on Thursday night. Mick Mackey and the session musicians entertained the large gathering each night way into the small hours of the morning.

This festival was another success story for Enjoy Travel and no doubt will be repeated next year.

Joan Pollard Carew

The Dancing Man

From dawn ’til dusk he’s in the bog, with sleán and billycan
Alone, foots turf throughout the day, that’s Tom, the Dancing Man
Through hail and rain and sunshine, his skin soon turns to tan
He digs this soil, this Celtic sod, he’s Tom, the Dancing Man
The peat’s stuck up his nostrils, throughout his hair, its ‘clang’
Between his toes and fingernails, poor Tom, the Dancing Man
Unto the fields next day he strolls, tends cattle whilst he can
These days are never ending now for Tom, the Dancing Man
For silage through mid-summer, the dancing he must ban
He’ll not trip the light fantastic now, aahh! Tom, the Dancing Man
And as the shadows lengthen and toil of day is done
To well-earned rest he trundles home, poor Tom, the Dancing Man
The chicklets now all flown the nest, their childhood race is ran
With Noreen, labors all alone, tough Tom, the Dancing Man
But Friday nights are special and he’ll never change his plan
With Noreen to dance by his side, that’s Tom, the Dancing Man
The sets and half-sets ’round the floor and shuffling all he can
With life-long partner Noreen, twirls Tom, the Dancing Man
Helter, skelter, up the aisle, swishing, swirling all the while
Twisting, spinning down the line, making shapes and keeping time
Stepping, stomping ’round the hall, spins and swings with one and all
Shuffle, shuffle, three steps four, changing partners, tricks go leor
Strutting Clare and Kerry sets amidst his native clan
’Round and ’round, all night he turns, that’s Tom.
He is ‘The Man.’

Michael ‘Schooner’ O’Connor

Dedicated to Mr Tom Hogan, the best, nay, the greatest set dancer in Iveragh and a member of the Moorings Set Dancing troop in Portmagee, Co Kerry.

Farewell to Cavan

After two great fleadhs in 2010 and 2011, the third Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Cavan town was not to be missed, especially as it was the final one before the festival moves to Derry next year. The Fleadh is a unique event for dancers, not just because of the nightly ceilis, but also because of the competitions which choose the top set, céilí and sean nós dancers. There are music competitions, concerts, sessions and many other entertaining events which attract the enormous numbers to what is said to be the world’s biggest festival of Irish culture.

The festival lasts nine days, but the biggest days of the festival are the final weekend, which I attended from Thursday to Monday, August 16 to 20. I went to Cavan a day earlier than I did on previous years—it’s the first time they had a ceili on the Thursday—arriving that afternoon. In my typical serendipitous fashion (or is it laziness?) I had no accommodation organised, but I showed up at the house I stayed in last year in the nearby village of Ballyhaise and the family were kind enough to look after me again. Cavan town centre was in full Fleadh mode, and I wandered the streets admiring a few new shops, hoping to meet someone I knew and soaking up the early atmosphere.

Suffering an aversion to traffic jams, especially in parking lots, I made my way early to the ceili in the Cavan Crystal Hotel. And it’s a good thing too, because I was able to witness a couple of teams getting ready for the senior set dancing competition on Saturday. Half of each team were missing, but the remaining two couples danced figures from the Moycullen and Claddagh sets as though all were present. Meanwhile, dancers drifted in and the Long Note Ceili Band got ready for a 10pm start, and I was excited because they were a new band for me. Except not entirely new, as two of the four members, Brian Ward and Ciarán Kelly played with Copperplate and Paul Mongan was with the Emerald, so they made music that was familiar, lively and fantastic for dancing. Joining a few sets with my hand raised, I met some new partners, including one friendly, chatty lady who said she found it impossible to ever remember sets. She was a good dancer, but it was true, even for our Connemara Set, which I consider the easiest of all. Dancing is the only chance in life I get to lead anyone, and I like to take full advantage of it.

