last updated 24 April 2014
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Old news and reviews—Volume 80

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch

Total enjoyment by the sea

Having experienced the craic and the madness of the Sets by the Sea Weekend in 2012, my wife Carol and I were eager to once again return to Spanish Point in our home county of Clare and the Bellbridge House Hotel for what we knew was going to be a sleep-deprived, dance-filled, session-jammed weekend of total enjoyment!

Arriving quite early on Friday, March 8th, we were nicely settled in our room before the car park started filling up, and the lobby and bar were full of eager weekend revellers! A break in the cloudy sky at 5.30pm meant one thing for me—a Spanish Point sunset! Armed with all my camera gear and tripod, I quickly made my way down to the stunning beach, where I set up camp for the next hour or so, waiting for the shot I wanted. I managed to capture a nice image before returning to the hotel for a very welcome complimentary cup of coffee and homemade cake! It wasn’t long before the familiar sound of a Clare session was in full swing, which kept everyone entertained through to the opening ceili of the weekend.

While some people remained in the cosy and homely bar, others started making their way into the main ballroom, where another instantly recognisable sound was emanating—yip, Micheál Sexton! He kept everyone in the ballroom entertained with his perfect blend of waltzes, quicksteps, jives and, rounding off the mixture with an increasingly popular fan favourite, the Slosh! It is important to note that the regular €10 ceili fee also covered entry to the social dancing, a definite feather in the cap to organiser Tina Walsh and crew.

The temperature starts to rise, the sets start forming on the floor, the atmosphere is intense, and the blue Go Johnny Go Go Go shirts are visible around the room—yes, it was time for the opening ceili of the weekend with the one and only Johnny Reidy Ceili Band (JRCB). Getting straight down to business, the Corofin Plain Set kicked off the evening’s set dancing, and with this mighty start, there was no let-up until Amhrán Na Bhfiann brought the evening to an end in the wee hours of Saturday morning! Sets danced on the night were the Corofin Plain, Sliabh Luachra, Antrim Square, Caledonian, Plain, Cashel, Kilfenora and Clare Lancers. It is amazing that no matter how sore the feet are, no matter how much the bones may ache, and no matter how wrecked you feel, the final set seems to give you another bout of energy, so much so that you don’t want it to stop! Unfortunately it did though, which our feet thanked us for the following morning!

A quick run up to the room for a change of clothes, and it was back down to the packed bar for another session. Crikey, do these musicians (David Crowe on flute, Mark Burke on box, Trevor Herbert on flute, P J Walsh on flute and vocals, Therese McInerney on fiddle, Francis Cunningham on concertina, Eimear Howley and friends from Kilfenora, and more) know how to keep a large crowd entertained! A few pints of Guinness later, well, sorry, numerous pints of Guinness later and I found myself standing beside the musicians, singing one of my favourite songs, which I learned from a good friend of mine in Tralee, Frankie O’Shea, and a song which P J Murrihy has recorded, In My Father’s House, followed by one of my favourite Liam Clancy songs, The Parting Glass. Thankfully, I got through them okay, and without clearing the bar, so myself, Carol, and family and friends relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the entertainment until 5am! We also found ourselves in the company of Johnny, Tom and Martina from JRCB for some great craic and banter during the small hours. Our bed beckoned, and as it was only approximately four hours until we would have to rise and shine for breakfast and do it all again, it was very welcome indeed!

It was a feat in itself that we were able to make breakfast the following morning, but meeting everyone again, and feeding off their enthusiasm for the day ahead kept us going! Mary Clancy’s set dancing workshop was on the agenda after breakfast, and it was a pleasure meeting Mary for the first time. She is great fun, and this shines through while she is teaching. The dancers who attended the workshop were taught the Ballyvourney Reel Set and the Mazurka Set, which was later danced at the Saturday night ceili. Whilst we physically didn’t have the energy to partake in the workshop, it was clear to see that everyone there thoroughly enjoyed it!

Johnny Reidy Ceili Band took centre stage again on Saturday afternoon, kicking off this time with Clare favourite, the Caledonian Set. The lads were on fire again, and in no time at all the main ballroom floor and perfectly laid extra flooring were bouncing from the energy of all the dancers—a fantastic atmosphere once again! On the set list for this ceili were the Caledonian, Borlin, Claddagh, Labasheeda, Plain, Moycullen, Ballyvourney Jig, and rounded off nicely with the Connemara. To top off a wonderful afternoon, I managed to get out again, for another sunset photo shoot. The electric sound of the ceili was a total contrast to the peace and tranquillity surrounding me, while I waited on the beach for the right blend of sunlight and waves to capture the perfect photo. It was just what I needed to recharge the batteries for the night ahead!

A welcome, delicious meal in the ballroom set us up nicely for another cosy session in the bar. This time, among the jigs and the reels we were entertained with a sean nós display by Tina’s multi-talented son Daniel, who had come straight from playing in a major football match!

Before the Abbey Ceili Band took to the stage for the night’s ceili, Micheál Sexton was on hand to entertain the dancers who again availed of the €10 combo deal. Where does all this energy come from? The floor was full of dancers for a good hour and a half, and this was before a three-hour ceili! There was a real sense of anticipation in the ballroom as the Abbey settled in to get the night rocking! Dancing kicked off with the Corofin Plain Set, which seemed to leave no one seated. Everyone in the hall seemed to be up dancing! This was swiftly followed by the Caledonian, Ballyvourney Reel and Kilfenora, and a much welcomed tea break. As with the previous ceilis, the staff were on hand with perfect timing to serve the complimentary tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes. Dancing resumed with the Plain, Cashel and Connemara, and rounding off a fantastic night of music and dancing, the floor was put to the test for the Clare Lancers—a perfect way to end an amazing night!

