Fifty years a-dancing

The word ceili means a gathering of neighbours in one house, which emphasised the social nature of the gathering. This inevitably led to music, singing, and dancing, to people doing their party pieces. There were a lot of ceilis in Mick and Maisie Hession’s household on Kingshill in Salthill. Mick Hession was an uileann piper who played a number of other instruments as well, and he regularly had other musicians visit the house for sessions.

His three children grew up with traditional music. Mary, the eldest, was a good singer, Celine was a dancer, and Carl was an accomplished musician who has also distinguished himself as a composer.

Celine started her Irish dancing training with Rita White, but Rita became ill and Celine moved to Maighread Flaherty’s class. Maighread left for England, so Celine moved again, this time to Peggy Carty’s school.

She was a determined young lady and decided to set up her own classes in 1963. These took place in the front room of the house, and her pupils were ‘neighbour’s children’. Her brother Carl played the piano so her dancers practised to live music. As she began to grow in confidence, she got the idea of entering some pupils in Feis Ceoil an Iarthair, but she was not allowed to do so because she had no teaching qualifications. She managed to enter two of her dancers under another teacher’s name. They were Monica Kenny and Anne Byrne, and they won several trophies. This was a major morale boost to the school.

In 1965 she converted a chalet that was at the back of her house into a studio and the classes have been based there since. The big difference here was that the music was supplied by old 78’ on a record player.

Fr Canavan from Tuam asked her to help him set up a Cumann Rince, a kind of ceili house, and her dad used to drive her there for the sessions. She was only 17 years old, you could not register as a teacher until you were 21, but Fr Canavan somehow wangled a temporary club registration for her. About this time, she and her troupe appeared in the regular Taibhdhearc summer show Seoda. Celine was the star and this gave her and her school a higher profile.

Since then her career has taken her all around the world. Her dancing partner of some 30 years, Donncha Ó Muineacháin, sadly passed away some years ago. Her quest for knowledge of dance prompted her to broaden her horizons, and she attended the University of Davis in California for a summer to learn about tap, hop, and other modern forms of dance,

Her school flourished and has produced many champions, but perhaps her greatest legacy is the love of dancing that she has passed on to thousands of pupils over the last 50 years. The classes are now being run by her daughter Gemma, who continues to maintain very high standards. She had 37 solo dancers qualify for the ‘open’ World Championships last year. Celine and her family have made a major contribution to the quality of life in Galway. Go mba fada buan sibh leis an gceoil agus an damhsa!

Our photograph today is of a group of dancers taken some 40 years ago. They are, front row, Eleanor O’Toole, Mena Ryan, Deirdre Coyne, Maeve O’Connor, and Bernie O’Brien. Second row; Anna Byrne, Christine Howard, Geraldine Crowe, Celine Hession, Marie O’Brien, Kathleen Ryan, and Theresa Riddell.


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