At last! The year-long wait for the seventh annual Step to the West weekend was over. It seemed like a lifetime ago since we booked our room on our departure from the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon in 2012, after what was an amazing weekend of dancing, sessions and craic! Will 2013 live up to all expectations, and be as enjoyable as the previous number of years? Of course it did!
Leaving behind a bright and sunny Tralee in the county of Kerry, we headed for the ferry to bring us across to County Clare, which is actually our own home county. Unfortunately the bright and sunny weather stayed behind, and a grey and overcast sky met us as we arrived at the Falls Hotel for our fifth visit to the Step to the West weekend. However, nothing was going to cast a grey cloud or dampen the spirits inside this grand and luxurious hotel—not by a long shot! At 5pm the car park was already filling up, and while checking in, it was great to see so many familiar and friendly faces relaxing and enjoying the proverbial calm before the storm. After a quick cuppa in the lobby with our friends Vera Meehan and Helen Kilgallen from Sligo, we made our way to the spacious bar, where the buzz of the weekend was brewing nicely. After a very tasty carvery dinner, we were settled in nicely for the first of many sessions over the weekend. That unique sound of a Clare session was soon in full swing, and it wasn’t long before the talented local musicians had a set on the floor, battering out the Caledonian!
I must mention that this weekend is not just all about the ceilis. Whilst these are no doubt the main attraction for many, there is so much going on, that whether you are a dancer or not, you will be kept entertained for the whole weekend. There were sessions before and after the Friday and Saturday night ceilis, with local musicians blasting out selections of reels that would firmly confirm you were in the Banner County. As if the music and singing wasn’t enough, we were treated to a brush dancing girl (whose name I unfortunately didn’t get), a sean nós demonstration from young Andrea Kennedy and an Irish dancing demonstration by Jenka Hoffmannova all the way from the Czech Republic. And of course, for those dancers who didn’t get their fill of dancing at the ceilis, there were plenty of sets danced on the spacious floor in the bar. On the Saturday night, the bar was hopping until approximately 2.30am with music by a man not far from his home, Micheál Sexton. This man sure has a gift when it comes to keeping the dance floor full of dancers, even though they have just come from a ceili! A mighty night was had with Micheál, whose mixture of sets, jiving, quicksteps and slosh, kept everyone thoroughly entertained. But it didn’t end there! From the bar, we made our way out to the lobby, where a floor had been specially laid for the late night revellers to dance the night away. At least fifteen musicians played in complete harmony together, which entertained not only the dancers, but anyone who was gathered around. With the lobby being so grand, a few of us were able to find a nice cosy spot for a sing-song, with Carmel Smith from Dublin leading the way. I even let my vocal chords loose and sang a few songs before we retired to our leaba at 5.30am.
Workshops for the weekend were in the very experienced and capable hands (or feet!) of Gerard Butler. As expected, a large number of dancers attended Gerard’s Friday night sean nós workshop to learn from the master. His friendly teaching style instantly makes you feel at ease, and in no time at all, dancers were sean nós dancing their way through the class with the greatest of ease. It was no surprise again that a large number of dancers turned out for Gerard’s Saturday morning set dancing workshop. Sore and tired limbs after the Friday night ceili were soon forgotten about, as Gerard got straight into the lovely and unique Rinkinstown Set. A most enjoyable set to learn, which we will hopefully see introduced to a lot more ceilis. Both the set and music (from the Salamanca Ceili Band’s new CD) were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. For those who seem to have endless energy, the Sunday morning workshop brought a different concept, with all 47 dancers wanting a workshop in jive, so Gerard taught the many types of steps. All in all, three fantastic workshops in three unique styles of dancing.
It is difficult to put on paper the words to describe the atmosphere during all four ceilis over the weekend. It is hard to convey the sheer enjoyment that each of the bands passed on to every single person in the ballroom. With the dance floor full at least fifteen minutes before the start of the first ceili, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out who was on stage. Of course, it was the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. The dance floor was full of enthusiastic dancers, eagerly awaiting the first chord of the first set of the first ceili of the weekend, and straight away the immaculately laid floor was put to the test, and was duly triumphant. We know everyone has their favourite ceili from the weekend, but for both of us, all four ceili bands brought their own unique sound, their own unique blend of reels, polkas and slides, and their own unique presence, made each ceili as enjoyable and entertaining as the other. Johnny Reidy, the Abbey, Swallow’s Tail and the Five Counties played their hearts out for the masses of dancers who attended each ceili. From the first set on Friday night to the last set on Sunday, each note which emanated from the stage had people dancing to their hearts’ content. Organiser Sean Longe was MC for the weekend, and he did a fantastic job of keeping everything in order and kept the dance floor and sets full for each ceili.
It would be inappropriate for us not to mention the management and staff of the Falls Hotel. Each member of staff should be highly commended for how they looked after everyone there so well. Whether in reception, the bar or the main ballroom, there was always a member of staff to give a helping hand. There was nothing we could complain about, everything from the food, including the now world-famous halftime tea and homemade scones at each ceili, to the spectacular views of the cascades, was amazing.
Ennistymon’s Step to the West has firmly established itself as one of the foremost and biggest weekends of the set dancing calender. This is a tribute to the meticulous planning of the organisers where visitors are royally treated and every single person made feel very welcome. Longe—pardon the pun—may it last! All that’s left now is another long year’s wait for the eighth Step to the West!
Keith and Carol McGlynn, Tralee, Co Kerry
Five Nations Conference in EnnistymonOh no, do you really have to go dancing? Can’t you just stay put and be bored and miserable for a while? Always happy, what a chore. Wish you could simply cry for a day and moan and complain? Well then, don’t go set dancing. And particularly, don’t go to Ennistymon, because every time you try to be miserable there, blooming dancing and bloody excellent music gets in the way!
Five people from five countries travelled there in January (not counties, countries) who, looking in from the outside the neighbours might have said, must be definitely fed up with having to be happy at all times, what with renting a cottage on the most storm-filled, mucky-wet and power-cutting weekend there could be on the west coast of Ireland. Must be mad, that lot. Obviously they took a wrong turn somewhere.
If you don’t dance and don’t understand anything about it, you could be excused thinking that those five weren’t the full shilling. One car even broke down on the way and had to be towed away (it’s still in the garage as we speak; awaiting a purse-lightening verdict), but it didn’t take those five to the verge of desperation. See, they were still in time for the first ceili—with Johnny Reidy, and you know what that means!
Those five hail from faraway places (nodding toward Bing Cosby, who sang about them—well, China and Siam, anyhow) South Africa, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and Denmark.
There are a good few of yez out there who can’t claim that they are too young to remember Electric Light Orchestra’s Mister Blue Sky—“. . . please tell us why you had to hide away for so long . . .” This particular weekend in Ennistymon and surrounds, Mister Blue Sky stayed in hiding altogether. Enter Mrs Lashing Rain, nee Highwinds—bah, so what! These five people weren’t there to gaze out to sea in the pretty yellow cottage in Lahinch. They had serious business, strictly set dancing business. You could argue that the wildness of the weather steel-enforced the concentration on steps, swings and sets, anything to avoid looking out. You could also argue that the wildness of the howling storm force winds enhanced the fire in the cast-iron solid-fuel stove which could have been a temptation to stay put on the couch. You could argue that they should have done so, seeing that with one car broken down on the way, the other was reversed out the drive so badly they nearly ended up in the ditch and were running late, which did not amuse the Swiss in the company. You could also argue that, in fact, it was all the wet and windy weather and breakdown stuff that made the five visitors more dance-entranced, more determined to enjoy. And boy, did they.
And it was also here in the cottage in Co Clare that on one occasion they made history, at the round table in the living room, with a gorgeous roasting fire in the stove that reddened the top of it. This was after a ceili, or before one.
The first tentative ideas were brainstormed for composing a set, a set to represent the continent, because these five were a motley bunch of continentals (with exception of the Irish). They agreed on hatching a Swiss set—ah, neutrality is a fine thing. And in order for it to symbolize Swiss things, they conjured up images of mountains (arches), lakes (swings or needle-threading), the fact that they drive on the right (house around the wrong way), are landlocked (unbroken chains) and, um, chocolate. Or fondue. Or cheese. No general movement was found, yet, to symbolize chocolate. There ought to be enough ingenuity though to come up with something tantalizingly chocolatey to dance. Let’s see. It’s easier in music—which ceili band plays in the most Willie Wonka way? That weekend, head to head, or bar to bar, there were all the varieties of sweets to dance to—intense, dark, voluptuous (Johnny Reidy); sweet, smooth, milky (the Abbey); nutty, creamy, crunchy (Swallow’s Tail); light, melting, flowy (the Five Counties); and swirling, twisty, crackling (Michael Sexton who played for afters).
And the composition of the Swiss set, did it move along? You know, it is said that it took two years to compose the Rinkinstown Set. It could take a decade so with the Swiss set, taking all the negotiations between the nations into account, and the periods of time when they don’t meet and can only architecturally work on the set on the email drawing board. Ha ha, there might never be a Swiss set, but loads of belly laughs were generated! (Hmm, I wonder, can that actually generate electrical energy? Who needs a windmill if you can generate your own energy by laughing! Having said that, there are other ways in which energy could be harnessed in the human body—no limits to the imagination!)
The five nations reconvened the following day around the round table, but instead of advancing the set, they reverted to slagging. Everybody was dragged under the cold white light of the inquisition room, and no one was spared. Bitching galore.
“What do you think of that one?”
“And who is she, anyway?”
“And what does he bring?”
“Did you see these ones?”
Great entertainment in court of final judgement until they were all utterly exhausted—well, they’d run out of people to tear apart. There is a place and a time for bitching, and this was it! On realizing this, they fell around the floor, laughing, and continued with tearing themselves apart! For example, it’s easy to mock the poor Swiss—ah, no, awful, all this all-penetrating timekeeping. And the rest were indeed at numerous points in time (!) reminded by the Swiss that they were late, and not to get lost in translation, to a Swiss being on time means having to be early, which meant that they in retaliation kept saying how they were now 3 minutes, 56 seconds and 12 nanoseconds late. Disaster!
No trouble either at having a go at the South African for the all or nothing pragmatism and their money-pinching views that would give the Scots a run for their, er, money. The Dane, somehow, got off lightly, possibly because there isn’t much to say about the Danes. (Keep the hurleys in the cupboard, ’tis a joke!) The Irish also got their comeuppance with being too laid-back and doing, sadly, too much ‘poor-me’ time, so the rest had a chance of laughing this one off. And on the back of the German, well you just don’t want to know what they said . . .
There was one person they didn’t get great mileage out of. ’Twas Sean Longe. Mr Sean Longe, now to you and me. You don’t mock anyone who gives you such hot entertainment, right on the button. Every button was hit and switched on.
I bet Mr Seanie Longe was dead tired on Monday, after having been on the go the whole weekend. This time around he distinctly involved himself more with the punters and also took on MCing. He said every last scone was eaten and the crowds were bigger than last year—hmm, was there well-earned pride in his maturing voice?
Sean hasn’t changed anything since the day this dance-the-sets-fandango started. By now it’s a well-tried blueprint in a package that lacks nothing and suffers no complaints.
