seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Bill Whelan Receives IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award

bill-whelanTaoiseach Bertie Ahern presents Irish composer and musician Bill Whelan with the IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award at Dublin Castle on March 2, 2001. Such big names as The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Jean Butler, Jim Sheridan, Paul McGuinness and Moya Doherty join him to celebrate the award.

Whelan is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, is a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that becomes a full-length stage production and spawns a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music and also wins him a Grammy Award. It is released as a single in the United Kingdom in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995. He also composes a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.

Whelan is a native of Limerick and is educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, he has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album), Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton’s Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of William Butler Yeats‘s plays for Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and his film credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother’s Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.

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Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”


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Birth of Irish Dancer & Choreographer Michael Ryan Flatley

michael-flatleyMichael Ryan Flatley, Irish American dancer, choreographer, and musician, is born to Irish parents in Chicago, Illinois on July 16, 1958. He becomes internationally known for Irish dance shows Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames, and Celtic Tiger.

Flatley begins dancing lessons at age 11 and, at age 17, is the first American to secure a World Irish Dance title at the World Irish Dance Championships, the Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne. He is also an accomplished flautist, having won twice in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil Concert Flute competitions from 1975-1976.

Flatley is taught dance by Dennis Dennehy at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance in Chicago. After graduating from Brother Rice High School, on Chicago’s Southwest Side, he opens a dance school but later closes it to focus on performing.

In 1978 and 1979 Flatley tours with Green Fields of America and then with The Chieftains in the 1980s. In May 1989, Flatley sets a Guinness Book world record for tapping speed at 28 taps per second, and subsequently breaks his own record in 1998 with 35 taps per second.

Flatley creates and choreographs the original Riverdance and leads the show to great success as the intermission act in the Eurovision Song Contest staged in Ireland on April 30, 1994. Flatley abruptly leaves the show over creative control disputes in October 1995.

Shortly after the Riverdance split, Flatley creates Lord of the Dance, which plays mostly in arenas and stadiums instead of stage theaters. He also puts together a dance production called Feet of Flames in 1998. Flately’s Irish dance show Celtic Tiger opens in July 2005. The show explores the history of the Irish people and Irish emigration to the United States, fusing a wide range of dance styles, including jazz.

Flatley returns to the stage in 2009 for a limited run of the “Hyde Park” version of Feet of Flames in Taiwan. His return is met with multiple standing ovations and the run of shows has to be extended to meet the demand for tickets.

Flatley premiers Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games at the celebrated Palladium Theatre on London’s West End in 2014 and moves to the Dominion Theatre in 2015 where he makes his final appearance on the West End stage before revisiting another sold out Wembley Arena for his final performance in the United Kingdom.

Flatley embarks on his final tour on February 19, 2016 and performs on stage for the last time at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV, on March 17, 2016. He continues as the show’s creator, producer, and choreographer.


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“Riverdance” Performed for the First Time

riverdance-1994Riverdance, a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish music and dance and featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley and a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, is performed for the first time on April 30, 1994, as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin.

Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded, and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which is hosted by Ireland. At the time, Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny compose the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece is performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. Whelan has previously produced EastWind, an album by Planxty member Andy Irvine with Davy Spillane whose cross between Irish and Southeastern European folk music proves an influence on Riverdance. Thirteen years later, Bill Whelan is invited to do the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and composes Riverdance. In the book The Humours of Planxty by Leagues O’Toole, Whelan says, “It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance.”

The 1994 performance earns a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. As a result of this success, Riverdance is invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London, in the presence of Prince Charles on November 28, 1994.

At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest’s Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance is named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.

An audio recording of Riverdance enters the Irish Singles Chart at number one on May 5, 1994, and remains there throughout the summer, eventually totalling a record eighteen weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance is released by the Irish broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann under the title Riverdance for Rwanda with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.

The success of the Eurovision performance leads husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decide to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan’s composition. In November 1994, tickets are sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opens at the Point Theatre on February 9, 1995. The show runs for five weeks and is a sell out with over 120,000 tickets sold. It stars the original lead dancers from the Eurovision performance as well as many from the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance.

Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions.