2016 Irish Traditional Music and Dance Summer Schools and Festivals

If you are anywhere near Ireland this Northern hemisphere summer, there is absolutely no excuse for not learning to play, sing or dance. Festivals and summer schools are burgeoning, with most offering opportunities to learn Irish set dancing, Irish sean nós dancing and/ or to learn to play or master a range of traditional musical instruments, as well as a wide range of concerts, céilís and lectures. And, of course, there are the four provincial fleadhanna (flaa-na), festivals incorporating competitions for traditional musicians and dancers, with the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann  being hosted by Ennis, Co.Clare in August this year.

There is a tangible increase in 2016 for opportunities to learn and compete at sean nós dancing, to attend singing classes and performances, and much more on offer specifically for children.

You can find your way around all 38 festivals listed here by either using the interactive map or by scrolling the date listing below, which also includes a brief description.

(If you don’t see your festival here, please let me know)

JUNE 2016

Friday 10th – Sunday 12th June 2016
Craiceann International Bodhrán Summer School 
Inis Oirr, Co.Galway (Aran Islands)

Friday 10th – Sunday 12th June, 2016
Doolin Folk Festival
Doolin, Co.Clare

Sunday 12th June- Thursday 16th June 2016         
Enniscrone Irish and Country Music Festival          
Enniscrone, Co.Sligo
The 5 day festival brings together some of the best Country and Western stars under one roof in the Diamond Coast Hotel but the festival also gives the opportunity for people to take part in set dance workshops, ballroom and social dance workshops, music tutorials, sessions and with music and dance taking place till late in the night.

Sunday 12th-Sunday 19th June 2016
Galway Sessions
Galway city, Co.Galway
Dedicated this year to the memory of Éamonn Ceannt, there will be lectures, music, recitals and wide range of other events.

Thursday 16th -Sunday 19th June 2016
Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival
Glengarriff, Co.Cork

Friday 17th June – Saturday 18th June 2016         
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.

Monday 20th June – Friday 1st July 2016         
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.

Saturday 25th-Sunday 26th June 2016 & Saturday 2nd – Sunday 3rd July 2016
Fleadh Cheoil Chonnacht 2016         
Strokestown,  Co.Roscommon 
Connacht Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians, dancers & other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).        

Saturday 25th-Sunday 26th June 2016          
Carlow Set Dance Weekend 2016
Weekend of set dancing workshops and céilís.
Carlow, Co. Carlow         

JULY 2016

Saturday 2nd July- Saturday 9th July 2016         
Willie Clancy Summer School 
Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare  
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this is probably the longest running of these festivals. There’s always a great buzz in Miltown: we call it Set Dancing Mecca! Classes for music and dance are run each morning from 10-1pm from Monday – Saturday, interspersed with a wide range of afternoon and evening set dancing céilís around the area, singing sessions & music sessions in pubs. Highly recommended for those who want full immersion, deep dive into Irish culture & craic.        

Monday July 4th– Friday July 8th 2016
The Junior Davey Bodhrán Academy
Gorteen, Co Sligo

Monday 4th July-Sunday 10th July 2016         
Leinster Fleadh Cheoil 2016         
Kilkenny, Co.Kilkenny
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).   http://www.leinsterfleadh.ie

Sunday 10th July- Saturday 16th July 2016         
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.         

Monday 11th July– Friday 15th July  2016
Ceol na Coille Summer School of Irish Traditional Music
Letterkenny, Co.Donegal

Monday 11th July– Friday 15th July  2016
Westport Scoil Cheoil 2016
Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals.

Monday 11th July- Friday 15th July 2016         
Sean Nós ar an tSionnan Feet and Beat Summer Camp
Ballymote, Co Sligo
A week of dance training for children from 7 to 15 years.     

Friday 15th July – Sunday 17th July 2016         
Danny Webster Weekend
Meenaneary, Co Donegal         
Kilkenny’s master accordionist visits Donegal for a weekend of three céilís.

