Dancing at Mangonui Ceili

Ceili (pronounced ‘Kay-lee’ with the emphasis on the first syllable) means to gather in friendship and fun. It derives from the Gaelic word meaning ‘visit.’ In Ireland today a couple going out to share a cup of tea and conversation with friends is going ‘ceili-ing’. Ceilis as we know them today involve live music and spirited dance. They are held regularly all over the U.K. and are especially popular in Ireland’s west and southwest. Ceilis also take place around the world wherever people of Celtic extraction now live. It’s currently estimated.that 46% of New Zealanders have Celtic blood. You may have noticed that there is more than one way to spell Ceili. The one used here is the Irish way. In Scotland, England and Wales you’re more likely to see it spelled ‘Ceilidh.’

In centuries past, the British suppressed traditional Gaelic culture and language. Villagers would still gather surreptitiously for ceilis in private homes and were even known to throw a wooden entry door down onto the dirt floor of a family’s cottage and dance on the door. Some say this is when Irish dancing developed into its well-known form with the arms held rigid and close to the body. They had to!

One of the unique features of a ceili is that anyone can get up in the course of the evening and share an item: a story, a poem, a skit, a song or a dance. Visitors to a ceili are under no obligation to dance. Some come simply to enjoy the spirit of the night. In simple terms, ceili dances tend to be either partner or group dances, each called by a caller who shouts out the moves and figures of the dance, making a ceili ideally suited for novices as well as experienced dancers. No one gets upset if someone makes a wrong step. In fact this can often be the source of much good hearted laughter. Everyone is welcome at a ceili. The events are socially inclusive and break down barriers and build bridges between participants.

Pete Grassby

The Mangonui Ceili takes place in the Mangonui Hall on the third Saturday of each month. Doors open at 7.00 pm, as does the wonderful live music of local band Spootiskerry Spraoi. Dancing starts at 7.30 pm. Mark the following dates on your calendar for upcoming ceilis in Mangonui: November 20, December 18 and January 15 (hosted by talented U.K. entertainer Pete Grassby) Admission is $2 per adult plus a plate to share for supper. Accompanied children are free.

One of the originators of our Mangonui Ceili, Fiona McGrory recently joined me on the radio in conjunction with Lilia Carpinelli. They main topic of the interview was Orrf musical education but Fiona spoke lovingly about her early connection with music and ceilis in Ireland. Listen to the complete interview here:

More on Carl Orff and musical education here.



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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

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I have been overwhelmed by best wishes for my birthday last Sunday. I thought I’d make a short post as a way of thanking all those who wished me well. Your thoughts and intentions are appreciated.

In a way my birthday started early with a joyful night of dancing and music at our monthly Ceili. It was, in fact, the fourth birthday of the Ceili (pronounced Kay-Lee) and because my birthday was the next day, I was asked to blow out the candles on the huge chocolate cake commemorating four years of Ceilis in Mangonui. The cake was covered with green icing in keeping with the St Patrick’s Day Theme.

Sunday (my actual birthday) I called dances for a mini-Ceili held outside in nearby Kerikeri for a group of Baha’i friends celebrating the Baha’i New Year after the end of their annual fasting time. It was just as well the fast was over because Lucia and I had brought along the half of the green-iced cake that hadn’t been eaten the night before.

Rainbow Falls Kerikeri

Next we had a lovely walk through a eucalyptus forest down to the Basin in Kerikeri before joining some other dear friends for an autumn equinox celebration. This involved simple song, dance, ritual and the sharing of home-grown and prepared food. Lucia and I were joined on the day by a New Zealand man who’s recently returned to his homeland after many years overseas running yoga retreat centres in Wales, Greece and beyond. It was lovely to share my birthday with a like-minded soul and new friend.

So, it was a great birthday spent doing the things I love—singing, dancing, walking, sharing… It doesn’t get better than this.

I, of course, received some birthday cards. The one from our eldest daughter touched me. It was a handmade card with a beautiful hibiscus flower on it. She wrote, ‘I hope you like the card; the hibiscus reminded me of you, as you always used to pick them and put them on my pillow.’ Our actions and intentions return to us. Lovely!


Kerikeri Basin

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

The Beach Dancers. John in Purple Wig!

I’ve made several posts over the last months describing my family’s involvement with our monthly Céilís in Mangonui. I thought I’d paste below an article I wrote this week for the Northland Age, a local paper. Hopefully it creates for you a picture of this special event. The photos should help too.

