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March 20, 2005

Finucane May Cause Anglo-Irish Rift

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

News about Ireland & the Irish

BB 03/20/05 Finucane 'May Cause Anglo-Irish Rift'
EX 03/20/05 Opin: McCartneys Fail To Capture American Media
VN 03/20/05 Irish Nationalist Leader Downplays White House Snub –A
BB 03/20/05
Shamed US Car Maker Delorean Dies
GU 03/20/05 Comment: We Have Been Here Before
TN 03/20/05 Composer Says Celtic Fans Should Feel Free To Sing Songs
JC 03/20/05 Riverdance Kicks Off Tour
IT 03/21/05 Taking The Floor In Olympics Of Irish Dance


Finucane 'May Cause Anglo-Irish Rift'

By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Bertie Ahern paid tribute to seven women during his speech to the swanky American Ireland Fund dinner in Washington DC.

Six of them were the sisters and partner of Robert McCartney, who captured all the attention during this year's St Patrick's Day festivities.

The seventh was Geraldine Finucane, who has been campaigning for the truth about her husband's brutal murder since the late 1980s.

Mr Finucane was murdered by the UDA in 1989 after being targeted by the Army agent Brian Nelson with, it is alleged, the connivance of elements of Army intelligence.

The symbolic contrast between the McCartneys, inside the White House, and Gerry Adams on the outside meant that the sisters were always likely to dominate the media version of the Washington proceedings.

The extraordinary appearance of Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Christopher Dodd alongside the sisters served to emphasise the scale of their impact.

Because the Pat Finucane saga has been, by contrast, such a long drawn out affair, Geraldine Finucane's campaign was never likely to capture the same headlines this week.

'Trenchant criticism'

However, the latest developments in the case have the potential to cause a serious Anglo-Irish rift and have implications for other campaigns for justice which have nothing to do with Northern Ireland.

Shortly after Ted Kennedy et al said their piece in one Congressional building, a hearing on the Finucane case began in another.

The hearing, organised by Congressman Chris Smith of the House International Relations Committee, heard some fairly trenchant criticism of the government's plans to hold any probe into the Finucane murder under the auspices of a new Inquiries Bill.

After being asked to examine six alleged cases of collusion by the British and Irish governments, Judge Cory recommended public inquiries in five cases, including Pat Finucane's murder

The Bill will enable any inquiry to meet in large part in secret and will give government ministers powers to direct aspects of the inquiry.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy says an inquiry will remain independent and will have powers to compel witnesses.

However - in a letter to the Congressional hearing - the Canadian judge Peter Cory was withering in his contempt.

After being asked to examine six alleged cases of collusion by the British and Irish governments, Judge Cory recommended public inquiries in five cases, including Pat Finucane's murder.

'Made public'

Now the judge has told the US Congress he does not believe the British plans fulfil his recommendations and he would advise any Canadian judge not to take part in the kind of inquiry being contemplated.

Dublin shares Judge Cory's disdain for the British plans, but so far Tony Blair is showing no sign of bowing to the pressure to think again.

The government's firmness on this point appears to reflect the power of the Ministry of Defence in deciding what should be made public and what should remain secret.

Congressman Smith told the BBC's Inside Politics that the UK government should scrap its Inquiries Bill.

There are rumours the bill will at least be delayed until the other side of the election, although Paul Murphy did not confirm or deny this when interviewed by the BBC.

After years of trying to get to the truth about her husband's murder Geraldine Finucane faces the prospect of having to decide whether to boycott the form of inquiry now on offer.

Human Rights campaigners argue that in the future it might not be just Mrs Finucane's dilemma.

They claim that other families - such as those suspicious about the deaths of their children inside British military barracks - could find that even if they do win inquiries those inquiries will be, under the new legislation, neither as public nor as independent as they might have expected.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/20 14:24:59 GMT


McCartney Sisters Fail To Capture Imagination Of American Media

By Terry Prone

HERE’s the national consensus, post St Patrick’s week: the McCartney sisters’ visit to the US has changed everything. Kept Adams out of the White House, ruined Sinn Féin credibility, dried up the money from Irish-American wannabes and fellow-travellers.