The five nations scattered then, bellies full of dance and craic. They knew they’d be back. Same line-up, back to County Clare, where, as the South African remarked, “The dancing is just so atmospheric, so buzzy!”
The Swiss was in the end satisfied with the timekeeping, and the German wanted to know what the regulations are—and where is the form to fill in for feedback? The Irish didn’t want to know that much of anything, and wasn’t particularly interested in either timekeeping or regulations. The Dane danced and laughed and then some more, and the South African was happy out with all the ceilis to be got for good value.
By the end of the day, they all though overcame their quirks and made plans for the next weekend. Together again, united in diversity, for Sets by the Sea in March. Oh, the German is taking on the planning, which surely means sauerkraut for dinner. Oh dear.
Mostly I travel alone to ceilis and set dancing weekends, but at least I have a constant companion on long journeys—my faithful satnav. I trusted her completely to guide me all the way from Kilfenora to Omagh, County Tyrone, on Friday February 1st for the opening of the Omagh Workshop Weekend. Even after years of familiarity, I still marvel at the sophistication of the device, from the satellites in the sky to a continent’s worth of roads stored within—plus she talks to me! Helpful hints all the way. She took me along a familiar route as far as Cavan, then once I crossed the border into the north, I was exploring unexplored roads. At the same time, the wet clouds that had been following me in the south vanished and I was led over a mountain with huge spinning windmills under a deep blue sky in golden evening sunshine. Finally after a bit more than four hours on the road, I heard those satisfying words, “You have reached your destination,” and arrived at the town’s Silverbirch Hotel. Arriving at the very same time from Dublin and parking beside me was Pat Murphy, our workshop tutor.
After checking in, a meal in the hotel, a shower and a change of clothes, I ventured down to the ballroom where a workshop was already in progress. Marian Doody was teaching the Priest and his Boots, and I could have kicked myself for not coming down on time, as it’s the only bit of step dancing I’ve managed to learn. I did almost kick myself when I tried to dance it at speed with those who had attended the full workshop, so I could have used the practice! I avoided further embarrassment after that by just watching, at least until the ceili started. The Annaly Ceili Band, one of Longford’s most popular three-piece ceili bands, were responsible for our music and gave us plenty of great dancing. They featured their original lineup with the return of piano accompanist Brendan Daly, who retired from the band last year and was just filling in tonight. He seemed to enjoy the ceili as much as all the dancers. The ballroom was divided into two rooms with two parallel dance floors, but all the sets fitted in front of the band with no overflow needed. The Omagh ladies are all superb dancers and desirable partners, plus there were ladies visiting from Scotland and Mayo, so there was no reason to skip a set. It was in honour of the Mayo pilgrims that we danced a most welcome Newport Set—but the rest of us really like it too!
Friday’s ceili was the last of the dancing in the Silverbirch Hotel. For the rest of the weekend we shifted five miles out of town to Dun Uladh, a beautiful purpose-built cultural centre. I had been here about ten years before but was delighted to see major improvements since then. The wall at the back of the hall once displayed old farming tools, but now it has been removed and opened up into a balcony full of theatre seating. But that mattered little at Pat’s workshop on Saturday morning as we all wanted to be on floor for the new sets he was teaching. The first of these was the Foilmore Set, a south Kerry polka set revealed to Pat by Timmy Woulfe. Following that was the Blackhill Set, a bouncy Waterford polka set gleaned from a vintage video of sets being danced in the long-gone Blackhill Pub in Dungarvan. The lunch break was a pleasant communal meal in another room in Dun Uladh, with homemade soup, bread, tea and cake served to us by club members. It was tasty, friendly and practical too, as it saved us from rushing back into town for a meal and then back out again. And so after a relaxed hour we were refreshed and ready to spend the afternoon learning and practicing the Rinkinstown and Ballykeale sets.
There was more communal dining in the hotel that evening as resident dancers took the meal which was included in the weekend accommodation package. Shuttling between venues was no problem for those without cars, as there were plenty of us with cars happy to offer lifts. Tonight’s ceili offered us music by Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band. The night’s seven sets were danced with vigour and energy, and I noticed that one of the Scottish ladies had become bright pink with all the activity. “I turn pink as soon as I put on my shoes,” she said. I danced with a lady from the States who was probably the weekend’s most distant visitor, who as an experienced contra dancer was easy to dance with even though she didn’t know the sets. Other distant visitors were those ladies from Scotland (a dozen?), an American gent from Germany and even a gent from deepest County Cork.
The attraction on Sunday morning was Marie Garrity’s two-hand dancing workshop. She led us through a selection of traditional, waltz and ballroom-style two-hands, some easy ones, and several which were beautiful to watch and challenging to do. I’m not used to waking up my brain so early on Sunday, but I definitely needed it to keep up with some of those dances! Following that there was another pleasant lunch break, and then we gathered back in the hall for the weekend’s final ceili with Long Note Ceili Band. There was brilliant music for seven and a half sets, including the Rinkinstown, and I had several notably heart-pumping sets with ladies from Scotland, Mayo, Cavan and Donegal, but the last of those, the final Connemara, ended abruptly after the second figure. A competition was scheduled shortly in the hall, so there was quick action to set up the room for that. But it was no bother, we’d danced aplenty and as we bid each other farewell, we hoped to meet here again next time!
Back in the car, the satnav steered me over that mountain again in the fading light while I relived my weekend of fun in Omagh.
This is my first article in English, but I guess apart from language everything is the same. Before I briefly introduce myself, I have to ask all native speakers and well-educated non-native speakers to overlook my mistakes. Especially my friendship with articles, prepositions and word order doesn’t work very well sometimes.
To begin with, my name is Barbora (call me Bara), I’m 19, I’m Czech and I accidentally fell in love with set dancing. I became a keen fan of this activity. And it happened recently, specifically, from 8 to 10 February in Erlangen, Germany, where the Irish Set Dance Meets Carnival Weekend took place. I have been doing set dancing since September 2012. We have a group of approximately sixteen set dancers in Prague and we practise every Monday evening. I always liked it. But I found the real deeper meaning of this hobby in Bavaria among all of the international dancers and it charmed me so much that I decided to write a review of the whole weekend, which is going to be a little thank-you to Andrea Forstner and her family for organizing such a great event. So—here we go!
We set off from Prague on Friday at two o’clock in the afternoon, a bit later than planned. When I say we, I mean me and my three friends Markéta, Jana and Tereza. Well, I should probably say me, my friend Markéta and my two dance teachers Jana and Tereza, but I guess it won’t cause me any trouble to use the shorter form. We arrived at Fürth after three hours of driving, the place where our lovely, tiny and familiar hotel was.
Frankly, I really started to be nervous at that time. Girls were talking about the different sets they like or don’t like, they were discussing the difficult ones (such as Clare Lancers and one particular figure that caused me many problems during the Carnival Ceili on Saturday) and they were looking forward to meeting their international friends.
My only memorized set was Ballyvourney Jig and the only people I knew were sitting in the same car. But the atmosphere and dancers were so friendly and familiar when we arrived at Erlangen that all my stress just faded away during the first workshop with Tony Ryan. I didn’t have any experience with any other foreign teacher so I can’t compare him to anyone, but I can definitely say I enjoyed the way he led all the workshops. It seemed to me like he was a magical grandfather from some children’s fairy tale, because of his kind voice and the way he got our attention back after each set.
First evening, we practised basic steps for each rhythm, such as reel, jig and hornpipe, and learned the South Galway Set. Then there was an hour and a half for dinner and the first ceili in my life was about to begin. I must thank my girls who didn’t leave me alone in this and spent the first ceili with me, so I could see that no one really cares whether you know each figure in each set or not, and relax a bit. We did eight sets, Corofin Plain, South Galway, Cashel, Claddagh, Ballyvourney Jig (yippie!), Moycullen, Sliabh Luachra and Connemara. The night was going on and on, the guys from the Abbey Ceili Band were playing amazing, lively and energetic music and I didn’t know how, but midnight and the end of the ceili came suddenly. We ended our first day with a big round of applause.
When we got to our car after midnight, we realized our GPS had broken down somehow. But guess what? We found our way to the centre of Fürth without any map, without any help and without any straying—in a blizzard and after a really tiring night.
During the morning workshop on Saturday we learned the Fermanagh Set and the Rinkinstown Set, which we had done in Prague before, but in Erlangen I realized it is completely confusing to change your position from tops to sides in this set. In the middle of the workshop came the great surprise—lunch! Thomas and Michael Forstner had prepared a smart system of ordering meals so all of us were able to take our lunch in an hour and a half long break. To be honest, I really wanted to go to bed after a delicious minestrone soup and Caesar salad, but there was no spare time for sleeping during the whole weekend. At two o’clock the next ceili started and for the first time I tried to dance in a set full of people I’ve never seen before. And guess what? It’s fun! As is everything connected to set dancing. After the Skibbereen, Clare Orange and Green, Fermanagh, Boyne, Roscahill and Mazurka came the four-hour long break before the Carnival Ceili.
What do you think? Are four hours enough to prepare for a carnival? I mean are they enough for four girls about 20 years old? Apparently not, according to our delayed arrival. But this time it was easier for us to mingle with the guests because a lot of people were wearing masks as well. By the way, there were some of them I really couldn’t recognize! And Tony as a cook was absolutely brilliant.
It was about half past nine when Andrea proudly announced their BaIrish performance. I had known before that some surprise had been prepared for us, but I didn’t expect such a funny one. I can still remember the melody of the song and I think it will be in my head for a long time! Hats off for that performance which really made the atmosphere even better, if that is possible. The ceili went on with the Plain, Borlin, Antrim Square, Labasheeda, Ballyvourney Jig, Kilfenora Plain, West Kerry, Connemara and the final one, Clare Lancers. To be honest, I have never been so disappointed as during the fifth figure of that set. Never. I mean, everyone was shouting at me, “Go right, with the other ladies!” but how could I know where right and where left were at that moment? But despite being so lost, it was fun as never before. Yes, one gin and tonic might have helped it a little bit, but only a little. We ended our Carnival Ceili late after midnight by taking a picture with four monks and then drove home for more short and insufficient sleep.
Getting up on Sunday morning took us slightly longer time than the day before. We also had to pack everything and leave the hotel, so we arrived just a few minutes before the tea break. But Christian Forstner greeted us with a smile, “Hello girls! Great to see you. You are here right at the time. Lunch will be ordered in a few minutes!” That comforted us. In the second half of the last workshop we discovered how it feels to be in a demonstration set and we enjoyed that very much, even though I was a bit nervous. This was followed by another delicious lunch and the last ceili came. We danced just two sets which hadn’t been danced before, the Caledonian and Ballingeary. At half past four Tony called the last set of our weekend, the Connemara Set. When the euphoria from dancing and from final huge ovation melted away, I started to feel really sad.
There were just three more hours in Erlangen left for us. We spent the first one in the beautiful, lovely and freezing city centre, and then we moved to the brewery, where we talked with the rest of Andrea’s family for a while, danced our final Ballyvourney Jig in front of everyone, and after that great experience, time for the last goodbye. I felt really doleful because I met many great new people and the programme was so appealing that I enjoyed every single second.
I would like to end my article (which is probably longer than it should be) with my final big “thank you, Andrea Forstner and family!” Your Irish Set Dance meets Carnival Weekend changed one ordinary girl into a dedicated and enthusiastic set dancer.
