It’s a new world out theresince I started learning set dancing way back in 1998 in Cork. Classes then were for 2 hours in the evenings, and they focused on teaching one set at a time, sometimes taking 2-3 classes to get to the end of a set. (My first set was the Ballyvourney, and we only ever danced this set figure by figure. Imagine my astonishment when I went to the big céilís and it was non-stop…and fast!
Time, people and focus is now fragmented, with people ever increasingly busy with other things – children, grandchildren, work, and a general exhaustion from the stress of modern life. There are a lot more offerings now to tempt people including every type of online pastime imaginable.
The other challenges of set dancing classes were ever thus- not having enough people to make sets, not having enough men (men go to céilís; women go to classes!) and not being able to get commitment from people to stay the long course of time it takes to learn sets.
Oh, and set dancing having such a low profile that most of the general public not having a clue what it is – refrains of “It’s not Riverdance”. (I will write more soon about making set dancing visible)
And yes it’s hilarious that set dancing is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets:-except for one thing. Dancing sets is a numbers game, a bit like politics. You need lots of people, and you need most of those people who know what they’re doing.
The occasional upset, misdirection and mistake is great fun for a laugh in sets but not when it’s a complete frustrating shambles every time because there’s just not enough skill and confidence in the group to know how to right itself.
So, here are some insights and suggestions from my long years of teaching and running classes of all kinds;- my efforts of trying to light little fires with the hope of an eternal flame.
Sets are fundamentally about people in a group – attracting them, keeping them happy and ensuring they come regularly. All other aspects of class (below) are secondary to getting people there.
As a teacher/ organiser, you may think that most of your effort should be in perfecting your steps or knowledge of the sets but really about 80% of your time should be about looking after the people you have and attracting as many new genuine dancers to your class group.
Welcome in – In my role as a teacher and organiser, my most important task is to make a welcoming, inclusive environment, where people have a good time, feel they are appreciated, encouraged, not judged and that their time at class is noticed. I also try to take time to speak to each person one-on-one at some point along the way to make a more personal connection. Hopefully, this positive atmosphere sets the tone for everyone in the class.
My experience has also been that the best classes have most people in the class making you feel welcome, not just the teacher.
Providing name tags for all dancers (and the teacher) sounds a bit basic but seeing your name tag on the table as you come in to class makes you feel your presence is expected and welcomed. It can also overcome the embarassment of the teacher and other dancers not knowing someone’s name.
Every dancer will have a different reason for coming – with my friend, with my spouse, likes the social; the craic, Irish heritage aspect, loves the music, likes to dance, needs to get out of the house, is lonely or bored, needs to exercise, wants to be a champion dancer or performer, just for starters. All these motivations need to be sought out and reflected as much as possible in what the class is offering. It also helps with marketing your classes “What message?”– see below.
Feeling part of a group – For my current classes, I text/SMS every group before each class with a little reminder, tell them a bit about what we’re going to do at class and that I’m looking forward to seeing them…”You’ll be missed!”. Be open to suggestions from the group about social activities they might like to do – having a drink/ coffee after class or if they are interested in doing a performance and want to put it to the group.
All these things should help to ensure people to come back, which is what is needed for them as new dancers to survive and navigate the long and windey road of learning sets.
BASICS TO APPEAL & ATTRACT
All these things will be driven to a large extent by the interests, motivation and availability of your dancers. TIME,TIMING & LOCATION are all practical considerations that might need review if you are missing out on lots of people because this is not right. Time and Location – most people no longer have long hours to devote to dancing, unless they are already passionate devotees. Take into consideration how long people may need to travel to get to class and home again, including finding parking if needed. Also, a lot of people are possibly not as fit as they might be, and 2 hour classes may also be a physical challenge for some.
Think about offering shorter classes -1 hour – and perhaps coupling this with a longer class once a month, or for a weekend workshop, if dancers are interested and available.
Timing – what time of day is best? Traditionally, most weekday classes are held in the evenings. Perhaps daytime classes might draw a better or different crowd of people. Another possibility is running classes immediately after business hours so people working can come straight after work for a class for an hour or so and then go home to relax.
MARKETING & COMMUNICATION
This may seem obvious but I know that there are many classes trying to operate that have almost no visibility outside of the class. I also know that marketing takes effort and can be disappointing if it doesn’t yield results.
Have a variety of ways of getting the message out about your classes and having a plan to keep it going is really important. Trying out new ways of marketing/ communicating is well worth spending time on, and reviewing each method over time to know what works best.
In my experience, this is very tricky to get right. Set dancing is great fun, good for socialising, keeping fit, has great music, has cultural value… the list goes on. You may need to really think hard about what message you are giving, depending on what drives your audience/ new dancers.
Word of mouth is really the best form of marketing for your classes and this will work well when you have an attractive offering that people want to share with their friends.
Having an online presence is now not optional, even if it’s just a FaceBook page or group. Domain names and simple DIY website packages are now affordable via Wix or WordPress or other options, could be included as part of your charges for classes (see below).
It helps if you have someone in your group that is digitally able and interested who is willing to set up a website and maintain it, including ensuring you have exceptional Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) so people can find you online. It’s not really that hard to do a basic site. What it really takes is a genuine interest in communicating with people.
Images – Ask your class if you can take photos or post very short videos of the class in action. Images are so important to give potential newbies an idea of what goes on or to completely break the stereotypes that people expect!
Testimonials – Ask your class if they would be willing to give a testimonial that you could add to any of your marketing material.
Signage – Other options include having some proper signage OUTSIDE your class to help locate your class but also to market to others who might be passing by- include your class times and online address. For example, I have invested in two full sized heavy A-frame stand with corflute signs that slot into each side that includes my online address.
Handouts – Print yourself some simple business-size cards with class details on to hand out to people and to share at your registration desk. (I keep a supply of these with my phone)
I always have A4 printed posters with the little rip-off sections at the bottom (SEE image below) with contact & online details, to pin up in busy local places- supermarket noticeboards, post offices, bus stops, health centres and cafes are all worth a try.
Newsletters and newspapers – you may have a local paper to provide some editorial to and advertise in, or there may be local newsletters including schools that may be happy to take editorial and/or advertising.
GETTING PEOPLE TO TAKE ACTION Contact and get their details– Make it easy for people to contact you and to register.
All your marketing material should have either a phone number and another way to contact you to either ask questions or register.
However, take care to NOT SHARE your phone number or personal email address directly online, otherwise your SPAM traffic will go crazy! The simplest way of adding contacts online to minimise spam is to turn the contact into a LINK, with the contact visible only on clicking the link.
