Roots of a Dancer

It was Gerard Delaney from South Mayo Family Research who set me on the trail of Michael Flatley's ancestors. Yes, that Michael Flatley. The one who can tap dance at an astonishing 35 taps a second.
The man is truly a phenomenon.

If his nimble feet were linked to an electricity generator he could produce enough power to light up all of Europe.

On a foul January night with the wind rising and rain sheeting in from the southwest, I acted on a nugget of information provided by Gerard Delaney.

“I have been doing some research on Michael Flatley’s ancestry at the request of his family”, Gerard told me.

“His great grandparents were wed in in Kilmovee Church 115 years ago”.

Acting on the leads supplied by Gerard Delaney I set off down familiar roads to the east Mayo parish.
The wind was shaking the boughs of the fine beech trees on the avenue leading to the parochial house in Kilmovee as I called in for a word with the Parish Priest, Fr Farrell Cawley. Fr. Cawley graciously produced Church records - a typewriten copy of the original document which showed that on October 31st 1888, Pat Flatley of Sonovolaun (more commonly known as Sinolane) married Mary Regan, also from Sinolane, in the church of the Immaculate Conception, Kilmovee.

Pat and Mary were Michael Flatley’s great grandparents, the South Mayo Family Research Society, based in Ballinrobe, can confirm. The 44 year old dancer will be informed this month of the outcome of research into his Mayo roots. Fr. Cawley brought me to the sacristy of the nearby church for a look at the matrimonial records for Kilmovee pertaining to the last quarter of the 19th century. The ledger was fading in parts but the 1888 entry relating to Pat Flatley and Mary Regan was clearly legible.

Witnesses to the marriage were Thomas Flatley and Mary Flatley both from Sinolane. Presumably Thomas and Mary were Pat’s brother and sister.

There were dozens of marriages in Kilmovee Church in 1888, the year that Michael Flatley’s great grandparents were betrothed.

Comparing the past with the present, Fr. Cawley explained that there were more weddings in a month in rural churches such as Kilmovee than there is in a whole year nowadays.

Statistics verify this. During 2002 eight couples were wed in Kilmovee. In the month of February 1888 alone there were ten weddings. In March, the following month, eight weddings were registered.
A Son, Michael Flatley’s grandfather, named Thomas, was born to Pat and Mary Flatley in Sinolane in July 1890. In 1922, thirty two years later, he was to marry Mary Ann Henry at Keash Church, near Ballymote, Co.Sligo.

Kilmovee, P.P. Fr. Cawley can vouch for the fact that there is a connection between the Flatley/Keash connection.

As a curate in Keash in the early 1990’s Fr. Cawley officiated at the funeral of Tom Flatley, an uncle of Michael Flatley. Michael flew to Co. Sligo for the funeral and played a lament on the flute at the graveside.

The next step of my research into Michael Flatley’s ancestors was a phone call to John Higgins, a retired school teacher, who lives at Culfadda, Co. Sligo, John proved a well of information.

“Mary Ann Henry was a first cousin of my father’s”, he explained. “So Mick’s father and I are second cousins”. Mr Higgins says that according to his information, Tom Flatley would have been a workman travelling around looking for work, or a spailpin. It appears Mary Ann Henry was very involved in the Republican movement. She was a member of Cumann na mBan, the female support group of the IRA, and would have travelled widely around Connacht at the time of the ‘troubles’.

John Higgins doesn’t think Tom Flatley had anything to do with the Republican movement and believes the couple probably met following a local political meeting.

John Higgins is old enough to recall Tom Flatley and is full of praise for him.

“He was a most witty and interesting person”, John recalls. “He knew a lot of folklore and had a fund of stories about times past. Also he could talk Irish very well. He would have brought the language with him to Co. Sligo from east Mayo which would have been a breac Gaeltacht in the 1800’s”.
Tom Flatley was Michael Flatley’s paternal grandfather. Tom’s son, Michael (father of the dancer) emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and settled in Chicago, Illinois where he established a successful construction business.

Michael credits his father with instilling him a tireless work ethic and extraordinary drive which empowered him in his quest to turn dreams into reality.

Of Mary Ann Henry, Michael Flatley’s paternal grandmother, John Higgins recalls: “She was extremely nationalistic. For a person who had only primary school education she had a great ability with words. She wrote a number of poems which I now have in my possession”.

There can be no doubt that Michael Flatley, inspired by his parents Micael and Eilish, has a great interest in heritage and ancestry. A visit to his relatives in the Kilkelly area, now that a fuller picture has been painted on his ancestors, looks likely.

He will be truly welcome.

Born July 16th 1958, Michael Flatley is the second of five children. He has a brother and three sisters.
His parents Michael and Eilish (formally Eilish Ryan from Co. Carlow) emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and settled in Chicago, Illinois where they established a successful construction business.

Michael showed early prowess as a boxer winning a Golden Gloves championship at the age of 17.
But dance was in his blood. His mother, Eilish, and his maternal grandmother Hannah, were both championship Irish dancers.

Hannah taught Michael his first few steps at the age of four and always encouraged him to follow his heart and his dreams.

Years later, when these dreams became reality, an empty front seat at every show marked Michael’s tribute to the the late grandmother he so adored.

Michael’s parents were committed to retaining their children’s Irish heritage so he was “dragged by the ears” to the Dennehy School of Irish Dance.

Surpassing his classmates in winning competitions, 17 year old Michael became the first American to bring the title of All-World Irish Dancing championships to the U.S.

At the same time, Michael studied traditional Irish flute and won the first of several titles as All-Ireland Flute Champion.

In 1993, Michael was invited to dance at the Spirit of Mayo in Dublin, a unique festival of Irish dance and music. The audience also included President Mary Robinson.

A year later, in 1994, Michael was the principal star and choreographer of Riverdance, the feature highlight of the Eurovision Song contest seen over 300 million television viewers worldwide.

Since then, Michael has been involved in his own shows, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames.

Three years ago, Michael gained recognition from the Guinness Book of Records for being the highest paid dancer earning over $1.6 million per week and for having the highest insurance premium on a dancer’s legs at 40 million.