The times we lived in

Members of Palmerstown School of Ballet  at St Stephens Green Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Members of Palmerstown School of Ballet at St Stephens Green Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


W hat is the collective term for a group of baby ballerinas in tutus and ankle socks? A flurry? A fluttering? An innocence? One way or another, the fleet-footed hop, skip and jump of the dancers in this picture makes the heart sing.

It was an eye-catcher at the time, too. At the far left of the image one bystander is capturing the action on her camera, while a lady wielding a serious handbag stands transfixed by the vision of youthful energy materialising on a busy city street.

Our caption reads: “Bangharda Joan McDonagh and Garda Séamus Ruane escorting members of the Palmerstown School of Ballet across the road at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin on Saturday to highlight the financial crisis in the National Ballet”.

Inspired perhaps by the lightness of her charges, Garda McDonagh is stepping it out smartly; best foot forward. The summery shadows on the road enhance the sense of movement by drawing the viewer’s eye towards the right of the photo; watch for long enough, and the kids appear to actually move.

But it’s the contrast between the dark, heavy uniforms of the two officers – representatives of the adult world and, worse, the world where it runs up against pain and shame and mayhem – and the fairy-like creatures in white that gives the picture its punch.

Look behind the central figures, though – behind the phalanx of box-shaped cars at the lights – and you’ll see what appears to be a building site. It is in fact the baby St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, which would be born in the autumn of this very year.

The National Ballet was to close just a year after our picture was taken – but this, and other protests, did not fall on deaf ears. In 1998 Ballet Ireland, now The National Ballet of Ireland, was established. According to its director, Anne Maher, the company’s funding, though modest, has held for the past four years. The opening of Dance House has also, she says, totally transformed conditions in which Irish dancers work. This summer, tiny dancers will don their tutus again at The Bluebird and Princess Florine, Ballet Ireland’s summer programme of dance, music and mime workshops.

A billowing of ballerinas. Yes, that just might do. Arminta Wallace

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from:

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