Comhaltas 2008 wrap-up

Oh my god.

This was a fun weekend. If you can ever come up with any excuse at all that will get you out to the annual Comhaltas convention(or Cape May weekend) go with it. If you like set dancing you won’t regret going to one of these events.

Susan and I flew into Newark, met Jean in the airport and proceeded on to the hotel where we checked in and got situated.

Wandering down to the lobby we checked out the ballroom and were a bit dismayed at the size of the dance floor. The Comhaltas in Chicago featured a much larger floor and several months ago we were told to expect greater attendance at the 2008 convention. Where were all the people going to dance?

We proceeded to the bar and started off the weekend right with a few beers. On the way there we ran into Padraig and Roisin McEneany who were on the way up to their room, bags in hand. It was great to say hello and we were all looking forward to their workshops.

Thursday night ceili

By 8pm we were more than ready to dance and the Pete Kelley Premier Ceili Band got things going with the North Kerry Set. The full set of lists and the times they started (sometimes approximate) are available at this blog post.

We danced until close to midnight but didn’t do the final Rake of Reels. We’d never heard of this “set” before and didn’t know that it was basically what we’d call a step-about only with set figures. Everyone gets up, sets form and each set decides what they’re going to dance. It was great fun to watch.

The music throughout the night was grand and the dancers were twirling and smiling through all the sets.

The night ended with our feet talking to us fairly loudly while we sat in the bar and had a few more beers and some good Scottish whisky, Oban.

Definitely a good beginning to the weekend.

Friday tour

Friday morning saw us on a bus headed to Manhatten for a tour. We had no idea where they were going to take us but we trooped onto the bus with a bunch of people older than us and one boy who was probably about 14.

We first ended up at the Irish Hunger Memorial. The weather was perfect for seeing the memorial. The sky was gray, the air was cold and a tiny bit of rain (mizzle) was coming down. I almost felt I was in Ireland.

After trooping around the Hunger Memorial for 15 minutes we were loaded back on the bus and taken to the 9/11 memorial.

It’s not so much a memorial at this point as it is a giant wet hole in the ground, filled with machinery. It’ll be interesting to see how it progresses in the years to come.

Following that we were taken through a driving tour past various moderately interesting sites, past Chinatown, the ocean front, a little


singing in the bus going down Broadway and finally to stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a gorgeous cathedral and the outside reminds me strongly of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Next we were off to lunch at the Grasshopper restaurant. The beer was good but the food was a little too much like food one might get at Lubys, no doubt because it was mass-produced for a tour.

Friday set workshop

Ahhh, more dancing.

Padraig and Roisin led us through the Ballingeary Jig Set and the Black Valley Jig Set. Padraig also showed us some fun footwork for both sets and by the end of the two hours we were feeling a good tired but ready for more.

Fortunately there was a ceili to come.

Friday ceili

The Friday ceili was more fun with four full hours of dancing to the Green Gates Ceili Band. The full list of dances is available on this post.

I don’t think I can say too much more other than I wish they’d had CDs available. I would have snapped one up without hesitation.

After the ceili it was off to bed tired but happy.

Saturday ceili­ workshop

The ceili workshop with Maura Mulligan was good and she ran us through the Duke Reel and some two-hands. There were a few false stops with the ceili music being too short but good overall. I missed some of it due to my wanting to audit the whistle workshop with Joanie Madden.

The whistle workshop was disappointing but not because of anything Joanie did or didn’t do. I didn’t realize that she’d be teaching a tune and wasn’t prepared to jump in and learn. I figured that the workshop would be more advanced and that there was no point in brushing up on my fingering beforehand. Not that I would have had time anyway with my workload as it’s been.

Saturday set workshop

As usual Padraig and Roisin ran an excellent and fun workshop.

They ran us through the South Sligo Lancers set which was easy to pick up and great fun.

Saturday banquet and ceili­

The banquet was enjoyable although the food wasn’t so hot. Sorry, hate to throw water on the event but this was the one thing about the whole weekend that didn’t meet the otherwise high standards. The food throughout was no better than what you’d get from a cheap cafeteria. Fortunately we weren’t there for the food.

The ceili afterwards was great fun although Susan crashed after the dinner and I only danced a few sets before crashing myself.

Sunday set workshop

I’ll stop repeating myself with regard to the quality of Padraig and Roisin’s workshops. You get the idea by now. This workshop they taught the Clare Orange and Green as well as some footwork (which they also did with the other workshops).

Sunday farewell ceili­

I started the ceili­ off blogging (IE, resting my feet) and catching up on notes from Saturday. It started with the Sliabh Luachra and while I love that set, my feet said to pace myself. So I didn’t batter or jump about as much as I normally would have.

Sliabh Luachra 2:10

Corofin Plain Set 2:30

Newport Set 3:00

Paris Set 3:20

Cashel Set 3:40


Caledonian set 4:25

Baile Bhuirne Jig Set 4:50

Clare Lancers 5:10

West Kerry Set 5:22

Connemara Set 5:35

Rake of Reels

After the ceili we retired to the bar to consume several beers, a whisky and two pizzas. We spent about six hours talking, drinking, eating and even getting up and dancing some in the hotel hallway.

Got a Comhaltas convention coming up? Get your feet out there!

If you want to see more pictures and some video from the convention, head over here.

Published by

Michael Harrison

Husband, Programmer, Irish dancer, tinkerer, astronomer, layabout (as much as possible)

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