last updated 24 April 2014
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 81

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch

An amazing time in Spain

Sitting in the car at 4.30am at Cork Airport on a cold and miserable April morning, there was only one thing on our minds—well, three things actually—sun, sea and sets! Enjoy Travel’s Sets on the Beach holiday was only a few hours away and we were so looking forward to it. Having been in Portugal last October with Enjoy Travel, this was our first April trip, and my first official outing as the photographer for the ten-day holiday. We were eager to get going, and after the usual formalities in the airport, it wasn’t long before the holiday atmosphere was kicking off as we waited in the lounge with numerous dancing friends and the Neily O’Connor Ceili Band, who had come straight from playing a gig the night before!

With the flight and a short fifteen-minute bus journey behind us, we had arrived in paradise—Hotel Amaragua in Torremolinos, which was to be our home for the next ten days. What a beautiful hotel! An extremely large and spacious lobby, an equally large and spacious bar, two large ballrooms, a large pool and pool area, and a beautiful restaurant to cater for the masses! And to top all this off, the beach was right beside the hotel, with a beautiful promenade on which there were lots of little shops and restaurants. Outside in the pool area, a fantastic dance floor had been laid for the outdoor ceilis, social dancing and workshops. The two large ballrooms, which were situated downstairs in the hotel, were the venues for the evening ceilis, fíor céilithe and social dancing, while the bar on the ground floor was where the now infamous Mick Mackey ran his nightly sessions.

For those of you who don’t know exactly what these holidays entail, and who are thinking about going on one, the only thing I can say is that if you love music, if you love dancing, if you love having great fun, and if you relish the thought of all this for ten days in the sun—then they are a must! You can do as little or as much dancing as you like. You can chill out by the pool and work on the tan while listening to the best in ceili and country music. You can stay up until the wee hours singing and dancing in the bar or have an early night. It is entirely up to yourself what kind of holiday you want to make of it, but no matter what you choose to do, you are guaranteed to have an amazing time!

After a delicious breakfast each morning in the beautiful restaurant, which overlooked the pool and the beach, workshops began by the pool with Piret Annus from Estonia, who will have you gracefully gliding across the floor in no time at all. She teaches all forms of ballroom dancing, from beginners to advanced, and there’s no better way to start each morning in the sun! Following Piret’s class each morning, a set dancing or sean nós workshop was held poolside, and the teachers for these workshops alternated each day between Gerard Butler, Pat Murphy, Mickey Kelly and Sheila Gormley. All workshops were run with such an element of fun that it would be hard not to enjoy them. None of the workshop teachers or the bands ever forgot that this was a holiday, so the main emphasis on everything that went on for the ten days was fun, fun and more fun!

A break from the workshops saw the first of the day’s social dancing by the pool. At approximately 1.30pm each day, bands such as T R Dallas, P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon, Steven Doyle, J & K Country, Tom & Irene, Dermot Hegarty, Glenshane Country, Galway City Jazzmen and more had people dancing in the sun with their amazing sounds! Whether you were dancing or just relaxing by the pool and listening to the bands, it was a lovely way to spend the early part of the afternoon. For those who preferred a bit of ceili dancing, Clement Gallagher and the set dancing teachers ran workshops in the main ballroom each day at 2pm.

The first of each day’s ceilis was held poolside at around 3.30pm. Each ceili had a caller, who was invaluable to those who were beginners, or simply for those whose memory of the sets was affected by the sun! I know that calling at ceilis is quite a controversial topic, but while on holidays where dancers range from beginners to advanced, most dancers didn’t mind having a caller there for each ceili. It was all part and parcel of the entertainment, and all the callers were great fun! Ceili bands who entertained us during the afternoons included the Neily O’Connor, Taylor’s Cross, Annaly, Matt Cunningham and Johnny Reidy ceili bands. The specially-laid dance floor held up extremely well, as a full house each afternoon definitely put it to the test.

After a full day of music and dancing, it was great to relax and enjoy a beautiful meal in the restaurant. There was a buffet each evening with so many choices that we never tired of eating there for the ten days. I am possibly one of the fussiest eaters, but I could not find any fault with the food. We ate our fill there every evening and chilled out to recharge the batteries for the night ahead!

As we moved into the evening’s entertainment, there was almost as much choice of bands and entertainment as there was food at the buffet counter! A fíor céilí with the entertaining and masterful Clement Gallagher kick-started each evening’s proceedings at 8.30pm. After this, you had the choice of stepping it out in the ceili room, quickstepping in the social dancing room, or simply enjoying a great session in the main bar. The best thing about each evening was that you didn’t have to choose between all these, as you could take in a bit of everything! Most nights we started off in the ceili room for a few sets, then wandered into the social dancing room for a waltz or a quickstep and then ended up in the bar enjoying a mighty session, and more often than not, these sessions ended up with a packed floor doing the Slosh!

In the ceili room, the bands kept the party atmosphere going every night with the greatest of ceili music. The Annaly, Taylor’s Cross, Matt Cunningham, Neily O’Connor and Johnny Reidy bands played all the favourite sets, and some queer ones thrown in for a bit of extra spice! It was amazing stuff each night there, while next door in the social dancing room there were two bands on hand each night to keep the floor full. (It was hard to believe that the two ballrooms were only separated by a partitioned wall, as you could not hear anything from the room next door, an amazing feat by the guys in charge of all the sound!) The atmosphere rivalled that of the ceili room, with simply superb bands such as the fantastic Limelight, the super Moynihan Brothers, the one and only Shawn Cuddy and band, Glenshane Country and the amazing Enjoy Travel Showband with Pat Jordan, Dermot Hegarty and, Johnny Carroll and Dave Lawlor. If dancing the night away wasn’t your cup of tea, or you simply wanted a break, then the main hotel bar was where you could rest your weary bones, order a cerveza or two, and listen to the wonderful Mick Mackey and friends. This was also an opportunity for one to get up and sing a song, tell a joke, do a recitation, or play a tune. There was definitely no shortage of talent there each night, including a few jokes (clean-ish ones!) and songs from myself, which I managed to get through without clearing the bar! One would think that at this stage of the night, people would be heading to the beds—not a chance! 1.30am was the start of the second part of the main bar’s nightly entertainment, which usually went on until 3am. If your feet weren’t already aching, then you could dance the rest of the night away in the bar, where T R Dallas, Showband Sounds, Dermot Hegarty, Steven Doyle, Galway Bay Jazzmen and Irene & Tom, to name a few, kept the night rocking into the small hours. It was amazing to see how many people actually stayed in the bar until the music stopped. Where do they get the energy from?

On two days, there was a slight change to the proceedings, and this was to allow for the Strictly Fun Dancing competition, and the talent show, fancy dress and county colours parade. Strictly Fun Dancing is a competition like no other. As the name suggests, it is a competition with fun as the main emphasis! If you want to showcase your skills (or lack of them!) on the dance floor, and have great fun and banter with the judges and hosts, then this is for you. Entries included a brush dance lesson with P J Murrihy, a lady who danced with a chair, a very saucy dance duo, and a couple who wore each others shoes! A fantastic afternoon. The talent show was run by Mick Mackey, which saw over 25 entries, from singing to dancing, from a tune on the mouth organ to a recitation about a travelling photographer. I think I am correct in saying that for the third year running, the amazing Michael O’Keeffe took top prize. Now when it came to packing for the holidays, myself and Carol had just enough room in our suitcases for swimsuits, clothes and hair products (and that was all just for me!), so how people were able to pack such elaborate costumes for the fancy dress competition is beyond me. The costumes were absolutely fantastic, and some of them were hilarious, including St Patrick and Peig Sayers, a couple of cows who were very upset about the horse burger scandal, a confession box with Father Gerry Flynn on hand to hear your sins, and the very worthy and amazing winners, the Ní Fhartharta family, who dressed up as Olympic heroes, Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Katie Taylor and the Olympic mascot and torch.

If you take pride in where you live, or in the county where you were born, then the county colours parade is where you can don your favourite jersey, and join in the parade. It started in the hotel lobby with a marching band leading the way, and made its way all around the pool area and back into the main bar. There were seas of green, yellow, blue, white, red, maroon, and many more which would rival any All-Ireland Final day in Croke Park. The passion and pride everyone got from wearing their county jerseys or colours abroad was indescribable, and everyone seemed to join in the parade. Great fun and banter between everyone made it a very memorable event!

There is no doubt, it was an amazing ten days and we enjoyed every single minute of it. It was a mammoth task to try and describe it all, so I hope I have done the holiday justice. Over the course of the holiday, I took just shy of 3,000 photos, which was quite tiring but highly entertaining! We were welcomed with open arms into the family of holiday goers, and we met some great characters, who have become life-long friends! It is very hard to put into words what an experience these holidays are. We tried to explain to people when we returned home, and one way we thought was quite apt was that every town and village in Ireland, and further afield, has a character that is the life and soul of the place. Someone who enjoys life and is constantly smiling. Now, think of going on holidays with seven or eight hundred of these characters. This will give you a small insight of the fun, crack and total enjoyment everyone has!