A short time-out outside the hotel in the cool sea breeze was enough to blow away any tiredness and revitalise us for another night in the bar and another superb session. The same guys and girls were on hand throughout the whole weekend to keep us all entertained in the bar, and with the lads from the Abbey joining them, the atmosphere they created with music and song left everyone wanting more, even when the night came to an end, again at 5am! While in the company of a number of friends, including the lady I refer to as the “Voice of the Bellbridge,” Carmel Smith from Dublin, we sang our way through the night until once again, tiredness took over, and it was time to retire for a few sacred hours of sleep!

After a leisurely breakfast, and much needed cups of coffee, Clare dance master Aidan Vaughan took to the floor in the main ballroom to run a sean nós workshop. Dancers were treated to Aidan’s traditional style of dancing and teaching, and learned many steps during the class.

Sunday afternoon’s entertainment was by the superb Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band, and it was a perfect way to finish off a weekend of dancing. The first set was the Kilfenora, which immediately had dancers, young and old, crying out for more. Actually, there was a great mixture of ages at all ceilis, which is always great to see. On the menu for the rest of the first half were the Moycullen, Cashel and Clare Lancers, and following the half-time break, we danced the Caledonian, Ballyvourney Jig and Plain, and ended proceedings with a high-energy, foot-stomping, gravity-defying Connemara!

Having booked in for the three nights, we settled into the bar, where a farewell session bid a safe journey home to all the dancers who had travelled from the four corners of Ireland and across Europe. Perhaps an early night would have been the right thing to do, but sitting down with Carmel, Tina and various members of her family for a good old fashioned sing-song, we chatted, sang and laughed our way through until the early hours of Monday morning. A great way to top off a mighty weekend.

The Bellbridge House Hotel and staff played a major part in the huge success of the weekend. The friendly and helpful manner of each staff member compliments the cosy surroundings of the hotel perfectly, and makes it feel like a home away from home. On a final note, a huge congrats to Tina and all her family and crew for an amazing and memorable weekend, and similar to last year, we have our room booked for next year, and look forward to a return visit for Sets by the Sea 2014.

Keith McGlynn, Tralee, Co Kerry

Blown away in Ballybofey

The fifth Aranderg Set Dancing Weekend in the Villa Rose Hotel, Ballybofey, Co Donegal, began on Friday night, February 22nd, with the Annally Ceili Band from 9pm–12am, and as ever, the music was beautiful and absolutely superb. They are always one of the easiest bands to dance to, with the lovely steady flow of their music and sound—pure magic. We had approximately 25 sets on the floor and that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

We followed the sets with a nice relaxing two hours of social dancing to Country Highways, and the stamina of the set dancers never ceases to amaze me with a large crowd remaining on the floor until the very last dance.

On Saturday morning our sean nós workshop began at 10.30am with Kathleen McGlynn, ably assisted by her husband Michael—what a team! They had about twenty dancers in attendance and as usual everyone enjoyed the experience. A brilliant teacher is someone who can make super dancing look easy and this Kathleen does to perfection. She breaks down the steps and makes learning easy.

Frank and Bobby Keenan conducted tthe set dancing workshop with about eight sets. Frank takes everything in his nice relaxed style and yet excellently performed, and of course Bobby is there overseeing everything and leaves nothing to chance. We stopped for dinner at one o’clock and danced in the afternoon from 2–4.30pm.

People took time out to relax in the evening as we had a very long night ahead of us. Some went out shopping as Ballybofey boasts some beautiful shops, none more so than McElhinney Department Store which is renowned, and of course not forgetting Mr G’s.

At 9pm we began dancing with the one and only Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, and from the first moment he blew us away with his high tempo and superb music. We had close to forty sets on the floor and I can’t explain to you how satisfying that was for me sitting back watching and taking it all in from a distance. Sometimes it’s nice not to be totally engrossed in the dancing and just to watch other people enjoying themselves so much. Once the ceili was over we had Oliver Brogan for two hours of social dancing which I must say I really enjoyed, but at that stage the energy levels were certainly waning.

Marie Garrity had a lovely two-hand workshop on the Sunday morning which helped to gather up the people and got everybody ready for the afternoon ceili.

Johnny took to the stage again at 2pm and we witnessed another three hours of pure fun. Fair to say, it was a magic weekend and the reaction I’ve been getting ever since has been unbelievable. We are building something very special with the Aranderg weekend and it is continuing to increase yearly and trust me next year will be bigger and better again. I look forward to seeing you all again in 2014 at the earlier dates of 7–9 February.

Liam Gallen, Castlederg, Co Tyrone

30 years on Cooley

Thirty years ago my life didn’t include any set dancing, and folks on the Cooley Peninsula of Co Louth were far ahead of me. That’s when the St Patrick’s Set Dancing Group was formed and held their first set dancing weekend. It was about twenty years ago when I started dancing, and it wasn’t long before I started making occasional trips to the Cooley to experience the friendly welcome and generous hospitality from the club, and especially from their teachers, Michael and Kathleen McGlynn. On the occasion of their thirtieth weekend, 26–28 April, I visited again and found the club and their weekend still going strong.