Barbora Tuzarová, Prague, Czech Republic
From her blog at my-set-dance-diary.blogspot.cz.
It was that time of year again. For many of us dancers, the Termonfeckin Set Dancing Weekend marks the start of our new set dancing calendar. Eager dancers descended on the wonderful location of An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth. Spirits were revitalised and old friendships rekindled as the arrival of cars commenced early on Friday evening, January 18th. A snow-covered An Grianán greeted us this year, and the cold, frosty countryside was in stark contrast to the warm welcome awaiting us indoors. The kettle was on, pies were in the oven and with bags unpacked, we headed for the dining room.
This year’s festivities were launched by local dance teacher Pádraig McEneany. He recalled his first visit to the area many years previously, remembering the warm, generous welcome shown to him by both the McEvoy and Finnegan families. This same welcome, he noted, is also very evident in how both families organise the Termonfeckin weekend.
The organising committee, along with local dancers and friends, presented a Percy French selection to start the weekend festivities. Some late vocations to the sisterhood sang for us with sketches accompanying some of the songs. Fishnet tights, short skirts, exaggerated lipstick and inflated breasts were on show—and that was just the men folk! The dilemma of a poor father trying to marry off one of his daughters was recalled. He attempted to balance the lack of good looks of one daughter with the inclusion of a heifer, a German heifer no less! Shrieks of laughter travelled along corridors, laughter that was to last for the whole weekend.
Local band Triskell took to the stage at nine o’clock and the dancers were off. As always, Triskell didn’t fail to delight. Beautiful, lively music kept us on the floor for the night. The swing of the reels and the drive in the polka and slide selections made the night seem very short. Retiring to the bar we had An Puc ar Buile sung by a man from Ballyboden that Seán Ó Sé would have been proud of and a most beautiful slow air played on the flute. The hours passed quickly and we eventually made our way to bed.
Workshops were the order of the day early Saturday morning. Beauty sleep was sacrificed for set, sean nós and old-style dancing. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany led a large group of eager set dancers in the Kellogg Hall. The Leitrim and Portmagee sets, along with the newly composed local Rinkinstown Set, were taught. Dancers were given a taster of this set at the tenth anniversary weekend last year by one of its co-writers, John McEvoy. They were told to return in 2013 for further instalments, and return they did. A thoroughly enjoyable day of dancing was had by all.
Kathleen and Michael McGlynn put a large troupe of dancers through their sean nós steps. Under the watchful eye of Michael, dancers tapped, stamped and hopped in unison with Kathleen. Her clear concise instructions made real sean nós dancers out of all present.
The front room was filled with old-style dancers. Being one of these dancers, I’m not quite sure if it’s the dances or dancers that are meant to be old-style. As the years progress though, we are becoming increasingly like the dances! We tipped-down and shuffled our way through dances we already knew (or should have known) and finished the morning session off with the New Hornpipe! Michael has spent quite a number of years trying to teach this ‘new’ hornpipe to us and by the looks of it, it’ll be a new hornpipe for many years to come. In the afternoon session, Michael taught The Priest and His Boots.
The afternoon saw the inclusion of flute, whistle and singing workshops. Surrounded by armchairs and sofas, Páid O’Hare and an eager group of singers passed the afternoon in complete harmony. A more ideal setting and encouraging song master could not be found. Among the songs taught were How Will I Ever Be Simple Again and Be Still as You Are Beautiful.
Mairéad and Niamh McEvoy conducted flute and whistle workshops in the afternoon. Music along with the odd bursts of laughter could be heard from the workshop rooms. We had reels, hornpipes and even The Priest and His Boots jig was taught. I unfortunately had to share my bedroom with one of these eager whistle players. On her return from her workshop, and for the following two hours, she practiced her newly acquired Priest and His Boots, informing me that she would eventually ‘get it’. I informed her that she and her whistle would definitely ‘get it’ if I didn’t get some badly needed rest.
Dancing shoes were swapped for walking boots and runners in the afternoon. The crisp January air didn’t deter the large group from joining Ann Devery in the now annual pilgrimage around the Termonfeckin countryside. The fresh coastal air and frost-covered landscape gave those walking an appetite and it was back to the dining room again!
Nine o’clock came and the Swallows landed! We were treated to a feast of fantastic music by Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band from Sligo. For the following four hours or so we were revitalised and felt ten years younger as dancers refused to leave the floor. The highlight of the night had to be the selection of reels played for the Connemara Set. Though the music was fantastic, the venue of An Grianán, it has to be said, is a dancer’s dream. It’s well-sprung wooden floor means that it takes the minimum of effort to dance—something that’s really important as some of us find it increasingly difficult to pass the fitness test!
A large group gathered in the front room of the Grianán after the ceili. Songs, dances and recitations passed the hours away. A particularly large number of musicians arrived for this year’s session and the night was finished off with Páid O’Hare leading a song taught at the workshop. Here’s to You and Our Time Together reminded us, sadly, of friends that could not be with us while also making us thankful for being able to share our love of music and dance with such good company.
Sunday morning had a definite Tír Chonaill feel to it as a two-hand workshop was held by Connie McKelvey and Sally Sweeney. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn, for good measure, managed to fit in a few sean nós steps as well.
With all workshops finished it was that time again! Termonfeckin weekend aims to entertain right to the end, and entertained we certainly were. All weekend participants along with some local visitors gathered in the main hall where a kind of teacht le chéile (session) took place. Beautiful flutes led the musical chorus. We had box playing from Clare and a couple of worse-for-wear wooden dancing girls. With their overextended joints and dishevelled hair styles they reminded me of myself and my roommate after the weekend festivities!
A Tullamore man serenaded who he referred to as a ‘Feckin’ Queen’ to the air of The Rose of Tralee. Nora from Labasheeda was complimented on her waddle and the way she fluffed her feathers. Tears of laughter were shed as the performance took place. We had wonderful dancers and a woman from Mayo who, just like the late Barney McKenna, wanted “someone to love her.” A Tipperary woman sang for us, cursing the arranged marriage of young Síve and wishing all kinds of ills on her suitor. The morning, as per usual, just wasn’t long enough!
After yet another meal the ten-piece Dartry Ceili Band took to the stage. This was a sight to behold! Perfect tempo and strong, lively tunes meant that all dancers camped on the floor. Tired and aching bodies could not deter us. For most, this was their first ceili with this wonderful band and without doubt, it won’t be their last. The highlight of the day had to be Michael McGlynn, microphone in hand, stepping it out on stage, as he called the Cúchulainn Set. The shocked look on some band members’ faces as an airborne Michael encouraged dancers to “let their hair down” during the stepping out part was hilarious! As Amhrán na bhFiann rang out, the curtain fell on yet another wonderful weekend spent in Termonfeckin.
From our arrival, we were given the real five-star treatment—the best of music, teaching, food and company! Leaving that Sunday evening with room already booked for Termonfeckin 2014, events of the weekend were recalled and the conclusion was reached—níl a leithéid ann!
To Margaret, Jim, Sheila and John—many thanks on behalf of all the set dancers for the wonderful times we’ve had in Termonfeckin.
Mairéad Devane, Skerries, Co Dublin
Tony Ryan had it right: this is a truly unique family weekend. Andrea Forstner, her husband Christian, and their sons Michael and Thomas work tirelessly to deliver a perfect weekend, with nothing left to chance. The venue, the bands, the catering, the relaxed party atmosphere are testament to their dedication over many years to set dancing, and make this weekend in Bavaria one not to be missed.
Andrea works closely with the local hoteliers to ensure guests receive a great bargain, whether they decide to stay in the local hostel, which is surprisingly well-priced, or the hotel close to the dance venue which offers great comfort and cleanliness at a great price. There are amazing staff on hand everywhere, at any time of the day to deliver drinks, meals, and, in our case, extra pillows for our dance-weary heads.
This year, the weekend in Erlangen coincided with the local carnival celebration, and so Andrea decided that we dancers should enter into the spirit of carnival and have a fancy dress ceili on Saturday night. Fancy dress is not something I’ve participated in since I was an eleven-year-old, but I decided to take part and went along in fancy dress, yet hopefully anonymous behind a very large mask. I was glad I did—almost every dancer entered into the spirit of the evening, with outfits ranging from 1940s glamour girls to 1960s bathing belles, from foxes and embodiments of spring, and from spacemen to pirates and the Phantom of the Opera. The mighty Abbey Ceili Band also surprised the company and took to the stage after the interval dressed as monks. There was much hilarity caused by wigs and habits and bare knees! Andrea could barely contain herself, so fond is she of this band, and the mutual respect makes for an almost electric atmosphere.
Another great line of entertainment was the display of comic dance as local dancers performed a ‘traditional’ dance in a fusion of Bavarian and Irish styles. The Abbey had been sent sheet music in advance of the event and played the accompanying music with great gusto, which had the melody still ringing through many dancers’ heads during the following days. There is footage on YouTube (search for carnival ceili) if you’d like to check out this dance fusion! The crowd were also whisked into the dance as the band continued to play and we all joined in a traditional Bavarian polka. Great fun, much laughing and exhaustingly exhilarating.
I cannot rate this weekend highly enough, and the experience of one young dancer see page 10 from Prague in the Czech Republic will hopefully encourage more dancers to this wonderful family affair.
We are already booked up for 2014, and I have started my search for my next costume for Ceili meets Carnival. If you’d like to see next year’s outfit, you’ll have to come along and see for yourself.
What I neglected to mention in the previous article when describing my love affair with my satnav, is that my satnav is actually my phone. And that’s even more amazing. Where I used to carry two separate devices I now just carry one, but I have also given up carrying a little black notebook, pens and audio recorder, as the phone handles all of those functions as well. Plus I’m now able to carry several years of Set Dancing News, a video recorder, camera instruction manuals, and my complete collection of set dancing music—all in my back pocket. I keep finding new ways to be amazed by it. One Sunday afternoon in February I was driving to a ceili, following the phone satnav, when a call came through. Normally I don’t answer a call when driving, but this time it was actually a video call, which I assumed it wouldn’t work on the motorway so I answered, never expecting to be connected. But to my surprise it worked beautifully, and there I was on my way down the M7 to Templemore chatting to my sister in England, looking at each other—though only for a moment as it was too distracting. I’m now in the future I always wanted as a kid!
Then I discovered another new trick my phone could do during ceilis and workshops! The day I was departing for the West Limerick Set Dancing Club’s weekend in Templeglantine, Co Limerick, I installed a free fitness app on the phone which claimed to count my steps, and made me curious about the number of steps one dances at a ceili. It would get a good workout at the weekend in the Devon Inn, 15–17 February, which has long been one of my favourites. The journey there is always a pleasure, at least when I cross the Shannon River by ferry and travel the quiet, scenic back roads on either side. But with the wild weather that Friday I was concerned the ferry might be cancelled, but no, it only took a bit longer than usual in some fierce wind. I’d booked myself into a friendly and economical farmhouse B&B in Abbeyfeale, and after a meal in town headed to the Devon Inn.