On Friday I went back into town, aimlessly wandering the streets, hoping to find something to entertain me, at least until 2pm when Cissy’s Kitchen opened—I was certain to get good entertainment there. For the past couple of years this was the best thing about Cavan outside of the ceilis! It’s part theatre, part session, a bit of history and mostly high comedy. Cissy resides in a pretend Irish kitchen from the time when electric light bulbs were the only modern convenience—and the bill for them was causing her trouble that day too! She lives with her husband Mick and his mother Grannie Annie, a sweet, hardworking lady that Cissy despises. This was part of the storyline this year—Cissy was planning to do away with her mother-in-law and use proceeds of the life insurance policy to pay off the mortgage and avoid being evicted. But that story was only part of the show—most of the entertainment came from Cissy’s ad lib interaction with the audience. Played by Cavan woman Breege Moyles, who is blessed with a razor sharp tongue and a wit as quick as lightning, Cissy was riotously funny, insulting Mick and Grannie, bantering with anyone and everyone, shaving the men with a cut-throat razor, protecting the modesty of ladies in revealing summer tops, and encouraging anyone with a talent to sing, recite, play or dance. Mick was forever handing out sweets, brack with butter and jam, and even freshly cooked rashers. He brought a donkey in regularly to meet the crowd. The audience was constantly coming and going, staying for just five minutes, or as long as two hours in my case—opening hours were from 2 to 10pm. Cavan would certainly have been a lot duller with out Cissy! I’d recommend that RTÉ consider her for a comedy series which would surely equal Mrs Brown for tasteful hilarity!

When I finally gave up my kitchen seat to the next person, I stepped outside to admire the donkey, goats, bonhams, ducks and chicks, then climbed a few steps to the best tea room in town. Cissie’s Kitchen was in an old riverside mill and just outside there was a yard bordered by a steep little cliff, a quaint and remarkable spot right in the centre of Cavan. The tea rooms on the top floor of the mill offered a huge choice of homemade bread and cakes with unlimited servings of tea and coffee, all for a hard-to-believe price. Both Cissy and the tea rooms were operating for charity.

For most people, the Friday night ceili offered both a new band and a new venue. Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band were visiting from New York, playing their first ceili in Ireland in the Backyard Arts Centre, a beautiful old stable building converted into a fine venue. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pride of Moyvane years ago in New York—I was late arriving at a ceili where the dancing was in full swing. Often the music in the US can be somewhat tamer than what I’m used to, but as soon as I stepped into the hall, I was immediately transported back to Ireland—it was the real thing. So I was curious to see what Irish dancers would think of them and was only delighted to witness (and take part in) the reaction—there were claps, shouts and cheers after nearly every figure, and plenty of raucous outbursts during the figures as well. With such rousing, robust music that can’t be mistaken for any other band, I hope they play for us again soon in Ireland—otherwise book yourself a flight to New York! The Backyard worked well for the ceili, with nearly enough room for everyone—a couple of sets overflowed to an adjoining room. The hotel would have been ideal tonight, especially as all the other ceilis were held there, but it was busy with a wedding, so the ballroom was unavailable. Some said it was a challenge to find their way here, others failed, but it was worth the trouble for a brilliant night.

Set dancing competitions kept me in the Cavan Crystal Hotel nearly all afternoon and evening on Saturday. The teams danced at such a high standard they were fascinating to watch, especially as they were accompanied by great musicians like Micheál Sexton and Tommy Doherty. There were also long periods spent waiting for the results to be announced, so a day spent here was an odd mix of excitement and tedium. I was particularly interested in the senior senior competition for those aged 35 and beyond, as I fall somewhere within that category. The number of competitors doubled since last year to four, and a team from Waterford won with a beautiful version of their local Ballyduff Set. The half-set contest was notable for the award presented to a team from Co Laois who danced their Ballyroan Set in competition for the 34th time! They placed third, behind Waterford (the Ballyduff winners from the over-35 competition) and the winning half-set from Kilcummin, Co Kerry, who danced the Kildownet Half-Set.