When I arrived for the opening Friday night ceili in St Patrick’s Community Centre in the village of Lordship, I found John McEvoy deputising for Michael, welcoming everyone and serving as MC. John and his wife Sheila are dancers, organisers and teachers from further south in Louth. Those arriving before the 9pm start could take advantage of refreshments served in the back half of the main hall, while watching an entertaining children’s kick boxing class in the other half. Some of those moves might come in handy in a set, some wag said! Tonight’s dancing was upstairs in a smaller hall, and when I went up just minutes before the 9pm start, I found myself alone with Triskell Ceili Band, who reassured me that the dancing really was scheduled to begin then. Indeed, more people followed and there was a prompt start when John announced the Kilfenora Set and three sets got up to dance. A constant stream of freshly arriving dancers doubled that number for subsequent sets, one of which was the new, highly-acclaimed Rinkinstown Set, devised by John and Sheila, together with Mairéad Devane from Skerries, Co Dublin, who was dancing with us as well. Workshop teacher Pádraig McEneany arrived in time to call it for us. Of course, Triskell is also part of the McEvoy dynasty, founded and staffed by John and Sheila’s children and friends. Just in time for the tea break, Michael and Kathleen arrived, straight from a wedding in Dublin, with welcomes flowing in two directions at once. Michael called all the dances in the second half of the ceili, and invited a young Monaghan dancer to dance a few sean nós steps. She came along with her mother and grandmother, three generations of sharing an enduring love of dancing—much like the club here in the Cooley!

Those of us who love workshops look on them as the main course of a weekend. Ceilis are great, of course, but there’s satisfaction in challenging yourself to learn something new. For the first thirteen years of this workshop, the teachers were Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan, and Mick Mulkerrin, Declan Morris, Ger Butler and his brother Colin Butler followed them. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany have had the post most recently, and today they taught three sets, the Blacktown from Co Tyrone, the Rinkinstown, a request from Michael and Kathleen so they could learn it themselves, and the Black Hill from Co Waterford. Our teachers spent time on the steps and details so we could dance the sets correctly, while having fun at the same time. In the generous spirit of the club, a lunch of tea, sandwiches and homemade cakes was provided at no charge, and since my last visit a café has been built just outside, where more substantial meals were available.

Weekend visitors had many options for accommodation in the area, though few of those were in the village of Lordship. I found an excellent B&B in Dundalk town centre at a nice price, and I danced with a partner who had a room with a private balcony at a nearby luxury hotel. My own B&B was a handy fifteen minutes away, so that I could go back to town for a bit of sightseeing, some shopping, a meal, a rest and a shower and then return to the hall in good time—no rushing required!

There’s nothing like a bit of Cork music to brighten up a Saturday night, and Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan, the husband and wife, box and piano duo, have been coming here for years to do just that. The kick boxers had the night off, so we were able to use the top half of the big hall for the ceili, and we certainly needed the space when a coachload of dancers arrived from Dublin. Michael was our full-time MC and caller tonight, and he gave us a programme of set dancing’s greatest hits with just one exception—we had another welcome go at the Rinkinstown Set, called by Pádraig. Now that I’m getting used to it I realise I get delight from every figure. I was able to get up my usual wild-boy antics in all the other sets, thanks to good partners, except for the opening Plain Set when I stood opposite another gent, each of us with our hand up. We ended up splitting up a couple of lady beginners, who behaved rather like rabbits caught in headlamps at first, but they went away smiling and laughing when done. There was a serious moment when we remembered a founding club member, Bernie Quinn, with a moment of silence. He was buried earlier in the week, and Michael credited him with being the “acorn” from which all the set dancing in the area grew. Bernie, originally from Co Galway, was the only experienced set dancer when they began the club. To round off the night, there was a sean nós display by Kathleen and dozens of her followers and a final Connemara Set.

On Sunday morning I took a drive around the Cooley and visited Carlingford and Omeath before returning to Lordship. Carlingford was full of weekend hikers checking out of their hotels and taking breakfast in the cafés. Lordship, on the other hand, was full of sean nós dancers at Kathleen’s workshop. I like the way she democratises sean nós, making it easily accessible to everyone. Her steps are easily followed by beginners, yet I spotted more experienced dancers fitting extra taps into their steps. She doesn’t teach sean nós for performance, but rather for the pure enjoyment of dancing it.

In Lordship, tea, sandwiches and baked goods are always available, not just in the middle of ceilis, so that I just stayed put after the workshop while awaiting the ceili. While most of the rest of us had been here before, I was surprised that Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band were only making their first visit today. They fitted in perfectly with the dancers, playing more favourite sets called by Michael. Partnerless, I rushed to find a place for the opening Plain Set, put my hand in the air and soon a partner volunteered herself. At the end of the ceili, I saw the same lady with her hand up, so it was only fair to return to the favour and we danced the Connemara. While we didn’t dance the Rinkinstown Set today, Michael did call another Louth set for us—the Cúchulainn. I wasn’t terribly familiar with it but with Michael’s help it was easy. After that Kathleen led more sean nós dancing, with about half the population of the hall participating.

At the close of the weekend, Michael and Kathleen offered farewells and thanks to all who came from near and far, and I hope they’ll keep dancing going strong for their next decade!

Bill Lynch

Bundoran’s best Bash

The first time I ever travelled to Donegal was to experience the dancing, and while it was fun and different, it was really the mountains, sea and valleys, and especially the peace and quiet, that made the biggest impression on me. The county is famous among traditional dancers for its love of two-hand dancing, but they’re as mad for sets as the rest of the country, and at least four or five major set dancing weekends take place here every year. The biggest of these claims to be Hugh’s Big Bash, which I was lucky enough to attend from April 5th to 7th. The Bash was first organised by Hugh McGauran from Co Tyrone and formerly Belfast to celebrate his birthday and that occasion was such a success that he had to do it again the next year, and every year since. The weekend has moved around to different towns and hotels, but once it arrived at the Great Northern Hotel in Bundoran, they found their ideal venue and have no reason to move anywhere else.

It was just about the most glorious day I had ever experienced in Ireland when I departed Clare for Donegal. The pure sky and blazing sun lifted spirits as I headed north, stopping along the way at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, where there were spectacular views from Benbulben to the south all the way to Sliabh League on Donegal’s southwestern coast. And in between I could spot Bundoran and even the hotel, which stood prominently on its own away from the rest of the town at the centre of an eighteen-hole golf course. The hotel and golf club occupy a little cliff-edged peninsula, with sandy beaches both sides, and uninterrupted views in all directions. After checking in and settling down, I took a cliff-top walk as the sun was setting, marvelling at the beauty all around in the glowing golden light.