It is very hard to pinpoint highlights from the holiday, those standout moments that will always remain with you, because the holiday was full of these moments from start to finish! However, there are a few moments which we thought were worthy of a special mention, as they say in the X-Factor, in no particular order:

As I mentioned though, all ten days were full of unforgettable moments.

On behalf of myself and Carol, I would like to thank each and every person we met in Spain who made this the best ever holiday we have ever been on. The amount of entertainment on these holidays is unrivalled, and I did my best to remember each and every band or entertainer, so apologies to any band or singer I forgot to mention.

Keith McGlynn, Tralee, Co Kerry

Visit to see all of Keith’s photos. Contact him directly for more info.

Dancing on Sydney Harbour

2013 brought the 55th anniversary of the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers, a group formed in 1958 by the late Peter Paul McKenna of Ardee, County Louth. The aims of the group are to preserve, perform and teach traditional Irish dance in all its forms.

The group was given the opportunity to perform at the National Folk Festival held in Canberra over the Easter weekend. During their fully narrated performances they showcased ceili dancing, set dancing, couple dances and traditional old-style step dancing for their audience. The Coast Ceili Band provided excellent music for their five performances.

Two weeks later the group hosted Dancing on the Water—a full weekend of dancing. Jerry O’Reilly of Brooks Academy, Dublin, performed at the National Folk Festival, hosting singing and dancing workshops, including a brilliant workshop on early classic ballads in the Irish song tradition—enriched for many by Jerry’s passion for his subject! Late each night after much dancing, we could catch Jerry and dozens of other singers at the singing sessions. It was to prove most rewarding that Jerry agreed to stay on in Australia in order to present our weekend of workshops.

The weekend itself was an absolute hit from start to finish!

At the Friday night welcome ceili in Kingsgrove Uniting Church Hall, the Coast Ceili Band was on fire, and the dancers responded with roars of approval. Visitors came from the Central Coast, Melbourne, Canberra and Canada to join in the celebrations. We had dancers aged eleven years to eighty plus.

Saturday morning we were greeted by stunning blue skies and warm weather for the beginning of the weekend’s workshops at the Georges River Sailing Club. As everyone had booked their tickets in advance for the weekend we knew the dance floor required an extension, so my husband Bill had this organized and completed on Friday afternoon.

We all enjoyed Jerry’s teaching of the various sets, including the Valentia Right and Left, Ardgroom Polka, Televara, Kenmare Polka and Caragh Lake—what a wonderful array of sets! Of course, these were interspersed with delectable morning and afternoon teas as well as tasty lunches from the club’s bistro. The nearby beach attracted a number of our dancers during the lunch breaks as well as at the end of Sunday’s dancing.

Without any doubt the Saturday night ceili cruise on Sydney Harbour was what everyone was waiting for and 125 excited people boarded the ferry Proclaim right on eight o’clock. The weather was perfect, Sydney’s harbour lights were twinkling and the band was tuning up on the upper deck. Our caterers came on board, their arms groaning with the weight of multiple trays of food for our supper. The bar was fully stocked on the lower deck and our band had been able to rig up another speaker down there for the smaller dance floor.

Did we rock—and roll! Four fabulous hours of dancing and fun! Included in our guests on board was a very large party organized by James McCarthy of County Cork who had arrived in Sydney only four days earlier. Agnes and Pat Duffy from County Monaghan arrived in to Sydney at Easter and were keen enough to bring their granddaughter with them to enjoy the night.

All night long there was excitement—the view, the magical weather, the music, the dancing, the fun! Smiles all round!

Could this happen again?

Some comments in thank-you emails received—

“There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the weekend. It was first class from start to finish.”

“Congratulations for a wonderful celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers. Peter would be very proud of it.”

“What a fantastic weekend! So many positive comments from everyone!”

“Thanks for organizing the weekend. I had the BEST time.”

“What a triumph! The whole weekend was great.”

“No doubt people loved the original idea of dancing on the water! I hope that in the future you organize similar dance weekends, at least once a year, as Sydney offers opportunities to be a bit adventurous and find dance venues out of the ordinary.”

Judging by these comments, Dancing on the Water could well become a yearly event!

Margaret Winnett, Sydney, Australia

Prince Edward Island weekend

The annual Irish Arts Weekend in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, was doubly welcome this year. The Nova Scotians were bereft at Easter when the Pat Murphy Easter Weekend didn’t take place in Halifax this year. The Easter weekend is the signature event for the Nova Scotia dancers and a favourite excuse for the islanders to join us on the mainland. No worries—Pat is coming eventually, on September 6–9. We’ll have to change the name, but force of habit might still bring out the Easter eggs. See further details about that event in the North America listings of this esteemed publication.

Although some of us still didn’t feel like Easter had arrived by May, that island Irish experience ushered spring in for us. The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in Charlottetown provided us another new venue. The pub has an upper room available for let, and when paying customers are not in evidence, owner and fiddler Paul Mansour lets the local Laban Rua set dancers use the room for free. (Laban Rua means red soil. If you’re wondering how they chose that name, come to PEI. The answer is everywhere, especially on your shoes.) Although the lovely room was clean, we did discover the cheery vestiges of a Friday night wedding.

The weekend officially began with a sean nós dancing workshop given by Nova Scotia dance teacher Elizabeth MacDonald. The islanders don’t have a sean nós teacher, so they were pleased to discover that practising annually is better than not practising at all! They found the steps easier to do than last year, and once again vowed to practise on their own.

After class, we headed downstairs for lunch in the main pub. We were glad not go far because it was, yes, snowing outside. Fortunately, it was fleeting snow (it is May), and the evidence quickly melted. We didn’t mind the cool temperatures, because given the delightful natural setting of PEI, we find dancers are more focused when there is no temptation to spend the day at the beach. All three Maritime provinces were represented this year, as we had dancers from New Brunswick as well as Nova Scotia and PEI.

Several more dancers joined us for the afternoon workshop, which was dedicated to the Televara Set from County Kerry. We enjoyed its unique features, especially the ‘froggie in the middle’ of the third figure. We finally mastered the lock and lead around, but we’re still working on not calling it the “lock-and-load.”

This workshop ended mid-afternoon, and the festivities moved to a familiar location, Dave Corrigan’s seaside house in Anglo Rustico, northeast of Charlottetown. The snow had long disappeared, but it was cool enough that a grill on the stove replaced the barbecue, and most of us declined a walk on the beach to admire the exquisite scenery through Dave’s large windows. Warm and cosy, we enjoyed music, dance, and an endless supply of salads until the wee hours.

Sunday was show day, that is music and dancing went public downstairs at the Triangle. The musicians were led by veteran fiddler Roy Johnstone. Despite the finals of Canada’s sport, hockey (yes, ice hockey), being broadcast from the television sets, dancers and musicians were content with occasionally checking the scores. Both “setters” and steppers had a chance to show their steps. Many people enjoyed another taste of the Old Triangle’s fare. So perhaps it’s good business practice to give dancers free space! At least one person, however, used a two-for-one coupon to put their own lunch and dinner together.

The evening brought us to another familiar location, Fred Horne and Mary Burke’s restored schoolhouse home in Nine Mile Creek, south of Charlottetown. It’s not a big island, and we got to see a nice bit of it. Another evening of food, friends, music and dance followed. There’s no need to finish up too early, because Monday morning is always a holiday, as Canadians, for some reason, continue to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.

No official events are scheduled for Monday, although chatty breakfasts were enjoyed, since most visitors were billeted by the welcoming Islanders. The fields were even greener than they were on Friday, as we drove away home, satiated with memories, and thoughts of next year.

Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Royally entertained in Gortahork

The big day arrived and we were off to another weekend. Only six weeks after attending Hugh’s Big Bash, covered by Bill Lynch (our editor) in the June–July issue, our class—well, five of us—were off to Gortahork in the beautiful northwest of Donegal for the excellent Féile Damhsa Gaelach weekend run by Madge O’Grady.

Our flight was very early and we arrived in Gortahork before lunch in bright, sunny weather. After lunch we walked five miles along the beach to set ourselves up for our first ceili with the Annaly, a fine ceili band.

There was a good turnout before 10pm and old friends were seen and greeted. Soon the band kicked off and gave us great tunes and rhythms and kept us going through nine sets and a blast of waltzes. A quick drive to our borrowed house and a wee Baileys and it was off to bed.

Saturday broke with some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen. Water was lying everywhere, on the flat and on the hills where it couldn’t run off fast enough. It didn’t stop us though, heading back for Pat Murphy’s workshop. We began with the Coomhola Set from the Bantry area of Co Cork. A lovely set and brisk enough to wake us up. Then we did the Donegal Set to get a bit local in the workshop.

After lunch we did the Hunter Valley Set. This set won the newly-composed set competition at the Sweets of May weekend in Tralee, Co Kerry, one week earlier and is from Australia. It has unusual movements and could not be danced by calling, at least until the movements had been seen and then they are quite clear. Pat managed to get six sets reasonably fluent in an afternoon. My wife Audrey and I had a small advantage as we had done the Australian bush dance that the fifth figure is partly based on. It is called “love ’em and leave ’em” and can be seen on YouTube. It may give a wee hint for that figure.

