Imagine the amount of preparation needed to bring one dancer to the World Irish Dance Championships. Now multiply that by five. That’s the enormous task faced by the O’Reillys from Front Royal, Virginia, as no less than five members of the family are competing in this year’s Championships in Dublin. Not only that, but incredibly they are just five of 14 children born to Frank and Angelique O’Reilly, proud parents of eight boys and six girls.
The family’s World Championship marathon kicked off in City West this morning when 11-year-old twins Joe and James competed in the Boys 11-12 category.
On Tuesday, their 14-year-old sister Rose will perform in the Girls 14 – 15 competition. She’ll be followed on Thursday by her older sisters Grace (18) and Mary (16) who have also qualified in their respective age-groups.
Non-dancing older siblings Sean (22) and Cecelia (20) have joined them on Dublin, along with dad Frank, who is “the tour guide for this trip”.
Mum Angelique has remained at home in Virginia with the couple’s seven other children, including the youngest, five-month-old baby Desmond.
Even travelling to the World Championships is a massive logistical operation for the family. Earlier this year, the dancers went to Ireland for the All-Ireland Championships accompanied by their mother. This time, it’s Frank’s turn.
But considering the huge costs of dance shoes, costumes and travelling, surely the family could have picked a less expensive hobby?
“We were a soccer family before we started dancing”, laughed Grace.
Rose added; “we had a lot of cousins who danced and we wanted to do it too”.
Luckily, dad Frank wouldn’t change things for the world, as he told the Irish Voice: “The thing about dancing is that you can do it as a family. When there’s a feis on we all go together, but when they were playing soccer they were always on different teams and in different age-groups. And as they got older and better they were playing more and more and some weekends we had to go to four different tournaments in four different places. But at least with dancing, if we all go to Orlando for the Oireachtas then we’re all together and everybody competes together”.
There are also some budding dancers among the younger members of the family, although Frank is quick to admit his children didn’t learn the skills from him.
“My father tried to teach us Irish dancing when we were little but we wouldn’t learn a thing. I think it skipped a generation!” he laughed.
The five O’Reilly dancers attend the Boyle School of Dancing and have made several friends over the years.
Last year, Grace was the only one to qualify for the World Championships so this is the first time that five of the siblings have made it to the event together.
Competition may be fierce, but Frank insisted his kids are just “happy to be here. We’re not expecting anything, it’s just great that they qualified and got this far”.
With the surname O’Reilly, it’s no surprise that the family is half-Irish, as their grandfather is from Killarney.
Frank explained: “We’re staying over here for Easter. One of my aunts is a retired school teacher in Killarney so we’re going to visit her. And one of my brothers was born in Cork so we have connections there”.
His trip to Ireland also gives him an excuse to work on a pet project, the restoration of Flesk Castle in Killarney which he bought with his brothers some years ago.
He revealed: “we really want to clean it up but it’s a big investment so I’m going to be looking into that while I’m over here”.