A Derry couple who emigrated in the 1950s met the city’s Mayor when he hosted a reception at the Guildhall recently. It was a trip down memory lane for Fedelmia Mullan Davis and husband Bill.
The visit to the Guildhall was a particularly poignant one for Fedelmia as it was in the Guildhall, as a child, that she competed in many Irish dancing competitions.
She said: “I was overwhelmed with emotion when I stepped onto the Guildhall stage - so many memories came flooding back. It was wonderful to meet the Mayor and I was delighted to be able to take a tour of this magnificent venue which has a very special place in my heart.”
Fedelmia, a native of Derry, was the fourth and youngest child of Anne and William Mullan. Her mother was her first dance teacher, followed by the legendary Brendan De Glin.
It wasn’t long after taking lessons that she won her first All-Ireland championship - the first of many successes for Fedelmia. During her competitive dancing years, Fedelmia won many championships across Ireland - including three All-Ireland championships and three Ulster championships.
She married newspaperman Bill Davis, also a native of Derry, whose journalism career began at the ‘Derry Standard’ and continued at the ‘Londonderry Sentinel’ and the ‘Northern Whig’ in Belfast. From there, Bill accepted a contract in Rhodesia where, for nine years, he worked as writer, sub-editor and news editor of daily newspaper, the ‘Northern News’.
After a year in London, where Bill worked for the Reuters News Agency in Fleet Street, the couple moved to the USA with their two daughters, Anne and Fedelmia, and settled in New Jersey. It was in New Jersey that Fedelmia’s interest in and love of Irish culture flourished even more. She became both a qualified Irish dancing teacher (TCRG) and adjudicator (ADCRG) in Dublin where she obtained both her diplomas from the Irish Dancing Commission.
Both her daughters went on to become champion dancers in the USA and Canada. Indeed, Anne still follows the fortunes of the dancers at the Davis Academy and the Gallagher School of Irish Dancing in Pennsylvania, directed by her sister.
Three grandchildren, Therese, Heather and Kenny, became successful dancers with Kenny placed high several times at the Worlds and winning the Mid-Atlantic Oireachtas four times.
It wasn’t long after her arrival in the US that Fedelmia, along with five other certified teachers, met in New York City to set up an organisation that would bring America under the umbrella of An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha. The meeting marked the founding of the Irish Dancing Teachers’ Association of North America (IDTANA) which still exists today.
Fedelmia has produced All Ireland, American national and world champions. Some of her past pupils are now, themselves, teachers and adjudicators. Indeed, Fedelmia was the first US adjudicator to be chosen to judge the All Ireland championships in 1991. But the highlight of her career came in 1992 when she fulfilled a lifetime dream when she was invited to judge at the Derry Feis - the scene of so many of her early triumphs. To this day, a perpetual cup known as the Fedelmia Mullan Cup for the Slip Jig is competed for annually at Feis Doire Colmcille.
Fedelmia and Bill have returned to Derry every year since emigrating in the 1950s.