I use Wufooonline forms to set up very simple, digitally shareable registration forms for my classes (I also use it for getting feedback, testimonials, etc). A basic Wufoo account is free and I know people LOVE filling out these forms because they are so simple and quick to do.
You can of course collect the same details from people if they turn up to class without notice, using a good old-fashioned piece of paper and pen.
Keeping in communication – Keeping a decent email address list is also important for re-connecting with dancers who may have taken time out or just to share longer form information for your group. For example, I usually only email my class groups at the beginning of every term if the information is longer than is sensible for a text message, contains links or photos. Find out what type of communication works best for your group and for you.
In summary, always have your eye to growing the group because there will always be reasons for people to not be there, and for those who leave or move away. But if there’s always a room of people, there’s a buzz and that bit of extra energy that is magnetic.
Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below or to ask questions.
I wish all you organisers, teachers and dancers the best of luck for more dancers and more classes.
The world of Irish step dancing is in disarray after allegations of teachers and competition adjudicators allegedly involved in cheating has now found its’ way to the High Court of Ireland.*
In a complex set of twists and turns, one teacher/adjudicator of a group who were suspended by the dancing governing body An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) in November 2022, has brought the CLRG to the High Court to have her suspension lifted, and won.
The group of others against whom allegations have been made has now grown to 44, and it has also been reported that “Some teachers had complained that their suspensions had resulted in a loss of earnings.” **
This is a clear demonstration that Irish step dancing has become a highly lucrative business, and seems to have lost it’s way as an art form and as a community.
In addition, there is growing alarm at the lack of proper safety and concern for dancers at competition venues as it has been reported in April 2023 that “A spectator has been left disgusted by what they described as disastrous stage conditions which saw one dancer break their foot at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Canada earlier this month.”***
What a sad turn of events for step dancing, as a less-than-attractive underbelly is being exposed for the ruthless level of competition, money and status that I believe has no place in what should be a proud and beautiful form of cultural Irish dance.
However, I am not one bit surprised.
Irish step dancing has for too long been an extremely crowded arena with very limited opportunities for highly trained and talented dancers. The pressure has been building for years and it is not surprising that something had to give.
“Now, with the influx of thousands of young hopefuls, the sheer volume of interest has begun to move the dance in a whole different direction: a tidal surge causing it to lose it’s mooring of grace, rhythm and a deep connection with the music. I am concerned about much of what that means for the dancing, the dancers and the Irish culture it supposedly represents.
It’s now all about the extremes, intensity and deadly seriousness, and a slightly nasty edge that comes with all that… For many dancers, there is an expectation of very intensive training, that dancing on pointe and extreme ballet turnout is the norm, that getting injured is de rigueur, that money is no object and that dancers will do almost anything to win including moving schools – sometimes even moving country to improve their chances of winning a competition.”
There are, of course, other styles of Irish dance that could accommodate and welcome lots more dancers. Sean nós dancing is an obvious alternative for any step dancer, albeit with limited structured competition via the Fleadh competitions run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ). Set dancing could also be an option for dancers as it blossoms with more people, and also because competition is only a very small part of the overall set dancing experience, and is all the more healthy for that.
I hope very much that the entire Irish step dancing community- governing bodies, teachers, judges, parents and dancers- take this opportunity to critically review their priorities and the the way the dancing is structured, including providing more opportunities than just competing and performing.
This could allow the dancing to thrive in a more congenial, trustworthy and ethically sound way that places the welfare of it’s young dancers at it’s heart.
Yes! It’s that time againwhen you start thinking about what you might like to do for your holiday vacation, with hopefully lovely memories of years past where you have partaken of a festival or two. And what a pleasure it is to be able to do that in a relaxed way after years of COVID restrictions.
I have expanded the listing to include as many local fleadh competitions as possible, and also a number of other festivals that have a mix of Irish traditional music options with other related styles of music.
You can find your way around all 83 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map below OR by date listing below.
28th April-1st May 2023 Cup of Tae 2023 Ardara, County Donegal
The festival honours legendary fiddle player John ‘The Tae’ Gallagher who was born in West End, Ardara in 1923, with live traditional music, masterclasses and performances right across the lively pubs, bars and cultural locations in the town. https://cupoftaefestival.com/
28th-30th April 2023 Co.Offaly Fleadh 2023
Rahan, Co.Offaly County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing. https://www.offalyfleadh.com/
28th April-1st May 2023 Féile Chois Cuain 2023 Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh, Co Mayo
Louisburgh is a small town on the western seaboard in an area of great natural beauty, rich in heritage and tradition. Féile Chois Cuain is an annual celebration of this cultural heritage and it has a well-deserved reputation as one of Ireland’s premier traditional arts festivals. It is a magical weekend of music, song and dance, where an extraordinary atmosphere prevails as old friends get together and new friendships are forged. Come to Louisburgh this May Bank Holiday Weekend and experience it for yourself! https://feilechoiscuain.com/
29th April – 30th April 2023 Co.Leitrim Fleadh 2023 Glencar/ Manorhamilton, Co.Leitrim
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing. https://www.facebook.com/leitrimcomhaltas/
29th April-1st May 2023 Fleadh Cheoil Chorcai 2023 Bandon, County Cork
The Cork Fleadh Cheoil is a weekend festival comprised of céilí dancing, music sessions, street entertainment and competitions in music, singing, dancing and storytelling. Under 12 and 12/15 competitions will take place on Saturday, April 29th while 15/18 and Senior competitions will take place on Sunday, April 30th. The County Dancing Finals will be held on Bank Holiday Monday, May 1st. Two qualifiers from each competition over the Fleadh weekend will go forward to represent Cork in the Munster Fleadh Cheoil in Tralee, Co. Kerry in July. https://www.corkfleadh.ie/
29th April -1st May 2023 Half-Door Club Castletown TradFest 2023 Castletown Co.Laois
After a long break for Covid, The Half-Door Club international Music and Dance Festival has returned this year for a four day event of set dancing and traditional music in Castletown, Co. Laois. https://www.halfdoorclub.org/
4-7th May 2023 Baltimore Fiddle Fair 2023 Baltimore, Co.Cork