While the Allow Ceili Band was setting up and doing a sound check in the main part of the ballroom, Triona Mangan taught a sean nós dancing workshop in the back. Mostly she played her own recorded music, but when the band were practicing reels, the class naturally danced along! The Allow became all-Ireland champions in 2007 and have recently released their first CD, Rince go Maidin. Con Herbert has just retired as the band’s leader, and younger members have now taken over, keeping the same rousing, lively and polished style. Con himself attended tonight, dancing several sets. A couple of dancing clubs made a special outing to the weekend—one group came from Thurles, Co Tipperary, and the guests of honour were a dozen who came all the way from Corsica. They had some basic familiarity with sets but appreciated the help of dancers who partnered and helped them.
At the tea break I couldn’t wait to check my phone—it counted nearly 7,000 steps and only halfway through!
Unfortunately, at least four dancers who would normally have been here were absent. Organisers and sisters Ann Curtin and Josephine O’Connor were mourning their mother Nellie Hannon, and their bright faces and warm welcomes were very much missed. John and Kathleen Roche were a familiar couple at events in the area for many years, but their many friends were saddened when Kathleen passed away the previous week. We observed a minute’s silence for her before dancing the last two Ballyvourney Jig and Connemara sets, her two favourites which she and John always danced together, despite her long illness, up to her last ceili in January.
At the start of the workshop on Saturday morning, I was curious about unusual plants showing up on the tables. The Corsicans brought along some exotic looking flowers, strings of puffy little yellow balls, from their island and passed them out to teachers Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and other friends. They were from mimosa trees and I would welcome a chance to someday see them in their natural setting. We spent the day dancing through the Dunmanway, Rinkinstown, Boyne and Sliabh Fraoch sets. Before each set we also did plenty of step practice with everyone in a big circle around the floor. Pádraig and Róisín went around the circle and gave extra attention to those needing it, and thankfully ignored me so I hope I was doing something right! My partner was one of the Corsican ladies and while we were limited in what we could understand of each other, it didn’t seem to matter as we had fun with all the day’s dancing.
The rising new stars of the set dancing scene, Striolán Ceili Band, brought a mighty crowd to the Devon Inn on Saturday night. The music was pure pleasure, exciting and inspirational, the antidote to all your troubles. Not only that, the brilliant selection of sets was as good as Friday night’s without any repetition, and included a West Kerry, Newport and Mazurka, plus the Dunmanway and Boyne from the workshop. Even the waltzes and quickstep stood out for the powerful vocals from fiddler Denis Curtin. The club took a moment’s break from the dancing to make two charity presentations, awarding their proceeds to representatives of suicide prevention and hospice care organisations. After we danced through all the sets on the posted lists, the band knew we weren’t yet ready to stop, and neither were they, and we were rewarded with a bonus Plain Set to end the night.
I resumed dancing at another workshop on Sunday morning, fervently wishing for a bit more rest and relaxation, but then it was impossible to resist the Fermanagh Quadrilles, no matter how tired I felt as it’s a rarity I learned originally from Connie Ryan. There were more favourite sets at the ceili that afternoon, including the Clare Orange and Green and two which featured jump-kick steps—Sliabh Fraoch and Borlin. The irresistible music by Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band was as good as any heard all weekend, rich and tasty with a driving rhythm. The only set repeated all weekend was the final one we took home with us, Kathleen’s Roche’s favourite Connemara, with another moment of silence in her honour. And before we began dancing, box player Donie Nolan took a moment to sing us a beautiful unaccompanied song, which attracted everyone’s rapt attention. Afterward there were goodbyes and au revoirs to all the partners and friends who enjoyed the weekend together.
Of course, my phone was counting my steps all the time and I ended up with a grand total of just over 50,000 steps, excluding probably four sets when I or my phone were idle. That’s such a large number it’s hard to comprehend, but consider that it might take 1,000 steps to walk a kilometre. The app did reveal that a three-hour ceili results in about two hours of what it calls ‘walking’, suggesting that a third of our time at ceilis is spent not dancing. Sometimes it seems longer, with all the time taken to fill sets and long tea breaks, but a third seems reasonable. The app I used is for runners, walkers and cyclists, so it doesn’t really apply to dancing, but nevertheless it did classify 24 minutes of what I did over the weekend as ‘running’. That’s hard to relate to set dancing so I can only wonder if it means I spent 24 minutes doubling—a very satisfying thought!
Melbourne Claddagh Dancers’ annual Irish set dancing weekend was held on 18th–20th January in the Mechanics’ Institute Hall in the picturesque little town of Trentham, 90km northwest of Melbourne. This year we were pleased to record seventy registrations, our highest attendance yet. Dancers travelled from New South Wales, South Australia and Canberra, as well as from Melbourne and country Victoria. Most of us stayed in B&Bs and cottages around town, while a number of people chose to pitch their tents at Ina and Graeme Bertrand’s bushland property a few kilometres away. The beautiful weather conditions were perfect for a summer weekend in the country.
The program was a packed one. Workshops were conducted by Ina Bertrand and Kirsty and Richard Greenwood, the club’s teachers. In addition, callers were Kate Armstrong of the Canberra-Monaro Folk Society, Marie Brouder of Comhaltas Melbourne, and George Ansell of our club. The MC keeping the weekend moving along was Graeme Bertrand.
The weekend started with an enthusiastic crowd for Friday night’s session of Irish music, song and dance at the Trentham Hotel. Kate arranged and led the music and songs, with several musicians and a whole roomful of voices. Ina recited an amusing Australian classic, The Play by C J Dennis, and following this we limbered up for the weekend’s dancing with several favourites including the Clare Lancers, Clare Plain and Cashel sets.
The program included two interesting and informative new workshop options with Ina on ‘stepping in style’, footwork for beginners and those who have difficulty distinguishing between up and down steps, and ‘musical rhythms for dancers’ explaining and demonstrating the differences between polkas, jigs, reels and hornpipes. This was appreciated by both musician and non-musician dancers. Musicians also had an opportunity to play on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday morning Richard taught the Kilgarvan Polka Set and the rather challenging High-Cauled Cap, which is now danced with greater confidence in our group. In the afternoon Kirsty taught her newly composed ‘surprise set’ and announced its title, the Ball and Box Set, named in recognition of the enthusiasm and expertise of set dancers Melanie Ball and Simon Box. The Ball and Box Set was well-received by dancers of varying levels of experience, including its namesakes.
In Saturday’s late afternoon sunshine we carpooled and headed off on the 10km drive through the picturesque, undulating countryside of yellow grassy paddocks, blue distant hills of the Macedon Ranges and the dappled shade of huge eucalyptus lining the road to the Tylden Harvester Restaurant. Here we enjoyed a delicious dinner in homely, inviting surroundings.
Then it was back to the Trentham Mechanics’ Institute Hall for the much anticipated ceili, with the lively, irresistible music of Paddy Fitzgerald and friends’ Melbourne Ceili Band, famed for their superb timing for dancing. We danced the North Kerry, Mazurka, Walls of Limerick ,High-Cauled Cap, Waltz Cotillion, Moycullen, Inis Óirr, Kilgarvan Polka and Kilfenora sets, and finished the night on a high with our favourite—the Ballyvourney Jig Set. Callers were Kate, Marie, Ina, George, Kirsty and Richard. During band breaks, we enjoyed Peter Henry’s playing of his own compositions on piano and Jude Bertolin singing The Wind and the Rain.
Ina taught Sunday morning’s workshop on the Durrow Threshing Set and the Tubbercurry Lancers. After lunch we danced the Birr, Armagh, Tubbercurry Lancers and Williamstown sets.
It was a great weekend of dancing and socialising. Thanks are due to committee members, our teachers and callers, Paddy Fitz and friends, the musicians and singers, MC and all participants for their contribution and enthusiasm.
Mary Reilly, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
For some couples, the bridal dance can be a stressful part of their wedding. A groom with two left feet and a bride with a long dress can be a dangerous mix!
There’s also the stress to impress. Everyone wants to do something special and different, to show off their dance skills a little. We wanted more than that though—we also wanted to do something meaningful.
Without having any previous dance experience, our need to be different, meaningful and skillful was kept in check by the more important matter of keeping it simple. We reflected on the things we had in common—Allie, a girl from Japan who specialises in speaking Japanese, cooking raw fish and dreaming about winning the Lotto without ever buying a ticket, and Paul, a guy from Australia who specialises in just saying “Yes” in Japanese, eating pretty much anything and dreaming about Allie somehow winning the Lotto.
We had something else in common though—Paul has Irish heritage and Allie’s dad is a professor of Irish literature in Japan. Irish dancing seemed to be both different and meaningful—we just needed to work on the skill part. For that, we were going to need help.
So we looked up local Irish dance classes on the Internet. There wasn’t much, but we did come across a little group called the Melbourne Claddagh Dancers, who did something called Irish set dancing. We figured we’d give it a go. Besides, it was only a class! Well, in our first session we got so dizzy and confused, we were sure that the patterns we were dancing closely resembled question marks. The people were super lovely though, so we came for a second lesson—we’d already caught the Irish set dancing bug!
We needed to find others with whom to share our bug. Paul’s mum and dad might have the set dancing bug somewhere in their old Irish bones and we found four other friends to join in and form a set. Paul wasn’t the only one with two left feet though—that obviously ran in the family. Practise sessions were constant, with shuffling and spinning around the living room after dinner, in between the footy on TV, through the supermarket. This must be how it is always and everywhere in Ireland!
All the practise started to pay off and the two sets we’d selected, the Plain Set Figure 3 and the Williamstown Set Figure 2, became second nature to us. We felt ready for the big day—in dance terms at least.
The big day was the best of our lives and the dance was a big hit! All the guests eventually joined in, with Allie calling the steps. More than a great performance though (even if we do say so ourselves), we made great friendships along the way. We can’t thank the Melbourne Claddagh Dancers enough for being so welcoming and kind, and for putting up with our weird question mark dance patterns for so long!
We’d recommend Irish set dancing to anyone, young and old alike. It’s great for fitness, balance and making friends—it’s the kind of bug that’s good for you. Allie and I will always have special memories of our wedding dance, and we can’t wait to teach our kids some of our common culture!
Allie and Paul Kneebone, Melbourne, Australia
There was a fantastic event in sunny southern California! Such events are few and far between in this part of the Left Coast, and we were very fortunate to have the music and dance group Atlantic Steps in concert at the California Institute of Technology on Saturday, February 2, followed on Sunday by a house concert, box workshop and ceili at Don Breyer and Dena Morean’s home in Claremont. The musicians at the house concert were Oisín Mac Diarmada, Seamus Begley and Patrick Doocey, and the dancers were Brian Cunningham, Kieran Jordan, and Jackie O’Riley. To my way of thinking this was a perfect setting to hear fabulous music and experience equally great sean nós dancing in the close intimacy of a home. It also gave some of our local musicians a chance to play with world-class musicians.
Seamus held a box workshop prior to the concert, giving a handful of students rare expert instruction. His box playing is truly amazing! As for Oisín’s (of the group Teada) fiddle playing, I am at a loss of words to describe his mastery of the music. This was the first time I had a chance to hear Patrick play the guitar and I hope it will not be the last.
This is the second appearance by Kieran at Don’s home in Claremont and we hope this will become a tradition! Several of us get together and practice our steps to her excellent sean nós DVD. Jackie impressed many dancers in the audience with her intricate footwork and effortless mastery of sean nós dancing. Brian demonstrated both his power and finesse combined with his limitless enthusiasm for sean nós dancing. If you have a chance to attend a workshop with any of these dancers, don’t pass it up!
