The thought of dancing a polka set on Irelandâ¿¿s highest peak had briefly crossed my mind in the past but the idea really took root when musician and hill-walking friend, John Cronin from Killarney, jokingly passed the comment on the summit one day â¿¿Iâ¿¿d love to play for a â¿¿setâ¿¿ up hereâ¿. A â¿¿setâ¿¿ as it is commonly known, is of course a polka set dance which is still a popular form of recreation in Kerry and has been for many years.
As Iâ¿¿m involved in a very worthwhile project in Nakuru in Kenya, Iâ¿¿m always looking for innovative ideas for raising much-needed funds. Dancing a Sliabh Luachra Polka Set on Corran Tuathail seemed like a good idea, one that would attract public attention and one that would entice people to part with their money in support of a worthy cause. Having consulted Kerryâ¿¿s most important calendar and establishing that there was no involvement of the inter-county football team or no county championship matches, a date was set. In consultation with some of my regular climbing colleagues it was decided that if it was to be a success it was worth doing things properly with live music and a dancing platform. Hours of discussion on the type of platform, how it would be transported to the top and how it would be put together, followed. The â¿¿Platform Design Teamâ¿¿ meetings were usually held on high stools in order to gain maximum benefit from our nocturnal brain-storming sessions. This bunch of innovative designers included Brendan Conroy, John King and Denis Murphy.
The search for set-dancing mountaineers began but I found out very early on that these are a rather scarce species. However, a week before the event, we had enough solemn promises to be confident of having the requisite eight dancers that makes up a full â¿¿setâ¿¿.
In the weeks leading up to the event we procured and cut plywood and a timber frame for the dancing platform. Brian King, with the aid of his Landrover, dropped the various bits and pieces near the shore of Lough Cailli, in the Hags Glen. From there we transported the 600mm x 600mm pieces of plywood on our backs, on specially adapted old rucksack frames, to the top. The long lengths of platform frame were carried up the Devilâ¿¿s Ladder by Derry Brick and John King. Four trips were made to the top in the week leading up to the event and by Saturday evening all major bits and pieces were safely stowed between rocks and crevices close to the top.
Things took a turn for the worse on Saturday with the announcement of very poor weather conditions for the weekend. A phone-call to Shannon revealed that things would improve by mid-day but there was no guarantee. Up at 6am, a decision to proceed as far as Lislibane was taken and if the weather was reasonable, we would â¿¿go for itâ¿¿.
On arrival, it was dry but windy and everyone was bursting with enthusiasm. We even danced part of a set near the gate for the cameras, in case it would be very foggy for photos at the summit. There were twenty in the group and more than half were very experience on the Reeks. For some it was their first time on any mountain and the weather did not weaken their resolve to reach the top. We were on our way in two different groups by 9am. The first group of about eight were armed with a battery- drill, saw and enough woodscrews to put the stage together. The second group set out at a nice leisurely pace along the wet and rocky road to the foot of the Devilâ¿¿s Ladder. The rain had by now eased to a drizzle and the mountains provided shelter from the southerly winds. Our first major obstacle came in the form of the Gadach River, which was much higher than normal, and crossing it proved difficult for some.
Set dancing on Corrán Tuathail with musicians John Cronin and Connie Enright in the background.
The normally peaceful final approach to the foot of the Devilâ¿¿s Ladder was now sounding more like Torc Waterfall as thousands of gallons of water from the torrential rain of the previous night thundered down the mountain sides forming many high speed streams and mini-waterfalls. Cameras were produced to record this beautiful sight as we rested and relaxed for our first â¿¿tea-breakâ¿¿ of the day. The pace on the ladder was kept to a minimum where Mary Dennehy showed all her leadership qualities and experience in controlling the pace from the centre of the group and nobody felt under any pressure. On reaching the top of the ladder the wind had by now abated to a stiff breeze. As we negotiated our way to the top the group broke into twoâ¿¿s and threeâ¿¿s a few people needed extra encouragement to keep going but everyone eventually made it there safely. The group that had set out earlier to put the stage together had arrived at the top about two hours before the rest of us and by now this blue-nosed bunch of men were using various means to try and keep warm from prancing on the stage, shadow boxing, running on the spot and banging their hands around their bodies. The weather had by now improved and breaks in the cloud provided stunning views of the surrounding areas of Kerry and Cork much to the delight of the first time summiteers.
Our two accordion players, John Cronin and Connie Enright thought we were taking too long for our tea-break and so began flexing their bellows to encourage the dancers to begin. The eight foot square platform had ample room for the dancers, however Ulic Walsh did leave a few â¿¿yahoosâ¿¿ and made a few wild leaps into the air which in turn drew applause and encouraging shouts from the audience. For dancers Martina Lawless, Joanne, Ann-Marie and Michael Nelligan and Ulic, it was their first time to climb Corrán Tuathail and to dance a polka set on your first visit must be unique. All parts of the Sliabh Luachra were completed successfully and with no small level of skill much to the amusement and inquisitiveness of other climbers who were not attached to the group. With the polka set successfully completed John Cronin broke into â¿¿The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Musicâ¿¿ and Iâ¿¿m sure if we had better weather there would have been more music and a few songs on the summit.
The â¿¿slowâ¿¿ group headed down again while the others dismantled the stage for transportation to the lowlands. The weary and foot-sore group arrived back in Lislibane a couple of hours later and headed straight to a local hostelry for refreshments and to celebrate our achievement.
Set Dancers on Corrán Tuathail: Ulic Walsh, Martina Lawless, Michael Nelligan, Annmarie Nelligan, Mary Dennehy, Margeurita Oâ¿¿Neill, John Daly and Joanne Nelligan.
So what was all this in aid of, you might wonder. Another climber on the day, Aidan Oâ¿¿Sullivan, and myself along with David Frizelle worked on a project in Kenya and in conjunction with the Charities Committee in the Institute of Technology, Tralee sought to raise funds for this worthy project. ARDESC, is a co-op and credit union, founded in Nakuru by local man William Keyah to benefit small farmers and others in the Rift Valley area. Having worked with William, we believe that his development work has the potential to vastly improve the lot of the Kenyan people and help them to do things for themselves. The amount of sponsorship collected to date stands at â¿¬ 19,729.00.
Dancers, musicians and organisers on the summit. (Photos: Eileen Brick)