Saturday, September 19th saw the unfolding of the monthly Céilí (pronounced ‘kay-lee’) in the Mangonui Hall. One of the features of a Céilí is the opportunity for attendees or band members to present an ‘item’ at some point in the evening. These items can take the form of a song, a dance, a story, a skit or an instrumental performance. Over the three and a half years the Céilí has been running in Mangonui there have been some pretty amazing items. The September Céilí was no exception. First, after about four dances, MC Brian Farrant announced there were some people about to arrive modelling 1920s beach wear. In bounded 8 members of the Kaitaia Scottish Country Dance club led by their gregarious leader, Brian’s wife, Gladys Farrant. The beach wear was colourful, if not exactly true to the period, and the dancing performed by the group brought smiles and laughter to the audience. Not to be missed was Gladys chasing fellow dancer and interestingly attired Ron Rice with a child’s plastic spade.

One of the founders of the local Céilí, Jill Freeman, entertained with the hilarious story of the gender of a computer (a story currently making viral rounds of the world via emails) and later, after more dancing and supper, Kerikeri’s Bill Dawes demonstrated his considerable prowess on the tin whistle. One listener was overheard saying, “That first song was powerful. It brought tears to my eyes.” Bill was quick to point out after his poignant offering that it was all done on a $5 whistle!

The Céilí band, Spootiskerry Spraoi (pronounced ‘spree’), was there as always providing foot stomping, toe tapping music led by band leader Jax Pellett on fiddle. This band gives their musical accompaniment entirely voluntarily and the composition of the band is fluid as members take off temporarily to fulfil other obligations. Replacement musicians jump to the fore to ensure great music is heard and danced to every month. The aforementioned Bill Dawes was one such fill-in on Saturday together with Grant Goodwin on the Bodhran (‘bow-ran’). People who were lucky enough to attend Trial by Jury by the Bay of Islands Singers would have seen Grant in another musical role.

The Céilí organisers invite you to attend on the third Saturday of every month at the Mangonui Hall. The next one will be October 17th. The doors open and the music starts at 7.00 pm.

Dancing begins at about 7.30 pm. Entrance fees are $2 per adult plus a plate for supper. Entry is free for accompanied children. It doesn’t get much more reasonable than that.

This is good old fashioned fun for all ages in an alcohol-free setting in the enchanting ambience of historic Mangonui Hall on the waterfront. Come along and enjoy. No dance experience is necessary and it is perfectly permissible to simply watch.

The Kaitaia SCD Beach Dancers in Mangonui

The Kaitaia SCD Beach Dancers in Mangonui

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.



I’m a lucky man. I wake up every day in paradise and I go to sleep in the same place.


In the last year we’ve lost almost every penny of our savings, after having been mortgage-free most of our life together.


Yet I don’t feel sorry for myself. I am so lucky.


I was introduced to yoga by Lucia 20 years ago when we met in the Himalayas. I continue to start nearly every day with a refreshing taste of yoga and meditation, the ultimate breakfast for me. Now, after many years away from it, Lucia has resumed teaching—two early morning classes each week here in our house. I attend them, along with a small malleable group of good friends. I feel like I’m living in an ashram. I am so lucky.


Late most afternoons, when much of my work for the day is done, I retreat to my room for Six Healing Sounds and relaxation. This quiet time feels so good to me. I am so lucky.


Most Wednesday evenings I walk along the beach, turn inland and up a hill to the radio station where I interview some amazing person for an hour on radio and cable television. I call that show Voices from the North and I love doing it. I am so lucky.


Most Thursday evenings a dear friend leads a small dedicated group of us in Sanskrit chanting. I walk along our beautiful beach to and from her home. I am so lucky.


Other evenings I walk alone or with Lucia, work in the garden or play outside with my children, the air alive with the heavenly fragrance of Queen of the Night and Datura. What more could a man ask for? I am so lucky.


Every month my family attends our local Ceilidh, an alcohol-free evening of live, quality music performed by talented local musicians. We dance for hours, swept away in the joyful atmosphere of community. I am so lucky.


I have one small problem: finding the time to put into place all I am inspired to do, write and share. I take it one small happy step at a time.


At night, before bed, I pick up my guitar and sing one or two of my devotional songs, make a simple prayer asking that I can continue to be a clear channel of service to humanity, and I fall peacefully asleep. I am healthy, I am happy and I’m in love. I am so lucky.