Irish America Hall of Fame: Michael Flatley


He’s been the world’s most famous lord for the past 15 years. Now Michael Flatley is poised to become a movie star . . . and a 3D one at that.

The Chicago native always had it in the back of his head that his wildly successful stage show, Lord of the Dance, would translate well to film, given the right circumstances. But re-creating the raw energy and electricity of a live performance proved elusive until the widespread popularization of 3D movies these past couple of years.

Finally, Flatley was ready to make his move, and he did so in more ways than one. Not only did he film Lord for a big screen 3D experience, but he also took himself out of retirement to reclaim his starring role in the show.

The decision required months of getting his body back into fighting shape for a sold-out European tour in the autumn/winter of last year, which showed once again why Flatley is one of the world’s most captivating performers.

When Flatley sets his mind towards a goal, it’s an excellent bet that he’ll thrive in spectacular fashion given his track record at the helm of the planet’s two most successful Irish dance shows ever, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.

Lord of the Dance 3D, opening nationwide on St. Patrick’s Day, seems tailor made for a three-dimensional experience, with its breakneck Irish jigging, dazzling stage design and overall non-stop action.

Flatley has legions of fans who will undoubtedly savor the chance to go to  their local theater, don a pair of large glasses and feel like they’re right on the cusp of the stage. 

Lord of the Dance, since its Dublin debut in 1996 – about 18 months after Flatley and Riverdance parted company – has played to more than 60 million fans in 60 countries . . . grossing more than $1 billion in the process. That’s not to mention sales from DVDs, CDs and other merchandise. 

Flatley’s vision about how Irish dance could be freshened up and showcased to a global audience in a bold and exciting way has brought him fame and fortune beyond his wildest dreams, and though he likes to think big – really, really big – he’s never, ever forgotten how the seeds of his success were planted.

His parents, Michael Senior (a native of Co. Sligo) and Eilish (from Co. Carlow), made the difficult but necessary move across the Atlantic to the shores of America back in 1940s, and in typical immigrant fashion, Michael and Eilish worked hard to create a prosperous life for their five children. 

Digging ditches, working construction sites, doing whatever needed to be done  . . . all those life lessons clearly rubbed off on their second eldest, Michael Junior, who didn’t start formal Irish dance lessons until he was the ripe old age of  11.

Michael was a quick learner, though, and for good measure he also mastered the flute and even became a top-flight amateur boxer. Put it all together and you get someone who was hyper-determined to make his mark on the world, and that’s exactly what this multi-talented entrepreneur has done with his Lord of the Dance franchise.

Though performing has always been such a vital part of his life, it’s certainly not all work and play for Flatley. In 2007 he married his long-time dance partner, Irish native Niamh O’Brien, in a lavish ceremony at his Co. Cork mansion, Castlehyde. Flatley bought the historic property back in the 1990s and spent millions restoring it to its former grandeur. The following year the couple welcomed their son, Michael St. James Flatley.

Michael Junior is the light of his father’s life, it’s safe to say. The world used to center around performing and jetting here and there for business, and many other bachelor pursuits as Flatley himself freely admits, but these days it’s all about Michael Junior and Niamh, who have without a doubt made Flatley’s world truly complete.

Flatley recently spoke with Irish America about his new film, his career triumphs, and his plans for the future, which include induction into the magazine’s Hall of Fame this month.

“Oh, it’s such an honor for me to be recognized,” he said. “My parents are going to be so proud!” Spoken like a son who has always stayed true to what really matters.

Seeing Lord of the Dance live is amazing enough. But seeing it in 3D has to be even more spectacular. Was doing a feature film of the show always in the back of your mind?
I had been approached a few times to put the show on film, but I was never really tempted because you can’t get the energy that you get in the live show, and I didn’t want to dissipate the energy, you know, or the brand in any way. I didn’t want it to look less than.

But now with these new achievements in 3D, to me it was a remarkable opportunity to do something great.

I went and took a look at the process and really liked what I saw. So I imagined my show and I decided that I was going to film it.