One of Derry’s most beloved Irish dancers teachers has paid tribute to the late Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly for his contribution to the arts in the city during his lifetime.
Lilian O’More O’Donnell, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, recalled the late Bishop’s continued presence at and support for Feis Dhoire Cholmcille down the decades.
“I will always remember him at the Guildhall at Derry Feis. He was always very attentive and always very interested in Irish dancing,” she said.
In a long and illustrious career in Irish dancing, Lillian taught no fewer than five world champions as well as many more All-Ireland and Ulster title holders.
He career as a dancer began under the tutelage of Nellie Sweeney, the woman often described as the ‘mother of Irish dancing’ in Derry, She then moved to become a student of another renowned figure in Irish dancing circles, Brendan DeGlin.
Lilian also revealed that when the infamous split within the Irish dancing fraternity happened around 1970, Bishop Daly intervened in a bid to help heal the rift.
It is a division that Lilian still recalls sadly to this day.
“He called all the teachers in the area together to try and find a solution to this sad situation, but to no avail.
“I still remained great friends with the late Mary McLaughlin and many other An Comhdhail dancing teachers. But the split really was a shame.
“I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s still a very sensitive subject,” she said.
Again recalling Bishop Daly, Lilian said: “He loved everything to do with the arts, whether it was music, drama or dancing. And that’s what I’ll remember most about him.
“He was always a gentleman and he is a very hard to act to have to follow.”
Giving her view on modern Irish dancing Lilian told the ‘Journal’: “Riverdance undoubtedly brought a lot of exposure to Irish dancing but the tradition had already been long established.
“I don’t agree with wigs, fake tan and make-up on children. My biggest worry is the cost.
“I’m sorry, I know it’s not popular to say it, but Irish dancing is a rich man’s game now. The teachers are very good and very dedicated.
“But many of the best dancers I ever taught simply wouldn’t be able to afford to compete now. The good news is the enthusiasm is still there. We have a wonderful new generation of talented teachers and really committed pupils in Derry. Irish dance is flourishing across the world.
“Irish dancing was very, very good to me. It’s a beautiful, elegant art form. When you consider that there are dancing schools in places like Russia and China now it shows just how far it has travelled since people gathered at country crossroads to dance 100 years ago.
“Looking back there were so many of my dancers who won and who were placed in competitions all over Ireland. There are far too many to name individually but I’d like them to know that to this day I remain extremely proud of every single one of them.”