Sally Harney – Hall of Fame 2003

CCE Northeast Regional Hall of Fame Inductee Sally Harney – Irish Dance

Inducted to its The Hall of Fame by
The Northeast Region of the North American Province – November 3, 2003

Early Life

    SALLY HARNEY (dancer & teacher) was born in 1939 on a farm in Carndonath, Co. Donegal, into a world of lilting, step and ceili dancing, and the social life of family, and farm and village neighbors. In that world, young and old went out together to neighbors’ homes to perform in disguise as the Christmas Mummers-reciting, singing and dancing.

Passing on the tradition

Sally’s maternal grandmother was expert at the very old “Tongs Dance,” the “Turf Dance,” and the “Brush Dance”-solo dances performed most often to one tune, “Maggie Pickens.” So Sally’s mother was a great dancer and lilter herself. Both women taught the ten children their tunes, and barn dances-Stack of Barley, the Highland Fling–and the old solo dances. Sally’s grandfather and uncle played the accordion; there were not many fiddles around. Dinney McLaughlin, a cousin of Sally’s mother and a great fiddle player, stepdancer, and teacher from Buncrana, used to come to the house to teach dancing-and play and dance at the same time. And occasionally a dance teacher came from Derry to a hall in Carndonath, the children bringing a small payment to him for a lesson. House parties were common, people of all ages dancing in the kitchen. On “big nights” in the barn, neighbors would come for a night of mostly singing, some storytelling, and barn dancing. One set, The Lancers, would be danced two or three times during the night. Each village seemed to have one set they danced at gatherings, mostly in peoples’ houses and occasionally in barns or halls.

Across the Pond

    Sally emigrated to Boston in 1957, looking for music and ceili dancing right away, down in Dudley Street, at the Colonial and the Hibernian Halls-where she first heard Larry Reynolds and others who later became the musicians of Boston Comhaltas.   Dancers did quick-step or ceili, upstairs and downstairs, with two different bands.

A tradition reborn

About 16 years ago, Terry McCarthy of Roscommon came to Watertown, dancing the sets. Some of the dancers attended a workshop of sets with Joe & Siobhan O’Donovan. And then Larry Reynolds began to bring Donncha O’Muineachain, the stepdancing master, over from Dublin to Watertown every year, to teach the sets. The concentrated classes in set dancing, with dancers learning a number of sets they would do at larger gatherings, began in Watertown. In fact, at the first Comhaltas Convention in Ottawa, home of the great Ottawa Valley Dancers, the Boston Comhaltas set dancers demonstrated the Kerry Set, the Caledonian and other sets learned from videos and from Donncha.

And the tradition goes on…

Sally and her husband Joe (of Roscommon) and family are well known to all of the Boston Comhaltas. Sally has taught step dancing, ceili, and set dancing for the Hanafin-Cooley Branch of Comhaltas for the past sixteen years. She teaches with her son Liam, Director of the Harney Academy of Dance. She organizes the dancing at the Comhaltas Tent of the Stonehill Festival weekend each year, to benefit the new Irish Cultural Center in Canton. And at the 2002 North American CCE Convention in Boston, Sally thrilled the crowd with a group of their stepdance students—children dancing the sets.
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This Page  revised 9/2/2008
Sally Harney at a 2014 ceili in Watertown
Sally Harney at a 2014 ceili in Watertown



Reynolds, Hanafin, Cooley Branch – Boston, MA