|Michael Flatley and wife Niamh at Castlehyde|
It was a perfect Irish summer’s night, the longest of the year and the Castlehyde County Cork mansion of Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley never looked better.
Once upon a time the palatial mansion and grounds had been host to some very different occupants, the antecedents of Princess Diana, the Spencers of Fermoy, who lorded it over the locals.
Doubtless they would have exhaled in horror at the visitors to their old surroundings on this very special night. Flatley no doubt would get a kick out of that.
Flatley, the Chicago-born dance genius, played host to 200 top Ireland Fund members from all over the world.
Driving through the lush Irish countryside en route to Castlehyde, which borders the Blackwater river, you could be forgiven for thinking that this part of earth is God’s acre.
Then came the thunderous rains of course, and you might indeed have second thoughts about how wonderful the visit really was.
At the mansion however, fate was restored and good work was afoot. The Ireland Fund has soared past its stated target of $100 million raised since Ireland’s downturn and will easily surpass that record.
Present to mark the occasion was co-founder US Ambassador Dan Rooney, who pronounced how moved and proud he was at the incredible progress of the organization he and Tony O’Reilly started back in 1974 with high hopes.
Michael Flatley accepted a Pittsburgh Steelers football from Rooney and made as if to launch it into outer space. Asked to speak, he was the master of brevity, merely intoning the immortal words that the bar was open and good time was being lost.
He could not have been a greater host. Like with his dance creations, the emphasis is on perfection, and the mansion, with its beautiful foyer, soaring ceilings, Irish bar - what did you expect - and exquisitely decorated rooms fitted the bill.
Michael and wife Niamh, herself a principal dancer, stood at the door and personally greeted everyone who entered. There was no sign of little Michael, the son and heir, but his influence was obvious from his playground set to the many photos on display in the house.
Exhibits throughout the mansion frame Flatleys’career from the heights of Madison Square Garden sellouts and White House appearances to the early days when he mixed some boxing, some flute playing, some dancing and some construction work before he made it big.
And made it big he has. As he stares out over his manse, Flately must sometimes pinch himself as to how far the humble son of Irish emigrants has come.
And he has done it with class, as his mansion readily attests to. Flatley has given back to Ireland as well as Irish America.
Next year he will likely be one of the ambassadors for the Gathering, the effort to bring the worldwide Irish home. No one has greater star power or willingness to help than the Lord of the Dance. We are lucky to have him.