The highlight of the day was the senior (18 and older) set dancing competition, highly anticipated, huge crowds and a charged atmosphere. Competition schedules are never to be taken as fact, as this one was at least two hours late. Several teams danced the Cavan Reel Set with fascinating intricate footwork, but the Moycullen Set, which we all dance now, was a revelation to me and looks spectacular on stage. It was danced by the Sliabh Luachra team, and they had to dance it again in a tiebreaker because in the initial results they tied with a set from Clare doing the Plain Set. In the final results, Clare came third, Sliabh Luachra second, and the team from Kilcummin won with the Claddagh Set, another well-chosen set. Their elation was clear when they danced the third figure to celebrate their win. In addition to medals and a silver cup, Gerry Flynn awarded the winners a week-long Enjoy Travel holiday. The biggest winner of the competitions was probably Adrian Moriarty, younger brother of box player Conor Moriarty, who trained all the Sliabh Luachra and Kilcummin teams and danced with Sliabh Luachra.

There was little time to spare between the conclusion of the competitions and the start of the Saturday night ceili, both in the hotel ballroom. Hotel staff emerged immediately to clear chairs, rubbish, drinks and people from the room, and meanwhile the queue for the ceili stretched from the admission desk, up a flight of stairs and out into the hotel foyer. The big attraction? The first appearance of the Abbey Ceili Band in Cavan. The band set up at high speed and it must have started just twenty minutes late. Those of us watching the competitions must have wanted to try and emulate the winning performances, but there just wasn’t the space on the floor to dance the Moycullen in the same style! But there was excellent overflow dancing in a timber-floored room open to the ballroom at the back—space and air in abundance, compared to the packed and sweltering main ballroom. Still, when the Abbey are playing, little else matters as long as you’re dancing!

The town centre was thronged on early Sunday afternoon, then later I headed to the Cavan Crystal Hotel for more competitions. This time it was the sean nós dancing, the newest dance competition which was only added to the programme two years earlier at the first Cavan Fleadh. All the other competitions are open only to those who won in their county and province, so only the best of the best compete for the final. Sean nós however is unrestricted and open to all, so a large number of dancers had entered with a wide range of skill. The audience was polite and restrained during the performances in the senior competition, with two men and thirteen woman participating by my count. Tommy Doherty played music for everyone, mostly reels, though the braver ones chose jigs, and one even did a jig and reel. Sharleen McCaffrey of Athlone was the well-deserved top winner.

Finally, a competition ending early enough to get ready for the ceili! A rest and a bite to eat from the handy SuperValu store across the road, then I was ready to go to Matt Cunningham’s ceili at 10pm. Matt traditionally plays on Sunday night at the Fleadh, and he seemed charged by the excitement of being here. In fact, he was positively super-charged in the second half, and brought everyone else on the floor along with him. Matt is usually the one to announce the winner of the top competition of the Fleadh, the ceili band contest, but by the time the ceili finished we were left wondering. I looked on Facebook, failed to spot it there, but Twitter came to the rescue—it was the Awbeg Ceili Band, alias the Five Counties, so all the set dancers who knew them well were delighted.

The Fleadh is mostly finished on Monday, but hoards remain in town to sample the relax atmosphere and music in pubs and on the street. When I went to town, I had one destination in mind—a 2pm appointment at Cissy’s Kitchen. A crowd collected at the gates awaiting entry, and when Mick opened them and we rushed to the kitchen, a mournful keening filled our ears. Inside, poor Grannie was laid out on her bed with Cissy mourning her with a bandaged head and arm and a black eye. Privately, when Mick was out of the kitchen, she admitted to a major altercation with Grannie in the night and having done her in. Then when Cissy had gone out, Grannie revealed herself to be alive and having inflicted Cissy’s wounds with an axe! The whole funny story unfolded gradually over two and half hours, interspersed with songs, music, recitations and dancing. The priest arrived with three nuns for more keening. Finally when the insurance man arrived, a death certificate was produced, the insurance policy redeemed and, once he was out the door, Grannie rose from the bed and all were delighted at the success of their scheme to clear the mortgage. It was all for fun, yet it was fully engaging, as though we were watching life unfold just as it does in any real kitchen. Except life is far funnier in Cissy’s Kitchen! It’s the one reason I’m sorry that Cavan isn’t going to be a Fleadh town for a long while, but I hope this wasn’t the last time I see Cissy and her family.