The fabulous Long Note Ceili Band played the evening ceili. A big crowd had formed and were royally entertained and both floors (permanent and temporary) were fully used all evening.

Another Baileys and a few hours in bed saw us heading through more rain, wondering what we would be doing this morning. We began with a run-through of figure five of the Hunter Valley just to polish our previously fair knowledge. Then it was on to the Black Hill Set from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. It gave us lots of lovely polkas to keep our feet moving.

After a wee run home to pack and tidy the house—mostly washing glasses!—we were back for the slán abhaile ceili with Ceili Time. The numbers looked a wee bit down from Saturday but a busload from Omagh Set Dancing Club soon brought that up. We danced our socks off and all too soon it was time for us to leave and head for the airport. It was sad as the dancing had slightly overrun and we missed the final Plain Set. Ceili Time were their usual quality sound and were appreciated by all the dancers.

Thanks to Madge for her hospitality, to the hotel for their quality interval catering and constant water and orange wedges, to the bands for their brilliant sounds, and to all our friends, old and new, for making us welcome. And, of course, to Pat for his workshops done with charm and humour.

Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland

Lake Zurich Weekend

The third annual Lake Zurich Set Dance Weekend took place from 17–20 May in the idyllic location of Richterswil directly abutting the Lake of Zurich, Switzerland. Held on a long bank holiday only minutes away by foot from the train station in the local quality youth hostel, the size of which gave us the unparalleled opportunity to relax, dance and chat with friends and new acquaintances who share our love of set dancing.

The workshop was taught by Chris Eichbaum who in her inimitable way simultaneously put a focus on details as well as enjoyment. Thus we were all enjoyably led through many sets from all over Ireland, both old and new. Chris gave it a particularly personal touch in that she drew on her experience from the various places she has lived in Ireland (Mayo and Waterford), mentioning how she had actually gone back to find out more from the residents about how one really danced the sets there. The workshops were attended by the majority of the people who later were at the ceilis, making the dancing very lively.

The ceilis were, of course, the weekend’s high points. The first evening there was a CD ceili for those who arrived on Friday. And on Saturday and Sunday evenings and Monday afternoon Tom and Stephen Doherty provided leg-twitching music for us eager dancers, and Chris did the calling, except when given an occasional breather by Charlie Kiely. It was a particularly international crowd, with participants from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

Not only was the dancing pleasurable, but also the venue was excellent. The quality of the organization meant that everything functioned well in a highly relaxed atmosphere. The staff at the hostel were very friendly, the food was good (in particular the brunch on Monday was splendid), and some of the rooms even overlooked the lake. At the breaks in the dancing you could refresh yourself by walking out the door onto the terrace and seeing the play of the clouds and light on the lake. One break was lengthened considerably by an extraordinary double rainbow extending from the lake to the nearby hills, causing an outbreak of photographic activity. And although it was speculated that the gold at the end of the rainbow might indicate that the Swiss hockey team would win the world championship that evening, unfortunately the meteorological conditions had no influence on the outcome.

The only somewhat negative thing that can be mentioned was that the weather left something to be desired. It was, however, much better than forecast, with so much sun on Saturday that a few of the braver souls actually went swimming in the lake.

Thus to sum it up, the Lake Zurich Set Dance Weekend offered a unique combination of natural beauty and a relaxing, intimate ceili atmosphere.

Anne Smith, Zurich, Switzerland

Killeshin Set Dancers Weekend Festival

In tropical sunshine, Killeshin Set Dancing Club held their fourth annual weekend of set dancing and ceilis from 5th to 7th July. This year the club held their festival in the Carlow Town Hurling Club. This beautiful centre is now the new home for all their ceilis and boasts numerous areas for dancing and workshops including an extensive ballroom.

The Anally Ceili Band played for the first ceili of the weekend. Large crowds which gathered to dance had an excellent variety of sets to their superb music. The tea break was like a big party with a huge selection of sandwiches, cakes, tarts, buns and buckets of tea and coffee.

I was privileged to teach the set dancing workshop on Saturday in one of the upstairs venues. We had a fabulous floor and all four sets who attended enjoyed learning the Hunter Valley Set composed by James Garner of the Newcastle Set dancers in Australia. This is the winning set from Kerry Dancers’ Sweets of May new set competition.

Lunch was provided by the committee which was a marvellous idea. We all chatted and dined on the beautiful buffet of cold meats, salads, brown bread and finished off with apple tart and pavlova.

On Saturday night we danced to Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan. Their music was heavenly and again we had another wonderful selection of sets. Tea break was a repeat performance of the previous night.

On Sunday afternoon with blazing sunshine outside we danced to Danny Webster; the sets were a joy. This club is well known for dancing a superb selection of sets at all of their ceilis. No set was repeated all weekend. Eddie Whelan and Hilary Nic Íomhair called sets with guest calling by Mary Brennan, Syl Bell, Maureen Culleton and this correspondent. At the tea break we dined on another wonderful selection of yummy food, all good home cooking.

The weekend was a tremendous success once again. The music and dancing were heavenly, the hospitality was second to none and the venue was easily accessed from all the surrounding counties.

This festival offers dancers a large repertoire of sets and any dancer heading to Miltown Malbay next year should detour to this weekend to get a fill of some less-danced sets before dancing a repeat of all the familiar sets in Co Clare.

The committee under the guidance of Eddie Whelan are to be commended for their hard work and attention to detail, thus ensuring we had a fabulous weekend of dancing and friendship.

Joan Pollard Carew

20 years of sets in Copenhagen

Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers (CIS) simply had to do it—celebrate its twentieth anniversary with an explosion of good dance, excellent callers and fantastic music! So, why not invite Patrick O’Dea to instruct us and two ceili bands, one Irish and one Danish, to drive us in the sets!

CIS is a small club with only 27 members and it was not without trepidation that the decision was made in the executive committee. It meant a lot of work to arrange everything, especially fundraising and inviting people, a lot of luck to get things to fit together, and, last but not least, a lot of dancers to join up for the event! We knew it would be kill or cure . . .

Now, a few weeks after the June 7–9 weekend, we are able to say we succeeded! By Irish standards, it was small, with at most nine sets on the floor, but the sets filled up the hall and everybody was in good spirits. Making up the crowd were dancers from as far away as Australia and from at least a handful of European countries, members from the club in the city of Aarhus, and of course current and former CIS members. Part of the success was due to substantial support from the Embassy of Ireland, Culture Ireland and the Danish Irish Society, which we hereby gratefully acknowledge. The venue was very close to the centre of Copenhagen, in an old house with a beautiful hall and a solid wooden floor.

On Friday night the Copenhagen Ceili Band played for the opening ceili. This band consists of five brilliant musicians who have known each other for the last thirty years—Bjarne Schmidt (banjo and bouzouki), Peter Gorm Sørensen (fiddle), Sonnich Lydom (accordion), Tim Goddard (flute) and Malene D Beck (piano). It is probably mainly due to countless Sunday afternoons spent in good musical company in various pubs and bars in Copenhagen, which over the years have provided the backdrop for the Irish session milieu in Denmark, that these five have found a musical common ground. Their broad repertoire is made up of lively dance music taken from the treasure chest of classic Irish traditional tunes. They played with energetic glee and empathy for the dancers and the dance, and during the evening both the band and the dancers warmed up—after the initial adjustment of sound and hugging of friends from abroad. A promising start to the weekend.

Then on Saturday we proudly presented Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band on their first appearance in Denmark, and during the next two days they delighted us with their wonderful and energetic dance music. Their music levitates dancers into another sphere, not really perceived, you are just there. The band creates a state of magic synergy; no one can explain how it happens. The dancers are in some sublime way suddenly creators of music and the musicians creators of the dance.

The dance list was posted around the hall, so everybody had a chance to ask their favourite partner for their preferred set. Many of the well-known sets were danced (Clare Lancers, Caledonian, Plain, Cashel, Mazurka, Ballyvourney Jig) and also some more recent ones, like the Ballykeale, Moycullen and Claddagh—lots of fun!

In addition to the ceilis, two workshops were led by the internationally renowned dancing master Patrick O’Dea from Roscommon, who has visited Copenhagen several times. Patrick is a wonderful dancer and an experienced teacher, deeply rooted in the tradition of Irish set dancing. During the workshops he taught us the Skibbereen, Auban and Ballycastle sets.

CIS had, after a lengthy discussion, decided to have all the dances called during the weekend, mostly for the sake of the Danish dancers, and if not called, then at least talked through just before the dance. It was a big help in making us more confident about the figures and made the dances more relaxed—and therefore more fun! Patrick did almost all the calling and since we know that he also loves to dance, it must have been a bit boring for him. However, we greatly appreciated his efforts!

After the evening ceilis, the bar moved downstairs—and so did the crowd! Musicians from more than just the two bands gathered for a session around a large round table where many fine tunes were exchanged across the borders until late hours.

After the last ceili, we left in a state of euphoria, caused partly by the relaxed tiredness and the pints, and partly by the smile you received from your partner in the last dance—“Shall we meet again somewhere?”

