World Irish dance championships kicks off in Dublin

Some 1,700 competitors taking part in week-long festival at Citywest

It was grey and bitterly cold outside the Citywest conference centre in Dublin, but the riot of colour inside offered an uplifting contrast.

The second annual An Comhdháil [Congress ] World Irish Dance Championships is in full swing. Overwhelmingly the competitors are young girls, each wearing a dress as colourful and embroidered as the next one, topped off with a curly wig. It's not mandatory, but is ubiquitous among the competitors. There's also the fake tan.

"There's a reason why we have the highest sales in Europe, " said one of the organisers.

The championships are a huge undertaking, even if they are smaller than the World Irish Dancing Championships which are taking place in Boston. The former is run by Comhdháil Na Múinteoirí Le Rincí Gaelacha and the latter by the An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha [Irish Dancing Commission ]. The two organisations split in 1970 and though the reasons have been lost in time, they continue to operate independently.


Over the week, almost 1,700 competitors under the age of 25 will compete in 42 events in Citywest.

Some 186 girls are competing in the under-14 section under the lights in the main convention hall. They dance in pairs as a musician on the side of the stage plays jigs and reels on a keyboard. Five judges sit in front of the dancers scribbling notes.

To the untutored eye, they all look perfectly competent which is where the judges come in. "I'm looking for the child who comes out and performs with grace, with control and with charisma," said judge Kevin Warren.

"All of these competitors have the basics intact, but they should be able to give a performance that you can recall an hour or a day later."
Some dance to win, others to compete and still more for the enjoyment of it.

Ella Whelan (14) from Kildare has hopes of making the top 30. She was in the top 50 last year. She designed her own dress, a blue and silver number topped off with a silver crown. Her weekly routine consists of two 2½-hour classes plus 30 minutes to an hour of practice every day.

“There’s a stereotype that it is all about wigs and dresses,” said Ms Whelan, “but it takes hard work to get here”.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times