Here's the reality, post St Patrick's week: None of the above. Sinn Féin is still sitting pretty in the USA, its fundraising pipelines as full as ever, and Gerry Adams still has his visa.

Exclusion from the White House did keep Adams off the front page of American newspapers. The more interesting result was that NOBODY from Ireland was on the front page of those newspapers on St Patrick's Day, even though those papers were awash in full page ads inviting readers to celebrate the day that was in it.

One of the ads had a handsome green man beaming away, over the slogan "Happy St Patrick's Day from the world's most prescribed ED treatment*."

If, like me, you drew a blank on what ED signified, you could find the asterisk attached to an explanation lower down (no joke intended): ED means erectile dysfunction. The product being pushed was Viagra, with the rhetorical question "Who needs luck?" The implication seemed to be that you didn't need the luck of the Irish to develop the wherewithal to have sex on St Patrick's night. You just needed a prescription. Like the beaming man pictured. The green man. Green for Go.

The Viagra ad required that those of us outside the ED circle do an awful lot of work in order to understand it. Sadly, the same process operated when American media encountered the McCartney story. The conferences to select the following day's stories were easy to imagine:

"Photocall at the White House. Another photocall with Ted Kennedy. Irish women. Peace campaigners? No. Who, then? Sisters and partner of a guy who got murdered? When did he get murdered? Oh, that many weeks ago. Murdered by IRA guys? Right, so they're Protestants? No? They're traditional Sinn Féin voters? Sinn Féin is the acceptable face of the IRA, right? So was this guy a traitor? No, he was just in a pub? Y'know sumpn' guys, this don't grab me. Too complicated. WAY too complicated. Run it small, inside, someplace. OK?"

The visit of the McCartney sisters to the White House, accordingly, while it garnered enormous coverage back home, absolutely failed to reach the American public. For two reasons. First of all, because St Patrick's Day in the US has morphed (no doubt some wag would say 'murphied') into St Patti's day.

Cross a national saint with a female country and western singer and what you get is not an opportunity for a consciousness-raising tutorial. What you get is an excuse to wear green top hats with buckles on the front and say "Top of the mornin'" to inoffensive strangers. (The gear Americans wear to show solidarity with the Irish is gruesomely evocative of Punch cartoons from the mid-nineteenth century, where all the natives of the Emerald Isle were portrayed as bandy-legged drunken Neanderthals. It's a miserable thought that a bunch of racist pen-and-ink sketchers managed to create such an abiding visual summary of a nation.)

The second reason for the failure of the McCartney sisters' visit to have the effect wishful thinking assumes it to have had is that, at the moment in the US, court television has taken over from news and current affairs TV.

People who used to watch all-day news stations like CNN and FOX News are glued to Court TV, where they can watch murder trials live, or, in the Michael Jackson trial, because the judge has banned cameras, watch reenactments by actors of the best bits of each day's judicial process.

This drift to Court TV may be temporary, driven by recent high profile cases, notably that of actor Robert Blake, acquitted of wife-killing last week. Or it may be the inevitable and permanent conclusion of the process by which tabloid TV news destroys itself. Tabloid TV demands blood and guts: "If it bleeds, it leads."

It sees pictures as more important than words. It avoids anything that can't be personalised around one victim, one villain, one guardian angel. It prefers the local to the foreign, the simple to the subtle, the emotional to the conceptual.

Following these rules has dragged even the big networks into broadcasting drivel in their news bulletins in a demented and ultimately unproductive effort to keep their viewer numbers high. They failed to stop CNN and FOX News, the all-day news stations, eating into their market. Now, the cannibalism continues, with the all-day news stations losing ground to Court TV, which, in the past few months, made a household name out of one Scott Peterson, eventually convicted of murdering his heavily pregnant wife. Peterson's sentencing happened during St Patrick's week.

