The picturesque village of Holycross in Co Tipperary was embraced by music and dancing as the sixteenth Connie Ryan Gathering Festival was celebrated from Friday 6th to 8th June.
The beautiful St Michael’s Community Hall was home for the event. This building was a former church, built 1834 and renovated in 2000 for use as a community centre some of the original features were retained including the beautiful windows and a statue of the ark angel Michael which is over the stage.
The festival got underway on Friday night at 9pm with a ceili. Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter played superb music to the wonderful selection of sets called by Thurles dance master Michael Loughnane. Michael was back at the helm on Saturday for a full day set dancing workshop, from 10.30am to 5pm, with a lunch break at 1pm. Dancers retired to the numerous hostelries in the area regain energy from lovely home cooking and hospitality.
Michael taught The Templebeg Set. This set was composed by Co Tipperary and world renowned dancing Master Pat Murphy. Pat, who now lives in Dublin came originally from the area of Templebeg a parish west of Thurles. Pat told us that this set was composed to represent his home area and reflects memories of growing up there. Some parts are also a reminder of other versions of the Castle Set as it was danced in other times. The set has five figures, danced to polka, slide polka, hornpipe and jig. To the surprise of the dancers Pat Murphy joined us for the day which greatly enthused the dancers as we seldom have the composer of the set present his presence added to the enjoyment of learning the set.
The second set Michael taught was The Blacktown. This set comes from Co Tyrone and has five figures danced to three jigs a reel and a march. Michael also taught The Corballa Set. Dancing teacher Gerard Butler composed this set in memory of his mother Lila whose family lived in the townsland of Corballa in Co Roscommon. This set has five figures danced to two reels, jig, reel and a fling.
Michael Loughnane is a wonderful instructor with years of experience dancing and teaching dancing all over Tipperary the midlands and Europe. He teaches a class every Thursday night in the Band hall in Stradvoher in Thurles and has been instrumental in reviving Thurles Silver Band which has grown under his stewardship. Anything Michael gets involved in he applies himself one hundred present. This man’s energy knows no bounds he recently got involved with the men’s shed a new project in Thurles.
The Saturday night ceili began at 9pm we danced another brilliant selection of set to the music of Rise the Dust Ceili Band. Jim Doyle was MC Michael Loughnane called The Templebeg set from his earlier workshop and this correspondent called a few sets also.
Sunday afternoon in the shelter of Holycross Abbey dancers gathered for the finale ceili of the weekend. The Glenside Ceili Band tuned up and dancers were away with The Connemara set. MC duties were shared between Jim Doyle and this correspondent. Irish TV arrived with a camera crew and took footage of the ceili and conducted some interviews. The programme will be aired in a few weeks on Sky 191 or free sat 400. If you miss the programme you can get it on their website a few weeks later.
The festival closed with a mighty Plain set. Dancers happy a bit tired but delighted to be part of the festival bade goodbye. The committee are to be commended for their expertise on running the festival, which is a celebration of Clonoulty Dancing Master Connie Ryan who gave his life to set dancing and travelled all over Ireland and far beyond teaching and collecting sets. Connie sadly passed away in 1997.