workshop in drumcondraMary Brogan, Galway
Being a South Galway girl myself I had danced in Clare down the years and was familiar with the various Clare styles. In my set dancing classes I had always advised learners to go and watch people from a particular area dance the local set. In order to bring Clare to Dublin, as it were, I had in 1992 brought Pat Moroney and friends to put on a workshop in St Joseph’s Drumcondra, demonstrating a “flat” Clare style.
I had been hearing for a long time reports about Willie Keane and his unique style of dancing and battering particularly in the Caledonian Set. Having met him and danced in sets with him, I was determined that this man would be on the next list of Clare dancers to be invited to St Joseph’s to give a workshop. Knowing that they had given workshops together I enlisted the help of Aidan Vaughan in coaxing Willie to travel. It took until April 1995 to get him to come. It was worth the effort as we had a very successful and enjoyable weekend. Other notable Clare dancers who helped in the demonstrations were James Keane and John Murphy. Three of the four ladies who danced with the men were, as I recall, Peggy Doherty, Frances Devitt, and myself, all familiar with the lesser part played by the ladies in the traditional style. There was tremendous interest in the subtle variations in the footwork to be seen.
Willie had an easy way with him that allowed him to mix with any group. All participants from near novice to skilled dancer could relate to him and enjoy his way of imparting his natural skill. One lady told me she could commit sin with him, from the ankles down. He and Aidan tipped out one very lively Caledonian half set to the delight of the class Willie partnered by an eight year-old (Caitlin Nic Gabann) and Aidan with her mother. Any idea of a generation gap was surely scotched! There was huge demand for his personal tuition (which he willingly gave to all, no matter what their level of ability) and although a day and a half of demonstrating was tough going he stuck at it to the last and even stayed on for the Sunday afternoon Céili. He then took off for Doolin to dance in a concert that night. That was Willie’s way.
I last met Willie in Miltown Malbay in July 1998. He addressed me as “girleen,” his usual friendly salutation to any lady younger than himself. Sadly, he was not up to dancing at that time. He is now undoubtedly passing on his dancing skills to the choirs of angels, at the right hand of God.