Cameras in the courtroom showed the murderer's parents behaving disgracefully and being ejected from the court. The cameras were also there when Peterson received the death penalty.

A GROUP of unknown women from Ireland talking about their unknown brother and linking the political wing of the IRA to criminality were never going to compete with Court TV's coverage of Peterson. Even if they had, it's doubtful that the McCartney sisters could have dammed the sentimental stream of money donated to republicanism.

Just how deeply rooted is that pattern of donation is shown in an account by writer Brian McDonald of his Irish American family where father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all New York cops. About his great-grandfather, he wrote that "it was his wife's strong Irish will that drew him to her. He supported Julia when she began to collect nickels and dimes, kept in a coffee can in the cabinet over the stove, for Irish Freedom, an organisation that funded the Irish struggles against the English, and he never tired of Julia telling the story of her father being jailed by the English for harbouring Fenian rebels."

That coffee can, dating back to 1910, is replicated in the homes of millions of Irish Americans, and one confusing story of a murder in a pub was never going to shift it.

The reality is that people and particularly media people who admired Sinn Féin to the degree that it was beginning to resemble themselves, are now getting a great kick out of condemning it and are convincing themselves that their condemnation matters. It doesn't.

What actually matters to Sinn Féin's onward march is that people who admired Sinn Féin because it smelled of sulphur and gave the finger to everything the Establishment stood for, admire it even more with every condemning column inch.

A texter to a radio programme during the recent Meath by-election underlined this vividly when he told the listeners that "If Michael McDowell told me NOT to jump off a cliff, I'd go and jump off a cliff straight away."

Media approbation of the McCartney sisters should not distract us from the reality demonstrated by a substantial chunk of Meath voters and by continuing US donations to the cause: you can never move people by using reason from a position to which reason has not brought them.


Here this report & Gerry Adams at:

Irish Nationalist Leader Downplays White House Snub -A

By Michael Bowman
20 March 2005

Gerry Adams in New York

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams says he does not feel slighted by President Bush, despite failing to receive an invitation to the White House during a visit to the United States last week.

It had become an annual tradition: inviting leaders and dignitaries from Northern Ireland to the White House on Saint Patrick's Day, which honors Ireland's patron saint.

But last Thursday Gerry Adams was kept at arm's length by the president. Mr. Bush met instead with the five sisters of a Belfast man, Robert McCartney, who was allegedly killed by members of the Irish Republican Army in January.

Mr. Adams, who heads the political wing of the paramilitary group, spoke on ABC's This Week program.

"I do not feel snubbed," said Gerry Adams. "And if the dis-invite of the Irish parties meant a stepping back from the [peace] process by the Bush administration, I would be very concerned. But it does not."

U.S. officials have urged Sinn Fein to cut ties with the IRA, which has waged a bloody campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland. British authorities say Northern Ireland's faltering peace process cannot resume until the outlawed paramilitary group halts criminal activity. In addition to the McCartney slaying, the IRA has been accused of carrying out a massive bank robbery to finance its activities.

But Gerry Adams says facts are being twisted to suit the aims of Sinn Fein's foes.

"Opponents of Sinn Fein will seize upon five or six articulate, good-looking, smart, young Irish women who are making this case, and who are fighting for justice for their brother and they will use that to try to tar us, Sinn Fein," said Gerry Adams. "The IRA did not kill their brother. Some rogue individual, IRA volunteers who have been drummed out of that organization killed their brother."

Mr. Adams says those who murdered Robert McCartney should face justice. Following the killing the IRA expelled some of its members. It also offered to shoot the men who killed Robert McCartney. But his family says "only in a court will the truth come out."

The McCartney sisters say witnesses of the incident, which took place in a crowded pub, are terrified of IRA reprisals if they testify.

