Athenry’s “Lady of the Dance”, World Champion Attracta Farrell tells her story – May 1997

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I remember Mum being more enthusiastic about my first dance class than I was. The night before she spent all her energy telling Dad about it, until his first grey hair appeared. I on the other hand, was completely unimpressed by her excitement. I recall my first class where I met a girl with whom I discussed toenails. Little did I know that in a few year’s time, my size four feet would have an abundance of protruding veins, crooked toes and a lack of toenails. Boy, do I get jealous when I see a woman with painted toenails putting her toes into the faucet. I can picture myself trying it and getting a bunion stuck in the tap.

Nevertheless, success cannot be achieved without some minor sacrifices. Maureen Cunniffe, who not only was and is my teacher, also became a friend who treated me like a daughter. Despite many bumps on a road of fifteen years dancing we’ve become proud of each other.

My first competition took place in the Community Hall and all my family attended. Mum had bought me a costume of navy-blue gabardine with baby pink satin, new poodle socks and cleanly polished pumps. Maybe the gold thread on the costume brought me some luck, because I won two first places that day. Competition became a ritual after that. Each weekend was dedicated to travelling, to a feis, all over the country.

Preparation on the night before was always painful because I had to have over one hundred curling rods in my hair overnight. “Ouch, stop that” and “Don’t pull my hair” or even screams and jumps were regular occurrences on Saturday nights as Mum spent over an hour pulling at and curling my locks. Despite our dedication to competition, it was not until years later that everything began to pay off. I eventually became Connaught, British, All Ireland and World Champion overnight. I have since won three won three Connaught Championships, several All-Ireland medals, two of which are gold, British medals and six World medals. For the past six years, I have been in the Top Ten dancers in the World and have taken two World Cups back to Athenry.

The question of expense comes up frequently and yes, Irish dancing is an expensive hobby. Thousands of pounds are spent annually on classes, travel, shoes, repairs, doctor’s bills and costumes. Luckily, my parents provided me with the best of everything from the start.

At this stage, I think I could get a degree on the treatment of pulled muscles, sprained and twisted ankles, bunions, callouses, blisters, cuts, bruises, to name but a few of my injuries. Despite preventative measures by stretching, icing etc. it seems inevitable that eventually my body could give in to the strain I put on it. The importance of looking after myself cannot be stressed enough, especially now that I’m a professional dancer who travels the world with Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance”.

However, my travel, did not begin with this show. On a number of occasions, I toured America and then Australia with the Galway Group “Ceoltóirí Maghlocha”, and Tomas Mannion from Moylough.

I love travelling and since I started almost five years ago I have made several friends and have fallen in love with other cultures, towns and cities. However, the Green Fields of Athenry will always be the most welcoming for me.

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About this record

Written by Attracta Farrell

Published here 13 Feb 2023 and originally published May 1997

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