Michael Loftus, Mission Viejo, California
In the month of February, the Gathering Traditional Festival is the closest you’ll come to the experience of dancing at an Irish summer school. This is a major weekend of music and dance which has now run for fourteen years at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry, all of which have been reported in Set Dancing News. There’s a generous combination of concerts, ceilis, sessions and workshops over five days, but what really makes it feel a bit like summer is that distance is no object to people who wish to experience it. This year from Wednesday to Sunday, 20–24 February, keen dancers came from the USA (Boston in particular), Europe (France, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland) and all over Ireland, of course.
Many visitors came early to take in the full festival and attend the first ceili on Wednesday in that hotbed of Sliabh Luachra music and dance, the nearby village of Scartaglen. A coach brought some of the visitors here from the hotel, while others, myself included, made our own way. Last year some cars were broken into during the ceili, but I found it reassuring when it was announced that the guards would be patrolling the streets tonight. It’s a cosy compact hall with nice floor, and we had as many as ten sets filling it. The sets were chosen to balance the reels with an equal number of polkas or jigs, which is always a strong attraction for me. Best of all tonight was the music by Uí Bhriain, who are John Breen on box and his sister Martina on piano. Their playing was pure perfection, with a great mix of familiar and unusual tunes, changing often and effortlessly.
The wealth of great local ceili bands was further explored at the ceili on Thursday night with Mountain Road Ceili Band, which directly followed a concert of local musicians in the Gleneagle’s ballroom. As soon as the concert ended, the chairs in rows on the floor were quickly cleared by hotel staff with help from the dancers who carried away their own chairs. Meanwhile, copies of the programme of sets were posted around the room—a new feature this year. The organisers hoped it might help fill the sets more quickly if everyone knew in advance what to expect. In fact we still had to spend time filling the sets, but whether a list helps or not, it’s still handy to know the programme of dances for the ceili. And why not advertise a good programme with the very welcome Labasheeda and West Kerry sets?
Passing the time in Killarney is easy, as there’s a lovely town outside the hotel, plus mountains and lakes. On Friday, I made sure to get back to the hotel for an evening session in the bar where we danced a few figures of a few sets whenever the musicians played something to inspire us. Mostly I spent the session in enjoyable conversation with new-found friends from overseas, two sisters from Germany, originally from Dublin, who had been away so long that at first they seemed more German than Irish.
The Friday ceili brought us to the enormous INEC (Irish National Events Centre), which is probably the largest floor used for set dancing anywhere in the world. The Johnny Reidy Ceili Band was playing the first of the weekend’s ceilis here, and there’s no better band to fill a hall than Johnny’s. Programmes were posted around the hall with reels in the majority tonight, thanks to inclusion of the Mazurka Set and four of the usual reels. A Sliabh Luachra and two Ballyvourneys (reel and jig) filled out the polka side of the equation. Caller Anne Keane did a great job filling sets and calling dances, though the last figure of the Mazurka ended short, for which she apologised and said she would write out the figure a hundred times. It was thrilling dancing in a sea of sets with waves of Johnny’s music splashing over us. The music inspired prodigious dancing from all, yet I never tired and found the floor hard but comfortable. At the break I heard that sixty sets were counted on the floor, yet I never found it crowded, such was the spaciousness of the venue. During the break many continued dancing to recorded music, during which we experienced what must have been the world’s biggest Slosh, at least at a ceili. It’s a type of country line dance, and was a magical sight to behold.
For the rest of the weekend there was no idle time for keen dancers. The workshop on Saturday morning was scheduled for 10am in the INEC, with the enormous floor divided in half by a line of chairs to keep us closer together. While I thought it unlikely to begin so early, it didn’t take long for Tony Ryan to start us practicing steps to long tracks of reels. He danced every kind of reel step he could think of and we just tried our best to follow him. Once he’d warmed us up, Tony taught us the Fermanagh Set, one which has been around a long time, but it’s rarely danced. I like the figures where the gents get to chain, and where they steal a lady! The Skibbereen was another rare oldie, with something fun in every figure. My favourite move is the four-bar (not two!) advance in the wheelbarrow figure. After lunch, there was another warm-up, then we continued with the increasingly popular Rinkinstown Set, which is packed full of great new moves. The last set of the workshop is one I had been thinking of just a day earlier, wondering what ever happened to it—the Roscahill Set. We used to do it all the time ten or more years ago, and it was just as good as I remembered it! It was a day of sets to please any lover of workshops, and Tony with his relaxed and easygoing manner nevertheless managed to give us a terrific workout.
That night the Striolán Ceili Band played their first ceili in the INEC, and even more dancers came along to try to fill that spacious floor. They succeeded admirably, not just in the Caledonian and Cashel, but even for the Aubane and Rinkinstown. The Aubane is the local set in Millstreet, Co Cork, rather like an abbreviated Jenny Ling. My partner had never danced it before and I barely knew it, but Anne Keane’s calling made it easy. My Rinkinstown partner was dancing it for the first time; she performed admirably and declared it to be a brilliant set! I particularly enjoyed the high speed Borlin Polka Set, but every dance was better than the last, with music to match. Just before the break, Striolán played three songs, two waltzes and a quickstep, and then while they were off stage, dancers stayed on for some recorded country music. The Slosh grew even bigger tonight!
Even with a later 11am start for the Sunday morning workshop, I was still experiencing a sleep deficit, but when Tony selected the Clare Orange and Green Set for us, this managed to activate enough of my brain cells to keep me awake all day. Some of the sets at the afternoon ceili also required a bit of brain power, with the Newmarket Meserts Set exercising the most mental activity, and especially for its completely unique high gates figure. I tried to remember it myself with difficulty, so it was great that Anne took a few moments to describe it to us before the ceili. Even when the opening Corofin Set was called, we kept practicing those high gates, and seemed to have got it by the time the Meserts was called next. It went well, though there was lots of sideways glances to see what the other sets were doing. The coliseum-filling sound of the Five Counties Ceili Band gave us motivation and energy to keep moving all afternoon with the greatest pleasure. They even kept going with more reels after the final scheduled Plain Set, and my own set agreed to proceed with the Mazurka Set. We danced more than half of it before the band finally finished, and then after the national anthem there were goodbyes all around to our friends from home and abroad and wishes to meet again soon.
A credit to the regionThe third week of February means only one thing and that is it is time to head to the Gleneagle Hotel for the Gathering Festival. With other commitments for me on the Wednesday and Thursday, I always go Friday to Sunday. This year was no different. Overall the crowds were down from previous years but I wouldn’t say that is a mark against the Gathering; it is the case that crowds are down everywhere and it is a sign of the times we are in. Even with this, large numbers were still fluttering around the Gleneagle between the sessions and ceilis.
From my point of view, I love the weekend because everything is in the one place and there are enough corners and space for as many sessions to start up as required. It is a relaxed atmosphere with young and old coming together to sample some of the best music there is to offer.
I have to say that the main thing that is displayed throughout the weekend is the strength of music we have here in the Cork/Kerry region. Sometimes we take it for granted but every ceili band playing this weekend resides within a fifty mile radius of Killarney. The wealth of talent that was on display is a credit to the region and a credit to the Gathering Festival for sticking to local musicians.
Leaving the ceilis to one side, the music in every nook and cranny around the hotel was fantastic. The end of the ceili only marks the halfway point of the night for some people. The highlight of my weekend was not a ceili or the main session in the Green Room, but on walking to that session on the Saturday night, I heard music that caught my attention. Next to the computers there was a banjo player and guitar player blasting out tunes. Paudie Harrington on banjo of the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band and his sister Josie on guitar had a swarm of people around them enjoying their blend of trad music with a touch of bluegrass. This mix of music might not be every trad enthusiast’s cup of tea, but for the crowd that stayed to hear them, they certainly had their toes tapping.
There were sets and tunes go leor in the Green Room. I don’t know what time the sessions there finished up at but I was long gone. The mix of musicians brought some fantastic music that got even the dancers with blisters on their feet from the ceili up to dance once more.
The mix of ceilis and sessions is what makes this festival so unique and gives it such a draw. You meet people there that you might not bump into only once a year. From Jackie Daly to the younger generation of musicians, everyone is welcomed to belt out a tune or sing a song or dance a few steps. The welcome at the Gleneagle from the festival committee and those attending is exceptional, which draws those from near and far, year in, year out.
Shane Creed, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
At the beginning of March I was lucky enough to be invited to go to Denmark and teach at a couple of classes there. This came about from the international Irish set dancing community and the many friends I have made over the years. Instrumental in putting my trip together was Ingrid Rønshøj from Aarhus with support from Elsebeth Rønne and Ane Luise Madsen in Copenhagen.
I travelled on Friday, 1st March, and met up with Ingrid, her husband Roald and his daughter Natasha, who entertained me to dinner and lively conversation, before taking me to stay with two wonderful friends of theirs, Vibeke and Gordon, where I stayed for three nights. Vibeke and Gordon immediately treated me as a family member and involved me in their family activities, like going to their grandson’s thirteenth birthday party where I was received with warm friendly hospitality and enjoyed the best of craic. On Saturday, Vibeke, with Ingrid, showed me some of Aarhus, a vibrant seaside town of some 250,000 people. The centre of the town has a mixture of the old and the new with a wonderful new museum and a separate music and concert centre. From my limited time there I enjoyed the museum—if you get a chance go and see the Big Boy, an amazingly huge sculpture of a crouching young boy.
The Aarhus dancers had a special class on Sunday (11am–3pm) and amongst the group was David Longworth from Struer in the west of Denmark. For something different, and because of my living and dancing in Co Down, I taught the old style Down Quadrilles (if you have danced this set you can see where sets like the Plain and Corofin and Kilfenora came from) and for music I used marches, rather than polkas, to replicate the music used and the very gentle way this set had been danced and kept alive, largely by the Protestant community, in the north of Ireland. By way of contrast, and for something livelier, I also taught the Fermanagh Set and the Killyon Set from Offaly, the latter as the class had not come across it before. The class consisted of enthusiastic dancers who certainly enjoyed the craic, which then extended to a local pub where some local and excellent musicians played. There we managed to drink some beers, chat and dance the Plain, Ballyvourney Jig and bits of other sets. The company, just like at home, was very friendly, enthusiastic about their dances and getting the same enjoyment that we do out of the camaraderie of set dancing and the wonderful tonic that is Irish traditional music.
On the Monday afternoon I travelled by bus and ferry (I do recommend this mixed form of transport as you can see so much more) to Copenhagen where I was looked after royally again by John Christiansen, a member of the Copenhagen group. That evening I taught at their sets class (7.30–9.30pm) in a local school. Elsebeth, whom many readers will know as she is so often in Ireland and can be seen dancing at Miltown Malbay, Malahide, Killarney and Castletown, was teaching solo step dancing and it was obvious that there are talented step dancers in Copenhagen. I introduced the sets class to another Co Down set, this time the new Drumbo Lancers created by Teresa Quigg. In teaching this set I placed a considerable challenge on a mixed group of beginners and more experienced dancers; they all rose to the challenge and were soon understanding the clever choreography that Teresa has incorporated in the figures. When teaching it I am frequently reminded of how Pat Murphy patiently taught and carefully explained the third figure of the Claddagh Set when I first came across it at a workshop in Omagh many years ago. If I managed to be just half as good as Pat at teaching these types of challenging figures, which are so rewarding when understood and danced, then I am doing really well.
