Set Dances of Ireland
By Danny Hathaway
The sets, set dances, quadrilles, and sets of quadrilles evolved directly and quite obviously from the country dances. They originated in France in the last half of the 1700s and spread rapidly over Europe, reaching England at least by 1770 and Ireland shortly afterwards. The "Oxford English Dictionary" definition is as follows:
a. A square dance, of French origin, usually performed by four couples (a full set), and containing five sections or figures, each of which is a complete dance in itself. Also called 'a set of quadrilles'.
b. A piece of music (or set of tunes) to which a quadrille may be danced.
Quadrille dance parties were popular in England and Ireland in the first half of the 1800s. Not far removed from country dance tradition, the quadrilles were easily assimilated into rural and village tradition.
There were a few set quadrilles that had the greatest spread over Europe and influence over traditional folk dance including in Ireland. "The Plains Set" is the remainder of one of those sets, a set that was danced all over Ireland under various names including "The Derry Set" and "The Dublin Castle Set." These latter two sets were of the same figures with only the set of tunes used for them differing. Many names for sets of quadrilles were not in fact for the figures, which as above may be the same, but were for the set of tunes used.
Other Sets of Quadrilles that had a wide distribution including Ireland were "The Mazurka Set," "The Lancers Set," "The Caledonia Set," and "The Queen Victoria's Coronation Set." There were at most a half dozen or so quadrilles that found favor in Ireland and with time went through various changes and cross-breeding to result in what are now in spirit and without hesitation distinctively "Irish." The root that has given Ireland "The Clare Set" has also fathered "The Donegal Set" and "The Armagh Set," et cetera. "The Lancers Set" was equally popular and has survived in various forms.
Used with permission of the author.
Reprinted from the 1991 University of the Pacific (Stockton) Folk Dance Camp syllabus.