The farewell ceili with Johnny Reidy was eagerly anticipated on Monday night, with a scheduled 9pm start. I was a bit dismayed that the usual surge of dancers didn’t materialise before the ceili, with a lighter than usual crowd for the first Corofin Plain Set. But after an hour the floor was thronged, probably the biggest ceili of the weekend. It turned that there was confusion about the time, with many preferring to believe the 10pm time given in the official Fleadh programme. As a result, Johnny kindly added an extra set to the ceili (a total of nine!) as so many had turned out on a Monday night to dance to him. This made a tremendous night even better and served as the best way to finish the Cavan Fleadh.

After the national anthem goodbyes were exchanged all around, anticipating our next ceili as well as next year’s Fleadh in Derry. They seem to get better over the years so we can look forward to another great festival next August.

Bill Lynch

In love with Labasheeda

There’s a lot to like about Labasheeda and its Dan Furey Weekend. First of all, the village in southwest Clare is situated on the banks of the Shannon River and is drop-dead gorgeous! The whole area is special for the peace and beauty of the land and sea. Second, they seem to love set dancing in Labasheeda, have built a fine hall within the walls of their old church, and demonstrate superb taste in music. So naturally the dancing is brilliant. And finally, it’s not just set dancers who run the festival—the entire village is involved. Duties are shared among a large team and outlined on an enormous roster. And the events are not just for dancers—there’s a village parade and local non-dancers come to the ceilis to support the bar and barbecue, and for the music and atmosphere too, no doubt!

My feelings about Labasheeda seem to be shared by lots of set dancers, as friends were mentioning it everywhere I danced in August, and in fact when I arrived in the village for the opening ceili on Friday the 24th, there were many of the same faces I met in Ballyfin, Kilrush and Cavan. And many of the same bands overlapped at these weekends, but the only one to play at all four was the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, who were giving the weekend a great start tonight. The opening speeches began just in time for the dancing to start on the dot at 10pm. A packed floor soared through the sets, thanks to Johnny’s beautiful tunes, and the adulation after each figure included the newest method of showing one’s devotion to the band—whooping, bowing, raising hands high and even wiggling fingers! After the high excitement of the final Connemara Set, Johnny lulled us back to earth with his sweet, peaceful rendition of the national anthem. The weekend had already hit a high spot, with more to come in the two days still ahead!

The man of the morning on Saturday was Timmy Woulfe, at least for those of us who attended the set dancing workshop. (Those attending the traditional step dancing workshop with Michael Tubridy would have a different perspective.) Timmy wanted to start us dancing something easy, yet something unusual, so he showed the Ballingeary Jig Set. It’s not widely known, but has similarities to the Ballyvourney Jig, hence familiar and different at the same time. Where the Ballyvourney is danced as a half-set, top and sides alternating, the Ballingeary is a full-set version of the same figures, with everyone dancing a body together. The Ballykeale Set, the new set from Kilfenora, was next, and I am pleased to see it getting more airings lately. Before lunch we also had time for two figures, first and last, of the South Galway, a rare gem of a set I could never get enough of!

The community centre actually has two halls and the slightly smaller of the two is the main one (formerly the transept of the old church), and the other half (the nave, called the Long Aisle) is bigger but more basic. The bar is in the Long Aisle, and there were tables and chairs, so was the perfect place for lunch. Just outside the barbecue was warming up, so those who had ordered burgers had to be patient. Sandwiches, scones and tea were available in a tea room beside the main hall, and I had brought myself a bit of a picnic.

With lunch out of the way, dancing carried on at a delightful afternoon ceili with Brian Ború Ceili Band. Timmy Woulfe maintained his position of authority over us, calling nearly all the sets, including two from the workshop—the Ballykeale and South Galway. (He promised the Ballingeary Jig for the ceili tonight.) I test drove the Ballykeale with a partner who likes doubling at every opportunity—she approved it. Many years back when I figured out how to double, the South Galway was a particular favourite because of the chances to double and then swing in the last three figures—try it, it’s bliss! I was pleased to see that Brian Ború have kept their powerful fiddler, Caitriona Sears, and I now hereby admit to being very fond of Joe Hughes’ box playing too. Together with Brendan Vaughan on drums and Louise Vaughan on piano (husband and wife), they were an unbeatable combo! They played efficiently enough to complete eight sets with half an hour to spare, but hopes of dancing number nine were dashed when the organisers called time. All the earlier to enjoy the barbecue still in progress outside!

