Caroline Duggan originally arrived in 2003 at PS59 in the Bronx from her native Dublin as a music teacher. The mainly African American and Hispanic school, located in a deprived area, had rarely heard an Irish accent. Soon Caroline had the kids dancing as well as signing and began an Irish dancing class and troupe, which soon became a huge favorite after the Irish Voice newspaper first featured them.
The troupe called Keltic Dreams eventually played to huge audiences all over New York and Ireland and became a sensation.
This year it culminated in a trip to the White House to dance for President Obama on St. Patrick's Day. Here is Caroline Duggan's diary of a memorable day:
"March 17th 2010 the dream came true. After hours of practice, work on costumes, dreaming, hoping and wishing, writing letters to the President The Keltic Dreams received a letter from The White House a few weeks previous to the trip and walked into The White House and performed at the St Patrick’s Day evening function hosted by President Obama and The First Lady.
I will never ever forget leading the children into The White House knowing that after two trips to Ireland, performing for The President of Ireland in 2007, and the Northern Ireland Ministers in 2008, that finally the children would perform for their very own President of The United States, a real fairytale dream come true.
There were three performances we were invited to showcase at The White House. The first was in a room known as Booksellers, where guests invited to the event entered The White House. Here ten children performed and four ribbon turners while I accompanied on the violin and flute. This performance lasted about 30 minutes. Then eleven of us performed a three-minute dance in the Lobby of The White House where all the guests had gathered before they entered the East room.
I will never forget dancing with the children there and looking out the doors of The White House and seeing the fountain in the distance and the familiar faces of guests such as Declan Kelly, Stella O Leary and other wonderful people who had been such wonderful supporters along the way!!
Then we went down to pick up the rest of the group. Thirty-five children in total as we prepared for the main performance in the East room. We were all directed into the most beautiful room we had ever seen.
There were flowers hand painted on the wall, just so pretty. I organized the children once again into their photo lines and to our surprise I was told that the President and First Lady were going to come meet with us and take a photo with us. It was a dream come true. I had only been hoping that the children may possibly get a glimpse of The President while they were performing but this was a teachers dream for the children.
After a few practices as a group saying “Good evening Mr. President and Mrs. Obama” and of course a few nervous giggles from us all, in he walked as if out of nowhere, The President of the United States with the First Lady. I was never so proud of the children as they said “Good evening Mr. President and Mrs. Obama”. To think that we had literally come from the Bronx the day before and were now sitting perfectly in the White House with the President and first Lady.
He said “Hi guys how’s it going” and the First Lady said “I love your costumes”, of course that made our day as I said “ Oh it was worth every minute of work to hear you say that”. The First Lady sat beside me and the President beside one of the children named Crystal. She turned to him and said “ It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. President” and he said “ it is a pleasure to meet you too, I hear you are going to perform for us tonight”. A few more words were exchanged and they shook hands with the children. You can’t imagine how proud I was of the children as they looked into the First Lady’s and Presidents eyes as they shook hands.
It was every teachers dream. I thanked them both for inviting us and we all left the room and went straight up to our main performance in the East room. The children told me that they had seen Sasha and Malia through a door playing with Bo. That was another huge highlight for them.
As the children lined up in the Green room, which opened on to The East room, I could just feel the excitement, from each of them. This was it, the moment we had dreamed of and we each had to give it all we had. From my perspective we were going to show how powerful Irish culture has been on these children’s lives and how it has spread so far across the waters to children from African American and Latino backgrounds enough that it has not only brought them to perform for The President of Ireland in 2007 but now to their own President of The United States.
He would see the impact it had and the children would forever believe that a dream really does come true if you work hard enough and believe in it. I knew that they would take this with them forever!! Above all we wanted to make all our supporters proud, Irish, Irish American and every single person standing there that day.
Dancing in The East room with these incredible children who constantly believed that they could do it, who never gave up on the dream, some of whom came from their middle schools and High schools to come to Irish dance practice every day was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Meeting with the President and First Lady will forever be the perfect moment in our minds. I could not have asked for more as a teacher for these children. It was the experience of a lifetime and I will forever be grateful for all our supporters, all the people who constantly gave kind words of encouragement since I founded the program six years ago. Those kind words constantly remind me how special The Keltic Dreams are and really encourage me to do the best I can with the children when we hit those many obstacles along the way.
May this story remind you that anything is possible, never ever give up on a dream, Keltic or otherwise because as I constantly remind the children that with hard extreme work and believing you can do it, you really can accomplish anything."
USS Michael Murphy, named after Irish American Navy SEAL hero, heading toward Korea