Jørn Borggreen, Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers

Soaring temperatures in Holycross

One of the hottest weekends in the history of the Connie Ryan Gathering in Holycross, Co Tipperary, saw hundreds throng to the historic village to celebrate local dance master Connie Ryan. This weekend is a celebration of Connie’s mighty talent, and the huge legacy he left us in our appreciation of our own culture.

This festival just celebrated its fifteenth birthday and is growing in strength. Connie Ryan was an extraordinary man. Born and reared in the neighbouring area of Clonoulty, Connie was instrumental in the revival of set dancing, and spread his love for dancing to hundreds of people. Connie never used a strict teacher-pupil approach, but was more like a talented leader passing on his knowledge and love. Classes were conducted in a happy, friendly, sociable and fun environment. Everybody enjoyed themselves, learned their dancing, and made new friends.

Connie also spent much of his time collecting the sets. He would make many visits to an area, patiently talking to his contact, and dancing the sets many times, to be sure it was right before he would teach the dance. This was all before the advent of set dancing videos and books. Connie’s love of dancing was passed on to him by his father. His home was known as a dancing house.

Dancing to the fabulous music of Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter for our first ceili of the weekend was a brilliant start to the festival. Well-known Thurles dancing master and lifelong friend of Connie Ryan, Michael Loughnane, was our MC, and we had a good selection of sets. The scene was set for the remainder of the weekend.

On Saturday morning, Michael was back in Holycross to direct our set dancing workshop. He is an excellent tutor with a gentle approach and attention to detail. Michael has dedicated his life to reviving and teaching set dancing, and travelled across the world doing it. Many dancers across the country owe their dancing skills to Michael. His love and use of our native language is another of Michael’s many gifts.

Michael taught the Coolnabeasoon Set from Co Waterford, composed in the past three years by dancing teacher Helen Kealy from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Helen wrote this set to celebrate her home area near Dungarvan, and each figure has a name that relates it to the area where she grew up. Danced to four polkas and a hornpipe, the set has unusual but still very danceable moves and was a runner-up in the recent Sweets of May new set competition. Michael ensured that everyone at the workshop was comfortable with all aspects of the set before moving on to the second set of the morning, the sweet little Rinkinstown Set. Some dancers were already familiar with this set, yet many were happy to get clarification of the third figure. This is also a newly composed and very exciting set which has been embraced at many ceilis in recent times. Michael concluded the morning workshop with the Aoife Three Step, a little two-handed dance.

The village of Holycross has superb hostelries serving home cooked meals made from locally sourced produce. With the nearby Abbey housing a relic of the true cross, no wonder we felt close to heaven.

For our afternoon workshop Michael taught the Dunmanway Set from Co Cork, five figures danced to polkas and slides in an easy style. The second set of the afternoon was the Birr Set, composed by the late Mick Ryan of Birr, Co Offaly, danced to reels, jigs, hornpipe and polka. Michael went through the Coolabeasoon Set again by request; he then concluded the workshop with another little two-hand dance called The Peeler and the Goat.

Saturday night, St Michael’s Hall came alive once more to the heavenly music of the Glenside Ceili Band. Jim Doyle was MC tonight, one of life’s gentlemen with a terrific sense of humour. We were in stitches at some of his remarks as he guided dancers through another good selection of sets. Michael called the Coolnabeasoon Set from the workshop and I was privileged to be a guest caller. The atmosphere tonight was magic. Temperatures and moods were as high as the clouds and we didn’t want the night to end.

Sunday afternoon crowds gathered to dance to the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. It seemed a sin to be inside on such a rare sunny Sunday, but Johnny’s gang would forfeit anything to dance to his music.

The festival was as usual well organised, and the hall is superb, nicely air conditioned with a lovely floor. The committee ensured that we had drums of chilled water all weekend and trays of yummy food with lots of tea.

I am sure that Connie Ryan was smiling from the heavens on this weekend as we danced so many of the sets that he revived and taught us during his all-too-short lifetime.

Joan Pollard Carew

Midsummer euphoria in Violau

The last (and first) time we heard from Barbora, a nineteen-year-old university student from Prague, she was raving about the fantastic time she had at the set dancing weekend in Erlangen, Germany. In June she was back in Germany again for a weekend in the village of Violau near Augsburg, and again she was so excited by the experience she had to tell the world about it!

Here we go again!

After the sixth Midsummer Irish Set Dancing Weekend in Violau, Germany, I have to say I feel exactly the same as after the Erlangen weekend in February. It doesn’t really matter if it is Erlangen or Violau, I guess it always makes you feel a bit sad and confused and really happy, when back home after a weekend of dancing. I parked my car in Prague on Sunday at 10pm, and despite being awfully tired, I couldn’t fall asleep because my entire body was still swinging and battering. On Monday, I tried to focus on my everyday life, failed, and decided to create another set dance weekend article, as a way of finally moving my mind from Germany back home to the Czech Republic. But not to get lost in my thoughts, let’s start!

Our group was a bit different that time. Tereza and Markéta stayed at home and instead of them Gabriela joined us. Now it was her first time, but actually I have to admit I really didn’t feel more confident just because I knew what was going on. I skipped many dance classes because of my university exams this spring, so I was really nervous because the only set I was sure about was still—yes—the Ballyvourney Jig.

Apart from people on our team, we changed driver as well. The only reason I’m mentioning it is that I was the driver, and maybe I feel a need for boasting a bit, because it was my first journey longer than two hours. We arrived in Violau with great timing, right on time for dinner. I was really glad to see that everything in Violau is all in one building—our room, the ballroom for workshops and ceilis, the dining room. It’s great that you could eat your breakfast (almost) in pyjamas! But maybe I should stop talking about food and describe our dance lessons.

To be honest, I don’t remember our Friday ceili much—and I swear I didn’t even touch any wine. Maybe I was just tired after the driving, plus I was trying to remember the new faces and recall all the figures. But I can proudly say that the very first set of the weekend was the Clare Lancers and I didn’t make any mistake! Compared to how lost I was in this set in Erlangen, it was a significant improvement! To sum up, we ended up in bed after midnight and after a really long time I felt a mixture of sleepiness and euphoria, which helped me to fall asleep immediately. I was looking forward to a nice long sleep, with my alarm clock set for 8.45am.

Unfortunately, my plans were ruined at 7.46am when an old jazz CD started playing. And it kept on playing for an hour. I was told afterwards that it was because of the boys choir. We saw that group of about twenty little eight-year-old boys, who were staying at the same venue, the evening before. I thought they were cute. But I wasn’t that sure on Saturday morning.

After breakfast, the first workshop with Gerard Butler took place. I really enjoyed his way of teaching, and I’m already missing his “lovely stuff, well done.” Frankly, I can’t tell you the names of all the sets we went through during the two Saturday workshops, but what amused me was a hornpipe figure in the Kilkenny Lancers with “throwing the ladies.” During the evening ceili I made sure to be a gent in that set.

But I’m skipping ahead again. We (I mean me, Jana and Gabriela) found a moment between dinner and ceili for a short walk in the village. Well, we wanted it to be a long walk, but we somehow accidentally fell asleep after the afternoon workshop—anyhow, it was lovely! And I mean it! The atmosphere of a tiny German village during the early evening, with all of those stables, nice houses, lawns. It was really unforgettable, and I am glad the girls forced me to get up.

My Erlangen article was full of our late arrivals—well, we were fifteen minutes late for the evening ceili, but fortunatelly, we missed only one set. Well, I missed, the other girls joined one group in the middle of it. The whole evening was brilliant, magnificent, splendid, wonderful—is that enough? I was taught to be able to use many different synonyms for one situation. Seriously, the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band did an amazing job. Maybe it’s because I’m still new in this world, but I really appreciated how they were in touch with the dancers. I had a feeling it was not just the music, it was like they were giving us their hearts. It might sound like a cliché, but it’s true. Actually, I enjoyed everything. The music, the Spanish jive, the second half of the Ballyvourney Jig with Andrea Forstner, the waltz, and in the end, two slices of melon before we went to bed after midnight. I have no idea who placed it there, but there was a big thank-you!

Though I was dozing off on the short way back to our room, I couldn’t sleep well that night. You must know it—you’re swinging and housing and advancing and retiring and ladies-chaining etc. But after all these dreams full of dancing, I woke up fresh and ready for the Sunday programme, with a little shadow of sadness—the last day. We spent our workshop with the Rinkinstown Set, which I had done twice before, once in Prague and once in Erlangen, so I enjoyed watching the others and the feeling that I don’t have to panic when the music starts playing.

It was interrupted by a little surprise—remember the boys choir? They all came to sing for us and it was just indescribable. I had goose bumps for five minutes. I made a huge silent apology for complaining about the CD playing last morning. They were just sweet. After a big applause, we all danced the Spanish jive with them, which was really nice. Even though they apparently didn’t share our opinion.

And here comes the time for a paragraph dealing with the last ceili. Well, I already have swung really fast before, but the swing in Ballyvourney that afternoon, I thought I would fly. Like literally! Then I managed to dance most of the sets without really thinking about them, which is a big plus, I think. Unfortunately, the Plain Set, which was the very last one, is not my cup of tea, and I’m afraid it was obvious. I just hope that those of you who were watching us had fun. After that little fiasco (even though Jana tried very hard to organise us) the time for long and endless applauding came. For Sabine Surholt and Diana Salb, who organised the weekend, for Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, for Gerard—but what can you do when you know they totally deserve it? You just clap and clap and clap and think, wow, they really did a great job.