As further evidence of their good taste in music, the Dan Furey organisers brought us the Abbey Ceili Band on Saturday night. Timmy was again in charge as MC during the first half, and the band took over after that. This meant that the promised Ballingeary Jig Set was replaced by the Ballyvourney Jig, but it’s doubtful anyone else noticed as we whirled our way through it and all the other sets with heavy breathing, racing hearts and buckets of perspiration. The thick crowd in the main part of the hall encouraged me to try dancing in the Long Aisle, where there were a lot of drinkers, but it was roomy and much cooler. While the floor looked a bit basic, it was excellent to dance on, so I made sure to finish the night there.

The Dan Furey Weekend has a programme of events on Sunday unlike any other set dancing weekend, beginning with a visit to Dan Furey’s grave. The procession proceeds from there out to the end of an isolated peninsula jutting into the Shannon. Guarding the river against attack by Napoleon near the tip of the peninsula is a castle built two hundred years ago and still largely intact. Restoration has even added a timber floor, so we met here about midday for a session with a bit of dancing. There’s handy parking at the end of the peninsula, but reaching the castle involves a walk along the stony shore and through a field. The fortifications are still impressive, with walls, moats and bunkers. The solid stone Battery Castle has a squat appearance but offers a panoramic view over the river from the roof. It’s easy to see where they once mounted guns, with tracks and ironware still present, and elsewhere on the grounds circular iron rails for more guns had been recently uncovered. The castle was never used as intended because of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and the only shot fired was said to have damaged the nearby pier. The session began with a few words of the castle’s history, then there was set and sean nós dancing by local children, a song about the weekend and then set and step dancing by visitors.

After returning to the village, I was in time for the parade, which featured tractor-drawn floats with people acting out topical and amusing scenes. The Irish summer was a popular theme, with the occupants of one float attempting to dry the turf harvest with hair dryers and another literally drenching its participants with a constant shower! I was pleased to see trophies awarded to every float. There was more barbecue, a bouncy castle for kids, and of course, the Kilfenora Ceili Band for dancers! This proved to be a fitting climax for a great weekend. Spirits were high, everyone was full of fun and mischief, and the band drove the excitement with their rousing music. The crowds were such that I found myself enjoying the cool comfort of the Long Aisle, and had the company of lovely partners there. After seven sets, the Plain Set being the last, the band finished the ceili and closed the weekend with their definitive version of the national anthem.

For those finding it hard to leave after a weekend of enormous pleasure, a session began afterward in the Long Aisle, but I was soon ready to make my way home and contemplate my next visit to the lovely village of Labasheeda and its unique and excellent Dan Furey Weekend.

Bill Lynch

Finian de Brun

I think the shock passing of Finian de Brun has hit a chord with everyone who knew him. The traditional music and set dancing scene has lost a character who can never be replaced and all of us in the Brian Boru Ceili Band can only reflect on the many great times we had with Finian over the last decade. During that time we travelled the length and breath of Ireland, and when the wanderlust hit us, played at many ceilis in America, Spain, Portugal, Prague and Paris.

Finian lost his short battle with cancer on the 26th of July. I had only spoken to him a few weeks earlier about the prospect of him coming back to the band. He was very enthusiastic as he had purchased a new electric piano and was all set for a return. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to play the new keyboard.

Finian was one of three children born and raised in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, in a highly musical and cultural family. Finian’s father, Séamus, was originally from Cornamona in Co Galway and his mother, Brid, was from Tourlestrane, Co Sligo. Both Finian’s parents were singers and founding members of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. His father became president of Comhaltas in 1972 and also served in Seanád Éireann from 1977 to 1987.

With such strong family connections to traditional music, it was no surprise that Finian began learning fiddle and piano at age nine. He won the solo fiddle competition one year at the Roscommon Fleadh, and progressed through four grades of piano. He played piano for ceili bands while in school, including the Western Ceili Band which travelled all over Connaught.

