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 Flatleys
ancestry at the request of his family, Gerard told
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 Flatleys 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 Pats
brother and sister.
There were dozens of marriages in Kilmovee Church in 1888,
the year that Michael Flatleys great grandparents
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
A Son, Michael Flatleys 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 1990s 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 Flatleys
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 fathers,
he explained. So Micks 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 doesnt 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 1800s.
Tom Flatley was Michael Flatleys paternal grandfather.
Toms 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 Flatleys 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,
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
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
Hannah taught Michael his first few steps at the age of
four and always encouraged him to follow his heart and his
Years later, when these dreams became reality, an empty
front seat at every show marked Michaels tribute to
the the late grandmother he so adored.
Michaels parents were committed to retaining their
childrens 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
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
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 dancers legs at 40 million.