From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 3-The Half Set

This half set began it’s life in Canberra over 3 years ago at the King O’Malleys music session with Libby and Richard Conrick, amongst others. Richard and Libby knew Jack well : in fact, one of their sons is named after him, and Jack Conrick is now a fabulous fiddle and concertina player himself.

Go directly to each figure of this set:

Figure 1: The Clare Cosy

Figure 2: The Bridge

Figure 3: The Canny Chase

Martin and I would often go to the session on Tuesday nights, and occasionally, we would get up and “throw a few shapes”, as they say, just the two of us in a very small dance space, enjoying whatever music they were playing.

Some of the signature moves came from experimenting at the session. But mostly, the influences have come from my years dancing in Ireland, and in Clare, reflecting many of the Clare dance moves we know and love, with a few twists.

martin and Nora O'Malleys

Martin and Nora dancing with Jack Conrick playing concertina in the background at King O’Malleys, Canberra.

The Clare Plain Set is a favourite of mine and was also mentioned twice by Jack Canny in his interview with Jenny Gall*, so I am assuming he would have danced something similar to what we dance now, although it might have been danced to polkas rather than reels – the reason this set can be danced to any type of music available.

I particularly love the 3rd figure, which I always feel is the penultimate figure of the set. There is something about the moves when returning across the set to dance with your partner in that figure, turning under and turning under again, which needs good timing with your partner and is great fun when it all comes together. I have used this idea in the Clare Cosy and the Canny Chase, which can also be danced as a single couple, if no other dancers are available.

I became fascinated with the Caledonian set, a much-loved dance in Clare, of which there are recordings of at least 4 different local versions. Many dancers find this set repetitive and boring but I revel in that repetition, which I feel is more like a meditation, with dancer, music and musicians all focused on the inner life that rhythm gives.

The secret of the version of the Caledonian set we now dance is that every figure has a multiple of 32 bars, which is often the standard length of Irish traditional tunes. This means that the dance and music fit snugly together, giving it a smoothness that is very satisfying to dance. And I have attempted to replicate that kind of snug fit with the music, when all 3 figures are danced together sequentially– 96 bars + 96 bars + 96 bars.


There is also a nod to Jack Canny and his own story, in the structure of the dance:

Figure 1: The Clare Cosy

Being snug and safe at home in Clare as a youngster, focused on pursuits close to home – dancing at home.

Figure 2: The Bridge

Leaving home, across the water, reaching out to others beyond what you know; “I’m the only one that had itchy feet. I wanted to travel and I don’t regret it. I suppose we’re all built different.”

Figure 3: The Canny Chase

Coming together with others “down under”, plenty of dancing with others in the set.

The Canny Chase was inspired partly by Canberra’s architectural circles and roundabouts/rotarys, and by also by Jack’s natural energy, talent and cheeky love of life. In his interview with Jenny Gall*, he recounts a great story about his own canny chase.

“I think was coming (cycling) from a sports meeting somewhere….on the main highway from Ennis to Tulla… and all of a sudden I realised that I was coming along towards two policemen. I did a U turn on the road, and one of the cops shouts out “Where’s your lights?” and I didn’t answer.
They started to put up speed to catch me, and I’d let them get within a hundred yards, then I’d sprint and I’d get about 200 yards away from them, then I’d slow down and let them get within a hundred yards again, and they’d put up a sprint and I’d sprint and I was gone 200 yards away and they couldn’t catch me. And they said ”Ah, you bugger, we’ll get you one day!”

Thanks, Jack!

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

irish bliss globe of world flags




Source material: Dr.Jennifer Gall interview with Jack Canny, National Library of Australia, 25 July 1991. * Jack spoke at length about his early cycling career- more details available.


2 thoughts on “From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 3-The Half Set

  1. Pingback: From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 2-About Jack | Irish Bliss

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