I was thinking about some nice closing paragraph. The paragraph that would end my whole article nicely, in a natural way, slowly. But then I realised that the weekend didn’t end slowly, naturally and nicely. It just happened, immediately, although I didn’t want it to end. So it’s impossible to create an ending like this. All I can say is thank you for reading, and I hope to see you all soon!

Keep swinging!

Barbora Tuzarová, Prague, Czech Republic

Jimmy McLoughlin

Jimmy McLoughlin was a friendly, good-natured and helpful dancer who rarely missed ceilis in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo. He was the kind of unforgettable character only found in the rural west of Ireland and brought joy to all he came in contact with thanks to his happy manner and natural good humour. Jimmy passed away unexpectedly and was found in his home in Timard, Clonberne, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, on January 6th.

Back in the 1970s Jimmy regularly travelled with friends to fíor céilithe around the country. It was in 1988 that he began set dancing when Willie Burke started a class in Clonberne, which Jimmy attended regularly till his death. Jimmy had a great mind for the sets—he knew all the movements of every set and was always game for learning a new one. He helped out the dancers in the set with his own unique directions. One friend recalled asking, “Jimmy, could you tell me what’s the next move?” to which Jimmy replied, “Go back there and give that girl a twist and come back to your own place.” Jimmy was known for his dance floor antics, and Thomas Commins, parish priest in Clonberne who led the funeral Mass, noted that “Jimmy had it in the head, but he may not have had it down in the feet.”

Nellie, Jimmy’s sister, said that he lived the life he wanted to lead. “There was no hope of him getting married. Over the years I thought he would,” she recalled with amusement. He never let his mother down and looked after her till the end. He would be seen on the lanes walking his two dogs, and delighted in learning and passing on the news of the parish. “Jimmy didn’t care about promissory notes or what was happening throughout the world,” Father Tom recalled, “As long as he had a car and could travel to ceilis, that’s all he was interested in!”

In February, Mildred Beirne dedicated a ceili in Tully’s Hotel, Castlerea, Co Roscommon, to Jimmy’s memory where family and friends spoke of him and danced his favourite sets. The most touching moment came when Mildred announced that rather than a moment of silence in his honour, she instead called for a moment of applause. “Jimmy would be bored stiff with silence,” she said. And instead of an uneasy silence with glum faces, everyone applauded Jimmy for a minute with great smiles on their faces.

Bill Lynch

Miltown as never before

The oddest thing happened in the first week of July, in the days before the start of the big week of ceilis and workshops in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, commonly thought of as the best set dancing of the year. Weather forecasters were predicting a long spell of exceptional summer weather to coincide with the one week of the year when cold, wet and windy storms had always been guaranteed! Such has been my experience of the Willie Week over the previous twenty-plus years that I didn’t believe a word of it.

Indeed, where was this object called the ‘sun’ when I arrived in Miltown Malbay at 2pm on Saturday July 6th to register for my class at the Willie Clancy Summer School? Hidden behind a sky of unbroken clouds! Registration was quick and queue-free, in contrast to previous years, and then I headed to the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point for the first afternoon ceili of the hotel’s own big set dancing festival. All the doors and windows were already open when I arrived in advance of the 3pm start—brilliant airflow. We danced to the Star of Munster Ceili Band, with a little taste of the Five Counties, thanks to Alan Finn who was filling in for regular box player Michael Bland. With a maximal amount of energy and enthusiasm at my disposal, as this was my first ceili, I never held myself back all afternoon. Even the waltz got the doubling treatment as my equally energetic and enthusiastic partner and I spun around for minutes at a time. But this joyous dancing was outdone by the pleasure of meeting friends not seen since last year who arrived constantly throughout the ceili.

The sky had gone gloomy by the time I arrived at the Mill Marquee on Saturday night for the first summer school ceili. The solid, substantial marquee always stands in the car park of the GAA grounds on the edge of Miltown Malbay, and on the way in I noticed an anemometer spinning in the breeze. I was told that the marquee would have to be closed if the speed rose to 60mph or more. I recalled ceilis here where the wind noise was louder than the music, and thought that was surely much more likely than a long stretch of good weather! But tonight’s ceili had no meteorological distractions, just bright bold music by Taylor’s Cross and a modest selection of dancers, most of whom were visitors from abroad, many on their first visits. There was, however, a feline distraction—a black kitten had taken up residence and was not afraid of coming into the hall and meeting the dancers. When I had a free moment while sides were dancing, I ran over to pet the kitten, wondering how I could persuade it to come home with me, but he or she had wisely vanished by the time the ceili was over.

When I rose to another blanket of clouds on Sunday, I thought the forecasters may have got it right elsewhere, but in Miltown during the dancing week we are always cursed with rain. It was overcast at the Armada when I arrived for the afternoon ceili, but then a remarkable thing happened. While we were dancing, the clouds cleared, a bright blue sky opened up and the sun blazed, midway through the first half of the ceili. I knew the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band played powerful music, but I think I underestimated them! Spirits were doubly lifted while we danced, and as soon as the break was called, most of the ceili emptied out onto the Armada’s lawn-by-the-sea to cool down in the warmth of the sun. It was lucky we could still hear the band announce the first set of the second half while outside, and there was a crush at the doors as we rushed back in to form sets. While dancing the Caledonian, I had to ask my partner if she experienced chills up her spine. We both nodded. The last set was the Lancers, and as the final figure closed, the band told us to continue nonstop with the Connemara Set as an added bonus! This we did through the first figure, and just as we were about to swing to finish the second, the music made a total and sudden stop, eight bars short! The crowd let out an almighty roar of joy, then the Johnny and company played their sweet version of the national anthem to gently bring us back to reality.

Sunlight transformed Miltown Malbay from a drab backwater into an exotic holiday destination full of character and beauty. Even flowers in the fields and along the roads felt better for it, I thought, while strolling to the Mill Marquee after a meal in town, taking photos of anything which showed the beauty of the evening. The music of the Kilfenora Ceili Band drifted over the landscape as they got ready for their Sunday night ceili in the Mill Marquee. Once the dancing began, the band not only played their famous reels for all the popular reel sets, they also played a great Ballyvourney Jig Set and also the Antrim Square Set. This year that set’s creator, Des Jackson, was visiting the festival and many of the bands acknowledged him by playing it. Another special guest, Joanie Madden, the New Jersey flute player with Cherish the Ladies, joined the band for the last set and a rake of reels to finish. For the reels in my set we danced three figures of the Mazurka for a welcome change, and later one of the band’s fiddlers asked what we were dancing—it looked lovely, she said.

Open sky, blazing sun and warmth—how often in Ireland do you get to drive in comfort with all the car windows open? A creature of habit, on Monday morning I returned to Timmy McCarthy’s class on Cork and Kerry sets, which is the only dance class exclusively offering both live music and polka sets in a former chapel at the secondary school in Spanish Point. I had trouble rising this morning so was late by not quite an hour, and already I had missed two sets, such was the enthusiasm and pace. We danced two more sets in heat that seemed quite staggering, and with all the doors open found ourselves gasping for breath. I was delighted to see that Kathleen Bremer from Chicago was back for a second year to accompany Timmy’s music on flute.

The hottest part of the day was exactly when I showed up for the Monday afternoon ceili with Micheál Sexton and Liz Ryan in the Armada. With many dancers taking advantage of the apparent fluke in the weather by swimming or relaxing, only the hardest of the hardcore dancers fancied dancing. The heat of dancing bodies combined with the heat of a day without any breeze made me feel like a boiled egg, but the music never flagged and was so good I danced every set till the national anthem was played.

On a hot day the Mill Marquee was rather like a greenhouse, and by night it seemed to retain the day’s warmth, in stark contrast to previous years when heavy sweaters were useful here, at least until the dancing was in full swing. Fortunately at Tuesday night’s ceili with Matt Cunningham, the staff kept all doors open, three at one end and one lonely exit at the back, and dancers became highly temperature sensitive, seeking out the coolest spots around the edges. Matt played an Antrim Square among all the other popular sets, acknowledging the continuing presence of Mr Jackson.

By Tuesday morning I was ready to acknowledge that those weather forecasters knew their stuff! Dancers were sweltering in venues all around the area as I made flying visits to snap a few photos, and when I arrived back at my own class I was hoping I wouldn’t be noticed so I could sit and keep cool, but everyone was needed to fill the sets.

There was no rest at the Tuesday afternoon ceili with Deenagh Ceili Band, when I had a succession of the most energetic partners to complement the band’s driving music. When I stepped outside for some air I discovered there was a breeze and stayed put while sets were filling for the Ballyvourney Jig. Once it began, I witnessed some great teenage dancers having a blast. Their set consisted of one mixed couple, two lady couples and a gent couple! The two gents managed to dance away without ever touching each other, housing by turning individually around the set for a hilarious and entertaining display.