Finian moved to Dublin in 1972, entering the civil service where he was assigned to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. He was to spend 35 years working in that area until his retirement in 2007.

It was in Dublin that Finian met his wife Mary O’Connor, who hailed from Clifden, Co Galway, and their marriage in 1979 was the beginning of more than three decades of a long and happy union.

Finian continued his interest in music when he moved to Dublin. He accompanied musicians of the calibre of Paddy Glackin and John Regan at various concerts and gigs around the country, and once played guitar for a recording by Tommy Peoples. He also played with the Sheelin Ceili Band in the mid-eighties, alongside the equally talented Paddy Treacy, Aidan Vaughan and Seamus Meehan.

It was in the late 1998 that I invited Finian to play with me for a set dancing night in the Mayfair Hotel in Bray (which in 2000 moved to Katie Gallagher’s Bar), and after a few nights the Brian Ború Ceili Band was born. For fourteen years Finian, along with Johnny Morrissey, Jimmy Flynn, Theresa Hughes and myself, have played for ceilis throughout the country and further afield. Finian played with the band on two CDs and also on live recordings for Raidió na Gaeltachta and RTÉ Radio 1 Ceili House.

Finian always looked forward with great enthusiasm to our journeys on the road. Like all of us, he had his own favourite venues, Omagh, Willie Clancy, Tubbercurry, the list goes on, but there is no doubt where his favourite was—Katie Gallagher’s, Bray. It is the spiritual home of the Brian Ború Ceili Band and everything about a Monday night in Katie’s was synonymous with Finian—dancing and the craic, that special something that’s hard to describe. Indeed, in much the same way that the lyrics from an American TV show once said “Where everybody knows your name,” that is Katie Gallagher’s on Monday nights and that was Finian. And perhaps it’s fitting that his last booking with us was in Katie Gallagher’s, back to the town where it all started, a circle complete.

I know that James, Johnny, Theresa and myself will miss Finian and we think of the many good times we spent in his company. Condolences to his wife Mary, brother Tadhg and sister Maureen.

Joe Hughes, Dublin

Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan, Birr, Co Offaly, was born in Ennis, Co Clare, in 1937, and died April 12th 2012.

Michael always loved dancing and Irish music even as a young man when he came to Birr in 1957. He played many instruments, the latest being the fiddle. He lived for his ceilis and would travel far and wide to go to the dances. He made many friends throughout his years dancing.

He also wrote the Birr Set which is now being danced throughout the country. Michael was a shy man and didn’t like any fuss, but would be very proud to know his dance is being taught worldwide in dancing circles.

He’ll be sadly missed. May he rest in peace.

Bid Ryan, Birr, Co Offaly

Amazing as always

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

Sincere thanks to everyone that attended the charity ceili in Knockaderry Community Center, Co Limerick, on Sunday the 29th of July. We were overwhelmed at such a crowd and also by the kindness of people who donated spot prizes and baked for the event. A special thank you to the Knockaderry committee for the use of their hall and to Kevin O’Callaghan who designed the flyers. A total of €1050 was raised for the Irish Cancer Society. The Striolán Ceili Band were amazing as always.

Teresa and Deirdre Lenihan, Newcastle West, Co Limerick

Newly composed sets

Dear Bill,

In light of continued composition in the traditional field, the committee of our club, Kerry Dancers, proposes a competition for newly composed sets. This seems logical: Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann includes in its Fleadh Cheoil programme recently composed ballads and tunes, all of which have been well received. Also, there is continued advancement in the sean nós dancing, which, too, is admirable.

In the field of set dancing the best known examples of newly introduced sets were the Antrim Square, the Port Fairy and the Lough Neagh, though the latter may be the revival rather than a newly composed one. Michael Loughnane, too, was to the fore with the Seit Durlas Eile (Thurles Set), so our proposal is not too revolutionary.

I can outline the format for the competition as follows—

  1. No entries before January 1st, 2013.
  2. Sets, broadly speaking, to be traditional in character.
  3. Finalists to be showcased on Friday May 10th, the opening night of the Sweets of May workshop at the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee.
  4. Adjudication on the quality of sets rather than performance on the night.
  5. No entry fees, and prize money to be announced following sponsorship negotiations.