A framework for semi-autonomous rule in Northern Ireland was part of the so-called Good Friday agreement reached in 1998. But the government was suspended in 2002 amid allegations of IRA interference in the political process and its refusal to disarm, a key point of the peace agreement.


Shamed US Car Maker Delorean Dies

The former American car maker John DeLorean has died aged 80.

DeLorean, whose car company at Dunmurry near Belfast collapsed, died in New Jersey on Saturday of complications after a recent stroke.

The government had backed the factory with £77m in public money, in the hope that it would create 2,000 jobs.

The company collapsed in 1983, a year after his arrest in Los Angeles. He was acquitted of charges of conspiring to sell $24m of cocaine to save the firm.

DeLorean, whose namesake car was turned into a time machine in the Back to the Future films, had been a rising executive at General Motors before starting his own company.

Despite the failure of the firm the DeLorean DMC-12, with its unpainted stainless steel skin and gull-wing doors, has gained a cult following.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/20 19:05:22 GMT


Comment: We Have Been Here Before

The crisis over the McCartney killing won't sink the IRA. But it may give Adams and McGuinness new leverage

Peter Taylor
Monday March 21, 2005
The Guardian

There's never been a St Patrick's Day like it. Gerry Adams, traditionally feted in Washington as the Irish Mandela, found the door of the White House metaphorically shut in his face, while the five sisters of Robert McCartney and his partner shook the president's hand. The media, most of which had long abandoned Ireland, loved the story and its unlikely heroines.

The peace process isn't water-cooler television. But here was a story with everything: charismatic women demanding justice for their brother, allegedly brutally butchered by IRA members as a result of some obscene gesture in a pub. It was almost as if the media had been waiting for years to put the boot into the IRA and now the organisation had presented them with the opportunity on a plate. There were lashings of additional mafia-style ingredients to hand: a £26m bank robbery, racketeering, and every scam in the book.

There's no doubt this is a serious crisis for the IRA and Sinn Féin, which tries to dismiss the story as media overkill, or manipulation by the "securocrats" in the Northern Ireland Office to discredit the republican movement. Almost certainly members of the local IRA were involved in the killing and subsequent forensic scrubbing of the scene, but they were certainly not authorised to do so by the IRA itself. Despite Adams's encouragement, witnesses aren't queuing up to give statements. These statements are probably the only evidence that may bring the killers to justice. One senior republican who did present himself for interview at a police station seems to have reserved the right to remain silent.

The killing has genuinely appalled Adams and Martin McGuinness, not just because of the incalculable political damage to Sinn Féin, but because McCartney died in a way that reminds nationalists of the horrific end met by a score of their fellow Catholics in the 1970s at the hands of the loyalist "Shankill Butchers". Many IRA veterans are appalled too. One prominent IRA man I interviewed a few years ago, who was at the forefront of the IRA's campaign, said that he would never enlist now if these were the kind of volunteers the IRA attracted today.

Sinn Féin is seriously rattled. The party line that the republican movement's current troubles are just a "blip" is a massive understatement. Sinn Féin canvassers report that the bank robbery is not an issue (after all, the money belonged to "the Brits"), but the murder of McCartney is. Perhaps the most telling sign of the disarray within the movement is that Adams and McGuinness no longer seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Their great achievement in the peace process is that they have succeeded in bringing the IRA along with Sinn Féin's peace strategy without causing a major split, despite the defection of the handful who left to form the Real IRA in 1997.

While Adams tries desperately to regain the initiative by embracing the sisters at Sinn Féin's annual conference and stretches his constituency to the limit by encouraging witnesses to give evidence, McGuinness warns them not to get involved in politics. Most shockingly, while Adams speaks of justice for the family and due process for the suspected killers, the IRA issues a statement offering to shoot those responsible. The prime minister's reaction was reportedly unprintable. Senior Sinn Féin officials, who've spent the past decade trying to convince the world they are committed to democracy and the rule of law, shake their heads in disbelief.

