Ryan - Dance Master
The folk music revival in Ireland in the 1960s was followed by a
rapidly expanding interest in dancing, particularly in the set dances
which had almost died out. One of those whose name had become
synonymous with the set dance revival was Connie Ryan, teacher and
friend to thousands of set dancers in Ireland and abroad.
A native of Clonoulty, Cashel, Co Tipperary, some of Connie's earliest
memories were of watching his father Paud doing his steps at the house
dances and "gambols" in Clonoulty. His father died when he was 12 and
when the gambols were resumed in the house after a proper period, he
assumed his father's role, becoming a “Fear a’
Tí” at home and at local venues, when the routine
was a ceili, a set and an old time waltz. He also taught dancing
He trained as a telephonist and moved to Dublin in 1967. Two years
later he gave his first workshop in Churchtown. Also in Dublin he
regularly went to the Bridge Street Club - known as Mrs Crotty's and
frequented by Clare exiles. There he met up with musicians Michael
Tubridy, John Kelly and members of the Castle Ceili Band and enjoyed
the Caledonian and Plain Sets. Connie would come also for the teaching
of Josie Murphy and an introduction to a wider range of sets.
According to a 1990 article in the Irish Arts Centre Magazine in New
York: "As proof of his ability to observe and master other styles, he
was invited to take part in demonstrating Clare sets with such great
Clare dancers as the late Paddy Curry and Brendan McMahon in a workshop
in Birr, Co Offaly. Ryan reckoned that this CCE (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri
Eireann) workshop in 1969 may have been the first actual workshop
devoted to set dancing in Ireland in recent times." He continued
working for CCE's Coiste Ceili Committee for 13 years playing a leading
role in their activities.
Connie's vibrant personality and wit contributed as much to the success
of his classes - regularly drawing 120 people per session - as did his
dance teaching ability. He might shout out to the shy novice - "will ya
His interest extended beyond teaching the sets. Along with Betty McCoy,
he travelled to remote parts of the country to discover almost
forgotten old sets which varied, even from parish to parish.
His enthusiasm is illustrated in a 1995 interview: “I am very
excited about a set of quadrilles I recently discovered near Belleek in
Fermanagh which hadn’t been danced for 40 years. I visited an
old man last week in Glencree who showed me steps from thirty years
back. I make a record of all these so they won’t be lost
But for Connie, set dancing was also meant to be enjoyable.
“Set dancing is a social business and meant to be fun. Many
of the bands now play too quickly, but in my book the best for dancing
are the Kilfenora and the Tulla ceili bands.”
Connie travelled and taught widely in Europe and the United States. He
said he had lost count of the number of workshops he had given in
America, from the Catskill Mountains to the West Coast. In 1988 he led
the Slievenamon Set Dancing Club, a party of 56 dancers and musicians,
on a ground-breaking two week trip to New York and Washington CD,
entertaining as they went along
Being from Tipperary, hurling was another of Connie's passions. But at
age 24 hesuffered an accidental blow to the head from a hurley stick.
As a result the nerves in his eyes were damaged and he was handicapped
for the rest of his life by short-sightedness. He trained as a
telephonist and worked at the Bank of Ireland HQ in Dublin.
Connie Ryan died in a Dublin hospital after a courageous struggle
against cancer on May 7, 1997. He was survived by his wife Peggy and
daughters Sinead and Aoife.
Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said He.