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Monday 9 December 2019

'Mom worked with Michael to make Irish dancing what it is today' - Michael Flatley's mum Eilish laid to rest

Michael Flatley pictured with his wife Niamh as they arrive at St Molings Church in Glynn Co Carlow for the funeral mass of Michael's mother Elizabeth Flatley. Picture: Frank Mc Grath
Michael Flatley pictured with his wife Niamh as they arrive at St Molings Church in Glynn Co Carlow for the funeral mass of Michael's mother Elizabeth Flatley. Picture: Frank Mc Grath

Ralph Riegel

Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley paid an emotional tribute to his mother by crediting his entire global success to her staunch love and support.

In a moving funeral eulogy, Elizabeth 'Eilish' Flatley (81) was said to have, with her son Michael, helped transform Irish dance into an art form that is now instantly recognised and enjoyed worldwide.

The family said that, having buried her love of 60 years, her husband Michael James Flatley (88) in March 2015, she was now "back in his arms which is the place Dad would have wanted her to be."

"I know everybody says this - but our mother really was the greatest mother in the world," the dancer said.

"To us, she was everything - caring, loving, kind, warm and generous to a fault. She never thought of herself. It was always her children or her husband, Big Mike.

"After being married for 60 years, now my mother is gone to be in his arms. That is all my father would have wanted. That they are together again.

"Any talent or success that any of us ever got we got from my parents. Without them we would have nothing - we would be nothing.

"We were so blessed to be in this family.

"My mother was always a vision of elegance. People from all around the world - rock stars, movie stars, presidents and kings and queens, I can tell you hand on heart here today that I never met a more elegant woman than our mother."

The dancer's sister, Annie, said her mother instantly recognised Michael's huge dance potential.

"Mom recognised Michael's talent very early on and they worked together to make Irish dancing what it is today - and art form that is recognised the world over," she said.

"The arts always reigned supreme in our house. My mother loved singing, dancing or anything to do with art and culture."

She said her mother was devoted to Irish culture throughout her life.

"You could take Elizabeth Ryan Flatley out of Ireland but you could never take Ireland out of her.

"She spent all her adult life in the US but she was always an Irish lady through and through."

She said her mother had now "come home" to Carlow to be laid to rest in the arms of the man she loved for over 60 years.

"Theirs was a love affair like no other."

Hundreds gathered at the scenic Church of St Molings in Glynn-St Mullins on the Carlow-Wexford border to pay their respects to the mother of five who died on December 28.

She passed away in Chicago with her family by her bedside.

Her family explained that "her heart just gave out."

The mourners were led yesterday by Mrs Flatley's sons, Michael and Patrick, daughters, Liza, Thoma and Annie as well as sons in law, daughters in law, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Also present were friends including comedian Brendan Grace, musicians Matt Molloy and Ger Fahy, broadcaster Philip King, rugby star Doug Howlett, singer Sean Costello and businessman Dave Egan.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented by his aide-de-camp Lt Col Kieran Carey.

Fr Edward Aughney told the congregation he had met Mrs Flatley before Christmas when she was home to Carlow on a visit.

"She talked about her hopes to come back again. She told me: 'I am hoping to come back and end my days in Ireland.' We had a grand chat and I spent a lovely hour with her," he said.

Fr Aughney said he was later shocked to hear that Mrs Flatley would be returning to the place she loved so dearly under such different circumstances.

"The gap left in a home from the loss of a mother is something that cannot be replaced," he said.

Mr Flatley honoured his parents’ last wishes by having them buried together in their native Ireland.

The dancer said the couple had been side-by-side for 60 years in life and would now remain side-by-side in their beloved Ireland.

“It was a love affair that would last for 60 years. They would conquer the world together,” he said.

His father, Michael James Flatley (88), died in March 2015 and was interred in the picturesque River Barrow community by the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains - the same parish where his wife's family hailed from.

Mr Flatley described his father as his “hero” – and said his entire family were also “blessed” with a mother who was devoted to her family and immersed in Irish culture.

“We were blessed that my mother and my grandmother (Hannah Ryan) both carried on the tradition and gave us the opportunity to do something that is uniquely Irish,” he said.

“She was a truly remarkable woman. My father and mother were totally devoted to each other. They were blessed with a fabulous relationship – 60 years married. They worked side by side to build the family plumbing business.”

While his mother hailed from Carlow, his father was from Sligo.

They both moved to the US for work in the 1940s and met at an Irish dance in Detroit. The couple married in 1956.

Shortly afterwards they relocated their family to Chicago and worked to build up a successful plumbing business.

However, the couple insisted that their five children be raised with an appreciation of Irish art and culture – with their son, Michael, being introduced to Irish dancing by both his mother and grandmother.

He went on to become the first American to win the World Irish Dancing Championship and performed regularly with The Chieftains.

His parents staunchly supported him in his desire to make dancing his career.

Mr Flatley achieved fame with first ‘Riverdance’ and then ‘Lord of the Dance’, ‘Feet of Flames’ and ‘Celtic Tiger.’

He also established several Guinness Book of Records marks for his dance speed.

Mr Flatley later purchased Castlehyde House in north Cork for €3m and the subsequent €27m refurbishment of the mansion was in part inspired by his parents and their deep love of Ireland.

Both his parents were regular visitors to the River Blackwater property, attending every Christmas party and major celebration staged there.

His mother admitted one of her most memorable evenings at Castlehyde was hosting Hollywood legend, Maureen O’Hara, whom she had been in awe of in the 1940s and 50s.

However, his mother remained a woman of simple tastes and, despite her son’s fame, her favourite meal remained a tuna sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk.

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