National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced recently that Kevin Doyle of Barrington is among the latest recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the nation's highest honors in the folk and traditional arts. Doyle, an Irish Step Dancer, is among a select group of artists and jazz musicians who are being honored for mastering the artistic skills and preserving the cultural traditions of their respective art forms.

Chu said, "Among these recipients of NEA National Heritage Fellowships there is a recurring theme. Starting at a young age, these individuals were exposed to the arts. Today these artists' passion for their art can be seen both in their long and dedicated careers and their willingness to share their knowledge with new audiences."

With more than five decades of Irish step dance under his feet, Rhode Island-born Kevin Doyle is a son of County Roscommon through his mother Margaret Taylor Doyle. He is a grandson of County Longford through his father John, whose Irish parents came to live in Providence, Rhode Island's Fox Point in the early 1900's.

At the age of eight, Doyle, along with his sister Maureen, began to learn their first Irish dance steps from their mother. He recalls his mother lilting (a way of vocalizing rhythmically using syllables rather than words) old tunes like "McLeod's Reel," which she had learned from her own mother in Ireland. In the 1960s, Doyle studied at the Pat Fallon School of Irish Dance with visiting Boston instructors Steve Carney and Mary Sullivan, and at the McCorry School of Dance in Pawtucket, where he learned steps traceable to the old dance masters of Ireland.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee praised Doyle for receiving this national honor. "On behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, I congratulate Kevin Doyle for his recognition by the National Endowment for the Arts."

"I commend NEA for selecting Kevin Doyle to receive our nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Kevin is an elite artist with a common touch. He makes Irish step dancing look easy, but he is someone who has poured many years of hard work, sweat, and soul into honing his craft. I think it is great that he is being recognized on a national stage and making Rhode Island and our Irish-American community proud," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, which oversees federal arts funding, including the NEA's annual budget.

Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, sent his congratulations. "We're thrilled that Kevin Doyle has received this important recognition of his work upholding and advancing the art of traditional Irish step dancing."

Kevin Doyle performing at 2013 National Heritage Concert in Washington DCTom Pich