Doing the ‘Reel’ thing in Feakle

Doing the ‘Reel’ thing in Feakle

En route to rural east Clare, I was filled with a curious mixture of excitement and anticipation. I was so looking forward to meeting up with friends from the Voices of Hope Choir who had been invited to sing at the opening ceremony of a Conference on the Therapeutics Effects of Irish Set Dancing for Parkinson’s, taking place that evening in the tiny village of Feakle. I was to be pleasantly surprised on all counts and because the conference was primarily about set dancing, I will start by getting out of my head and into my feet. Weight on left foot……….right foot first and turn…

Yes, I had read all the hype in the media about the therapeutic effects of Irish set dancing (not very trendy!) for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s and the cool Italian neurologist who most certainly was very trendy but who loved traditional Irish music and was a regular visitor to Ireland. His findings about Irish set dancing had helped bridge the gap between science and medicine at the Movement Disorders Conference held in Dublin in 2012. During the same week he attended the very first Empowerment day so he was familiar with and supportive of M4P’s ethos and values and had witnessed the choir’s very first performance which I am proud to say, I was part of.

On an earlier visit to Feakle in 2010, Professor Volpe (translates as……foxy, cunning, wolf like!!) happened to notice a man shuffling into Peppers’ bar in this beautiful village in Clare. The man’s gait was all too familiar but to his astonishment this same man joined a reel set and danced fluidly to the strong rhythm and beat of the music. Later that year, a chance encounter in Italy between himself and the Mayor of Feakle, Pat Hayes (whose father had Parkinson’s but had been a well-known musician in Peppers bar prior to his death and whom Pat firmly believed had managed to keep his symptoms from progressing too quickly through his love of playing traditional Irish music), led to Professor Volpe being invited back to Feakle to look at set dancing as a possible therapy for his patients back in Italy.

The rest is history as they say and a multidisciplinary study grew out of this chance encounter….I have to say, Professor Volpe lived up to his name in every sense of the word but what struck me most during his lecture and introducing his set dancers (all of whom had PD), was how happy they were around him and how equally happy he was to see them enjoying themselves. For him this was rehabilitation therapy at its best. (

We thoroughly enjoyed learning from and with them and those feelings of mutual support were all the stronger because of the events of the previous evening when the Voices of Hope choir sang to delegates at the opening ceremony. Most of the 200 plus delegates either had a diagnosis of Parkinson’s or were accompanying friends and family. It was a truly international gathering and the reception the choir got when they began to sing was overwhelming (“awesome” for those under 40!) with every single delegate up on their feet or being helped to their feet by the start of the second song!

To describe the atmosphere as ‘moving’ would be an understatement. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house and the expressions on people’s faces (including that of the Parish priest, who clapped, sang and swayed on his feet with the rest of us) spoke volumes about the uplifting strength of music and song for body and soul despite the challenges facing those finding their voices again whilst at the same time finding their feet. One had only to read the comments in the visitors book the next day to understand how powerful that evening had been. The memories of the happiness, joy and support we gave each other will be etched in my mind forever and when I’m having ‘a down day’ will only need to recall it to mind to know I am never alone on this journey. For me it will be a matter of listening to my favourite piece of music or song and /or getting to my feet and dancing. I know that will be all that’s needed to get me back into the ‘now’ of living which is the only sensible place to be.

Evenings were spent in local pubs and bars where traditional music, song, dance and the craic was helped along with the odd pint for those who enjoyed a drink and the warmth of the small local community, which is what rural Ireland is all about. The hospitality given to us during our stay went well beyond anything I have experienced since coming to live in Ireland eight years ago.

I love all forms of dancing and am eager to learn more about Irish set dancing but the cause closest to my heart lies with the establishment of a choir in the Midlands, modelled on the Voices of Hope for people living with Parkinson’s, their families and friends. I believe music (and dance) can have transformative effects on body and soul. Song is a way of expressing ourselves and I love how every song the Choir sang has meaning or purpose for one or more of them. I also like the way they bounce ideas off each other, a kind of synchronicity which sounds complicated but which works well for them. This couldn’t happen without the love and support they share with each other through singing together and the tireless commitment of their outstanding musical director. Watching her working the Voices of Hope Choir and at the same time working the audience on both days here in Feakle was truly magical.

To this end I would urge you to look at and vote for Voices of Hope Music project in the Arthur Guinness Projects

If successful, it will enable M4P to fund two more choirs spreading the message of Hope and the value of music and song across Ireland, helping get people with Parkinson’s, many of whom are isolated, back out in the world where they can find the voices they have lost. There are no official records of how many people live with Parkinson’s in Ireland. The estimates lie somewhere between 9,000 and 12000 but no one really knows. How forgotten is that!

Prior to retirement (when I stopped getting paid for doing a job I loved) life was good, life was colourful and I was and thankfully still am, blessed with a loving and supportive husband and family. The ‘Golden Handshake’, I received then was not one I was expecting or willingly accepted but over the past ten years I have slowly but stubbornly learnt to live with the relentless challenges that have been strewn in my path. Since diagnosis of PD which was a life changing (horribilis) experience in itself, I thought that any further experiences of a more welcome kind were highly unlikely but what transpired during the few days spent in the beautiful village of Feakle has gone far beyond anything I dared to dream of. Only those privileged to be part of that unique ‘Gathering’ will identify with my last statement. I forgive anyone who wasn’t there for thinking that maybe I’ve been a tad over dramatic! Feakle will never be the same after the choirs visit and I bet they get invited again next year!

About the Author:


Marie MorrisDiagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010 (Symptoms since 2005), Marie’s career is in Special Education.
Having Travelled extensively, Marie and husband Terence are now happily settled in Kilkenny to be near their grandchildren, two cats and one very spoiled dog.
While not part of their original plan for retirement, PD has placed its feet firmly under their table. Their decision to blog for M4P gives a glimpse into their world and the ways in which they are learning to deal with their uninvited guest.

32 thoughts on “Doing the ‘Reel’ thing in Feakle

  1. Breda Collins, Conference Manager

    Marie, It was fantastic to read your blog and hear first hand your impression of the Feakle Health Conference. It was such an honour for us to host this event in Feakle and we met such amazing people who attended the conference and festival. The Voices of Hope Choir were fantastic and left a lasting impression on all who heard them….Our community gained so much from meeting you all. Thank you for coming and we would love to see you in East Clare again in the future. You are always welcome!
    Dr Volpe et al have motivated many with their intriguing research into Irish set dancing so we will all be following this very closely. Enjoy your music, singing and dancing 😉

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