Friday 16th July -Sunday 25th July 2016         
Ulster Fleadh 2016         
Bangor, 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 16th July – Sunday 17th July         
Munster Fleadh 2016          
Muster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).

Saturday 16th July – Sunday 17th July         
Céilí at the Crossroads Festival         
Annual céilí at the Crossroads – an opportunity to dance outside!         

Sunday 17th July – Saturday 24thJuly 2016         
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.

July 18th – 22nd, 2016
Meitheal Residential Summer School
Villiers School, Limerick City, Ireland
Residential Summer School for young traditional musicians.

Monday 18th July – Friday 22nd July          
Get in Step Summer Camp         
Riverstown, Co Sligo
€60 for five classes sean nós and set dancing summer school for kids from 5 to 17 years from 10am–2pm daily         
Eimear Mulvey (086) 258 4465

Friday 22nd July- Sunday 24th July          
Kilrush Traditional Festival         
Kilrush, Co Clare         
Free outdoor céilís in the market square are the big attraction at this weekend organised by Kilrush Comhaltas

Saturday 23rd July  – Saturday 30th July 2016
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

Monday 25th July- Sunday 31 July 2016          
Kilcar Fleadh          
Kilcar, Co Donegal
A village on the wild Atlantic coast of Donegal hosts this week-long music and dance festival.           

Monday 25th July – Sunday 31 July 2016         
Summer Festival of Dance          
Ballyfin, Co Laois
Maureen Culleton, one of Ireland’s best-known dance teachers organises this festival for the love of music, song and dance.

Monday 25th July 2016          
O’Carolan Summer School and Harp Festival         
Keadue, Co Roscommon         
The Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan is the inspiration for this summer school and festival in this gorgeous town.

Monday July 25th- Friday 29th 2016         
Liffey Trust Studios, 117-126 Upper Sheriff Street, Dublin 1       
Rince 2016-Treblehop 
Irish step dancing intensive tuition including solo technique, stage performance, céilí, show style and injury prevention.       

Friday July 29th –  Sunday 31st July  2016
Ballyshannon Folk Festival
Ballyshannon, County Donegal

Saturday 30th July 2016          
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.


Saturday 31st July – 7th August 2016         
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.      

Wednesday 3 August-Monday 8th August          
Feakle International Festival of Traditional Music          
Feakle, Co Clare  
The big festival in the small village of Feakle runs for seven days from Wednesday to Monday with many concerts & sessions in addition to the dancing events shown here.       

Monday 8 August – Friday 12 August          
Get in Step Summer Camp         
Kilcummin, Co,Kerry      
Sean nós and set dancing summer school for kids from 5 to 17 years.   
Adrian Moriarty (087) 933 0768

Monday 8 August- Friday 12 August 2016         
Sean Nós ar an tSionann Feet and Beat Summer Camp
Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim         
A week of dance training for children from 7 to 15 years.

Sunday 14th August- Monday 22 August 2016          
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann         
Ennis, Co Clare
Nearly two weeks of fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it!

Wednesday 17 August – Sunday 21 August 2016         
Masters of Tradition         
Bantry, Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes.

Thursday 18th August- Sunday 21st August 2016
Coleman Traditional Festival
Gurteen, Co.Sligo

The Coleman Traditional Irish Music Centre is a celebration of Irish Music, Culture and Heritage as expressed in the South Sligo Style of music played by Michael Coleman and other musicians of his time.
This community based enterprise in Gurteen, Co.Sligo, Ireland is dedicated to ensuring that the tradition of Irish music remains a living one ‘an traidisiún beo’ and that it continues to be enjoyed by all ages and nationalities.

Enjoy the craic!
Nora Stewart



Riverdance: Have we lost what captivated us so?

22 years ago, when the Eurovision song contest was being held in Dublin, there was a filler act for the interval that was initially met with modest, uncertain applause when it started. What happened after that performance  is now history, but I wanted to go back and have a look at the performance to see what it was that so transfixed us all.