Irish traditional music mixed with old-timey US music.We believe that a festival is like a river, in that it must keep moving in order not to stagnate. Our festival has certainly evolved over the years. Originally 9 concerts of traditional Irish music over 9 nights on a tiny stage on McCarthy’s Bar, it now takes place over 4 days all around the beautiful village of Baltimore. And while traditional Irish music is still at the heart of what we’re all about, the festival now features music from all over the world. As well as great concerts, our festival now features a packed programme of additional events such as workshops, sessions, musical boat trips, historical walking tours, film screenings, exhibitions and even some Fiddle Fair yoga. https://fiddlefair.com/
5th-7th May 2023 Sweets of May 2023 Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
Like many other festivals in hibernation,the Sweets of May weekend of set dancing returns this year and has relocated from Kerry to Cork for their return. https://www.facebook.com/kerrydancers/
19th-21st May 2023 Feile Binn Eadair 2023 Howth, Dublin
A mostly free Irish and traditional Music Festival in the fishing village of Howth. For one weekend in May, Howth will be filled with Irish music of the past and present. Wander from gig to gig like you’re at Electric Picnic but without any entry fee thanks to our sponsors Rockshore Lager and Fingal County Council. There will be almost 30 FREE GIGS and sessions in total. https://www.feilebinneadair.com/
20th-21st May 2023 Feile Nasc 2023 Marley Park, Dublin, Leinster
Féile Nasc began as a one-day traditional music and folk event in Marlay Park in 2019. In 2023, the festival will expand to two days. Two incredible days of Music and more in Marlay Park. https://nasc.ie/
27th-28th May 2023 Galway Early Music Festival 2023 Galway, County Galway
Performing and promoting ‘early music’ in Ireland. Galway Early Music is a not-for-profit voluntarily run arts organisation. The aim of GEM is to promote both Irish and European music and dance of the 12th-17th centuries. The objectives are threefold: To bring alive the music and dance of the 12th – 17th centuries in the context of Galway’s medieval heritage through concerts given by international and national performers To increase awareness and interest in this music and dance among youth and the general public through education and participation. To attract an already existing early music audience from outside of Ireland to Galway for The Galway Early Music Festival. https://galwayearlymusic.com/
27th May-5th June 2023 Fleadh Nua 2023 Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland
2023 Fleadh Nua in Ennis promises to be an exciting and innovative festival, full to the brim with Concerts, Céilís, Sessions, CD Launches, Recitals, Sean-Nós Dancing and Street Entertainment. Since 1974 Fleadh Nua has developed from a 3-day event to a festival spanning 10 days, with more than 120 separate events, where there is a welcome for everyone. There are many Irish traditional festivals organised throughout the summer months but there are few people who will dispute that Fleadh Nua which started in Dublin in 1970, is the forerunner of them all. The concept of bringing together concerts, céilithe, music, song and dancing workshops, street entertainment, and much more was innovative in its time. However, it’s still a winning formula today as evidenced by the thousands of visitors who flock to the festival every May for a week of unsurpassed traditional entertainment. www.fleadhnua.com
31st May- 5th June 2023 Clancy Brothers Music and Arts Festival 2023 Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
We’re looking forward returning for our 16th year with live music and events over the June Bank Holiday Weekend for all the family to enjoy, including:Live Music in the Strand and Brewery Lane Theatres, the Live Music Pub Trail, the Under 18s Busking Competition, the Eoghan Power Memorial Ballad Singing Competition, Lunchtime Theatre in the Brewery Lane, Walks and Tours, and family fun. https://clancybrothersfestival.com/
10th-18th June 2023 Co.Kerry Fleadh 2023 Ballybunion, Dromin, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing. http://kerrycomhaltas.ie/
10th-18th June 2023 Co. Clare Fleadh 2023 Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co. Clare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Ennis, County Clare. www.clarecomhaltas.com
15th-18th June 2023 Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival 2023 Glengarriff, Co.Cork
The sound of the uilleann pipes will be back and taking centre-stage in the picturesque village of Glengarriff in West Cork with a festival of great music to beat them all. We have a great line-up, a top Session Trail and a few surprises. We hope you enjoy! http://jimdowlingfestival.ie/
16th June-20th June 2023 Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival 2023 Ballydehob, County Cork
The Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival is an international festival based in the picturesque village of Ballydehob, West Cork, featuring Maritime and other Folk music.Song Writing Competition[ Maritime] which is sponsored by IMRO.Sea songs, shanties,Song Writing Competition, workshops, Craft Stalls, a new Maritime play plus music in the pubs and a Fundraising Concert in Levis Corner House. https://fastnetmaritime.com/
19th-30th June 2023 BLÁS – BLAS international summer school of Irish traditional music and dance 2023 Limerick, Co.Limerick
Intensive “deep dive” workshops and master classes for experienced singers, dancers and musicians with a focus on collaborative integration of understanding between the disciplines.
A residential program at the University of Limerick including international accreditation. www.blas.ie
23rd June- 2nd July 2023 Connacht Fleadh Cheoil 2023
Ballina. Co.Mayo Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing. https://www.facebook.com/ConnachtFleadh/
24th June 2023 Buskfest 2023 Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland
BuskFest is an international busking festival that takes place in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland http://www.buskfest.com/
25th-30th June 2023 International Harp Festival for Irish Harp 2023 Termonfechin, County Louth
Seize this opportunity to become immersed in all aspects of traditional music for Irish harp. Develop skills and repertoire from ancient harpers’ tunes to songs and slow airs to jigs and reels. https://www.cairdenacruite.com/festival
26th-30th June 2023 Craicean Summer School 2023 Inis Oirr (Inisheer) Galway
A unique bodhran (drum) summer school on the island of Inis Oirr in the Galway Bay. https://www.craiceann.com/
1st-8th July 2023 Willie Clancy Summer School 2023 Miltown Malbay, County Clare
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this festival is held in traditional music heartland that calls music and dance lovers back year after year. There’s a great atmosphere in the town and surrounds, with plenty of sessions, céilis and busking to complement the official program of classes and recitals. An additional program of dancing is also held at the Armada Hotel- see additional website link- Armada Festival of Music & Dancing. https://www.scoilsamhraidhwillieclancy.com/ https://www.armadahotel.com/music-and-events.html
2nd-9th July 2023 Leinster Fleadh 2023 TU Dublin, Grangegorman, Co.Dublin
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE). https://www.leinster-fleadh.ie/leinster-fleadh-2023/
4th-6th July 2023 Slí Dhála Summer School Blanchardstown Dublin 15, Co.Dublin
The Summer School has been organised to give musicians in Dublin 15 and beyond the opportunity to come together to meet one another, learn music together and enjoy the atmosphere of a session or two. All ages will find something of interest at our workshops and trad music, singing, and dancing sessions. There is something for all of the family.
The music workshops cater for younger musicians with our Under 12 tunes workshop.