Endurance was severely tested on Tuesday night at the ceili with the Tulla Ceili Band, but there was no way anyone was going to miss dancing to this music. There was a thrilling opening when we danced the South Galway Set, one of my favourites, and it was the first ceili I attended which didn’t begin with the Corofin Plain Set! The first half ended with a Moycullen Set (great polkas!) and a waltz which was good enough to attract fiddler Martin Hayes down from the stage to join the dancers. The band became very adventurous in the second half when they called the Rinkinstown Set. John McEvoy explained it well for everyone, but in my set there was only one person who knew it so the odds were stacked against us, but full marks to the band for choosing a new set not danced in any other ceilis I attended the rest of the week!

The heat wave continued on Wednesday morning. In class we’d become so sensitive to the heat that we discovered it was a few degrees cooler just a few feet away at the unused end of the floor away from the music, so we were always shifting ourselves in that direction. During our break everyone rushed outside to watch in amazement as 400 fiddlers from the classes in the adjacent secondary school posed in the yard for a photo.

The Armada Hotel outdid themselves this year with improvements, both major and minor. They installed towering flags in front of the hotel and along their cliff edge by the sea so that from near or far you could clearly see that something festive was going on here. There was plenty of outdoor seating and tables in front and back with canopies and umbrellas. A music and song session was constantly on the go out front, as well as in the bar and foyer, and there was relaxed eating and drinking out back. There was even an ice cream, lemonade and strawberry stall out front, plus the full-time carvery indoors. A large comfortable marquee was used for jive classes in the morning, overflow dining throughout the day and social dancing at night. In the bright sun the lawn facing the sea was full of sun worshippers, playing children and dancers trying to normalise their temperature, breathing and heartbeat. For those needing more efficient cooling, the beach was just a short walk away and was thronged with bathers.

All this alternative activity made the dancing crowds at the Wednesday afternoon ceili a slight bit thinner, which didn’t affect the delightful atmosphere and provided generous space for our sets. Micheál Sexton and Liz Ryan made a return visit today and played a selection of sets which we’d already danced at earlier ceilis, but the great music made them fresh and surprising. I had a gorgeous Sliabh Luachra with a young dancer from Chicago who danced like a Sliabh Luachra native despite being on her first visit to the festival. “They’ll have to drag me onto to the plane to go home,” she said. I was feeling a little sorry for those experiencing the festival for the first time—they were lucky to share our excellent weather but are surely going to leave with the wrong impression and on a return visit will be disappointed by a typical Irish summer!

A repeat performance by the Kilfenora Ceili Band on Wednesday night brought even more people to the Mill Marquee. One of my partners would only dance on one corner of the floor near a door which was probably the coolest spot there. She stood there ten minutes early before the first set and after the break just to keep the place, and kept her place there all night. I shifted around the floor but was relieved to join her at the cool spot. Outdoors, the night was actually so perfectly comfortable that I wondered why we even bothered with a marquee—just the floor in the open air would be ideal! Nevertheless, it was a brilliant night and the band were at their best—it’s easy to overlook huge quantities of heat and perspiration when you’re having loads of fun!

The spell wasn’t broken on Thursday morning—still sunny and hot! Someone had drawn nearly all the window shades in the chapel, so while we were perspiring and panting, we could pretend it was cooler because of the dark. Every dance class takes part in the dance recital on Thursday evening, and today Timmy solicited volunteers and suggestions for the figures to dance. We decided on figures from the Televara and Jenny Ling sets, danced by a team of eleven.

Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band with Tommy Doherty on box attracted just enough dedicated dancers indoors from the paradise outdoors to fill a brilliant afternoon ceili in the Armada. Their music outdid the sun for brilliance, particularly their best-ever Connemara Set which finished the afternoon. I found myself wishing for an additional figure in the set to further savour those delicious reels. Long-time fear an tí at the Armada ceilis, Dermot Halpin, now retired, visited today and was subjected to handshakes and hugs by his many friends. Elsewhere around the hotel an entire pig was being roasted over an open log fire and the foyer was nearly impassable due to a huge singing session.

Timmy’s class is always the last to appear on the programme at the dance recital. This has the disadvantage of making me late for the night ceili, but it means I can watch the other performances, the most interesting of which was an American man in a bowler hat who battered very well to waltzes. After our class’s performance ended the concert, I rushed over to the Mill Marquee to get in as many sets as I could with the Tulla Ceili Band. I missed the first two, but continued up to the final repeat Caledonian (two figures only) to finish the night. Of course, Martin Hayes played with the band again and just as on Tuesday night, he performed a selection of solo tunes to the rapt attention of a tight crowd standing around the stage.

Friday opened with cloudy skies, though still warm and dry, and the sun broke through occasionally. The dancing was more comfortable, but Timmy turned up the heat in the class by having us do the most complicated dance he teaches, Hurry the Jug. The class didn’t master it after two or three practices, but it was still loads of fun. One of our dancers was a young lady from Japan who told me that she was a singer. As today was her last class, Timmy asked her to sing a song for us. Her fine voice filled me with emotion even though I didn’t understand a word.

Even under cloudy skies, the outdoor life continued at the Armada, with a full-time open-air session, alfresco dining and plenty of bathers at the beach. Those of us indoors had the pleasure of a return visit by the Deenagh Ceili Band at the Friday afternoon ceili, and the choice of new partners as more dancers arrived for the weekend. The music was exciting not only for the dancers, but the band’s pianist, Ciarán Mulderrig, who occasionally flew up out of his seat to batter the keys and leap into the air simultaneously. The other two lads, Conor Moriarty on box and Sean Murphy on banjo, appeared totally cool while pumping out the most energetic tunes. After the final Connemara Set, the Deenagh lads awarded us a bonus blast of reels to dance a set of our choice.

Right after the ceili, I wandered around the Armada and passed an enormous pot over a wood-fire, filled with what looked like Ireland’s annual quota of prawns, clams and mussels, which actually set fire to my hunger. Luckily I had been invited to a friend’s house for a session and delicious chowder supper. Then when I arrived at the Mill Marquee, the Friday night ceili with Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band was already in progress. When the next set was called my partner grabbed a space in the airiest corner and we danced the rest of the night away.

It felt like the week passed quickly—already it was Saturday and our last class. We reviewed a figure from each of the week’s sets and didn’t improve at all with Hurry the Jug, so we made our fond farewells to the friends we spent the week with and then went off early. Some went to the class ceili in the Mill but I went back to the Armada where I found Tom Collis’s jiving class still in progress with at least forty people dancing away in the airy and elegant marquee. Tom had simple and easy-to-follow instructions for the movements and taught as though he was doing this for years, yet the class was new this year. Meanwhile, members of Mary Clancy’s summer school set dancing class were demonstrating their talents in an informal session in the hotel ballroom.

The sun was back today, though temperatures stayed cool, ideal for the Saturday afternoon ceili with Striolán Ceili Band. They’re a fairly new band from Limerick, Cork and Kerry with a strong following, so the floor was nicely filled without crowding. After a full week I was still able to keep dancing every set at a ceili because of the great music and fantastic partners—the weather was a bonus that made sure everyone was an extra bit happier. The final Connemara Set was so full of awe-inspiring tunes that by the third figure we kept the second big Christmas spinning for a full 24 bars. Then after that set, there was more music for two and a half figures of the Plain Set before the national anthem.

The Four Courts Ceili Band was billed for last ceili in the Mill Marquee on Saturday night, though it actually turned out to be a combination of two of the Four Courts (flute and fiddle) plus all of Rise the Dust Ceili Band (box, banjo and piano), and what a potent combination they were! Anyone could position their set nearly anywhere in the hall, but the first set I joined happened to be in a spot where the floor had a good slip, so I tried to dance there all night. Unlike the standard plain plywood panels used as temporary flooring in the Armada and many other places, the Mill had varnished parquet panels which sometimes benefited from the assistance of talcum powder. Early in the ceili the band started my mind racing when they solicited requests for any set we wanted to dance. One particular set came up in discussion a couple of times during the week—the Newport. We wondered why it had vanished from the scene, but not tonight! While we danced all the other sets many times during the week, it was exciting to dance at least one which was different from all the rest. At the end there were some fond farewells, but some of us were holding off our goodbyes for one final ceili tomorrow.

There was more refreshing summer weather on Sunday. I felt renewed after my first full night’s sleep in a week, and was eager to head back to the Armada for the farewell ceili with Johnny Reidy. The place was buzzing a couple of hours before the ceili, and once the ballroom doors opened, the buzz transferred inside. Dancers started staking out places on the floor well in advance—my own set was in place nearly twenty minutes before the 2.30pm start. With the floor already full and waiting, the band managed to fill the last remaining sets quickly and we were off! It was the biggest afternoon crowd of the festival. Despite the sun, the air was fresh and in motion through the doors and windows, though the heat of hundreds of bodies was off the scale! Johnny’s reliable formula for a ceili (four sets, a waltz and jive, a break, four more sets and the national anthem) may seem predictable, but every set is unique and thrilling, every ceili different and exciting, and the dancers can’t help feeling like the luckiest people on earth. The crowd demonstrated their appreciation with huge roars, cheers, claps, waves and thumbs up after the figures. Johnny and the band were on constant watch for salutes from the floor, always returning an acknowledging smile. There was a pause during the final Lancers Set to allow Claire Burke to express the thanks and good wishes of the hotel, and then after a final few minutes of dancing it was over for another year and we slowly went our separate ways. But satisfied that we had the best week in Miltown Malbay ever! I’d never experienced a full week of 100% dry summer weather, and I now have high expectations for next year!