Quite simply, it was beautiful, effortless and dream-like. It looked elegant and it sounded amazing, from the incredible singing introduction from Anúna, the gorgeous lyrical music and those stunning percussive rhythms, dancers synchronised playing off and responding to drums and each other. It had a story moving from the spiritual spell of water to a slick, modern city backdrop, in a kind of Clannad-meets-An-American-in-Paris moment.

And people responded in their hundreds of thousands, flocking to unprepared, dazed Irish dance schools, wanting a piece of that dream they had glimpsed and experienced. I know, I was one of them. Up until Riverdance, Irish step dancing had been something that young Irish girls and boys and those of the diaspora did as an obligation, taking their weekly classes or more often than not, skivving off and spending their sixpence on sweets (I’ve heard that story from many a dance friend).

The image of Irish step dancing was a little old-fashioned, a bit dowdy but reliable. As a student, you knew the rules, you knew the repertoire of dances, what to do to pass an exam and you got on with it. Costumes were modest, competitions and performances were regular and classes were strict.

young irish step dancers 1970s

Young irish step dancers 1970s. Image: http://www.crossexaminer.co.uk

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- I have written more about this from an Australian viewpoint. 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.

Irish world champtionships 2015

Modern champions. Image: http://www.PhotoMagic.ie

And those dresses, wigs and make-up – what can I say. It is natural that styles will change over time and is part of all development. However, t’would give the haute couture of Louis XIV, Sun King of France a run for his money. And look what happened to him and his court!

Louis the sun king

Louis XIV The Sun King

Gavin Doherty design DSC_62212

Image: Gavin Doherty Design











The saddest part for me is seeing the music applied like wallpaper – a background only for the dancing, and not integral or cherished in any way. There seems to be very little attempt to fit the steps to the music and to really connect with the complexity and beauty of it. Irish music is so full of character and life and much of the music I see in many Irish step dancing performances is pretty dreary stuff, in my opinion.

Not a patch on those beautiful compositions of Bill Whelan, nor any of the thousands of wonderful recorded uplifting music tracks available online for a few dollars. Music and dance work best in harmony, not submission.

So, while I genuinely applaud the interest in Irish step dancing, I am hopeful we will come full circle, back to a more beautiful and elegant form of dance that appreciates it’s cultural roots, more reflective of the emotion and rhythm in the music and just plain joyful and free.

Food for thought, I hope.

Nora Stewart
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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.

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From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 2-About Jack

Jack Canny would have been just over 3 years of age when the Easter Rising of 1916 took place in Dublin a hundred years ago, miles and worlds away from his home in the small townland of Glendree, two miles West of Feakle, Parish of Tulla in County Clare.

Maghera Mountain 1

Maghera Mountain, close to Jack’s home in Co.Clare, where Jack’s friend fell down a peat hole one foggy night coming home in the dark from dancing.                                     Image: http://www.ClareBirdWatching.com

The eldest of three sons of Patrick Canny and Catherine MacNamara, Jack was active,  and lively – “happy as a sand boy”, as he recounted, and was a natural sportsman including regular games of hurling, and later, cycling.

And, of course, there was music. His father, Pat Canny, was a noted local whistle and fiddle player “It was their main hobby when their day’s work was done in the farms. We had no radios or televisions at that time. We had to make our own enjoyment and our main enjoyment was music.”

“My Dad played, he was a great inspiration to all of us. He used often take down the fiddle on the long winter evenings and he’d play there for half an hour, just to keep on practising. He used to do that once a week…sometimes once a fortnight.”

Mark Tandy with Jack Canny

Jack Canny and Mark Tandy. Image: M.Tandy

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From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 1-Threads

I used to think that a 100 years was a long time – ancient history. Now that I have just passed my own half century, I see it differently – close, not that far away, with threads that weave my own history into that time.

There is a reverberation, an echo from down the years, a depth of influence that County Clare has had, and is still having on, Canberra Irish musicians and dancers, like myself.