I was lucky to have such a scenic prelude to my weekend, as the dancing schedule was so full I never set foot outside again, except to visit my car occasionally. After returning to my room and readying myself for a night’s dancing, I ventured down to the ceili an hour early and found the ballroom in full motion with social dancing by the McGlone Brothers. This was a two-hour warmup for freshly-arrived visitors to ease us into a dancing frame of mind. The ceili began once the band Ceili Time took stage, and it was the easiest ever switch-over between bands! The McGlone Brothers, Seamus and Enda, and Ceili Time are, of course, identical, apart from name and type of music. When the opening Kilfenora Set was called, the popularity of the Bash was obvious—people flooded out and thronged the floor. And a substantial floor it was, gleaming with a fresh finish, plus plenty of extra well-installed plywood panels on the carpet. I stood into a set with my hand up and was quickly partnered with a Glaswegian stranger. I wondered if it was permissible to double with someone on our first set, and luckily my lady went along with me. Joe Farrell was the caller at all the weekend’s ceilis, and I can only commend him for his adventurous selection of sets—Kilfenora, Fermanagh, Paris, Derradda, Rinkinstown, Moycullen, Sliabh Luachra and Clare Lancers. No complaints, full floors and even fearless beginners, though they may have needed helpful pushes occasionally. Ceili Time played every set beautifully, and their box and guitar had a bit of help in the Sliabh Luachra Set from a lad playing a pair of the hotel’s spoons. At the end of a satisfying day, I deeply appreciated the convenience of falling into bed a short flight of stairs away.

The amazing shortage of clouds continued on Saturday morning, but the beauty of the sun-drenched landscape didn’t deter me from the morning workshop with Pat Murphy. The scheduled 10am start seemed optimistic, but dancers arrived promptly and only a few minutes had passed before we began with the Ballyfin Set. The unique single handclap separating the ladies chain from the swing was easy for everyone to get used to! Pat followed up with the Newmarket Meserts Set, which has the most confounding high gates movement in all of set dancing, which, in fact, is nearly the easiest as long as one doesn’t think too hard about it. There were cheers all around every time it was danced!

That was all there was to the workshop, because after lunch Long Note Ceili Band played the first ceili of the day. There was a lovely bright atmosphere, and not just from all the sunlight streaming through the enormous ballroom windows. All but two of my sets were danced with ladies I hadn’t met before, so I had numerous chances to contemplate the appropriateness of doubling on the first set. Joe the caller didn’t repeat any sets, and directed us through the more adventurous Mazurka, Sliabh gCua and Ballykeale sets, while including the Connemara, Ballyvourney Jig, Antrim Square and Plain sets for familiar fun. There was an early finish to allow the staff to put out hundreds of chairs before Mass at 5.30pm. That was followed by dinner for all those staying in the hotel, which was especially pleasant for the chance to have a chat without all the conversational interruptions of a ceili.

Another social dancing warm-up before the Saturday night ceili featured a duo called Family Affair, and I was amused to note that the Slosh seems to be just as popular here as down south. Copperplate Ceili Band took over the stage for the ceili which included the Borlin Polka, Claddagh and Clare Orange and Green sets for a challenge, plus the Caledonian and Cashel which nearly everyone can do on autopilot. Even so, Joe called all the dances and even filled unfilled sets by leading people from their seats out onto the floor. It also happened to be his birthday, which was celebrated in the second half with a cake, blazing candles and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday from everyone. Afterward, three solo dancers came forward to perform. The Copperplate’s fiddler, Ciaran McManus, showed some world class step dancing, Frankie Fox from London danced some sean nós steps, and then the ever-popular Sean Duggan from Longford amused us as only he can with his showy moves. After all that, there was barely time for another set so Joe led us through the first figures of the Plain and Connemara, finishing with the last of the Plain. With the ceili ended, the night had only just begun, as there was a session which was expected to last till morning. It was held in a lounge area with comfy seating just beside the dance floor, and a stack of song books had been distributed so that everyone could sing along as if they knew the words. Three sets danced the Connemara at 3am, while I was fast asleep, and I heard that session leader Eamonn Donnelly of the Copperplate only packed up his piano around 6am.

Then it was only a few short hours to Sunday morning breakfast and the two-hand dancing workshop with Pat Murphy. We danced a few easy dances in traditional style, a few waltzes, and then some in ballroom style which seem to be Pat’s special favourites. Many of them he found on Scottish videos and he had a lovely selection of Scottish music to accompany them. The Scots are so frugal that they don’t waste any of their music and begin dancing as soon as it starts, but Pat had us wait the customary eight bars. For me there’s so much brain work involved with some of the dances that I feel like a beginner all over again, and I commend my partner for putting up with me as I counted out the steps and recited the movements!

The fine weather was only a distant memory today, with cool, grey, damp taking over, so at least I wasn’t missing anything by staying in to dance at the final ceili. Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band supplied the music and Joe called more of his non-repeating sets. Only the first Corofin and last Plain could be classed as ordinary; in between he gave us five unusual and thoroughly enjoyable sets, one after the other—the Roscahill, Fermanagh Quadrilles, Labasheeda, Boyne and Newport. The Swallows skilfully played every set, outdoing themselves on the final Plain Set by playing it nonstop, switching into and out of the jig seamlessly right on cue. The hotel offered a free weekend accommodation for two in a drawing held during the ceili, and I think any us there would have been happy to take advantage of that. I wanted to particularly praise them for their beautiful ballroom, which had the most remarkable floor. It was spacious, had a good bounce, a perfect slide (though a floor mat dusted with talcum powder was conveniently provided for those wishing to dip their shoes into it) and was free of dust. What’s even more amazing was that the glossy shine on the floor was just as bright on Sunday as it had been on Friday. Set dancers have been conditioned to equate a shiny floor with dust and coughing, but the Great Northern Hotel proved that it is possible to have a beautifully finished floor which is free of dust and survives a weekend onslaught of hundreds of set dancing shoes. I just hope someone there writes a manual on the proper methods of looking after dance floors!