The Teen Trad Group Workshop returns for it’s 4th edition and this is always very popular. There will be dancing and singing workshops which shouldn’t be missed. http://www.craobhslidhala.ie/workshops/schedule-of-events
8th-23rd July 2023 Earagail Arts Festival 2023 County Donegal
Earagail Arts Festival is a bilingual arts festival that takes place in County Donegal. It comprises 16 days of music, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, circus, and carnival along the Wild Atlantic Way. https://eaf.ie/
9th-15th July 2023 South Sligo Summer School 2023 Tubbercurry, County Sligo
The South Sligo Summer School was founded in 1987 in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo to conserve and promote the rich tradition of music, song and dance of the area. With a full programme of classes, workshops, céilithe, concerts, recitals and talks, there is special emphasis on the old Sligo traditional style of playing. https://www.southsligosummerschool.com/
10th-16th July 2023 Munster Fleadh/ Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan 2023 Tralee, County Kerry
Welcome to Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan 2023 which will be hosted by Kerry County Board of Comhaltas in Tralee, Co. Kerry.Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan is the largest provincial Fleadh in Ireland as thousands of musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers and visitors from the six counties of Munster and beyond gather for an annual celebration of our Irish cultural traditions. The town of Tralee is steeped in tradition and previously has hosted Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan in 1978.We invite you to join us in Tralee from July 10th -16th 2023 for an action-packed programme of events including a wide selection of outdoor entertainment, concerts, lectures, céilithe, sessions, and most importantly the Munster Fleadh competitions where competitors from the six counties of Munster will compete for a place in the All-Ireland Fleadh in Mullingar. https://www.munstercomhaltas.ie/event-details/fleadh-cheoil-na-mumhan-2023
10th-14th July 2023 Ceol na Coille Summer School of Irish Traditional Music 2023 Letterkenny, Co.Donegal
Learn Irish Traditional Music, Song in a county known for its culture, its beauty and friendliness. We welcome enthusiasts – adults and children from beginners to advanced levels on a full range of instruments, and boast a list of first-class tutors. A busy programme of classes, workshops, recitals, nightly sessions and concerts. Immerse yourself in Irish Traditional Music song and Gaeilge in a fun, relaxed and welcoming environment amid some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland – a great week of music and fun for all. Instruments include – Uilleann Pipes, Fiddle, Whistle, Flute, Concertina, Guitar and Piano Accompaniment, Button & Piano Accordion, Banjo, Bodhrán, Traditional Singing – for all ages. https://ceolnacoille.ie/summerschool/
15th-23rd July 2023 Joe Mooney Summer School 2023 Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim
Drumshanbo is delightful – a similar format to South Sligo Summer School, the difference here is the focus is very much around the unusual main street, which has a pedestrian mezzanine above the lane of traffic, where you can sit out in the sun, dance, listen to music & enjoy the people going by and enjoy a number of excellent evening céilís. https://www.joemooneysummerschool.com/
17th-21st July 2023 Meitheal Residential Summer School 2023 Villiers School, Limerick City, Ireland
Residential summer school for young traditional musicians. https://tradweek.com/
22nd-29th July 2023 Scoil Acla Summer School 2023 Achill Island, Co.Mayo
Traditional music courses, art workshops, sean nós singing, writers workshop, dance workshop, sean nós dancing, basket weaving workshops in a most unique location. www.scoilacla.ie
23rd-29th July 2023 Belfast Tradfest 2023 Belfast. Co.Antrim
Belfast TradFest Summer Fest returns jam-packed full of traditional music, song and dance, with some of the best traditional musicians, singers & dancers from across these islands. Featuring a week long programme of workshops and a full programme of concerts, talks, lectures, sessions, céilís & festival clubs, this week is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland and brings together both the Irish and the Ulster-Scots musical traditions, in a shared celebration of culture & heritage. https://www.belfasttraditionalmusic.com/
26th- 30th July 2023 Fiddlers Green Festival 2023 Rostrevor, Co Down
A wonderful festival of music, arts and culture held in July each year in Rostrevor Co. Down. www.fiddlersgreenfestival.co.uk
31st-July- 7th August 2023 O’Carolan Harp Festival 2023 Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Festival was started in Keadue in 1978, to commemorate the famous Harper Turlough O’Carolan who lived in the area and is buried beside Keadue. Keadue is a small village of 200 people located on the shores of Lough Meelagh at the foot of the Arigna Mountains. The Festival includes Concerts, Céilí, Tuition on the Harp, Set Dancing, Harp Recitals and a Harp Competition. https://www.ocarolanharpfestival.ie/
3rd-6th August 2023 Scariff Harbour Festival 2023 Market Square, Scariff, Co Clare
A fabulous, packed three day festival of all things local, Irish and interesting! Don’t miss a fascinating interview with Martin Hayes. https://www.scariffharbourfestival.ie/
5th-7th August 2023 Ballyshannon Folk Festival 2023 Ballyshannon, Co Donegal
Welcome to Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival, the oldest festival of its genre in the world coming to you from Ireland’s oldest town. We are situated on the Wild Atlantic Way in the beautiful county of Donegal – the coolest place on the planet!Every year over the August Bank Holiday we celebrate the very best of traditional and folk music, where our artists and audiences blend along the banks of the Erne creating memories that last a lifetime. www.ballyshannonfolkfestival.com
5th-7th August 2023 Cahersiveen Festival of Music & the Arts 2023 Cahersiveen, County Kerry
The Cahersiveen Festival will be in its 26th year in 2023 and each year we strive to bring you bigger acts and greater street entertainment. The Festival is a Family friendly festival with entertainment for adults and children alike. https://www.celticmusicfestival.com/
6th-14th August 2023 Fleadh Cheoil na h’Eireann 2023 Mullingar, Westmeath.
The best kind of celebration and competition, with provincial finalist musicians, dancers and artists competing to win their All-Ireland categories. Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann (CCE) showcase fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it! https://fleadhcheoil.ie/
9th-14th August 2023 Feakle Festival 2023 Feakle, County Clare
For a few days each August, Feakle village becomes a very special place where the best in traditional music can be heard, songs sung, dances danced and friends meet up again for another Feakle Festival. https://feaklefestival.ie
10th-20th August 2023 Kilkenny Arts Festivals 2023 Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Since its foundation in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has gathered many of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers and artists in Ireland’s medieval city. For ten days each August, the city’s historic churches, castle, courtyards, townhouses and gardens offer a magical setting for unique collaborations and intimate encounters between audiences and artists. https://www.kilkennyarts.ie/
11th -13th August 2023 Howth Roots and Blues 2023 Howth, Dublin
The Howth Roots and Blues Festival is a free music festival in Howth showcasing the best in Irish roots and blues artists and is organised by Paul Byrne of In Tua Nua for Howth Tourism. While many of the artists are blues based the festival caters for fans of Country, Rhythm and Blues, Bluegrass, Americanna and reggae. Basically anything rootsy! https://www.howthrootsandblues.com/
28th September-1st October 2023 Cork Folk Festival 2023 Cork, County Cork
The Cork Folk Festival is back this September October in Cork City, Ireland’s southern musical capital. The festival will showcase Ireland’s best folk and traditional acts in 12 venues around the city. https://www.corkfolkfestival.com/
29th September- 1st October 2023 Follow Me up to Carlow 2023 Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow
A lovely weekend of set dancing workshops and céilís.
