Last hurrah as World Irish Dance Championships draws to a close

The Citywest Hotel was hopping as dancers gave it socks on the final day of world contest

Members of the Daniels dance school, Leixlip on stage at the championships yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Daniels dance school, Leixlip on stage at the championships yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson


From the outside, there are few signs that the conference centre at Citywest Hotel and Leisure Centre in Saggart, Co Dublin, is playing host to the World Irish Dance Championships – although once within 10 feet of the venue, the thumping rhythm of the traditional Irish music gives the game away.

On the main stage, a group of dancers is engaged in something called the St Brigid’s Cross, moving in and out of a cross formation. The dance names are reassuringly self-explanatory: the sword of Brian Boru during the Battle of Clontarf sees the group begin and end in a sword shape; the Celtic knot involves a lot of swirling in circular motions.

“For someone who doesn’t understand dance, it’s . . . crazy.” Stefan Toth is an Irish dance teacher and former world champion who has turned his feet to teaching; he teaches Vít Procházka, who competed on Friday.

“The music, too, is the same over and over. For someone who loves Irish dance, this is amazing, but for other people, it’s strange.”

Procházka, who travelled from the Czech Republic to compete, only started dancing in his teens and this is his first serious competition. “I love the atmosphere, and the audience . . . when they saw where I came from they were cheering. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Wig free
Joanne Tubbritt from the Mulcahy Bible School of Dancing in Waterford has been dancing since she was three; she’s 21 now, and says next year may be her last. “But I might miss the stage.”

Unlike most other groups in the competition, the Mulcahy Bible dancers, under the leadership of Betty Mulcahy Bible, don’t wear wigs. The girls’ hair is loose, tied back with pink ribbon (to match their white and pink costumes).

“We’re a bit older,” says Ciara Kent (24). “It seems a bit silly to have the wigs.”

Still, the girls wear make-up and false tan, although their legs are covered with black tights. “It’s the same way you wouldn’t go out in town without make-up and tan,” says Tubbritt. “People would be looking at you.”

Donna Holly, from Belfast, has two daughters taking part in the week’s competitions.

“I’ve been up and down [to Dublin] three times this week,” she says. “I’d say the week has cost me about £1,000.” Holly isn’t keen on the wigs and the make-up. “We hate it,” she says, “but the kids love it, and the teachers want it – we’re not going to be the ones to say no.”

Claire Cardle, from Motherwell in Scotland, is here to support her daughter Fiona, who has been competing in the under-15s category. She doesn’t have a problem with the hair and make-up aspect of things: it’s all part and parcel of being on stage. “People forget that there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. It’s the façade you need to put on.”

Amy Doris, also from Motherwell, agrees, but thinks that, ultimately, what you look like doesn’t matter. “You shouldn’t be judged on the way you look.”

Toth says things have changed since he was competing 10 years ago. “Even the boys now are wearing tan,” he says, “but it doesn’t make a difference.

“If you have a nice dress, lots of make-up, a big wig, you’ll stand out – but that just means you have to be better.”