Hugh’s Bash—it’s big, friendly, has a packed schedule, great bands, fantastic selection of sets, gorgeous partners, a top venue, in a spectacular seaside setting.

Bill Lynch

At the foot of Mont Blanc

Having attended our workshops and seen us dance on stage in July at Le Grand Bal de l’Europe in Gennetines, Fergus Fitzpatrick and I were invited by Stéphane Roger of the Association J’Attendsveille to teach set dancing in Haute-Savoie, France, over the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of March 2013. The club promotes traditional music and dancing from France and abroad, and holds regular classes, weekends and bals in the Passy region of Haute-Savoie. A native of Monaco, I have been living in Belfast now for three and a half years and I love the Irish culture, music and dancing, but it’s still lovely to get back to France whenever I can. I was particularly delighted to be invited with Fergus to this stunning region high in the French Alps, a place I had only ever been to once before, at the foot of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain.

Despite the snow in Belfast, we managed to travel safely and arrived in the small village of Argentière on the Friday evening. We had the evening to relax, as well as the following morning to explore the beautiful town of nearby Chamonix, famous for its skiing and chic lifestyle. The dancing started on the Saturday after lunch with an afternoon workshop from 2 to 6pm. With a wide range of abilities and experience amongst the 40 or so participants, including people from Italy and Switzerland, we began with the North Kerry Set, taking time to cover the basic steps, the Kerry body and even the shape of the actual set. With the two of us teaching, it makes it easier to demonstrate a lot of the things that more experienced dancers so often take for granted. We then continued with the Mazurka Set, covering the reel step in detail and returning to it time and time again throughout the workshop as required. Then it was time for a beautiful shared dinner. This practice of sharing food (where everybody brings a different dish, usually homemade) between the workshop and bal (ceili) is very common in France, and is a lovely way to socialise, relax and take a break from all the frantic dancing.

The bal that evening featured the two sets we had danced at the workshop as well as some traditional French dancing with beautiful music supplied by some of the workshop participants, in particular Pierre on violin and Sara on accordion. The evening was a delightful mix of French traditional dancing and Irish set dancing. Perhaps more set dancing weekends could start to feature some French dancing; certainly Castletown already does this, and the Carryduff weekend usually finishes off with a little evening of French and Irish dancing and music. Those who know it would agree that it’s a wonderful mixture of shapes and rhythms, and it is thoroughly recommended to anybody who loves to dance! At the bal we also performed a little routine that combines various moves from different sets, as well as using a few French bourrée and Cajun moves!

The Sunday workshop started early and featured the lovely Moycullen Set, which has the different rhythms of the reel, jig and polka. Again, lots of time was taken on the reel step, both for the beginners and the more advanced dancers. The more we teach in France and elsewhere, the more we find that this is what people are looking for. After the Moycullen Set, we spent twenty minutes or so introducing a more advanced reel step. This seemed to both amaze and traumatise at least half of the participants, so rather than finish the morning workshop here, we started the Clare Lancers and managed to complete the first two figures before stopping for lunch.

A beautiful lunch was enjoyed by all, featuring all that is fine in French cuisine, although perhaps the highlight of the meal was the appearance of a bottle of homemade génépi! This is a rather strong liqueur made from a hard to find high-altitude alpine flower. It certainly had the desired effect and it provided an extra source of renewed energy for the afternoon workshop! Fergus in particular found an extra lift to his step and straight away spent the first half-hour on the advanced reel step. The remaining figures of the Clare Lancers were then completed, and to finish the weekend, we danced it again all the way through.

For the two of us, the weekend was thoroughly enjoyable. I lost count of the number of people who came up to me at the end of the weekend to thank us for the workshop. People especially enjoyed Fergus’ endless energy and his contagious Irish humour and they were delighted to be taught in such a clear and precise manner. Whether it be for steps or sets, his teaching method is incredibly accurate and yet he manages to pace it so that everybody is both having fun and constantly learning. I also must commend him on his courageous attempt to teach in French!

After the weekend of dancing, we remained in the area for a few days and had the pleasure of a wonderful day’s skiing in the nearby resort of Les Contamines, with Stéphane as our guide for the day. We had clear blue skies, stunning scenery and fabulous snow for the whole day, despite it being so late in the season. I think every set dancing trip should include at least one day’s skiing, and indeed we joked with Stéphane about combining the two on the program for next year’s weekend!

So again, a big thank you to Stéphane, the Association J’Attendsveille and all who attended the weekend and made the whole experience so pleasurable for us.

Vanessa Franchetti, Belfast

A sweet new competition

Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club held their second Sweets of May Set Dancing and Traditional Music Festival from 10th to 12th May in the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry. To celebrate The Gathering, a national programme to attract visitors to Ireland, this year we added a new event, a newly composed set competition, to our festival. This is the first time ever such a competition has been held in the set dancing world. It was the brainchild of club chairman Timmy Woulfe. If set dancing is to survive it needs to evolve, and each generation should add their sets to the repertoire of sets danced at ceilis and workshops, to this end the new sets competition was born.