Scripts to be sent to me as below. In the meantime, continued enjoyment to all your readers.


Timmy Woulfe, Gortnagross, Athea, Co Limerick

A first class job was carried out

Hi Bill,

Hope you are well. Can I please put my thank-you note in the Set Dancing News for the Birmingham set dancing weekend. I would like to thank as always, Kate Howes and Mary McParland, Geraldine Connor for looking after the door and Maureen Patton for doing the raffle and all the folks who donated raffle prizes and last but not least Pat Crotty and Kevin Monaghan and all who helped with the equipment. Linda Reavey, my number one, helped to put the floor down and take it up, loading and unloading the equipment from the van and putting up with me—a special thanks to her. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany did the workshops for me and a first class job was carried out with everyone pleased with the tuition. Triskell did me proud with lively music and the willingness to cater for anything that was asked of them, very many thanks.

The workshops attracted five sets at each session and I would like to thank the local set dancers for their support of the Saturday workshop, all four of them. One of the regular supporters of this weekend and who had travelled a fair distance commented, “You see more Birmingham dancers at a weekend in Ireland.” Spot on. Enough said!

I sincerely thank all the dancers that supported the weekend, the Birmingham and Midland dancers, the Glasgow girls, the Durham set dancers, the Manchester crowd and those from the south.

On a personal note I would like thank all my set dancing friends for their prayers and Mass cards so kindly given for me during my recent health problems. Your kind gestures and thoughts were much appreciated. Thanks for a lovely weekend and, God willing, we can do it all again next year.

God bless,

George Hook, Birmingham, England

Thanks for the wonderful care

Dear Bill,

Sincere thanks to everyone who supported the recent charity ceili in Gallonray House, Maudabawn, Co Cavan, to all who helped out on the day, donated food and prizes for the raffle and for the generous donations from those who were unable to attend. Lastly thanks to Eamonn Donnelly and Copperplate Ceili Band, who, as always, provided such good music and to MC Therese McConnon.

The proceeds amounting to €1,000 were donated to Virginia Health Centre in grateful thanks for the wonderful care given to our late mother Mary Kate O’Reilly.

Míle buíochas.

Geraldine Carragher and all the O’Reilly family

You can’t beat a hooley

Hi Bill,

Could I take this opportunity to thank everybody for their attendance at our Kealy’s Ceilis in our home this summer. We could never have guessed that the ceilis were going to be such a success. We had visitors from all over Ireland and even beyond. Needless to say we were overjoyed with comments like, “You can’t beat a hooley in the kitchen,” or “This was well worth finding,” to “Home from home.” Again we say ye inspired us and for that we are forever grateful. To open one’s house to the public nowadays maybe is a risk taker, but we are talking set dancers here so we say, “Risk? What risk?” We had on average eight sets every Thursday night so let’s continue the old tradition of house dances and make our grannies smile up there!

On another note we are dismayed to learn of the closure of Clonea Strand Hotel, Dungarvan, where we hold two set dancing events every year. We are left with no choice now but to cancel our events that have been advertised recently. We will not be seeking another venue. Sad as it may be, all is not lost. We will continue to hold more events at our house instead, but we want to say sorry if you had booked your room in the hotel. The management and staff have informed us that everybody involved will be contacted. Also we want to say to all dancers who attended our events in Clonea over the past eight years a big thank-you. We appreciated the support to no end, not to mention the words of praise and encouragement.

God Bless one and all. Bill, Tara and all involved in the magazine—thanks for everything and keep up the fantastic work.

Helen and Paddy Kealy, Old Parish, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

We are all grateful to him

Hi Bill,

It was good of Ian McLaren to put all us women right about how we should dress for set dancing. He must be very pleased that this year we all heeded his advice and were dressed to meet with his approval.

He admits he is a ‘relative newcomer’ to set dancing but is full of advice and I am sure we are all grateful to him for sharing it with us all through the pages of Set Dancing News.

