When California girl Maggie Fitzgerald was just two years of age her mother Laurie bought a video of the Irish dance spectacular Riverdance. Toddler Maggie immediately began tapping her feet to the music, beginning a lifelong fascination with the national dance of her ancestors.
Fast forward eight years. This morning, 10-year-old Maggie took to the stage to perform in the Girls 10-11 category of the World Irish Dance Championships in City West, Dublin. More than 4,500 dancers will compete over the next seven days, and the event will also be graced by the Irish President Mary McAleese who will attend tomorrow’s opening ceremony.
With the prestigious competition returning to the Irish capital for the first time in 15 years, Maggie and Laurie made the long journey from Ojai in California to reconnect with their Irish roots.
Laurie told the Irish Voice: “We came here for the All-Ireland Championships in February so this is just our second time in Ireland. We’ve been making the most of it. We went and looked up our heritage. My great-great grandparents were Irish, so we’ve been to see Shannon and Killarney already. My great-grandmother came from Cork and Maggie’s dad’s family came from Kildare around the time of the potato famine."
The proud mum revealed she’s delighted that her daughter decided to take up Irish dancing, explaining: “Maggie started dancing because of her heritage. When she was two I bought the Riverdance video and she just started moving to the music. It was very natural for her, and she just kept practising. She now attends Claddagh USA and her teacher is Maura O’Connell from Galway."
Competing in Irish dance competitions is certainly a sacrifice for mother and daughter because of the huge costs involved. Laurie revealed: “It costs €1,000 just for the flights here. Then there’s the cost of shoes and costumes. Maggie’s new costume was shipped over to us just last week from Siopa Rince so this is her first time to wear it. Our dance director picks the costumes so we don’t have to worry about the design."
Maggie, who is currently in fifth grade, admitted that her love of Irish dancing takes up much of her free time as she explained: “I do about five to seven classes a week, so that’s about 16 hours of training. I love it. I remember when I first saw Riverdance and I thought it was really cool. I’ve made a lot of friends from Irish dancing too."
As well as competing in the solo competition today, Maggie will be back on stage on Tuesday to take part in the eight-hand reel with other girls from her dance class.
It’s shaping up to be a very busy week for the 10-year-old, but her devoted mum Laurie insisted: “It’s exciting and fun, and I always tell her to go out there and enjoy it."
Also competing in the Girls 10-11 competition this morning, was 11-year-old Kerri Betz from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The trip to Ireland was a special treat for her mum Colleen, who explained: “My grandfather came from Derry and his name was Joseph McKenna. We travelled up there and we saw where he came from, where he lived and went to school, so that was really neat."
Kerri’s achievement in qualifying for the World Championships also provided the perfect opportunity for the young girl to meet her Irish cousins in Omagh, all of whom did Irish dancing when they were younger.
The talented dancer explained: “I used to pretend I could do Irish dancing when I was little so when I got the chance I really wanted to learn. I think my favourite dance is the slip jig."
Kerri was also joined in Dublin by her teacher Christina Ryan-Kilcoyne from County Clare. Christina, who grew up in Milltown-Malbay, moved to Philadelphia 21 years ago and set up an Irish dance school there. Today she was back in Dublin to watch five of her pupils competing in the World Championships.
And despite living for so many years in the USA, the proud Clare woman still hasn’t lost her Irish accent.
“If I lost it, I’d be killed!” she laughed.