The competition became the highlight of the weekend. Visitors from Italy, Germany, Australia, USA, the UK and Northern Ireland came especially to be part of the historic occasion. We had five entries—James Garner from Sydney, Australia, sent us his Hunter Valley Set; Julia Smith, Newcastle, Australia, brought her Charlestown Set; Teresa Quigg from Carryduff Set Dancers, Co Down, brought her Drumbo Lancers Set; Helen Kealy from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, brought her Coolnabeasoon Set; and John Chambers brought us our Kerry entry, the Camp Set. All five sets were demonstrated to a large gathering on Friday evening following a canapé reception, which was kindly sponsored by the hotel. The highly experienced adjudicators, Julie Corrigan, Co Meath, Marie Neville, Co Limerick, and Jerry Ryan, Dublin, had the difficult task of selecting the winning set. The adjudicators had copies of the scripts of the sets and DVDs a few weeks before the event. The adjudicators and their decision were independent of the club.

The winning set was the Hunter Valley Set. James Garner composed his set to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Newcastle Irish Set Dancers, part of the Hunter Valley Folk Club. This gem of a set is danced to three reels, a jig and a polka and has many traditional features and elements which link it with its Australian origins.

Following on from the sets competition, we had a mega ceili with Johnny Reidy playing in his usual exuberant style.

Saturday morning, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenahan, officially launched the festival. Minister Deenihan also presented a beautiful silver cup with a replica to the winning set; the cup is returned for the next competition but the winner retains the replica. Julia Smith and Arthur Kingsland accepted the award on behalf of their close friend James who could not travel from Australia for the event.

After the launch on Saturday morning dancers were spoiled for choice with two workshops. Local dancing teacher Triona Mangan, who has achieved numerous accolades both at performing and teaching dancing, conducted a sean nós workshop.

World renowned dancing master Pat Murphy taught the Coomhola Set from the Borlin and Coomhola valleys outside Bantry, west Cork. The set has seven figures danced to polkas and slides. Pat thanked Ultan Mulcahy, Co Limerick, who brought his attention to this set. He also paid tribute to John Levis for keeping this set alive by teaching it at his weekly dancing classes. John’s dancing teams have performed this set in various set dancing competitions down through the years. The second set of the workshop was the beautiful Rinkinstown, composed by John McEvoy from Co Louth. It has three reels and a hornpipe and is danced regularly at ceilis. For the afternoon workshop Pat taught the Newmarket Meserts, which he got from Jer McAuliffe, Newmarket, Co Cork.

On Saturday evening, the Striolán Ceili Band played in the bar from 8 to 9.30pm to the delight of dancers and other guests in the hotel. The Saturday night ceili saw the mighty Abbey Ceili Band on stage to keep the dancing feet happy of the hundreds who had turned out. We danced a selection of eight sets and Pat Murphy called the Rinkinstown from the workshop. Immediately after the ceili, the Striolán set up for another session into the small hours.

For our workshop Sunday morning, Pat Murphy taught the prize-winning Hunter Valley Set. During lunch, the foyer in the hotel was buzzing with the beautiful music of Oilean, a local group who play a wide variety of styles.

The final ceili of the festival was packed to the rafters with dancers eager to dance to the superb music of the Striolán Ceili Band. We danced most of the familiar sets and Pat Murphy called the Coomhola Set from Saturday’s workshop. The festival closed with a mighty session in the hotel bar with Oileann and guests.

The same bands and tutors have been booked for the 2014 Sweets of May, 9–11 May. Get moving on composing your new set to be part of the history the Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club has created.

Joan Pollard Carew

Resounding in Portmagee

The tiny village of Portmagee sits on the edge of a fishing harbour opposite Valentia Island. The Skellig Islands are a forty-minute boat journey away and the surrounding countryside is breathtaking. The May bank holiday is when the village gives itself over to a set dance workshop with ceilis and sessions. The dancing centres around the community hall and the Bridge Bar and dancers are accommodated in the adjoining Moorings Hotel.

The proprietors, Pat and Ger Kennedy, are the hosts to this weekend together with Julian and Beryl Stracey. Enthusiastic dancers themselves, they initiated the first workshop back in 1991. Muiris Ó Briain, who is from the area, was aware of the set dance revival in Dublin and went about researching local sets that were dying out. He resurrected the Valentia Right and Left, the Portmagee Meserts and the Caragh Lake Jig Set. He had been going to Connie Ryan’s classes in Churchtown and asked Connie to come to Portmagee. This became an annual event until his death in 1997. Connie’s dancing partner, Betty McCoy, then took over and the workshop has continued to be popular.

This year, Betty, because she has had a knee replacement (but will be dancing again before too long), enlisted the help of Carmel Kearns from Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, who taught the Rinkinstown and Clare Orange and Green sets. She was precise and thorough and even the five dancers from Corsica with very little English were well in command of these sets by the end of the weekend. Local dancers were at the workshop and mingled with dancers from England and Irish participants who return each year from Wicklow and Carlow. And of course there are the Kerry emigrants who are so happy to return to their county for this special weekend.

Tim Joe and Anne played for the ceili in the community hall on the Saturday night and over twenty sets enjoyed their reels, polkas and slides.

Last year Betty McCoy had christened the three local musicians who played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the pub as the Moorings Ceili Band. Headed up by Paddy Casey (box), Marion O’Neill (vocals and whistle) and Orna Murphy (keyboard), they were full of energy and life and a real favourite with dancers. They are all extremely talented. Paddy plays virtually every traditional instrument. Marion’s singing was amazing, her repertoire going from country to ballads. Her rendering of The Galty Mountain Boy is still resounding in my head. Orna’s keyboard was lively and steady.

Mairéad Casey taught sean nós steps on Sunday morning. Her class included young local teenagers, which is so encouraging for the future of this style of dancing. It was thoroughly enjoyed by the participants.

On Sunday, the Bridge Bar hosted live music from 12 noon until 2am. Local musicians who play every Sunday in the Bridge were joined by visitors and songs and tunes went on for a couple of hours. Dancers whose feet were getting itchy were well served by Jerry McCarthy. The South Kerry Set was danced and danced and danced. It’s great that an area is so proud of its heritage!