20th October 2023 Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Blackwater, Cavan
Cavan Town CCÉ present a festival celebrating the music of Ed Reavy, renowned Irish-American musician/composer of traditional dance tunes. http://cavantowncomhaltas.ie/wordpress/
27th October – 5th November 2023 Sligo Live 2023 Sligo, County Sligo
Sligo Live is a community centred festival created by musicians and music lovers to showcase the very best of talent – internationally established and emerging. https://sligolive.ie/
Film award season has just concluded with the Oscars earlier this week, and happily a number of Irish films won BAFTA awards and also received Oscar nominations, including the very beautiful and gentle The Quiet Girl(An Cailín Cuain as Gaelige), and the absolutely stonkingBanshees of Inisherin.
And of course, an Oscar winner! Big congratulations to James Martin who won on the occasion of his 31st birthday for his performance in An Irish Goodbyefor best live action short film.
It has started me thinking about all those scenes in films that have entertained us with Irish music and traditional dance.
Mostly those dances have been part of the story: showing how important gathering for music and dances was to the various social and political power plays going on, like in The Field, based on the John B. Keane play.
Also in Jimmy’s Hall, a story about a young Irish man who returned to his rural homeland after 10 years in the US, who creates trouble by re-establishing a community centre for people to meet, talk and dance. This illuminates the divide in political sympathies within the community, including that of the church.
And then there’s the delightful breakout just for the craic – tapping feet, whoops of joy and some simple céilí dancing in Dancing at Lúghnasa . This isthe penultimate moment for all the key characters before that gentle country Irish life fell apart and faded away.
There’s a short, sweet music session in The Banshees of Inisherin, led by the key protagonist, Colm Doherty played by Brendan Gleeson, who in real life is an accomplished Irish fiddler. This is a soft and gentle spot in a film that can otherwise be confusing, jarring and very, very funny.
And last, but not least, is the iconic dance scene from The Titanic. No, this film is not an Irish film but we can claim the dance, the music, if not the ship itself which was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. Not sure Jack and Rose would win any dance medals but they sure have the right attitude!
So, what I noticed about all these films is that they are all set in the first half of the 20th century from 1912-1936 or thereabouts. This was an important time of change for the world, with two world wars, a depression and a lot of social upheaval. In Ireland, there was the Easter Rising of 1916 and the emergence of a new and difficult republic, that created great strain between friends and families.
It was also a dangerous time for our beloved dancing, as there were forces at work to try to rid Ireland of any music and dance events in private homes with the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935.
Happily, the dancing survived all that. What I would love to see now are some films set in our current day for all the world to see, showcasing the bright, beautiful and very talented musicians and dancers who are carrying on an amazing legacy.
GREAT TO SEE so many festivals and summer schools lined up for Summer 2022, after a hiatus of two years with the COVID pandemic. Organisers are taking calculated risks that all will be well, and I hope that comes to fruition.
Particularly good to see the the Comhaltas Fleadh events are mostly back, giving opportunities for local musicians, dancers and singers to perform and compete.
You can find your way around all 42 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map below OR by scrolling the date listing below.
WITH ST.PATRICK’S DAY just around the corner, I thought I would share three of my favorite Irish recipes that you might like to prepare and share with your friends and family.
I am a total foodie and I do love to bake but I’m not great with fiddly, complicated recipes. So I am hoping these three lovely recipes will be simple enough even if you’re someone who doesn’t cook much.
St.Patrick’s Day beckons and with the last two years of disappointments and disruptions, the need to feel hopeful is persistent and growing. And for humans, what stronger symbol of hope are our children?
So, you’ve decided this is the year you’d like to do some dancing with the kids to celebrate- your kids or your students- but you’re not quite sure what to do or how to go about it. (You might also want to look at some tips for dancing during a pandemic)
I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of opportunities to teach children to dance and made plenty of mistakes. What I learned though is that you don’t have to be perfect; in fact, it’s far better if you approach it as an experience and a journey of joy, much the way a child would do when learning something interesting, engaging and fun!
TIPS FOR TEACHING
Start slow and simple– Start with something you are certain every single dancer will be able to do, and preferably something that is fun and enjoyable This ensures that dancers will gain confidence and that they feel they are part of the group, not the odd one out unable to dance.
Start with each individual dancing on their own in a large group, then gradually introduce the idea of dancing with a partner. I did this by teaching a simple, 3-4 part warm-up dance with plenty of repetition. The steps learned in warm-up could then progress to be used as a base for a brush/broom dance, allowing each child to focus on their brush and their dancing, not on each other. Then move on to a group circle dance where each child is paired with another (Rattlin’ Bog see below).
Boys germs – Be aware that some children will be alive to the “yuck” factor – that hand-holding and touching each other will be abhorrent to some children, depending on their age and experience. So, don’t force anything. All activities and dance moves should be optional and you may need to find creative solutions to elements of dance that children are finding difficult or not responding to. Keep in mind the need for a Plan B.
Introducing dance movements – Work from what people find easiest to do and then work towards the more complex things. Build the movements and steps, bit by bit.Start with a walk– walking is very close to an advance step for sets. A retiring step for sets is just like walking backwards – a little more tricky.
Most people can STAMP one foot while standing on the other- makes a great sound and is simple. CLAPS are also pretty simple and KICKS as finishing moves.
Little SKIPS, HOPS & JUMPS are also easy for kids – they look and sound great when controlled and in unison. Got the idea?
For set or céilí dancing, focus on the figures first, then the dance steps.Teach the figure or the pattern of the dance first, without too much focus on what is happening with the feet- it will come. Learning dance steps, and especially battering steps, can be difficult and generally takes a lot of practice. For set dancing, I find reel steps tends to take longer to learn than jig or polka steps. That should not be a deterrent to trying to teach dance steps but be realistic about your expectations as a teacher, particularly if you have limited time.
Don’t talk too much – show them what to do, walk through it once, then dance it with some repetition, maybe 3-4 times. Get people moving as soon as possible after the class starts.
Keep the teaching sessions short- 30-40 minutes at a time is plenty of time for teaching and learning. Take note when children are becoming bored or distracted- either move into a different dance, take a break or end the class.
Music is most important – needs to be toe-tapping and inspiring enough to be still interested after listening 100 times! Even better for children if it has a catchy song that can be included in the dance. Spend time seeking out the right music and make deliberate choices.