But the killing of McCartney has to be placed in context. Had it happened in isolation, a brutal murder committed by IRA members involved in a pub brawl, it would never have become such a massive story. It has to be seen against the background of growing frustration in the ranks of the republican movement following the breakdown of the peace process at the end of last year. The IRA, having astonishingly agreed to decommission all its weaponry, suddenly found itself left high and dry over the issue of photographs of the end result. Of course, it blamed the Brits.

With politics in limbo, the pressure on the IRA leadership from an increasingly disillusioned rank and file may have become unbearable, with the bank robbery a way of relieving it, showing the Brits that the IRA was still in business and perhaps lining Sinn Féin's political war chest in the process. As one senior republican told me last week: "What would the Brits prefer, a bank robbery or bombs in London?"

We have been here before. In 1976, an IRA getaway car ran out of control in Andersonstown and killed a six-week-old baby in a pram, a toddler and a little girl. Within days 20,000 women had demonstrated for peace, and their leaders, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, went on to win the Nobel peace prize. Then, as now, there was talk of the IRA being finished. But reports of its demise were premature - witness the 20 bloody years that followed.

The IRA today doesn't suddenly find itself at the crossroads. It's been there since its cessation of 1994. The question heightened by the fallout from the killing of McCartney is which road it will take. Ironically, his killing and the crusade by his sisters for justice may finally give Adams and McGuinness the moral authority they need to persuade the IRA to issue the historic statement that the war is finally over.

· Peter Taylor is a BBC reporter and author of Provos, Loyalists and Brits


Composer Says Celtic Fans Should Feel Free To Sing Songs

McLAUGHLIN March 21 2005

JAMES MacMillan, the composer, has sparked a row after suggesting that Celtic supporters should feel free to sing republican songs.

He said that sectarianism in Scottish culture prevented fans of the Glasgow football club celebrating their Irish heritage.

Mr MacMillan claimed that while Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims were free to celebrate their cultural roots, underlying anti-Catholic bigotry had made Catholics feel ashamed.

"There should be no shame among Celtic fans for our roots at all," he said.

"The one immigrant community that has not been celebrated is the Catholic community. There are deep questions to be asked why that is so."

Mr MacMillan added that Irish Catholics in other cities throughout Britain were spared the "great cringe factor" the community is made to feel in Glasgow.

It is the latest controversial view to be aired by Mr MacMillan, who caused a furore six years ago after claiming he was embarrassed by Scotland due to widespread anti-Catholic discrimination.

Tom Devine, professor of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University, said: "I don't think there is anything wrong with singing songs about the old days, which are about Irish freedom and freedom fighting. What I do have problems with is when these songs are in praise of the PIRA or the modern IRA.

"But the problem is that the ordinary man on the street cannot distinguish between the two. Irishness is still controversial in Scotland."


World Champion Irish dancer, Sinead McCafferty, center left, and Conor Hayes, right, perform as The Riverdance troupe kicks up their heels during the first act of a performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York March 10, 2005. (AP Photo/Adam Rountree)

Riverdance Kicks Off Tour


NEW YORK (AP) - Young women in matching T-shirts laugh and talk in a corner of the Radio City Music Hall studio. One shares her folding chair with a young man decorated in chains, who casually strokes her leg as an older woman hurries by with a clipboard.

It could easily be a bunch of high schoolers on a tour - that is until the lively group snaps into a straight line and dance shoes strike the floor with such percussive unison that the wooden boards vibrate alarmingly.

"We will not go down. We will not be beaten down like grain," an Irish-accented voice intones on a recording, thunder booming.

That's right, they're back. Still stomping strong after 10 years, the Riverdance spectacle has returned to New York to kick off its anniversary tour in North America.

Over the past decade, Riverdance has gone through 1,200 dancers, 9,000 costumes, 12,000 shoes and - this is key - two million kilograms of dry ice.