It was hard to leave the wonderful attention from the Kennedys, the amazing food and the resounding music of the Moorings Ceili Band. Roll on next year!

Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow

Carnlough weekend

On their arrival in Carnlough, Co Antrim, visitors to the annual set dancing weekend, 12–14 April, were able to see remnants of the snow on the hills, which had blanketed the Glens of Antrim in previous weeks. Fortunately there was no further snow and we were blessed with a fine weekend, with the occasional April shower. The weekend took place a month earlier this year and we were rewarded with higher numbers at all workshops, the ceili and an informal session. We were delighted to see many familiar faces returning again to Carnlough for the weekend and their continued support is much appreciated.

There was a packed house at the Glencloy Inn for our usual Friday night opening session, with more than twelve musicians from all corners of Antrim playing a wide range of instruments. There was no space for dancing until about midnight when some floor was cleared to allow two sets to do the Antrim Square. Again, as in former years we had some great singers—Pat Taylor amused us all with his rendition of the Wee Croppy Tailor, and there was a hush in the room when Helen O’Kane and her son Ciarán sang the traditional air The Banks of the Bann.

Eight sets were in position in the Glenlough Community Centre on Saturday morning to start the day’s workshop with Pat Murphy. It was great to see so many new people who have only recently taken up set dancing attending the workshop, eager to learn and more importantly to enjoy themselves at the same time. They certainly benefitted from Pat’s clear instructions and supportive approach, while he took us through the Blackhill Set and Foilmore Set, both of which were new to all of us. The Rinkinstown Set was a bit more of a challenge in the afternoon but we got through the four figures, finishing it with a great sense of achievement and pride in our endeavours. We had the opportunity to dance it again later at the ceili, with Pat calling.

Cathal McAnulty and his band provided the music at the ceili for the fifth year in succession and we were not disappointed—the music lifted the crowd and there were spontaneous bursts of applause after many sets, in appreciation of their energy and skill. Tim Flaherty was fear an tí and he called a lovely variety of sets with timely and concise instructions, thus enabling old and new dancers to take to the floor. The raffle in the break was eagerly anticipated as again this year the top prize was a valuable piece of jewellery donated by Antrim jewellers and set dancers Bill and Christina Steenson.

Sunday morning saw another seven sets eager to start the workshop at 11am, in spite of a late night session for many in the Londonderry Hotel. Pat took us through the Ballyfin Set with its unusual moves of gents clapping and spiral movement in the last figure. We had just enough time to also do the first figure of the Kilmaine Set from Mayo before the workshop finished at 1pm.

This was another successful set dancing workshop weekend in Carnlough and there was much positive feedback at the end from all participants, with all already asking about 2014.

Emer Gallagher, Carnlough, Co Antrim

Marvellous Mulranny

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

A group of us from St Anne’s Parish in Birmingham travelled to Mulranny, Co Mayo, for their set dance weekend, 8–10 March. On behalf of us all, I would like to thank everyone for organizing such a great weekend. Thanks especially to Mickey Kelly and the committee, who even took us all on a trip around Achill Island on the Monday. We had first class workshops again, as we always do with Pat Murphy, three good ceilis, and last but by no means least, a superb venue, the Park Inn Hotel is excellent, so a special thank-you to the management and staff. We were all delighted with the quality of the rooms, the food and the service—and what a view! Overlooking Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick, it must be one of the best places to stay in Ireland. This was our second visit and we have already booked for next year.

John Holian, Birmingham, England

The icing on the cake


What a wonderful weekend we had at Helen and Paddy Kealy’s house in Old Parish, Co Waterford, 26–28 April. There was glorious music at both Friday night’s ceili with Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan, and Sunday afternoon’s ceili with Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter. Helen’s cooking was out of this world as usual. Thanks to all for allowing me to take some shots. It would be the icing on the cake to see them in the mag.


Jim Fenton, Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford

Passed away peacefully

Dear Bill,

I would like to express my thanks to our many set dancing friends for their get well messages during my wife Mai’s illness and for their sympathy on her death.

Mai lost her five-and-a-half-year battle with cancer on the 7th October and passed away peacefully in hospital. On behalf of the family I would like to thank our many set dancing friends.

Shay White, Staleen, Donore, Co Meath

Everyone who helped

Hi Bill,

A big thank-you to everyone who supported the ceili in Grange Hall in Sligo on March 23rd.

It was a great success, and the €675 which was raised on the night was given to North West Hospice.

Thanks to everyone who helped in any way, and to the Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band for the fantastic music as always!

Many thanks,

Joe McGorrin, Grange, Co Sligo

Fellow dancers far and near

Dear Bill,

To all my friends and fellow dancers far and near who visited me in hospital and sent cards, flowers and numerous texts during my recent illness, a big thank-you to each and everyone.

Best wishes,

Jim Whitty, Kilmannon, Cleariestown, Co Wexford

A new element

Dear Bill,

On behalf of the Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club, I would like to say a big thank-you to the large crowds who patronised our second annual workshop weekend in the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry.

We had a very disparate attendance, with groups from England, continental Europe and faraway Australia, as well as our own faithful followers, each in their own way making a contribution to the enjoyment of the occasion.

As before, our three bands, Johnny Reidy, the Abbey and Striolán were outstanding, as well as instructors, Triona Mangan and Pat Murphy. A special thanks to those who played for the sessions, in particular Oilean and some members of Striolán. Some visitors also joined.