My stay in Copenhagen extended to most of Tuesday, so I had an opportunity to see a little of this lovely capital. I walked round Christiana, the unique hippy style village close to the centre, and managed to take in the canal boat trip, both very worthwhile, and finished with a chat and beer with Elsebeth before departing to the airport.
For any readers considering a trip to Denmark I do strongly recommended it. Your enjoyment can be hugely enhanced by attending their sets classes where you meet charming people with incredible English speaking skills. Weekly classes are held on Wednesday in Aarhus (contact Ingrid Rønshøj), Thursday in Struer (David Longworth) and Monday in Copenhagen (Ane Luise Madsen).
For a summer visit why not go in June and support the Copenhagen group’s anniversary event (7–9 June) where Patrick O’Dea will be teaching and, in addition to the excellent local Copenhagen Ceili Band, some of whom I heard, Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band will be playing.
My great thanks to all my old, and new, Danish friends and best wishes to all dancers everywhere.
Ashley Ray, Ardglass, Co Down
If you were to stand back and look at all the different footwear that is worn to ceilis up and down the country, it would be interesting to say the least. As someone who doesn’t conform to wearing the leather shoe, it is something I always look at. I often get strange looks from people because they think I am staring at them, but I am just looking at their feet—okay, granted, that still sounds a bit strange.
I don’t have any issue with wearing leather shoes to ceilis personally, but it is just something that doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t see it that a person shouldn’t be able to dance in whatever they are comfortable in. The amount of people that look at a pair of shoes and think, “well, this person hasn’t a step anyway, just because they are wearing runners,” is massive. I have often seen the younger generation especially, who turn up at a ceili wearing a red pair of shoes or white and get looks from people. They are often lovely dancers, and even if they are only starting out, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for what shoes they want to wear.
People often give out about a dancer wearing taps. Just because they have taps on doesn’t mean they can’t do the same without the taps. Someone once said to me that they didn’t have taps long ago, so people shouldn’t wear them nowadays. That is not true—even back when they danced on the flagstones, people put steel on the soles of their boots and danced. There are fantastic dancers who don’t wear any taps on their shoes and make a great sound, but if a dancer wants to wear a tap on their shoes to exaggerate their sound, then why not? There is another side to this where there are dancers who wear taps to ceilis who try to take over the whole hall with their noise and it even affects the music, but that is a whole other rant for a different day.
The mix of leather shoes and rubber soles dance steps together all over the country. It is funny because it seems that the leather shoe phenomenon started out and exploded with people thinking that they have to wear a specific shoe and they go out and buy shoes worth anything up to or around €100. That is great if that is what they are comfortable in and like dancing in. On the other hand, I have gone out and worn shoes worth around €40 and enjoyed dancing every bit as much as anyone else and I know plenty of people who wear shoes which are neither black nor leather and have left the floor with the same satisfaction as everyone else. Comfort should have priority when someone graces the dancer floor so dance in whatever you are comfortable in. This is not going to improve or ruin your dancing. You will be comfortable and relaxed and this will contribute to your whole night of dancing.
Shane Creed, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
The recent death of Siobhán O’Donovan on January 10th has taken from the world of traditional music and dance one of its oldest, best loved and larger than life characters. Siobhán was a dance teacher, singer, storyteller and great personality, who shared her love of Irish culture with everyone she met at home and abroad. Siobhán was in her 95th year and had been blessed with robust good health until shortly before her death, and her good humour, sharp wit and lively banter never deserted her. Her husband, Irish dance master Joe O’Donovan died in April 2008, and although Siobhán soldiered on, all her conversations included a reference to how much she missed Joe. Siobhán and Joe were devoted to each other, always seen together, and always spoken of in the same breath.
Siobhán was born on Cork’s Northside into the large and talented Twomey family. In the early years her sisters were more involved in dancing than Siobhán. But she did go to the ceilis and ended up marrying Joe O’Donovan, who was a champion dancer and was helping his father run these ceilis. Siobhán’s sister Breda was married to Mike, Joe’s brother. There was always an argument between Joe and Siobhán as to who had chased whom. Siobhán was always quick to say that she had turned down a number of previous offers of marriage and that’s easily believed on seeing her stunning good looks in those early photos. Joe was playing music and teaching dancing for many years but Siobhán was already in her fifties when she joined him in teaching traditional step dancing and set dancing. Siobhán and Joe were a great team; they taught in all bar one of the 32 counties of Ireland, and travelled to America, Britain, France and Belgium teaching Irish traditional dancing. They were invited in 1982 to introduce classes in set dancing at the Willie Clancy Summer School, and the success of these classes in teaching and promoting set dancing contributed enormously to its revival.
In Cork, Siobhán and Joe were prominent in the running of the Proinnsias Úi Néill branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and taught dancing through Comhaltas in Cork city and surrounding areas for many years. Their regular Thursday nights in The Áras on The Mardyke in Cork city were legendary, and all who attended the dance classes became lifelong friends of Siobhán and Joe. In the classes, Joe was a wonderful conscientious teacher and Siobhán was his ever-present assistant, usually talking too much and initiating mischief. She was always down among the sets, eagle-eyed, noticing everything, prodding people and offering unvarnished advice to the dancers. The fun was unrivalled, and Siobhán was central to that wonderful atmosphere in her own inimitable way.
After their retirement from regular dance teaching (when in their eighties) Siobhán and Joe continued their involvement with Comhaltas. On Joe’s death, Siobhán was elected to succeed him as president of the Proinnsias Úi Néill branch, a position she held until her death. Siobhán and Joe were the most generous and hospitable of hosts at their home in Mayfield. As well as the sparkling conversation (and occasional sparks flying between the hosts!) guests enjoyed Siobhán’s cooking and baking, including her Madeira and fruit cake, as well as her famous Cork delicacy, ‘de bodice’ (pork ribs).
Siobhán and Joe were devoted to each other, to their children, Máire, Micheál, Rory, and the extended family. The love and talent for Irish traditional music has continued in their children. Siobhán passed away listening to some of her favourite Irish tunes, including The Blackbird, played by Máire and Rory. At Siobhán’s funeral Mass, Irish music was played by Mícheál O’Súilleabháin, Michael Tubridy, Matt Cranitch and her son Rory, and at the graveside Marie O’Sullivan danced The Blackbird. Fulfilling a booking made seventeen years previously, with frequent reminders in the meantime, Matt Cranitch played The Chulainn for Siobhán at the graveside.
Siobhán was a unique presence in the traditional step dancing and set dancing world, and like her beloved Joe, we are all hugely indebted to her, and greatly saddened by her passing. On behalf of the Proinnsias Úi Néill branch of Comhaltas and the wider dancing community, we offer our deepest sympathy to Máire, Micheál, Rory and their
families, and to the extended Twomey and O’Donovan families.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.
John Herbert, Cork
Flor DeaneThe sudden and untimely death of Flor Deane, Cork city, on 21st November 2012 came as a great shock to all who knew him. He died as he lived, enjoying life to the full.
Flor had two families—his wife Betty and children, and his other family, the set dancers.
The huge crowd that attended his funeral services was a testament to the high esteem the Flor was held in. Ger Murphy, Gearóid Keating and Eilís Murphy provided music at his funeral Mass while many of his friends sang and danced outside the church.
All who were lucky enough to have known and met Flor will remember him warmly. He made lifelong friends in the set dancing scene. His love of music, singing and dancing formed a huge part of his life. Flor travelled far and wide to grace many a floor with his nimble feet. It would have been a bad week had Flor not been dancing at least once or twice. In the early years his wife Betty was his dance partner. There was not a weekend away they missed, for example, Galway, Clare, Mayo, Kerry, Waterford to name but a few.
Singing was another great love of Flor’s. His favourite song was Peggy Gordon, where many a time he was known to change the wording to “Oh Betty Gordon”! Happy days!
Along with his hectic dancing schedule, Flor was interested in coursing, walking, swimming and road bowling. He was known to throw a score with Bishop John Buckley of Cork.
Flor was indeed very successful at training greyhounds. He celebrated his 76th birthday with his family at the greyhound track in Curaheen just three short weeks before his untimely death.
The set dance scene will be all the poorer without the great Flor Deane. His enthusiasm and love of dancing will be missed on the dance floors throughout Ireland. Everyone that was lucky enough to have met Flor will miss him fondly. He was a gentleman and loved both his own family and set dancing friends dearly. Flor was an inspiration to all of us on how to enjoy and live life to the full.
To his wife Betty, daughters Catherine, Diane, Marie, Lisa, Judy, his sons Robert, Colm, Fergus and Roy, his grand children, great grandchild, his brother Finbarr and sisters Noelle and Pauline, we and all Flor’s set dance friends and musicians would like to extend our deepest sympathies to you all at this sad time.
Rest in peace, dear Flor. Every time that we are stepping it out we know that you and your brother Val will be dancing with us.
Rose Hickey and Margaret Twohig, Co Cork
Kathleen RocheI am a reluctant (lazy) contributor to Set Dancing News or any other publication at the best of times, but didn’t need any stimulation when Kathleen Roche, Crecora, Co Limerick, passed away on February 11. I looked up, as a heading, The Perfect Wife to find out the lady in question was the subject of a satirical TV programme circa 2001 and not at all an appropriate example. To satisfy my curiosity I found that a book titled The Perfect Husband portrayed the gent in question as an even bigger villain. So, to keep it simple, I settled on John and Kathleen Roche as the perfect couple, which they patently were.
Once upon a time life was a bed of roses. The family were reared and they travelled all over Munster and beyond wherever there was a ceili, till the fateful diagnosis was made. Kathleen, one of the great ‘ladies’ of our time, fought the five-year sentence stoically, taking whatever satisfaction there was in lasting ten. Kathleen danced as many sets as she could at every ceili, always surveying the list on the wall for the ones she would choose.
It wasn’t perfect while it lasted. In life Kathleen had a multitude of friends and well-wishers and, maybe, this helped to sustain her in the dark hours. I don’t know how she would have felt if she saw the throng that came to mourn her passing. Her funeral Mass was as poignant an occasion as one could wish for with probably half the congregation consisting of set dancers and the singing reflecting their emotions.
John’s eulogy on the altar and the dancing of Kathleen’s favourite sets outside were the perfect celebration of the life and times of an ideal wife and, hopefully, give the Roche family the help to sustain them in the dark days ahead.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a h-anam uasal.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
Jimmy SmythJimmy Smyth passed away on February 10th. So who was Jimmy Smyth? Well, he was a proud Clare man, born 1931 in Ruan, who went on to become one of the greatest hurlers of all time. He holds the record for the biggest scoring feat in 1953: 6–4 against my own county, Limerick. He won eight provincial medals with Munster, being part of one of the best full forward lines ever, himself, Derry McCarthy (Limerick) and the great Christy Ring (Cork).
Unfortunately, Jimmy never won an All-Ireland medal with Clare, though he won several Clare county championships with his home club, Ruan, and several other honours in a career that spanned the years 1949 to 1967. I’m not sure if he was ever a set dancer, though he spoke lovingly of his Caledonian and I was privileged to befriend him in his later years.