I was first alerted to this connection in 2004, when my husband Martin and I stepped into a King O’Malleys pub music session in Canberra on a Sunday night, for the first time. We looked at each other in surprise “Sounds just like the Tulla” we said, almost in unison. It was like an instant trip back to Clare – eerie and beautiful.

Music session at King O'Malleys, Canberra

Pete Hobson, Sue Hobson and Mark Tandy at King O’Malleys session. Photo: N.Stewart

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Your Top 5 Céilí Bands for 2016

The Dartry Céilí Band from Ireland got the most votes this year in our popular poll, closely chased by bands from the USA and the UK – see full results in the table below.

A fantastic response from all over the world with just over 4,000 votes and 175 bands listed. I thank everyone who took the time to vote.

Special mention goes to a very late entrant, the Tanzanian Céil Band – I suspect this  might be our most exotic entry to date. They are raising funds for the Tanzanian Children’s Project and the band’s slogan is:

Traditional Irish Music for A Better World

My sentiments exactly. Congratulations to all the ceili bands for your dedication and all the enjoyment you bring, no matter how many votes you got-more power to you all.

Happy St.Patrick’s Day and enjoy the music and dance wherever you are in the world.

Nora Stewart


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Vote for Your Top 5 Irish Céilí Bands 2016

It’s on again – the battle of the Irish céilí bands to get a place in the top 5 for 2016. We had a brilliant response last year and looking forward to supporting our old favourites and the newer bands within the ever-expanding stable of wonderful Irish dance musicians.

We dancers are so lucky to have so many talented and energetic musicians to play for us  and giving support  and a vote to our favourite bands is like the least we can do, although you can vote whether you dance or not. You just have to love the music!

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Your Top 5 Sets for 2016

Thank-you everyone for your 669 votes over a 2 week period…and the winners are:

1 Merchant 52
2 Ballyvourney Jig 47
3 Clare Lancers 44
4 Connemara  (aka Connemara Reel ) 34
5 Clare Plain (Reel) 33
6 Cashel 26
7 Caledonian 22
8 West Kerry 20
9= Antrim Square 18
9= Aran 18
9= Claddagh 18
9= Moycullen 18
10= Borlin 14
10= Clare Orange and Green 14
10= Corofin Plain 14
10= Kilfenora Plain 14
11 Croisloch 13
12= Caragh Lake Jig 12
12= Paris 12
12= Sliabh Luachra (aka North Cork Polka ) 12
13= Labasheeda 11
13= Metal Bridge 11
14= Newport 10
14= Rinkinstown 10
15 Camp 8
16 North Kerry 7
17= Black Valley Square Jig 6
17= Boyne 6
17= Connemara Jig (aka Freres Nantes) 6
17= Derrada 6
17= Hurry the Jug 6
17= South Sligo Lancers 6
18= Auban 5
18= Ballycommon 5
18= Sliabh gCua 5
19= Armagh 4
19= Corballa 4
19= Kildownet Half 4
19= South Galway Reel(aka South Galway Half & South Galway Half ) 4
19= South Kerry 4
20= Ballyduff 3
20= Borlin Jenny 3
20= Clare Plain Polka 3
20= Dublin 3
20= Glencree 3
20= Mazurka 3
20= Melleray Lancers 3
20= Roscommon Lancers 3
20= Sliabh Fraoch 3

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Vote For Your Top 5 Sets 2016

Wow! The great long list of Irish set dances attached below – 236 in all – including many new ones this year, is a testament to the current health of set dancing.

Following the successful poll this time last year with Ballyvourney Jig Set at the top – see results from 2015 – I thought we’d give it another go.

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Your Top 3 Irish Céilí Dances

“Well, that was embarrassing!” Not a great start for a blog post but that is about the size of it. The results are in from the global poll and I received a grand total of 91 voters, the lowest response by far of the three polls I have conducted.

This is despite the fact that almost 3 times that many people read the blog post, two-thirds of you readers did not vote.

However, my thanks to those who did vote, and the High Cauled Cap was in front all the way. Continue reading