Liz Ballantyne, Edinburgh, Scotland

Opportunity of winning a prize

Hi folks,

Down there in Set Dancing News in Kilfenora, thanks for giving us the opportunity of winning a prize that we can enjoy every day. You are doing us a very big service keeping us in touch with all that’s going on in our favourite sport, and giving us a taste of the events we can’t get to.

We look forward to the magazine dropping in the door, every issue.

Regards to all there.

Josie Forde, Arklow, Co Wicklow

Josie sent this note with her entry to the competition in the last issue, and we were pleased to draw her name as one of the winners. The others were Catriona Gleeson, Silvermines, Co Tipperary; Eileen Hackett, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; Bernadette Keely, Navan, Co Meath; Robert Kelly, Ballymahon, Co Longford; Nell Kennedy, Bruff, Co Limerick; Carmel Mulqueen, Broadford, Co Clare; Susan O’Connell, Killarney, Co Kerry; Rory O’Donnell, Meenaneary, Co Donegal; Margaret O’Riordan, Tralee, Co Kerry; and Jane Ormsby, Larne, Co Antrim. Thanks to Brian Ború, Deenagh and Swallow’s Tail ceilis bands for the prizes and to all those who participated.

The noise in number 36

Thank you, Bill,

For the CD Suas Leat I won in the Set Dancing News. I never win anything so I was thrilled to bits. The neighbours are complaining about the noise in number 36.

Thanks again, Bill. I’ve been getting the News since it came out.

Eileen Hackett, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow

Healthy and happy

It’s hard being a dance organiser because there are so many little things to attend to. However, getting sick is no fun and after many years of sickness on and off, I have made a vow to stay as healthy as possible. This includes making sure that all aspects of our set dancing events take this into account.

As both a dancer and also dance organiser, I am fortunate—to have two heads! No, what I mean is I know what it’s like to be in both sets of shoes (four feet?). Really, I do sympathise with how difficult it can be to get this all right but I know we must try harder.

Clean and non-sticky floors!

Incredibly important to preventing knee and ankle injuries when feet stick to the floor and knees go the other way! Clean floors are also important to ensuring there is minimal dust floating around, which can cause asthmatic attacks in those prone to them, extreme throat and eye discomfort, and chest coughs. Sweep, vacuum and mop is my recommendation to make sure you have all the bases covered.

If that’s too difficult, get the sean nós brush dancers to do a little bit of extra practice with their brushes before they do their act.

Plenty of fresh air and ventilation

Windows, folks, are a brilliant new invention that not only allow you to see out but also to let air in. I know this is a challenge in draughty Ireland but it’s really important to the auld lungs to have fresh air that has exchanged on a regular basis and is not stale, especially for those of us who are puffing at the end of each figure! I love the beautiful, big electric fans in the Sydney Gaelic Club—they are mighty!


Providing clean, plentiful water is essential to a good class or ceili and helps reduce headaches and general dehydration, particularly when it is very warm and there is little ventilation. It seems that many venues now expect people to bring their own water (including some well-patronised summer classes who charge for water). I applaud those dance organisers and venues who provide water free and do a good job—I encourage you to continue.

Clean toilets that flush, with soap and hand drying facilities

The reason we have a civilised, progressive society is not because we can put a man on the moon but because we have plumbing—cold and hot water on tap, toilets that flush and floors that drain water away. Lucky us. Except that sometimes we forget that proper hygiene is what will ensure we don’t have to deal with another polio epidemic, dysentery, cholera and all the other misery caused by poor hygiene.

Dancing involves lots of touching of hands—lovely—but obviously can be a source of infection if they aren’t clean. Clean toilets with enough loo paper, good old-fashioned bars of soap and a method of hand-drying are all essential. If hand-washing facilities can’t be provided, there is now also antiseptic lotion that can be rubbed on instead.

And finally, if anyone is thinking of upgrading their toilet facilities, know that the generally accepted ratio of sit-down toilets for women to men is three to one. And given that many more women frequent dance classes than men, this should also be taken into consideration. Isn’t that right, ladies?

Nora Stewart, Bywong, NSW, Australia

Articles continue in Old News Volume 75.

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

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