Bill Lynch

Great craic at Brooks Academy

First of all, I must pay tribute to the Willie Clancy Summer School organisers for the great range of classes provided for dancers. It is a real opportunity to learn from so many great teachers of step, sean nós and set dancing. As a set dancer I have enjoyed the fun and frolics of a week immersed in the sets of Cork and Kerry with Timmy McCarthy and tried to master the Clare batter with Aidan Vaughan. As a teacher myself, I had a wonderful week two years ago trying to improve my attempts to help beginners by spending a very illuminating and hugely enjoyable week with Paddy Neylon—a great experience strongly to be recommended as is time with Timmy and Aidan.

This year, for the second year in row, I attended the Brooks Academy workshop, where, in addition to learning so much, I met old friends from previous years who like me seem to be drawn back each year. As is the norm in set dancing circles I will mention classmates by first names only, but many readers will immediately know to whom I am referring. Bill and Margaret from Sydney, Australia, always a source of Australian sunshine, though this year, Co Clare was even too hot for them at times, with a large group of their students and friends adding plenty of craic and leg pulling to the proceedings. Ingrid and Tove from Denmark brought their considerable and graceful dancing skills to the workshops and were a constant source of help and encouragement to less experienced dancers. Dave from Newcastle in England and Lorie from Detroit danced beautifully together, and both with that little twinkle of mischief in their eyes enhanced the days of pure enjoyment. The two Annes from Belfast with a smile for all and so many other charming people like Bev, Diane, Marcus and that lovely dancer from France, Catherine, as well as new comers like Marcus, Allan, Orla, James, Françoise, Leticia and Victoria, and that institution in his own right, Donal, created an ideal backcloth on which Brooks Academy could paint their magic.

Brooks Academy is an all encompassing group. With Mary Friel (a very knowledgeable and skilled teacher, but why doesn’t she do stand up comedy or political satire as well, she is such a consummate performer), Irene Martin (charm and fun in a very attractive bundle), Eileen O’Doherty (a smile to charm and a firm hand to keep us, and her colleagues, focussed—and really needed on occasions!), Jerry O’Reilly (the bearded songster with a veritable skill for passing on his knowledge) and Terry Cullen (the quiet man whose clever teaching leaves you understanding detail without realising it was taught), they are individually impressive and collectively an amazing group.

They have a plan. Indeed they announced at the outset of the workshop that they have a plan, and the plan worked very well indeed. What did we learn? We were taught the Skibbereen, Fermanagh, Newport and Limerick Tumblers, and with guest teachers two new sets, Des Jackson for the Antrim Square (Australia) and with Teresa Quigg her more recently created Drumbo Lancers (Co Down). What do Brooks Academy do? For each figure in each set, they dance the figure in demonstration, and then each set at the workshop walks the figure through either with a teacher in the set or one close by. They then get everyone to dance the figure and reprise again if any problems have been identified. They do not have any problems with dancers (or teachers) making mistakes and they cleverly use these to further the teaching and learning processes.

The end? No! They move people between sets and dance the figure again. In this they have crafted a very comprehensive and in-depth teaching process. The attention to detail is very impressive and the learning process is further reinforced and enhanced when, each morning, the set of the previous day is danced again. Their method of teaching is to ensure that detail is always addressed. For example, they check hand holds, explain why it is easier to dance if the man holds his partner in a way that is supportive and comfortable. Ladies, please tell your gents if they are not holding you correctly! We gents need feedback to make sure that both of us are comfortable, otherwise our mutual enjoyment of the joys of set dancing will be diminished.

The inclusion of guest teachers also adds to the enjoyment of the workshops. By doing this Brooks Academy ensures that the students are getting the information direct from the creative spirits who have produced their special choreography and learn about the story of the set at first hand. Des Jackson had a short time to explain the mysteries of the Antrim Square, but the demonstration of a couple of figures of the set at the Thursday evening concert added considerably to my own understanding of how I should be teaching the set and how I should be encouraging people to be more precise in their dancing of the big square. Also the speed of the music is crucial to being able to dance the big square well—perhaps we are using too fast music.

Teresa Quigg was fully at home with the Brooks Academy style of teaching. Enhanced by her bubbly personality everyone soon came to terms with the vibrancy and carefully crafted choreography of her Drumbo Lancers. Drumbo is the parish in Co Down where Teresa taught the Carryduff class for many years. It was her parting gift to the class—and a lovely gift—when she moved away. Her success was measured by the number of people who asked for copies of the notes and DVD. The set is now on its way to France, Switzerland and Germany as well as Australia. It was a privilege for me to be partnered with Teresa in the demonstration set of Brooks Academy teachers who showcased two figures of the Drumbo Lancers at the Thursday concert.

So, in conclusion, if you fancy a week learning existing and new sets inside out, you couldn’t do better than try the Brooks Academy class next year. You will meet some old friends and make some new ones and enjoy some real in-depth teaching definitely leaving you wanting more. Lucky are those dancers, or potential dancers, living in, or near Dublin, with a visit to Brooks Academy possible every week.

Ashley Ray, Ardglass, Co Down

Dancing at home

What else can you do when you can’t get to Willie week?

I had the great good fortune of living in Ireland from 1998 to 2004, first in Cork and then in Dublin, in the days when the Celtic Tiger was romping about the place, the price of a pint pushed just over €3, house prices were soaring and all was rosy.

Then I discovered the joys of set dancing were right on my doorstep with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany teaching at Wanderers Football Club, a stone’s throw from where I landed in Dublin. It was meant to be! Apart from dance classes on Tuesdays at Wanderers, I got an extra weekly dose at the Ierne Ballroom on Thursdays (now face-lifted with no Irish dancing at all!) and then onto O’Shea’s Old Moran’s Hotel for dancing to live music accompanied by copious amounts of cigarette smoke. There were ceilis regularly on Saturday nights at the School for the Blind in Drumcondra and in Ballyboden, and very occasionally we ventured to Comhaltas ceilis in Monkstown. And that was all without gorging myself on weekends away to Kerry, Laois, Louth, Omagh, Donegal and, of course, Clare.

I absorbed as much about the steps and sets as my wee brain would take, and in early 2004, I had my first taste of sean nós dancing from Kathleen McGlynn at the Termonfeckin Weekend, Co Louth. As my appetite grew, this was quickly followed by weekly lessons from Alison Heatley in Hilltown, Co Down, until we left to live in Australia in 2004. From where I am sitting now, it was a gluttonous, greedy feast of dance, an orgy of music and social connections, and I lapped it all up. Yum yum, delicious!

Then . . . very little. From sumptuous menus to meager offerings, the best that could be offered in Australia was with one or two experienced teachers hundreds of kilometres away. We are fortunate in Canberra to have very talented local musicians but set dancing was only really introduced here but a few years before we arrived. So, I diligently practiced away with what I could remember and what I could actually do, usually in the kitchen because I could get a good sound off the floor. We also started giving a set dance class locally, hoping we could find some others to dance with, to share what we knew including a few sean nós steps.

So, after twelve months of starvation rations, we went to Ireland in summer of 2005 and I made a deliberate effort to collect DVDs, CDs and any other material I could find to bring home with me to learn from. This has been a mixed experience, depending on whether the technology is working and if I can actually figure out what they are doing with their feet, and one that I repeated nearly every summer as we have returned to Ireland for dancing. Sadly though, not this year.

I now know that there are many others out there in the world having a similar experience—wanting to learn but being a long way from any knowledgeable source. I was alerted to this when I made six minutes of the most boring film you are ever likely to see—doing a reel step around the lounge room of a friend—as a practice video for him who lives thousands of kilometres away. I uploaded it to my YouTube channel so he could use it and I was startled to see that others were actually looking at it—in their thousands.

So, while my mouth is watering on my quest to find more steps, more sets and more music to develop my own dancing, I’ve learned a few things along the way that I am happy to share. If you’re at home, jump online and search for me on YouTube where I’ll be dancing at home.

Nora Stewart, Bywong, NSW, Australia

Sweets of May prize cup presented

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

We thoroughly enjoyed the Sweets of May Festival in Tralee, organised by Timmy Woulfe and the Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club committee. We attended the newly composed set competition, the ceilis and set dancing workshops and relaxed in the bar of the Earl of Desmond Hotel on Sunday evening, listening to the session with Oileann and guests. It was a wonderful weekend and a great venue.

After our holiday we returned down under with the replica cup for the winner of the newly composed set competition, our friend James Garner of Sydney. We finally caught up with James and his wife Sally in Sydney at the terrific June ceili held at the Gaelic Club and organised by the Harp Irish Set Dancers, with music by the Jimmy Mullarkey Ceili Band and lots of entertainment too. We duly presented James with his cup and it was an appropriate occasion as James and Sally are members of the Harp Irish Set Dancers.

