Set Dance Name: The CharLady/An Bean Ghlantacháin
Key: A (Major)
Time Signature: 6/8 Jig
Bars in Step Part A: 8 bars
Bars in Set Part B: 24 bars
Total Number of Bars: 40 Bars (as danced presently in competition/right foot only in Part B)
The Charlady was composed during the summer of 2010. The idea was to create a Jig Set Dance that
might be a humble alternative to the beautiful and incredibly popular Set Dances: The Drunken Gauger/Blackthorn Stick/and of late, Planxty Hugh O'Donnell, and that it would be sufficiently long enough to showcase a dancer's skill and stamina. When danced in competition, Planxty Hugh O'Donnell is the longest Jig Set measuring 48 Bars, with Blackthorn Stick and Drunken Gauger being the second longest, with each one measuring 45 Bars respectively. Planxty Drury, as presently danced, has a total of 40 bars and has been consistently popular over the years, but in recent times, has not featured as often as Blackthorn and Drunken Gauger. The next longest Jig Set Dance is presently The Three Sea Captains, and while also very popular at 36 Bars, it is again not nearly as popular as The Blackthorn Stick or The Drunken Gauger or Planxty Drury. While Planxty Hugh O'Donnell is a relative new-comer to the Official List of Set Dances, it is only now starting to be seen at Oireachtasi, but the early question remains,
is it possibly too long? With all these thoughts in mind, my plan was to write a Set Dance that would match Planxty Drury at 40 Bars in length, but with a different bar count in the step and set when danced...........and not quite as long as Blackthorn or Gauger, but a little longer (4 Bars longer) than The Three Sea Captains. To achieve that bar count, an 8 Bar “A” Part and a 24 Bar "B" Part, as noted in the very popular hornpipe set, The Kilkenny Races, would become my desired bar count infrastructure. There are presently no Jig Set Dances that have this configuration of 8 and 24 bars.
Looking out over the fields of Athenry, Co. Galway on a rainy afternoon from my favorite playing perch in the garage, the notes started to come together for this new Set Dance. By evening, the tune was complete, so now would come the task of finding a name that would complement the tune. As always, I began to think in terms of things that have been a unique or interesting part of the Irish experience…… that would pay tribute to an era, an event, or even a person. Then, one evening, there it was........The CharLady..........a term from the past to describe a profession or a person who would do chores around the house...... a term I would hear most especially in Dublin.
I have come to know a few charwomen over the years who, in one way or another, made a significant
difference in the lives of those around them. In my mind, these ladies, who filled multiple roles, from
chambermaid, to nanny, to short order cook, were in many respects, an integral part of the family. Life was good for the children of the families whose lives were touched by these ladies, because, quite often, the Charlady was always a reliable presence............... always there with a kind word...........and always there with a helping hand! The CharLady I remember best and associate most closely with my Set Dance had a heart of gold, a sense of pride, a modest flair for fashion, all the social graces, and was greatly loved by all 8 of the children in that Dublin City home.
My experience is that regardless of their station in life, these ladies were much more capable than the
menial tasks they assumed to earn their living. In my own life, I have always remembered the words of my own mother……..” when there is nothing beneath you, there is no one above you”! A woman of great faith, her open heart allowed me the open mind to appreciate all things great and small of this world, and her words resonate a common chord of respect for those of less privilege who toil to make something of themselves and who strive to make a difference. A warming thought for me would be that both the tune and its title would prosper into the 21st century, with a kind and gentle appreciation for the role that The CharLady played in so many, many young Irish lives..........and that is the story behind my Set Dance, "The CharLady".