The Irish Dance Center has an extensive history that began many years ago in Dublin. Eimir Ni Mhaoileidigh was born in Dublin and said she began dancing before she could walk. She was a student of the Inis Ealga School of Irish Dance in Dublin which was founded by her father, Maitiu O'Maoileidigh, about 50 years ago and grew to be the top school in Ireland. O'Maoileidigh and Marie Duffy were her primary coaches through her formative years.
At the age of 13, Eimir began touring with production companies throughout the United States and traveled across Europe as the reigning world champion. She performed for U.S. Presidents Carter, Ford and Reagan; Irish Presidents O'Dalaigh and Hillary; and Mayor Richard J. Daly of Chicago. Her travels have taken her as far as Morocco where her students performed for Prince Albert and Prince Rainier.
Eimir's mother and father met dancing at a ceili, or social gathering, but her mother decided to stay home to raise Eimir and her seven brothers and sisters. She is one of two sets of twins in the family. Her twin sister, Doireann, has recently joined her here in at the Irish Dance Center in Austin after running a very successful school of Irish Dance in the Los Angeles area for many years.
Maitiu O'Maoileidigh and Inis Ealga
Maitiu O’Maoileidigh was a young Dubliner during the war years and his passion for the dance was fostered by some of the greatest dancers of the time such as Giolla Chriost O’Broin, Sean Mooney, Sean O’Doncain and Dinny Cuffe. He first learned his dancing from the great Evelyn O’Conner, but it was the ceili dancing at the “Craobh an Cheitinnigh,” a branch of the Gaelic League in Dublin, that began his lifetime love affair with dance.
Matt, as he was called by his friends, was a quick study with considerable talent, participating in and winning competitions for ceili dancing at the All-Ireland championships held in Dublin at the Mansion House.
Matt soon caught the eye of dance teacher Arthur Byrnes of Newry, who taught ceili dancing at the Craobh an Cheitinnigh. Matt’s great talent and enthusiasm for dance, earned him a teaching assistant position with Byrnes, and thus Matt’s love of teaching dance began. With a penchant for detail and a friendly manner, Matt, only 17, began to rise in dance circles and began forging connections with members of the Gaelic League and An Coimisiun.
In 1947, Matt assumed full responsibilities as head instructor at the Craobh and it was at one of his classes that a student, Angela, caught his eye, and later, after a lovely courtship, whom he married. The work Matt did at the Craobh an Cheitinnigh was pro-gratis but not overlooked. Like so many students of the dance, his hobby began to take on new meaning. In 1952, Matt opened his own dance school, Inis Ealga, the same name of the Gaelic League branch that he taught at for so many years. The school name was taken from a direct reference to Ireland made by a 16th Century poet Seathrun Ceitinn in his work “Mo Bheannacht Leat”. Under English Law at that time it was forbidden under severe penalty to acknowledge Ireland by name. Embracing his own history-in-the-making, his choice in the name of the school was a reflection of his own patriotism. This was the beginning of a dance school that would dominate competitions for years to come and turn heads with new material and talented dancers.
That same year, Matt was honored with the Fear an Ti of the Siamsa Mor (master of ceremonies). This allowed him to call the Ceili dances every Sunday night at the Mansion House. It was the most popular weekly event with attendance in the hundreds. His popularity grew and it established Matt as one of the foremost authorities in the Irish dancing world. Maitiu’s celebrity brought him many opportunities. He continued to develop his school and style of dance while qualifying as a TCRG in 1955 and later as an ADCRG. His family was growing with the birth of the first of eight children.
Between his work family and growing popularity, it was hard to manage all that was asked of him but he did with some help. Joining him was one of his students, Marie Duffy, who later became his partner in directing Inis Ealga. Under Matt’s leadership and Marie’s technical prowess, the school developed many solo and team champions. Students in the school endured tedious hours of practice to meet impeccable standards and their distinctive orange and blue school costumes became synonymous with perfection. All of the hard work and dedication paid off when his daughter, Eimir, became the first World Champion in Inis Ealga.
Becoming an ambassador of Irish dance, Maitiu was sought after by Irish Television to host a program called “Beirt Eile” in 1962. The pilot program was only scheduled for seven installments, but became so popular it ran for two years. Naturally, Inis Ealga was a tremendous resource and the show introduced dancers Liam Devally, Aedeen Ni Choileain and Chris Curran to international audiences. This inspired Matt to reach a global audience and to take Irish dance out into faraway lands. During these years, Matt was an active member with the dancing commission. He became an examiner, which gave him the unique opportunity to travel the world to teach, promote, and preside at the qualification of hundreds of Irish dance teachers in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He served as Vice President and “Ceannasai” - organizer and treasurer of the All-Ireland championships, but his defining moment came in 1969-1970. Together with Seamus MacConuladh he was responsible for formulating the concept of the World Championships as we know them today. The concept of global inclusion was met with some resistance. The idea of an open invitation to all the dance teachers of the world to bring their students to Ireland to compete was far beyond any thinking at that time. Seamus and Maitiu introduced the pyramid concept of qualifying much as we know it today. Countries would hold regional competitions, qualifying for national competitions thus qualifying for the World championships. It was an enormous undertaking given the Irish Diaspora. Although it is a popular concept today, it wasn’t unanimously accepted when introduced.
That was not the end of his contribution to the development of Irish dance. Family members recall Matt sitting at the kitchen table tapping out steps with his fingers and thinking about taking dance into new directions. Matt’s love of ceili dancing was his true inspiration. In 1978, he introduced the Dance Drama, a new form of dance, at the World Championships. This was the foundation for “Lord of the Dance and Riverdance” and other Irish Dance shows. At this point, Matt was a cherished leader in the world of Irish dancing, on account of his great contributions and brilliantly novel plans. Therefore it was little surprise to Matt’s loved ones, when in in 1983, the Department of External Affairs and Cultural Relations contacted Matt about entering an Irish dance team to compete at the Dijon Folk Festival in France known in Europe as the Olympics of Folk dancing. This honor to represent Ireland against 46 teams from 26 countries was what became a finale to an era in Irish dancing. He and Marie prepared a team that would conquer the world and take first place. For thirty years Matt spread his good will, enthusiasm and knowledge of Irish dance across the 7 continents, training more than fifty teachers and thirty adjudicators who in turn has passed on the art of Irish dance to countless others. As a true trailblazer of Irish dance, Matt’s contributions are nothing short of legendary.