Congratulations to James for his cleverly designed Hunter Valley Set, which we really enjoy dancing in Newcastle. The other sets in the competition were impressive also. Well done to Helen Kealy, Teresa Quigg and John Chambers; we hope to dance their sets too.

Thanks again to the Kerry Dancers Set Dancing Club, the competition adjudicators, the Abbeyfeale dancers who demonstrated Julia’s Charlestown Set on the competition night resplendent in green and gold, Pat Murphy for his excellent workshops and to the Johnny Reidy, Abbey, Striolán and Oileann bands for magic music.

With any luck we will be able to come over again to the Sweets of May Festival in 2014.

Best wishes,

Julia Smith and Arthur Kingsland, Newcastle, Australia

Five great ceilis

Dear Bill,

I just got back from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, a short visit. My mother May Fitzmaurice celebrated her ninetieth birthday and thank God in good form. We made the usual few visits to Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock, afternoon tea in Westport, the Father Payton (the rosary priest) Centre at Attymass, and the Titanic memorial at Lahardane remembering the fourteen people from the village of Addergoole, eleven that were lost on that fateful night and three who survived.

But in my two and a half weeks I got in five great ceilis. Three of these were in Julian’s, Midfield, about three miles outside Swinford, a regular Monday night spot. I have been there before and felt like one of the locals. They are great. Two of the nights were with the Long Note from Tyrone and one with the Salamanca, a younger style band with names Doocey, Doherty, Butler and Corry.

I went to the opening of the Mayo Fleadh at the Gateway Hotel, Swinford. Brid O’Connell gave me VIP treatment. That was followed by a mighty ceili with Swallow’s Tail. Tom Doherty from this band and his brother Stephen from Salamanca are two of the many great young box players in Mayo. They hail from a very musical family in Foxford.

Last but not least I went to Tooreen Ballroom, the first of a new era of halls in the 1950s and ’60s in the west of Ireland. If the walls had ears they could tell many a great story. We had Johnny Reidy that night. This hall has been a factory in a few different forms over the last forty years, but the great maple floor is as good as the day it went down.

The highlight of the trip—by flying into Manchester I was able to book direct to Father Horan’s Ireland West Airport, Knock, twenty minutes from home.

Well, it’s back to Melbourne again, our Wednesday nights at Comhaltas in Collingwood and our Monday nights at the Quiet Man in Flemington. We join up with other dance groups for many events. There are lots of festivals but distance is greater.

God bless all,

Mary McBride, Melbourne, Australia

Amazed and surprised

Dear Bill,

We read the last number of Set Dancing News and were very amazed and surprised reading your report about the weekend in Bundoran, Co Donegal. In four ceilis people danced different sets. Only the Plain Set and another were repeated. For us it would be fantastic to find more weekends like this in Ireland. There are many beautiful sets and we don’t understand why everywhere people always want to dance the same sets (Plain, Connemara, Corofin, etc), dancing the other sets only in workshops. We think that it could be a good way to keep the mind in good shape, and to respect the work of teachers like Pat Murphy, Pádraig McEneany, etc. Two years ago we were in Longford for the Sean-Óg Festival, a very good weekend, but when Ger Butler announced the Derradda as the next set, most of the people asked to change it to the Connemara Set. Why? There was a caller if the set was unusual.

We write you because we love Irish set dance so much and we wish to share everything we learn during the workshops and we are writing to try to explain our opinion. We don’t know if there is an answer about this subject, maybe there are several reasons. But we will surely be in Ireland to dance again as soon as possible. Thank you for your attention and for your great job.


Claudio and Christina Cavallini, Bologna, Italy

Big Donegal thank-you

Dear Bill,

Our Féile Damhsa Gaelach in Óstán Loch Altan, Gortahork, Co Donegal, was again a fantastic success. Many of our visitors arrived early on Thursday to enjoy Donegal’s best renowned Irish night, which is run all year round. Friday and Saturday night and Sunday evenings ceilis were enjoyed with a full house in attendance dancing to the wonderful music by our three ceili bands, the Annaly, Long Note and Ceili Time. We had three very successful workshops taught by Pat Murphy (set dancing), Marie Garrity (two-hand) and Kathleen and Michael McGlynn (sean nós).

The success of the weekend would not have been possible but for all our loyal friends and from all over the country. Many thanks to those who travelled from afar, Scotland, England, Italy, and not forgetting our camper friends and my lovely set dancing class in Falcarragh, and to the management and all the staff of Óstán Loch Altan who gave a céad míle fáilte to all our guests and looked after their needs all weekend.

To everyone mentioned, a very big Donegal thank-you. We enjoyed your company and if you enjoyed your visit, we hope to see you all again next year. Our 2014 Féile Damhsa will take place 16–18 May. Happy dancing!

Slán agus beannacht,

Madge O’Grady, Falcarragh, Donegal

A poem of thanks

Hi Bill,

I would love if you could put this poem in the next Set Dancing News. It’s just a poem of thanks to all the set dancers who attended ceilis in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, on Monday nights. Long may it last!

Mer Beehan, Urlingford, Co Kilkenny

The Dancers

We are gathered here in Urlingford for sure on Monday night
To step it out upon the floor in darkness or daylight
To hear the sweetest music, sure it would lift your heart
And dance around with friends and foe whatever set we start.
We have all the sorts of figures, some slow, some so fast
I’m starting to tune in now, I hope my breath will last.
So now here comes the thank-you’s, first to Phil who got this going
And over here for Danny who keeps the music flowing
And leave it all to Declan who calls it out all night
He directs us here and he directs us there, he wants to have it right
And for Mary over at the door who gathers all the cash
But she often leaves the table to dance a set, how’s that!
So thanks to all who have joined us from the parishes here and there
You all deserve a round of applause and that is only fair.

The chance to win

Dear Bill,

Many thanks for the chance to win one of these CDs. We all love the Set Dancing News and look forward to every issue. Keep up the good work. Regards to all there in Kilfenora,

Josie Forde, Arklow, Co Wicklow

Thanks to Josie for the kind words, and just by complete coincidence, she happened to win the CD she was looking for! The other winners in the draw were James Duggan, Swords, Co Dublin; Celia Gaffney, Dungarvan, Co Waterford; Ann Hunter, Bath, England; Ian McLaren, Paisley, Scotland; Jerome O’Connor, New City, New York; Mary O’Meara, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Waterford; Maria O’Sullivan, Bennekerry, Co Carlow; and Owen Williams, Ipswich, England.

Mike Lenihan

Dear Bill,

Unfortunately, Mike Lenihan of Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry, passed away peacefully on July 22nd, after a short battle with cancer. Mike and his wife Noreen are well-known to many set dancers, and they are great supporters of ceilis in the Kerry, Limerick and Clare areas.

On a personal note from myself and Carol, we have lost a dear friend. Our friendship with Mike and Noreen goes back a number of years, when we first met them through set dancing in Tralee, and we all attended classes together in Clounmacon with Timmy Woulfe. It is difficult to put into words how much of a gentleman Mike was, and everyone will remember him for his big smile, his laughter, his sense of humour, and his love for music and dancing. He was one of those people whom everyone loved, and loved to be around.

Rest in peace, dear friend, and enjoy the big ceili in heaven, where you can dance your favourite set, the Plain Set, to your heart’s content. We will miss your friendship, your company, and of course, we will all miss you on the dance floor. Our thoughts and prayers are with Noreen and all the family at this very sad time. And as the saying goes, which you loved so much and lived your life by—

“Dance as if no one were watching. Sing as if no one were listening. Live every day as if it were your last.”

RIP, Mike,

Keith and Carol McGlynn, Tralee, Co Kerry

Sean nós jigs on DVD

A thorough approach to learning sean nós dancing steps is what Mary Beth Taylor provided on her first DVD in 2011, Sean-Nós Dancing for Everyone, and there’s more of the same available in her new disk. The difference this time is that all the ten steps she teaches are danced to jigs, whereas the steps in the first one were all reels, as the title of Volume 2 makes clear—Sean-Nós Jigs for Everyone.

Mary Beth is an American-born teacher based in Dublin, and in the new DVD’s introduction, she says that the jig steps are generally trickier than reels and recommends the disk for dancers who have a foundation with sean nós dancing. In any case the steps are so clearly and carefully taught that anyone who tries them has an excellent chance of success. Each of the ten steps begins with a spoken introduction by Mary Beth, and she shows it danced at full speed. Then with a view of her heels, she breaks down the step slowly, bit by bit, spending as much time as it takes to do a thorough job. To finish a step, Mary Beth dances it three times each at slow, medium and fast speed, with calling the first time through, keeping the heel view for easy following. She spends up to eighteen minutes on the most complicated steps, and all told the video lasts for over two hours, including tracks where all ten steps are danced in sequence. Included with the DVD is a printed guide to the steps.

Beautiful music is played throughout by Martin Tourish on piano accordion, who has a fresh jig for each step, all his own compositions. It’s a delight to see how much they enjoy dancing and playing together!

Sean-Nós Jigs for Everyone is on sale in Dublin at Talbot Dance Centre, Talbot Street, and An Siopa Leabhar, Harcourt Street, and is available to order from Mary Beth’s website For more information contact her directly.

Articles continue in Old News Volume 80.

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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