The "mists" were billowing at Radio City last week, as the two-hour show opened to an energetic, almost-full house.

Sisters Kelly and Emma Conover made the trip in with their dad, Jim, from Danbury, Connecticut. The girls, nine and 10 respectively, were impressed by the high-energy dancing and by the flashy background screens and costumes - glittering shirts and leather for the men and low-cut, flouncing dresses for the women, with hemlines exposing expanses of shapely thigh.

"I like the sparkly purple one with the crown," Emma enthused.

Kelly hypothesized that the female dancers' flowing tresses were hair extensions.

"I love it," their father said. "I wanted to see it when it first came out 10 years ago."

By now, the story of Riverdance is the stuff of theatre lore.

With Ireland as the host of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, Moya Doherty was asked to produce a short filler segment for the televised presentation. She decided to focus on traditional dance and music, bringing in Irish-Americans Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, both Irish dance competition champions, to choreograph and lead the piece. Composer Bill Whelan wrote the music.

The response was overwhelmingly positive.

"The Irish papers overstated it a bit - 'The seven minutes that shook the world,' " Doherty recalls. "It was six minutes and 40 seconds to be precise."

Working from the short act, Whelan, Doherty and her husband, director John McColgan, created the world's first full-length Irish dance show, incorporating various rhythmic traditions (including tap and flamenco) and a very loose mythical-historical narrative in one sexy, easy-to-digest package.

Just as Whelan blended numerous musical cultures, Butler and Flatley had to adapt the hard-and soft-shoe routines they once performed in competitions to a more theatrical arena. Arms, always rigidly held at sides, had to be incorporated. The chorus line, never used in Irish dancing, became a Riverdance staple.

"The term 'choreography' wouldn't even have been used before. Entrances, exits, how formations work on stage - these were all new things to think about," Butler says. "It was horribly intimidating. I was in this room with eight world champions looking at me, going, 'Now what?' "

Doherty and McColgan were intent on respecting their heritage, but they also recognized, as McColgan says, that Riverdance is "a big commercial show" in which "tradition blends with Broadway sensibilities."

Ten years later, the balance of sensibilities seems to have tipped in favour of Broadway, with the intricate, powerful footwork often overshadowed by heavy-handed visuals with themes of emigration. Still, the dancers' cumulative force packs a visceral punch.

"It is a bit cliched - they haven't avoided that. At the same time, the strength of it is the Irishness and the Irish dancing, and they'd be foolish not to trade off that," says Michael Seaver, dance critic for the Irish Times.

"For me, the end of the first act is far stronger and closer to the original seven minutes. Certainly, in the original, what really got everybody on their feet - and they were on their feet - was just that ending: Bill Whelan's music done really fast, all these polyrhythms and all these dancers in unison in the mass chorus line."

Riverdance opened at Dublin's Point Theatre on Feb. 9, 1995, at a time of renewed Irish optimism and pride surrounding the onset of the booming "Celtic Tiger" economy. Since selling out for its initial five-week run, the show has rolled on like a well-oiled, glitzy machine, touring the world to acclaim and huge ticket sales, conquering Broadway and earning Whelan a Grammy in 1997.

"In high art circles it's sneered at, sure, but it's still thought of almost affectionately in Ireland, with a sense of pride," Seaver says, adding with a laugh, "I straddle both camps."

Three companies formed - the Avoca, the Boyne and the Foyle, named after Irish rivers. They have given more than 8,000 performances, drawing more than 18 million audience members in over 250 theatres in 30 countries on four continents. Germany, for reasons that seem to mystify all involved, is particularly enraptured by the show.

"We've had Riverdance the wedding, Riverdance the baby and Riverdance the divorce, I'm sure," Doherty says.

The most public and acrimonious split came in 1995, when the show's charismatic co-star and co-choreographer Flatley left over issues of money and control on the eve of a London engagement. Flatley went on to create his own shows, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames.