Suggest you start with music that is slower, and increase the tempo as the learning progresses.You can slow a tune down so that the music is the same and as dancers get the hang of the movement, you can increase the pace, or not, depending on how well they are going and enjoying it.
I also have S-T-R-E-T-C-H music – tunes that have been stretched (by a sound engineer) so the music is slow at the start and gradually, imperceptibly speeds up to normal speed at the end.
Build confidence– plan your class to suit the abilities of the dancers (not your needs) and give them lots of encouragement. Focus on what they are doing right, and not what they are doing wrong. Lots of praise works.
We have reached a stage of serious mourning for the loss of our beloved set dancing, with this pandemic stretching on into years- a loss we never thought possible.
In these dark times, it seems that life will never get back to normal and that is probably mostly true. However, it can be good again but it will have to be different.
As a person who has had my long-term health and subsequent dancing ability completely and adversely affected by other viruses, bacteria and fungi, I have strong reason for wanting this to happen.
The SARS CoV-2 virus is highly infectious, as we all know, and is very airborne, which means it travels on the wind, on pollution particles and through people expelling it via coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting or speaking loudly. It can be spread through air conditioning systems & is obviously spread through touching contaminated surfaces.
It has on average a 6 day incubation period but can be anywhere up to 14 days- varies between individuals – which means that anyone who has come in contact with the virus may develop symptoms any time for 2 weeks – it is not safe to come in contact with anyone at any time during that period- isolation is recommended.
And most difficult of all, can be asymptomatic, which means people can be carrying the virus, spreading it without any symptoms of feeling unwell or any idea they have the virus.
Vaccinations are now being delivered and are a work-in-progress. The timeframe for getting everyone successfully and effectively inoculated could be years, and meanwhile, other variants and other viruses are likely to arise.
Long-distance travel is going to continue to be fraught with problems for some years to come. And to top it off, the experts say that the likelihood of future pandemics is high whilst ever we continue to mess with the boundaries of wild animals and nature.
I have many more questions than answers, but now is the time for us all to start thinking and planning for a different and better future.
A NEW APPROACH?
Set dancing can only be done as a communal activity and we all need to continue to be mindful and care for our dancer friends.
Set dancing itself is inherently an up-close-and-personal experience, which is why it is a very human, socially satisfying past time. Holding hands with lots of touch, couples are close, groups of eight in very close quarters doing all the moves we love so much –chaining, christmas and dancing at home.
Past dancing environments have generally paid little attention to health basics – no obvious hand washing options, poor or no hall ventilation, scant floor and other cleaning, and no expectation that dancers who were potentially ill & contagious would exclude themselves.
This is not a criticism of organizers because I know how much work is involved in organizing classes, workshops, céilíthe and festivals – I have done many myself.
Our generally slack attitude to health basics is widespread in all our communities, well beyond dancing, particularly when it comes to public health.
Community and public amenities have often become second-class, the poor relation to well-resourced private enterprises. There was a time when society took pride in having the very best for our shared spaces- look at all the beautiful churches and halls that were built in times past.
Poor infrastructure and low expectations have combined to make it difficult for organizers to insist on a higher than usual standard of hygiene. It has also been frankly embarassing to even discuss these issues. This will all need to change if we are to have any dancing community into the future.
We need a new attitude to ensure that set dancing thrives, and that all set dancing is done in a safe and healthy environment as is possible to give it the best chance of continuing.
We need some durable options to protect ourselves, and our dancing into the future, and here are some thoughts and suggestions.
THERE’S NO BETTER PLACE in the world than Ireland in the summer, especially when the weather obliges. But whether the sun shines or not, I guarantee that the music, song, dance and craic will lift your spirit to the very best Ireland has to offer.
This year, I have included MAY in the summer listing, because there are too many gems not to be missed, including all the countyfleadhanna that begin towards the end of the month. This leads into the fourprovincial fleadhanna in July and the the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann being hosted this year by Drogheda, Co.Louth in August.
You can find your way around all 53 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map OR by scrolling the date listing below, which also includes a brief description.
Friday 4th – Monday 7th May 2018 Feile Chois Cuain Louisburg, Co.Mayo
A traditional festival celebrating traditional music, song and dance.
Friday 4th – Sunday 6th May 2018 Portmagee Set Dancing Weekend Portmagee, Co Kerry, Ireland
Traditional music, set dancing and singing in the Bridge Bar, Portmagee.
Friday 4th – Sunday 7th May 2018 Half Door Club Castletown TradFest Castletown, Co Laois,
County Laois’s biggest dance festival offers plenty of great music and dancing over the four-day May bank holiday weekend.
Friday 11th -Sunday 13th May 2018 Sweets of May Tralee, Co Kerry
The weekend celebrates set dancing with workshops and céilís by top teachers and bands in a lovely setting outside the town of Tralee.
Friday 11th- Sunday13th May 2018 Féile Chnoc na Gaoithe Tulla, Co.Clare
Cnoc na Gaoithe (Windswept Hill), the Tulla Comhaltas Cultural Centre’s mission is to promote, preserve and showcase the rich Irish traditions and culture of Tulla and the East Clare area.
Monday 7th -Thursday 13th May 2018 CosCos Sean Nós Festival Rathcormac, Co Sligo,
A weekend dedicated to sean nós music, song and dance, packed with workshops, céilís, sessions and concerts.
Thursday 17th – Sunday 20th May 2018 Féile Damhsa Gaelach Gortahork, Co Donegal
Saturday 19th May- Sunday 20th May 2018 Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries,Co.Dublin
Traditional music weekend in a beautiful location just North of Dublin – big line-up of well-known artists.
Thursday 24th – Monday 28th May 2018 Fleadh Nua Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland
2018 Fleadh Nua in Ennis promises to be an exciting and innovative festival, full to the brim with concerts, céilís, sessions, CD launches, recitals, Irish dance competitions and street entertainment.
Tuesday 29th May – Monday 4th June 2018 Limerick Fleadh Kilfinane, Co. Limerick
Fleadh Cheoil Luimnigh will host around 1,000 competitors on the June bank holiday weekend, all wishing to progress from Limerick for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
Thursday 31st May – Sunday 3rd June 2018 Monaghan Fleadh Ballybay, Co. Monaghan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, at the Ballybay Community College (Tullycorbet CCÉ).
Friday 1st – Monday 4th June 2018 Cavan Fleadh Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing at Kilnaleck, County Cavan.
Friday 1st – Monday 4th June 2018 Laois Fleadh Mountmellick, Co. Laois
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing at Mount Mellick, County Laois.
Saturday 2nd – Sunday 3rd June 2018 Sligo Fleadh Sligo Town, Co. Sligo
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, jointly hosted by Fred Finn CCÉ and Sligo Town CCÉ.