When his hurling career was over JImmy and his family moved to Dublin where he became an executive officer with the GAA till 1988. It was in this context that I got to know him.
I was chairman of the West Limerick GAA Board from 1968 to 1975 and my first year saw the inauguration of Scór which we joined immediately. The early years were a struggle to get everybody, ourselves included, au fait with the whole concept of Scór. There were often heated discussions on the definition of set dancing. One Ulsterman argued that The Sweets of May should be allowed into the set competition.
Truth was that none of the fine Ulster sets that later became popular had emerged. I was asked to judge the Ulster final of the set dancing in Armagh and was shocked to find that almost all the participants danced a mishmash of dance movements. One county danced a figure that had fourteen different movements, probably on the basis that much was more! Fortunately, a team from Warrenpoint danced the Sliabh gCua which they had learned from Monny Hallahan, the most successful dance teacher of the time. By comparison with the others it looked very simple but won hands down.
As a result of this imbalance and a similar weakness in the other provinces the Munster winners farmed the all-Ireland titles for years!
To address this imbalance I thought up the notion that Munster should share the multitude of sets from the province and, indeed the sets from all the provinces to create a proper competitive all-Ireland competition. Unfortunately, the all-Ireland convention gave my motion the thumbs down and things continued as heretofore. It wasn’t easy to convince those who were experts at arranging football and hurling matches that there was any need for change!
Things remained so for a couple of years and then a young Monaghan teacher took charge of Scór and immediately things began to move in the right direction. When I tell you the young teacher was Páraic Duffy, the present Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA, you can better understand. Imagine my amazement when I heard through the grapevine that Páraic had resurrected the notion of collecting the sets nationally and had set about forming a committee to expedite this.
Monny Hallahan and I represented Munster, Donal Hickey of Dublin was the Leinster rep, and Brendan Clark of Cavan and Tommy Treacy of Mayo represented their provinces. Work was under way almost immediately and was directed by the Croke Park executive, the one and only Jimmy Smyth.
It would take a very long time to describe what followed; obviously a huge task where the committee looked for input from the various councils and under the enthusiasm and complete devotion of Jimmy Smyth. His profile as an icon of the GAA opened doors we wouldn’t even approach. It should be mentioned that there was unstinted cooperation from all quarters as the committee moved from county to county, inspecting the various sets and receiving scripts when available.
Later we decided to backtrack to many of the places already visited to video the sets on the basis that a script is easily interpreted only for a while, and also it gave no picture of the traditions of the particular set. At this stage, Jimmy wholeheartedly approved of the suggestion we should invite Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to join with us and they did. This was a major coup because the trio who joined us were Nora O’Sullivan, the late Billy Boylan and the great Connie Ryan.
Connie had probably cut his ties with Comhaltas at this stage, and anyway he had already set in motion his great crusade which revolutionised set dancing, not just in Ireland but worldwide. It was gruelling work apart from constant travelling to Dublin, today to Croke Park, next week to the Culturlann in Monkstown, and interminable writing and rewriting, sometimes heated but constructive debate but edging closer to our goal, the production of a first booklet.
Dates get a little fuzzy at this stage but there was general satisfaction when Coisceim 1 was launched in the Culturlann and the impetus was still there to move on to the next. Second time around was a little easier, though one or two members had left for various reasons. Still the next issue was ready, all proof-read and edited and there were still many more sets to be considered.
And then the sky fell in! A major rationalisation—or so it seemed—took place in Croke Park. The result: Jimmy Smyth gone from Croke Park, or so I was told and our project consigned to the dustbin, and for all anybody seemed to care, we could do what we liked with it. Devastation is a mild enough word for it and we felt so badly for Jimmy Smyth, who had been an absolute inspiration behind the project, pitching in himself whenever the need arose. The setting up of the Clare Orange and Green Set and subsequent videoing of it was of his doing, for example.
I never spoke to Jimmy as to what happened; it was a sore subject. He went on in retirement to do a degree in philosophy and a masters in Limerick on the ballads, recitations and songs of the GAA, which he published, one each of Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, dating back to 1700 AD. So, one can see that Jimmy Smyth played a significant role in the collection of sets, not because it was his job, but he was wholeheartedly committed to it. As such, his work deserves to be acknowledged by readers of the Set Dancing News.
Obviously, the spreading and recording of this part of our heritage goes on and in the very capable hands of those who are so committed to it. I’m sure all would agree that Jimmy Smyth played an important role in that pursuit.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal because he was a fear uasal in every way.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
Michael Murphy, from Ballybrittas, Co Laois, shared the story of his life with Set Dancing News readers in 2005 in an article called 55 years dancing. Since then Michael has kept up his regular dancing schedule, which makes his new total 63 years! On January 27th he passed a more important milestone when he celebrated his eightieth birthday with his wife Delores and their extended family. Michael’s cake depicts his love of music, dance and horses.
Bridie McGovernBridie McGovern, a well-known set dancer from Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, left her native Glenfarne in the early 1950s. Like most of her contemporaries in Ireland at that time, she went to England. Even then dancing was in her blood—from the country house dances, to dancing in the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne, the ‘Ballroom of Romance.’ Her dancing continued in London, where she would often be seen dancing at the Bamboo, the Galtymore and the Garryowen.
Her employers, a Jewish family in Golders Green, knew they had a treasure in Bridie, even though they sometimes did not quite understand her accent. They were very accommodating to her needs regarding her religion and her dancing, and took very good care of her. She worked very hard in return.
She also managed many visits home in that time. Weekends were her favourite—going with friends to the Rainbow and having fun on the half-hour walk to the ballroom. Then hearing the music as they got near, running to get in fast and dance the night away. Those were very special times for Bridie.
Eventually, she met Jim Curran and married. Fortunately Jim was a dancer! She ran a lodging house for the young Irish lads for many years, and they had a comfortable roof over their heads at the Curran’s.
While their children were still young they decided to return to Ireland and they bought a pub in Sligo. They spent many happy, hard-working years there. By this time, Bridie was going to fíor céilithe and eventually got into set dancing where she found a wide circle of dancing friends around the Sligo area.
Bridie and Jim retired to Blacklion, Co Cavan, which is where I first met her in 1997 at Eamon and Teresa McKeaney’s set dancing class. Bridie welcomed me as a newcomer and we became firm friends. We travelled the country to set dances and I look back on those years with great fondness.
In the summer we would go to Miltown Malbay with a few friends, dance away for four days, make our way back via Tubbercurry to catch a ceili there, and probably go to several other ceilis through the week, then on to the nearby Joe Mooney Summer School, Drumshanbo. We would probably get to every ceili that week, then the summer school in Keadue started so we danced the summer away. We even went abroad with the Enjoy Travel group; our diaries were always full.
Bridie loved Matt Cunningham, John Davey, Michael Sexton and the Glenside and they all made such a fuss of her! We were always so envious how easy it was for Bridie to get partners. The wild dancers, Bill Lynch included, would always get a dance and she could keep up with the wildest of them! She would never have to have her hand up for long before a good dancer would be beside her.
Bridie was also a member of the mummers and was always busy over the Christmas period, out in all weathers! She loved being a part of that and had great fun, but again it was hard work—often not coming home before 4am.
I found it hard to believe in 2003 when she told me she was going to be 70, and even harder to believe how fast the intervening years have gone and now on 21st January she was 80.
In those years she lost her beloved Jim. She had many grandchildren and even had a hip replaced which only slowed her down for a while! I am glad to report she still dances, mostly social and two-hand, but if a set is going to be danced she will be up there. The Rainbow still remains one of her favourite places! We have a lovely group of friends and we still manage the odd weekend away, theatre trips and meals out.
To mark her eightieth birthday her family wanted a party but they knew it wouldn’t be a party for Bridie unless there was plenty of dancing and more importantly people to dance with, so our friends Anne Feeney and Maureen McLoughlin were in charge of inviting Bridie’s dancing friends. They did a fantastic job, finding phone numbers for her old dancing friends in Sligo and also other people they knew Bridie would want there. Along with family and friends there were ninety people in the Blacklion Golf Club on Friday 25th January to raise a glass to Bridie.
The talented Mountain Fever played and kept us all dancing till late, Bridie was on the floor the whole night and she danced several sets as well. She was delighted to see her two brothers; one had flown over especially from London, which she really had not expected. We were all so delighted that Bridie enjoyed her birthday bash so well.
I know so many of the set dance readers will recognise Bridie and that is why we would like to share this tribute to her with you, and to let you know she is still dancing, albeit closer to home these days.
We wish her good health and happiness but most of all—
Bridie, keep dancing!
Brenda Gaffney, Dowra, Co Leitrim>
Gordon Rigby and his wife Joan, who have been married over fifty years, started set dancing in 1989. On Sunday night March 10th at the Caledonian Set Dance Club in Manchester, England, run by Breffni O’Brien, we held a little party to celebrate Gordon’s eightieth birthday. Gordon has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to set dance weekends, loving Westport and Pontoon, when Mickey Kelly had his weekend there. Gordon and Joan travelled with Breffni in May 2012 to Breffni’s homecoming weekend in Swanlinbar, Co Cavan. He has also enjoyed many dancing holidays with Enjoy Travel and will be in Spain this April.
Gordon is a true gentleman and a wonderful example to us all of how to embrace all cultures. A Lancashire man born and bred, he can belt out traditional Irish ballads with the best. I often heard it said, what county is he from? The answer is quite simple—County Lancashire.
Always keen to learn new sets Gordon is now proficient at the Rinkinstown Set. A wish, Gordon, from all your set dancing friends for good health for many years to come.
Eileen McGuire, Manchester, England
It was another hugely successful weekend in Birmingham with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. Thanks to all who travelled from Ireland and throughout the UK, the success is all down to you, the dancers, and the fantastic music from Johnny Reidy, Eddie Lee, Emma O’Leary and Tom Skelly—top class musicians! My heartfelt thanks also to George Hook who does an amazing job with the sound equipment, the most professional person you could wish to work with, and without him the weekend couldn’t happen. Massive thanks to Margaret and John Morrin for doing the workshop, again true professionals. But the weekend would never work behind the scenes without my fabulous friends Pat and Betty Quinn, Linda Reavey and John Tillotson for the transport. Many thanks to the ladies who did the raffles, tea, coffee, etc. There are a lot of people who make this the most ‘look forwarded to’ weekend in the UK, my thanks to you all. May we keep dancing and have great memories.
Love you all so much.
Kate Howes, Solihull, England
The fan promotion
The photo below shows myself, Aileen Fitzpatrick (box) and Ciaran McManus (fiddle) of the Copperplate Ceili Band handing over a cheque for €1,000 to Maureen Burke representing Western Alzheimers, Ballindine, Co Mayo. The cheque was the proceeds of donations given by set dancers at the Copperplate’s ceilis over the last year when dancers received a handheld fan bearing the legend, ‘I’m a Copperplate Fan.’ The fan promotion was a big hit with the band’s many followers and they intend ordering more fans soon. The cheque was gratefully accepted by Mrs Burke, who thanked the band and the set dancers who donated, at a very successful ceili in Roundfort, Co Mayo, on Saturday 9th February.
The band’s efforts to raise money for such a worthy cause in their local area was well appreciated by the large crowd.