As many will know, we introduced a new element to this year’s programme, a newly-composed set competition and this was a major success, attracting five new sets—

  1. Culnabeasoon from Old Parish, near Dungarvan, composed by Helen Kealy;
  2. Drumbo Lancers from Carryduff, Co Down, composed by Teresa Quigg;
  3. Camp from west Kerry, composed by John Chambers;
  4. the twin contribution from Australia, Charlestown, composed by Julia Smith,
  5. and Hunter Valley composed by James Garner.
A special thanks to those who brought their own team to demonstrate the set and to the Abbeyfeale class who took responsibility for the Charlestown. The Hunter Valley was performed by a mixed group from Kerry.

We look forward to next year’s event and would welcome suggestions for the running of the competition for the newly-composed sets.

Meanwhile, slán agus go raibh maith agaibh to those who made their contribution to staging this year’s event, especially our very active committee members.

Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

Overwhelmed by the response

Dear Bill,

Please permit us to thank all our friends and dancers who accepted our invitation to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary in the Springhill Court Hotel and Leisure Centre in Kilkenny on 14th April. We were overwhelmed by the response of people and their wonderful gifts. We had a great day. It was marvellous that so many people travelled from all over Ireland to join with us and our family for the day.

A special thanks to Eddie Lee and James Kelleher, who travelled all the way from Co Kerry, also Peter Lombard and Eileen Shanahan, who played brilliant music all afternoon and into the small hours of Monday morning.


Danny and Mary Webster, Loughinney, Co Kilkenny

Webster ruby wedding

County Kilkenny musician Danny Webster and his wife Mary celebrated forty years of marriage on Sunday, 14th April. The popular couple were joined by over three hundred guests and family in the Springhill Court Hotel in Kilkenny.

The welcome meeting in the foyer was a chocolate lover’s dream, with a huge chocolate fountain. Alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee were also readily available, all compliments of the Webster family.

The celebrations began with Mass in the hotel ballroom followed by a beautiful four-course dinner. The ballroom was decked out with balloons and bunting. The Webster family had a special cake made in the shape of an accordion.

After official photographs, the happy couple took to the floor for the first dance of the day. Eddie Lee and James Kelleher played superb music for hours, keeping dancers happy. We had a full floor for all the sets, and likewise for the two-hand dances and social dancing. The mix of dances made sure all dancing needs were catered for.

Two close friends and colleagues of Danny’s in the entertainment industry, Donal Heaphy and Paddy Butler, shared the job of master of ceremonies. They did a brilliant job with lots of lingo and yarns.

We had a break for tea and more yummy food. I had my fill of chocolate biscuit cake!

After the break another musician and lifelong friend of Danny’s, Peter Lombard, accompanied by Eileen Shanahan, took the stage to finish the evening with their unique style of music. Danny was called on to play for the Cashel Set. I had arrived in the hotel at 1pm and left to return home at 1.30am on Monday morning.

I know that some dancers continued treading the boards and enjoying the craic well in to Monday morning.

It was great to meet up with friends from all over Ireland and a privilege to join the Webster family to celebrate this very important occasion. Danny and Mary you are wished many more years of married bliss.

Joan Pollard Carew

Bernard Quinn

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Bernard Quinn, affectionately know as Bernie, on Saturday 20th April, after a short illness. Bernie was born in Clontusker, Co Galway, and emigrated to London in the 1950s.

While working in London he met and married Teresa Hynes, a native of the Cooley Peninsula, and their two daughters Maria and Patricia were born in London. In the early 1970s they returned to Lordship, Co Louth, with their family and set up home there.

Bernie learned his set dancing at home in Galway from his mother, who was also a box player. He and his sister Rose were great dancers and had competed successfully in many competitions. He danced in a most beautiful Galway style and introduced us to the Ballinasloe Half-Set, although we could never reach his style and standard of dancing. He was also the first to introduce us to the brush dance.

With the revival of set dancing in the 1970s Bernie was the only set dancer in the peninsula and having taught youngsters and adults who took part in Scór competitions, he was the person responsible for the revival of set dancing in this area.

Bernie was the acorn, and the oak tree has now reached maturity as we celebrate thirty years of set dancing workshops.

Bernie was a lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and was involved in the local Pioneer branch. He will be greatly missed by the members of St Patrick’s Set Dancing Club and his many friends in the set dancing scene. Our sympathies go out to his wife Teresa, his daughters Maria and Patricia, Patricia’s husband and Bernie’s loving grandchildren Peter and Tara.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Michael McGlynn, Riverstown, Co Louth

Listen to Swing, Foxford and Volume 21

A new CD from a new band, Swing by the Salamanca Ceili Band, contains fresh music for four sets—Clare Lancers, Moycullen, Rinkinstown and Shannon Gaels. Salamanca’s members are David Doocey (fiddle), Stephen Doherty (box), Brona Graham (banjo), Jim Corry (piano) and Ger Butler (drums), stretching from Antrim to Mayo. They excel at lively, bouncy music with a steady pace, exactly what high-energy set dancers are seeking. The sets on Swing include both ceili and workshop favourites to suit everyone. Copies are available from band members, at Custy’s Shop, Ennis, Co Clare, and via

Stephen Doherty, who plays with both Salamanca and Swallow’s Tail bands, has just released a CD his own called The Foxford Way. In it he reveals that he’s more than an amazing player on accordion and melodeon—he’s equally adept at the flute and whistle. The range of skill and emotion demonstrated in the tracks, from soulful and sensual to joyful and exuberant. Patrick Doocey provides tasteful guitar accompaniment. While the music is not specifically arranged for dancing, nearly every track will inspire rhythmic motion. Get a copy from Stephen, his website or from Custy’s.

Matt Cunningham’s monumental twenty-volume collection of music for set dancing is getting even bigger. Matt had expected to close the series at Volume 20, but he was unable to resist the many requests for him to apply his touch to the newest sets being taught and danced. The new volume is expected in July and will include the Ballyfin, Ballykeale, Black Hill, Coomhola, Hunter Valley, Kilmaine and Rinkinstown.

Articles continue in Old News Volume 79.

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

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