Saturday 9th – Sunday 10th June 2018 Fermanagh Fleadh Derrygonnelly, Fermanagh
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing hosted by the Fermanagh Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann,
Sunday 10th June- Friday 15th June 2018 Welcome to Enniscrone Irish & Country Music Festival Enniscrone, Co.Sligo
Classes will begin each morning at 11am in céili, Fior céili & sean nós. Plus ballroom, jive & salsa with piret also beginning each morning at 11am.Great Irish céilí bands including the Duntally,Foot Tappers, Salamanca, Longnote and Matt Cunningham.
Friday 15th – Sunday 17th June, 2018 Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Co.Clare
Taking inspiration from the great festivals of the 70’s and 80’s such as Lisdoonvarna down the road and from the deep musical roots of the county, The Doolin Folk Festival presents powerful music in an intimate setting and ensures that audiences & musicians can feel at one and just enjoy the communal spirit
Sunday 17th – Sunday 24th June 2018 Tyrone Fleadh Dungannon, Co. Tyrone
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, hosted by Craobh Úi Néill CCÉ, Dún Geanainn.
Sunday 17th-Sunday 24th June 2018 Galway Sessions Galway city, Co.Galway
The annual Galway Sessions Festival, celebrates Irish folk and traditional music and the music Irish emigrants brought with them across the world. The festival has a variety of events including gigs in theatres and pubs throughout Galway City from 1pm-1am.
Wednesday 20th –Sunday 24th June 2018 Clare Fleadh Ennis, Co. Clare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Ennis, County Clare.
Friday 22nd June – Saturday 23rd June 2018 All-Ireland Sean Nós Dance Festival Athboy, Co Meath, Ireland
A summer sean nós festival with workshops, sessions, céilís and a competition with a top prize of €500.
Saturday 23rd –Sunday 24th June 2018 Down Fleadh Portaferry/Castlewellan, Co. Down
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Portaferry and Castlewellan, Co. Down.
Monday 25th – Friday 29th June 2018 Craiceann International Bodhrán Summer School Inis Oirr, Co.Galway (Aran Islands)
Love the rhythm? The festival focusing on the bodhran drum will satisfy your need to listen and learn, in a most beautiful setting steeped in traditional Irish music.
Monday25th June – Friday 6th July 2018 BLÁS Limerick, Co.Limerick
Intensive “deep dive” workshops and master classes for experienced singers, dancers and musicians with a focus on collaborative integration of understanding between the disciplines. A residential program at the University of Limerick including international accreditation.
Sunday 1st July – Friday 6th July 2018 Seaosamh Macghabhan Summer School Kilmovee, Co.Mayo.
Full summer school with individual and group tuition in a wide range of instruments, dancing and singing.
Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th July 2018 Fleadh Cheoil Connaght 2018
Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim
Connacht Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians, dancers & other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Monday 2nd – Friday 6th July 2018 Westport Schoil Cheoil Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals.
Friday 6th- Sunday 8th July 2018 Traidphicnic Spiddal, Co.Galway
A taste of local traditional music, arts and culture in Spiddal.
Saturday 7th- Sunday 15th July 2018 Willie Clancy Summer School Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this festival is held in traditional music heartland that calls music and dance lovers back year after year. There’s a great atmosphere in the town and surrounds, with plenty of sessions, céilis and busking to complement the official program of classes and recitals. An addtional program of dancing is also held at the Armada Hotel.
Sunday 8th – Sunday 15th July 2018 Leinster Fleadh 2018
Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown), Co. Carlow
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Sunday 15th- Saturday 21st July 2018 South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Co.Sligo
This has become my favorite festival for it’s laid back nature but also the learning to dance program is excellent. Different energy to Willie Clancy, it’s more intimate, gentler and very enjoyable in this beautiful part of Co.Sligo, with very deep music & dance tradition. Set dancing and music classes are in the morning 10am-1pm, a sean nós dance program in the afternoon from 4-6pm, and a range of concerts in the afternoons, and set dancing céilís in the evenings, with sessions in the pubs to follow.
Sunday 15th – Sunday 22nd July 2018 Munster Fleadh 2018 Ennis Co.Clare
Munster Provincial Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Sunday 15th – Sunday 22nd July 2018 Céilí at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle,Co.Clare
Annual céilí at the Crossroads has expanded to a whole week – an opportunity to dance outside!
Saturday 21st – Saturday 28th July 2018 Joe Mooney Summer School
Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim Drumshanbo is delightful – a similar format to South Sligo Summer School, the difference here is the focus is very much around the unusual main street, which has a pedestrian mezzanine above the lane of traffic, where you can sit out in the sun, dance, listen to music & enjoy the people going by and enjoy a number of excellent evening céilís.
Monday 23rd -Sunday 29th July 2018 Ulster Fleadh 2018 Castlewellan,Co.Down.
Ulster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Saturday 28th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Co.Mayo
Traditional music courses, art workshops, sean nós singing, writers workshop, dance workshop, sean nós dancing, basket weaving workshops in a most unique location.
Monday 30th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 Sean nós dancing residency for adults, with Edwina Guckian Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim
An intensive course in sean nós dance from 11-2pm daily, with sessions and ceilíthe running throughout the week.
Monday 30th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 The Irish Dance Festival Carlingford, Co.Louth
Spend a week learning from some of the world’s best Irish dance masters of three styles – step, set and sean nós – and connect with fellow lovers of Irish dance by immersing yourself in Irish culture and heritage.
Monday 30th July – Sunday 6th August 2018 Summer Festival of Dance Ballyfin, Co Laois
Maureen Culleton is an expert dancer, teacher and supporter of all forms of Irish traditional dance, with strong followings among dancers in Europe, Japan and across Ireland. She calls the sets at the céilíthe running through out the week, teaches the workshops and leads the sessions. EMAIL MAUREEN for more information.
Wednesday 1st- Monday 6th August 2018 Kilrush Trad Music & Set Dancing Festival
Kilrush Traditional Music & Set Dancing Festival is a 6 day festival of music & set dancing including open air céilis in Kilrush Square on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Music sessions, singers club, sean nós & set dancing workshops will also take place throughout the festival.
Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th August 2018 Ballyshannon Folk Festival Ballyshannon, County Donegal
The 41st annual Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Fesitval is the place to be this August Bank Holiday Weekend as the sounds of traditional and folk music echo from the streets, pubs and Marquee concerts along Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Saturday 4th – Sunday 5th August 2018 (TBA) James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Riverstown, Co Sligo.
A full trad festival with open air céilís, concerts, sessions and more in the home village of a fiddler who became famous in the USA.
Friday 4th – Monday 7th August 2018 O’Carolan Summer School and Harp Festival 2018 Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan is the inspiration for this summer school and festival in this gorgeous town. Plenty of dancing including the famous Annual Door Dancing Competition on Monday 7th August at 7pm.