Most of the original performers have moved on, but the Boyne company does still boast Susan Ginnety and Niamh O'Connor, whom McColgan calls the "glamorous grannies." Ginnety, who danced in the Eurovision show, plans to retire after Radio City, while O'Connor, who performed in the first full-length show, will stop in a few months.

Not surprisingly, Riverdance has produced numerous imitators - not all of them created with an eye toward excellence.

"Just put 'Irish dance show' in the Internet and see what comes up," Butler says. "It's hilarious. There's one new one where none of the dancers are even trained Irish dancers."

Still, reputable or not, the mere existence of commercial outlets astounds those who remember a pre-Riverdance era when few professional opportunities existed.

"Back then, there was nothing to work for - you just danced for pure hobby and love," says Eileen Martin, a four-time world champion who performed in the original Eurovision piece and went on to the lead role before becoming dance director.

Despite some criticism from the Irish dance community that the show strayed too far from its traditional roots, Riverdance sparked a resurgence of interest in the form; the co-star in the current Radio City engagement, Sinead McCafferty, thought her dancing career was over after winning five world championship medals. She was modelling in Japan when her father sent her a tape of Riverdance along with her shoes. She went back to train in Ireland and, six months later, in 1999, she earned a place in the show.

"Now, beginners just say they want to 'riverdance,' they don't even call it Irish dancing," she laughs.


Taking The Floor In Olympics Of Irish Dance

Gordon Deegan

Thousands of Irish dancers from all over the world were in Ennis, Co Clare, yesterday to compete in the Olympics of Irish dancing.

Over the next week a specially built dome arena at Ennis's West County Hotel will see dancers compete for the honours in the 35th World Irish Dancing Championships.

Some 4,000 dancers have endured months of gruelling qualifying competitions around the world to take part in the week-long dancing extravaganza, which is costing more than €500,000 to stage.

The dancing started yesterday at 8am for girls and boys under-10 with chairman of the Commission of Irish Dancing Séamus Ó Sé saying: "This is the Olympics for Irish dancers. This is the pinnacle and is the ultimate aim of competitors to get to the top in their field."

Mr Ó Sé said that 50 per cent of the competitors in the championships now come from the United States, following in the dancing steps of Michael Flatley who won the boys' under-17 crown in 1975. He was the first US-based competitor to bring the title of All-World Irish Dancing Champion to the US.

President of the dancing commission Peter Smyth said: "This is one of Ireland's premier cultural events."

Mr Ó Sé added: "The numbers involved are growing all the time and the growth predated the show-dancing shows. We have people here this week competing from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, along with competitors from Ireland, Britain and a number of European countries."

In the area off-stage where dancers were being put through their final steps by teachers, brothers Zack and Nate Klingenberg from Columbus, Ohio, were anxiously awaiting their turn to go on stage.

Zack, aged 12, said: "It is just a great honour to be here. It is a really cool experience to be involved in something so big, especially so young in your life to have all this under your belt."

Their mother, Julie Klingenberg, said: "We have just so much pride in the boys, they have worked really hard, I don't think people outside realise how great an experience it is to be involved."

Ms Klingenberg said the boys go to Irish dancing classes three nights a week and do 1½ hours dancing every other day.

"It takes a huge commitment. We have tried to back off a little; I'm sure they think I should make them practise more because they just love it."

Most US states are represented. These include Florida, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, California, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Traders in the area are doing a brisk business in fake tan, assorted wigs and dancing shoes.

Yesterday Dublin-born Derek Deans watched over his son Derek (11) as he prepared for his turn on stage.

Living in Portland, Oregon, Mr Deans said: "For your man there, this is the pinnacle where he will be going up against the best of the best.

"This is where it is all at, and he became interested in dancing after seeing Riverdance where he started prancing around the kitchen."

London-born Patrick Charles was at the competition yesterday to support his 10-year-old daughter, Ruth. He said some parents have a "win-policy" that places too much pressure on children.

© The Irish Times


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