Friday 15 December 2017

Katherine is still dancing to her own beat

Esther Hayden

THERE is scarcely a person in South County Wicklow who attended childhood Irish dancing or music classes that doesn't know Katherine Brennan Kinsella.

Bred, born and reared in Arklow, as she says herself, she has been to the fore in teaching these traditional arts to local community for more than 50 years.

Growing up in her family home in Parade Ground in the town, where she still resides today, Katherine never imagined the road that Irish music and dancing would take her on when she started at the age of nine.

'I came to it relatively late, I suppose. I was nine and a half when I started dancing with Mrs. Cullen and after 10 when I started music,' she recalls.

'When I was a child of seven or eight, Santy brought me a little piano and stool so I used to sit down and play with that and eventually I got a tune out of it.'

It was classical music that Katherine began with at St. Mary's, but once she tried out traditional music, she never looked back.

'That was it from day one. I just took to the traditional music and at around 14 or 15 I turned to it and that was that.

'But I never thought it would be something I would end up making a living out of.'

Over the years Katherine's talent grew and she found herself skilled enough to play fiddle, bodhrán, keyboard and accordion which she in turn taught to students once she started up her own classes.

'I helped out with dance classes for about three years then started to teach them myself at about 16. That is very young by today's standards, but at that time there was a Feis or competition just once or twice a year,' she explains.

Katherine's dance classes commenced at the old GAA premises off Main Street, when the late Pat Kinsella approached her to start them up, and the music lessons took place in a room at the back of her home.

There was only one obstacle to her getting the room in order for the classes: to remove the aviary that she and her father had.

Unusually, Katherine was an award-winning budgie breeder as a young woman, once even beating off competition from an older male breeder deemed the best around.

'This takes me back...I was a member of the Captain Mac's Club in the Irish Press so I would enter competitions. I won a budgie and it was sent down on the train for me. After that I got a hen and started to breed them. I was a member of the Arklow Bird Club and entered competitions. I won 'Best in Show' a few times. After the dancing and music took off my time was consumed by it so we removed the aviary.'

It was through music that Katherine met her husband John and they have been married for 42 years. 'He was a member of the Bunclody Ceili Band and used to play music for me at competitions. I got him over the border,' laughs Katherine.

The two share a love of music and GAA and still travel to Spain every year to play music as guests of honour at the St. Patrick's Day Festival in Benalmadena.

'We love going over and are always exhausted by the end of the week. It started 12 years ago when we were on holiday and got chatting to some Irish people who invited us back the following year.'

Music and dancing have also brought Katherine all over the world both through Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and her own Brennan School of Dancing group. England, Scotland, Wales and the USA have all been highlights.

Though technically retired, Katherine still keeps up lessons at local schools but now with more time on her hands enjoys a fitness regime a woman of 20 would envy.

'I got treated at St. Luke's for a tumour 13 years ago and after my recovery I wanted to do something to raise money for them. I said 'I must do the mini marathon' so I did and my friends and relatives were so generous that I raised €5,195. After that I started doing half marathons and eventually marathons. I will be somewhere running every week usually and I do it for myself, not to beat times or anything. I was over 60 when I started and it definitely keeps me young.'

When she isn't pounding the pavements in competitions, Katherine swims at least 5km a day, a skill she also learned post retirement.

'I love it and always feel so good after it. Forget about age and just get out and do it if you can. I was lucky though, the dancing set me up for life.'

Bray People

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