Eamonn Donnelly, Omagh, Co Tyrone
The four corners of the islandBill,
The March weekend of set dancing at An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, was started 21 years ago by Maureen Dennis, Susan O’Shea and Billy Horan. It was wonderful to see Maureen, Susan and Billy at the 2013 weekend, 1–3 March, and to share in the 21st birthday celebrations.
The weekend got off to a great start with the wonderful music of the Fódhla Ceili Band, and then the Brian Ború Ceili Band kept us all on our toes on the Saturday night, with the expert calling of Syl Bell and also Maureen Dennis at both ceilis.
Saturday was workshop day. Under the thoughtful guidance of Syl and the watchful eye of Liz Hand, the large crowd learned both the Armagh Set and the Rinkinstown Set, a local set, from the Termonfeckin area. Plus, on Sunday morning we learned the Coolnabeasoon Set from Waterford, a beautiful set composed by Helen and Paddy Kealy, well taught by Syl and Liz, and well enjoyed by the dancers. Speaking of the dancers, they seemed to have come from the four corners of the island—Wicklow, Wexford, Cork, Dublin, Meath, Down, Kildare and Carlow. Syl and Liz’s other classes were also represented, Valleymount, Kiltegan and Narraghmore, along with a large contingent from Rinceóirí Dara in Naas.
We had Mass in the hall with Father Eddie Moore, one of the Naas dancers. It was a beautiful and thoughtful Mass, and an honour to celebrate the 21st birthday in such a setting and with such people. Some wonderful and thought-provoking words on the past and the present were spoken by Maureen, Fr Moore and Syl.
Hopefully you will join us as we head into the next 21 years, starting with the next March weekend in An Grianán, February 28th–2nd March, 2014.
Deirdre Francis, Sallins, Naas, Co Kildare
My thirteen ceilis
I would like to thank all the set dancers from west Limerick and surrounding areas for their continuous support for my recent charity ceili in aid of Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (West Limerick Outreach Group). Thank you for caring about the world’s most fragile, vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the affected Chernobyl regions. This was our thirteenth annual ceili and it was a great success, raising over €3,000 for our group.
Bill, thank you for all your advertising in the Set Dancing News magazine and Sets.ie on the Internet. Thanks also to Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band who have played for all my thirteen ceilis for this charity. Donie had seven in the band with him on the night and as well as playing eight sets, Plain, Sliabh Luachra, Kilfenora, Newport, Connemara, Cashel, Corofin and Ballyvourney Jig, he played all the two-hand dances, waltz, quickstep and I think a first for ceili dancers, the Slosh, danced to the lovely singing of Maura Nolan.
Mike Kiely, Templeglantine, Co Limerick
We were suitably challengedDear Bill,
I would like to thank the organisers, bands and tutors of the Omagh Set Dancing Weekend for a very enjoyable weekend. We were delighted that Pat Murphy taught the Rinkinstown Set and we then got the opportunity to dance it to the wonderful music of Long Note Ceili Band. We got to learn some intricate two-hands dances as well as The Priest and his Boots—making sure we were suitably challenged.
But a special thanks to all the kind dancers and visitors who transported us between hotel and venue—Madge and Paddy O’Grady from Gortahork, Co Donegal, Mickey Kelly from Newport, Co Mayo, Monica and Joe Beausang from Dublin, Derek Hubbuck from Hexham, Co Durham, and Pat Murphy.
Final thanks to the wonderful cooks—lovely homemade food at the lunches—delicious.
Looking forward to seeing you all on the dance floor soon.
Tess Gallagher, Glasgow, Scotland
Wishes, texts, calls and cards
I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank-you to all my friends in the set dancing community for all their good wishes, texts, phone calls and cards that I received during my recent illness. I am glad to say that I am on the road to recovery and hopefully will meet you all soon on the set dancing scene.
Syl Bell, Foxhill, Athy, Co Kildare
Maureen Culleton writes of her experience at the annual Aarburg set dancing weekend, where she was invited to teach the workshops.
The third weekend in January each year brings the annual workshop in Hotel Baren, Aarburg, Switzerland. We arrived in Zurich on Friday January 18th. There was no snow to greet us—this year we left it at airports in the UK where some friends were stranded and didn’t manage to get to Zurich.
With just a half-hour drive to the hotel we were soon experiencing the heartfelt welcome of the large crowd gathered for the welcome session. The Four Crowns Ceili Band, led by Alan Finn of Five Counties fame, began to deliver lively tuneful music and a mini-ceili was immediately under way.
Saturday was spent on the set dancing workshop. The enthusiasm, standard and commitment of the workshop attendees is noteworthy and impressive. It’s an amazing feeling to dance in a hall in Switzerland, surrounded by Swiss dancers and they dancing sets with perfect rhythm, knowing all the moves and steps, and feeling perfectly at home with the structure and plan for each set. Each time there is a Christmas and when a figure concludes, loud applause is the routine.
We enjoyed an energetic, joyful ceili on Saturday night. The music was electric, providing the spirit and drive to keep the dancers on their toes. Tasty tea, coffee and cake were provided at the break at each ceili and during the workshops.
Sunday morning the workshop was about traditional step dancing. This year I chose to teach the Garden of Daisies, which was received with enthusiasm and performed with grace and elegance. The final ceili was a truly memorable occasion, again dancing to marvellous music and a selection of sets ensuring a balance between the recent and the old reliables. Hugs, kisses, good wishes and gratitudes exchanged, in particular to Corinne and Tim Thor, André Lichtsteiner and Eva Biedermann for their hospitality and wonderful organisation.
With passport in hand Zurich Airport beckoned and we were on our way. A super weekend was had by all and we earnestly look forward to meeting soon again on a dance floor, God knows where.
Maureen Culleton, Camcloon, Co Laois
Ceili Time is a popular and busy two-piece ceili band from Omagh, Co Tyrone, consisting of brothers Enda and Seamus McGlone. Enda is a well-known box player who was a founding member of the Copperplate Ceili Band, and Seamus provides backing on guitar and vocals. They play for sets, fíor céilithe and social dancing on both sides of the border and have strong followings in England and Germany.
They produced their first CD, Set Dancing Volume 1, in 2009, and since then more CDs for céilí dancing, two-hands and social dancing. Now they’ve just released a new set dancing CD, Irish Set Dancing Fun, with a brilliant selection of sets, three new (Birr, Black Town and Rinkinstown) and two old (Clare Orange and Green and Fermanagh Quadrilles). The music is pure dancing pleasure—it will set feet tapping and stepping with ease.
The new CD has a unique feature—it is available in versions with and without calling. Pat Murphy calls all the sets over the music with clear and timely instructions, making each easy to dance. Teachers and callers may prefer only the music and this is available as well.
Get copies from Enda and Seamus at their gigs, and from Pat at his workshops. You also can order it online at www.ceilitime.co.uk.
Articles continue in Old News Volume 78.
In an area steeped in dancing and traditional music, it is not the first time that the Cork-Kerry region has produced a ceili band for set dancing. The origins of bands like the Abbey Ceili Band, the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, Jerry McCarthy and Liam Healy, and Uí Bhriain, among others, are to be found here. Thus, it is no surprise that another band has emerged from these cultural roots. Since January 2012, the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band has developed into a five-piece band that, ceili by ceili, has been catching the ear of many a set dancer.
Ken Kelleher is the eldest son of well-known ceili band musicians Mort and Noreen Kelleher from Macroom in Co Cork. With music being instilled in him from an early age by his parents, it is understandable why it plays such a huge part in Ken’s life today. He has enjoyed many a set up and down the country since he was a teenager, and where better to have a base in set dancing than on a regular Thursday night in the Abbey Hotel in Ballyvourney? With an average of ten sets dancing to the sounds of local musicians, Ballyvourney continues to enjoy an atmosphere that one would normally associate with a weekend ceili. It was on these Thursday nights that Ken, encouraged by organiser Larry Creed and local dancers, began to play a few times a year. Ken attributes his lively brand of music today to the many nights spent both playing and dancing in the Abbey Hotel. Eventually, in January 2012, with the encouragement of dancers and family alike, Ken felt it was time to follow in his father’s footsteps and put a ceili band of his own on the road. Over the following months, Ken brought together four more musicians he had met in Cork’s vibrant trad scene to finally form what is now known as the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band.
Paudie Harrington on banjo was the first to join Ken. A native of Blarney in County Cork, Paudie comes from a talented family of musicians and songwriters. His exciting style and creativeness stems from his experience of playing different genres of music over the years. While he is an ever-present figure in the Cork trad scene, joining in regularly in venues like An Sin É and An Spalpín Fánach, he also spent several years playing in a rock band called Lotion. Both Ken and Paudie like tunes that are just that little bit different, adding to an already rich base of traditional tunes by both, which gives a refreshing new blend of set dancing rhythms.
On keyboards is a multi-instrumentalist Paul Clesham from Ballindine in Co Mayo. As the youngest member of the band, Paul has won several underage All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil competitions in categories ranging from groupí ceoill and ceili band to solo melodeon. He is also an accomplished concertina and fiddle player. Paul gels this band together with an understanding of music in a manner which is way beyond his youthful years.
Mike Walsh is the band’s flute player. Hailing from Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry, Mike’s sweet tone and frequent harmonies add another dimension to the music of the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band. His lifting style and lively tone are especially evident during slides and polkas. Mike is also a well-known face in the traditional scene and when not playing a ceili, he can be found travelling to festivals and sessions the length of the country. Mike is mainly based in Cork these days and it is in these Cork sessions that Ken and Mike met a couple of years ago.
The most recent addition to the band is fiddle player Lucia McPartlin. Having won the 2012 Fiddler of Dooney and also coming third in the solo senior competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, there’s no doubt that she is a star in the making. Coming from Ballina in Co Tipperary, Lucia is a full-time student in Cork’s School of Music. Being the only female member of the group she keeps the others in check with her angelic and alluring playing.
While both on and off stage, it is evident that there is great enjoyment and musical chemistry between these individuals. This new band knows that standing the test of time, along with regular rehearsals, will carry them forward to be a success in the set dancing scene. In January of this year the band were in the Abbey Hotel again to celebrate their first year together by bringing it back to where it all began. This they hope will become a regular yearly celebration as time goes on. In the interim, they were heard playing at many an energy-filled ceili at venues in Carrigaline, Meelin, Crookstown and Ballybunnion, along with many more in a year that has laid a solid foundation for this band for years to come. In 2013, while looking forward to revisiting venues from their first year, the band are also excited about taking their music further afield, to Clarinbridge in Co Galway, Ballykilmurry in Co Offaly, and the fabulous dance floor of Mooncoin in Co Kilkenny.
Ken himself was eager to thank all those who have helped the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band thus far—family, friends, ceili organisers and most importantly the dancers who have supported them. He was also keen to thank other musicians who had contributed to the band, in particular keyboard player Tony Corbett and fiddle player James Duggan. Ken appreciates that consistency plays a big part in succeeding in the set dancing scene and is delighted to have brought this group of talented individuals together.
Ultimately the aim of the Ken Kelleher Ceili Band is to continue enjoying their passion and love of playing music, while enabling dancers to enjoy many nights of sets for years to come. They now look forward to meeting friends up and down the country while making more along the way.
Shane Creed, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
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).
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