Tuesday 7th- Tuesday 13th August 2018 (TBC) Kilcar Fleadh Kilcar, Co Donegal
A 7 day festival of traditional music, songs and dance, celebrating the living heritage of traditional music in South West Donegal.
Wednesday 8th- Monday 13th August 2018 Feakle International Festival of Traditional Music Feakle, Co Clare
For a few days each August, Feakle village becomes a very special place where the best in traditional music can be heard, songs sung, dances danced and friends meet up again for another Feakle Festival.
Sunday12th – Friday 17th August 2018 Fleadh Cheoil na h’Eireann & Scoil Éigse 2018
The best kind of celebration and competition, with provincial finalist musicians, dancers and artists competing to win their All-Ireland categories. Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann (CCE) showcase fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it!
Wednesday 22nd – Sunday 26th August 2018 Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’ purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes.
Enjoy the craic and I hope the sun shines strong for you. Nora Stewart
FOR MOST OF USset dancers, the idea that the original Lancers set from County Clare was not always danced to reels could seem very strange indeed. The evolution of our beloved dances have an interesting past, as told by Larry Lynch in his extensive and beautiful book,Set Dances of Ireland: Tradition and Evolution (1989).
This trove is based on oral history told by dancers from each area, and is a written and illustrated record of music, musicians, dances and dance style from counties Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick and Clare. Larry Lynch has very kindly agreed to allow me to re-produce the following chapter (Italics text) on The Lancers.
The Set in Local Tradition: Crusheen, Co.Clare: The Lancers Joe McNamara first saw the Lancers in about 1931. Joe learned the Lancers from John Kinley, who brought the set to the area from South Galway. John Kinley was about twenty years older than Joe.
“Joe Kinley picked it up at a wedding in South Galway. At the time, there were kitchen house dances maybe only three times a year. It was hard to see all the figures. John Kinley was anxious for everyone to dance the Lancers, but no-one knew how to dance it. No-one knew the full set, only himself. There might be only two in the house who knew it, and they weren’t too clear about it either.”
Joe McNamara recalls, “House dances stopped during the war (World War II)because they were illegal. The gardaí would come and close them down. The government wanted the revenue and tax. Priests stopped the house dances but they built parochial halls and got licenses and had their own dances.”
“Céilithe were started during the late forties and early fifties by Irish language teachers. No sets were allowed because sets were not considered Irish. Sets were danced at an odd get-together in the home – a return from England, or a wedding. Comhaltas (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann) organised the first Fleadh Cheoil in Athlone in 1953 and started reviving set dancing. The Caledonian Set was danced in the competitions. Because of emigration, there were no crowds to dance, so the generation of the fifties missed out. Modern music and show bands became popular, so today, people between the ages of thirty and fifty can’t dance.”
“I often saw John Kinley in pubs and he was anxious for the two of us to get the Lancers going. And we would often go through it in the pubs, having an old chat about the sets. He always hinted on me that we should get it going.”
Joe McNamara revived the Lancers in 1980. “ I had to go back in my memory and remember the set as I saw Kinley dancing it, and work out one figure from another until I go the shape of a set. I might see that dancing in my young days, and I might no see that set danced twice in a year. There was that drawback that I had to remember the set after not dancing it for forty years. I usen’t to sleep, and I often went through a figure (while unable to sleep). I was teaching set dancing at Crusheen at the time. I did it one figure at a time. I had to take figure one, do that and see how it worked out. Then onto the next figure. It took a lot of memorizing.”
Joe says about the Lancers “ When Joe Kinley danced it, it was danced to polkas. I revived it to reels because dancers today prefer reels.” According to Joe McNamara, the dancing speed of the music at two beats per measure used to be: polkas 102 beats per minute. Today, the dancing speed of the music at two beats per measure is: reels 123 beats per minute.
Pauline McNamara, Joe’s niece, told me recently that her father, Paddy McNamara, always insisted that the dance be done at a “slow and easy pace”. And polkas at 51 bars per minute, is certainly much slower than now- often around 60-70 bars per minute for polkas.
She also told me that the (Clare) Lancers, as it became, was an instant hit at competitions and social dances because it was a set with five reels – no jig. They won everything, every competition they entered – Paddy McNamara and Biddy McNamara (photo below), Eoin and Mary Donnell, Muriel and Danny Liddy; Catherine Brigdale, Pete Connors and Kevin O’Brien, with Joe McNamara as the manager of the group.
Now, about twenty-five people dance the Lancers in the Crusheen area. Joe and Biddie McNamara have also taught the Lancers every summer since 1983 at the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, in Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare.
We all know that there are now thousands of dancers happily dancing the Clare Lancers all over the world. In addition, Larry Lynch said to me in an email recently:
“Joe and Biddie McNamara were wonderful people and very gracious to me. Joe and Biddie knew their subject well; they deserve to be recognized and honored for passing on the tradition. Biddie was one of the most beautiful and graceful female set dancers I encountered in twenty-seven years of research and teaching set dancing in Ireland.”
Music, people and place are absolutely key to any Irish set dance, and Larry Lynch has also recorded some of that information for the Lancers.
Musicians: The Lancers Set Some of the popular musicians who played the fiddle were: Katie Costello (later played with Michael Coleman in America), Rathclooney; Delia (also played the concertina), Mary and Winnie Littleton, Drumbaniff, Crusheen.
Others who played the concertina were: Mrs. Cunneen, James and John Costello, Rathclooney; James McInerney, Drumbaniff, Crusheen; James McNamara, Drumbaniff, Crusheen.
Those who played the accordion were: Joe McNamara (played with the Tulla Céilí Band 1953 until 1963), Drumbaniff, Crusheen. Patsie Kinley (John Kinley’s father), O’Brien’s Castle, Crusheen, played the flute. Petie Littleton, Drumbaniff, Crusheen, played the tin whistle and the concert flute. (There is also an extensive list of tunes, for anyone interested).
Homes: The Lancers Set When Joe McNamara was young, set dancing was done at house dances. Some of the homes where sets were danced were: Joe Kinley’s, O’Brien’s Castle, Crusheen; James McNamara’s (Joe’s father), Drumbaniff, Crusheen; Mickie Littleton’s, Drumbaniff, Crusheen; Paddy O’Connor’s, Cappafean, Crusheen.
My great thanks to Larry Lynch for taking the time to record all this amazing information, and agreeing to let me share it here.
Larry sadly passed away in December 2021, and leaves a valuable legacy to all who love Clare sets.
Set Dances of Ireland: Tradition and Evolution (1989) is available for purchase via Amazon.