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Tripping the light fantastic

Dancers are pictured in full flight at the Roundfort céili earlier this month.
Dancers are pictured in full flight at the Roundfort céili earlier this month.?Pic: Trish Forde

Tripping the light fantastic

The Saturday night céilí tradition is alive and well in Mayo

Willie McHugh

IT’S a dance as old as time and the twine strings back to the evenings of the crossroad céili. It might have weakened a tad when outside influences vied for attention but it never died.
It got a lifesaving transfusion around here too when returned exiles Margaret and Paddy Geraghty started teaching the intricate moves in pubs in Roundfort, Foxhall or Hollymount. The céili dancers needed somewhere afterwards to step the hard yards learned so to the hallowed halls of Brickens, Killawalla and Carnacon they went to dance.
It was a loose enough arrangement back then and sometimes bad planning led to unavoidable clashes. But not anymore. Kathleen McGrenra from Barnacarroll drew up an annual céili calendar. It’s strictly adhered to, and every venue hosts three well-supported dances a year now. The itinerary reads like the rota of a politician’s weekend clinic. Shrule, Partry, Hollymount, Mayo Abbey, Aughagower, and Newport are just some of the dancing meccas Kathleen slots into the schedule now.
Spanning from Kilcoona in North Galway to Curry in South Sligo, distance is no object. In Roundfort on a February night the usual patrons from Glencorrib, Ballinrobe, Enniscrone, Shrule, Taugheen, Headford, Carnacon, Caherlistrane and from Finney, beyond the Ferry Bridge, start to arrive shortly after 9pm.
They’ve come to dance and no time is wasted either. Coats, jackets, jumpers and handbags adorn the vacant chairs along the wall as the band strikes up a lively beat.
Tonight it’s The Copper Plate from Omagh who provide the accompanying music. You won’t hear them play any Haggard or George Jones or warble a few bars of The Tennessee Waltz.
They belt out a fast cadence that gives quick rhythm to the feet of the dancer because those revellers love giving it deatach.
Padraic Nolan is on front of house duty in Roundfort. He’s been on this watch as long as he can remember. His gig is an easy one. “Aaragh, even if I wasn’t here they’d still throw in the money because that’s the type of people they are. You never see anyone arriving with even a whiff of drink on them. They even bring their own refreshments and some have a change of clothes for the journey home. They lose gallons of sweat because they’re on the floor all night.”
Padraic Keane is one of the tireless workers toiling ensuring céili night in Roundfort runs smoothly. He takes a break from dancing to organise the raffle and lend a hand out in the kitchen preparing tea and refreshments the dancers will avail of later. He eschews fuss and his welcome is genuine. He stitches some reason and logic to this phenomenon that’s long since become the Saturday night norm in Mayo and beyond.
“The hall committees hosting it, run it. There’s very little profit out of it. The band tonight travelled from Omagh so they have to get paid. It’s not just a case of organising a few musicians from up the village. We have a fifteen minute interval and provide dancers with a cup of tea, a sandwich and a scone.  But it’s a short break because they want the tables out of the way fairly fast so as they can get back on the floor.
“Every region has its own dancing style and it’s as unique to that area as is the accent or they converse in. The type of dancing the Geraghty’s taught us is called ‘slides’. It’s easier dance because the steps are a bit lighter and it’s not as hard on the feet. It’s the very same moves as the sets they dance in Kerry or Clare but down there it’s called ‘battering’.
“There are numerous sets. They’ll dance about twelve here tonight. They’ll do the Antrim Square, the Castle, the Derrada, the Corofin and The Newport Set.  There are a few new ones coming on stream too. In the scioból in Ballintubber a girl teaches it every Thursday night. The Boyne Set is the latest one we’re learning now.
“The Connemara Set is the last set they’ll dance tonight. Our age group enjoys dancing. It’s good exercise and a nice way of keeping fit. There’s a man from Tourmakeady here and he’s over eighty years of age but he’ll dance every set.”
Padraic goes off to attend a singing kettle and the beat goes on. There’s not a floorboard to be seen. It’s Roundfort tonight and some other venue next week as céili dancing aficionados slide around the maple to the steps Paddy and Maureen taught them all those moons ago.
It’s dancing as it was always meant to be.‘
Round the house and mind the dresser.