It enriched my life, I wouldn't take back a single moment

Popular Irish dancing teacher Honor Flynn has taught generations of boys and girls in Tralee and across Kerry. Stephen Fernane chats to Honor about her deep love of her native Boherbee where her dazzling dancing skills began while 'hopping' around the old floor

Like thousands of boys and girls my dancing career started with Honor Flynn.

The only difference is that mine ended on the same day it started - faster than the flick of a switch. There would be no dancing with the stars for me.

It's a short story from a long way back. The CBS school hall in 1983, pupils line up to see if we have what it takes. I danced the dance that day, but didn't walk the walk. Honor, like a brigadier inspecting troops, walks the line with eyes fixed on the all-important feet: 'Mr Fernane, slow down. There's no need to jump out the window," she tells me. And in a flash my dancing aspirations vanish. I was the rough in the diamond.

Honor gets a good laugh from my story 35 years later as we sit chatting together in her home in Westcourt. Some of Honor's better pupils have gone on to star on national and international stages.

In 2017 Patrick O'Mahony from Ballylongford was the lead in River Dance at the Gaiety; David Geaney's 'Velocity' show is set for a two-and-a-half-week Broadway run in New York this November, while dancers like Tara Little, who became the first Kerry girl to win the Munster Championship nearly 40 years ago, give Honor a huge sense of pride.

"Watching the children start and progress through the various stages gives me the most pleasure.

"You just know from the minute a child comes in the door and stands in front of you," she said.

I couldn't say for sure who the proudest Boherbee person in the world is. But I know Honor is one of the leading candidates.

Born and raised in heart of the Boherbee, you would have to travel some distance to find a person prouder of their roots.

Her dad, Jerry, was the John Mitchels GAA Club secretary for 25 years, while her uncle, Eddie, was a caretaker in the Sportsfield. The Mitchels were at the height of their powers back then winning five-in-a-row. Community spirit was strong and Honor recalls her old neighbours with a deep fondness and genuine affection.

"We spent all our time playing in the Sportsfield. Eddie had a pony called Peg and we used to be up and down off the pony, he used to kill us.

"I grew up in a house where everyone called and it was just the best place to grow up. Mary Baily lived next door and she was my best friend. No one had a lot but what they had they shared. All we had to occupy us was our music and dancing, unlike today where they have everything and anything to occupy them."

Honor recalls her mother telling her that when she was just five Honor would be 'hopping around the floor' wanting to dance. Her opportunity came when Irene Gould from Mitchels Road set up a dance school. Irene would leave a lasting impression on Honor's life.

"She had an amazing influence on our lives. Patricia Hanafin and Jimmy Smith from Stacks Villas, Mary Baily and the late Breda Cantillon all joined and Irene had a little studio that her dad built.

"My mom sent me down and Irene told me when she opened the door the first thing I said was 'can I learn dancing off of you?' It was a small class but a quality one. She was a marvellous teacher and I fell in love with it and knew the minute I walked in the door it was special."

Honor eventually set up her own school and started teaching at 17. At 20 she did her dance teaching exam and started from scratch with her own pupils. Irene then retired having taught in schools all over the county and Honor took on these classes. For the next 40 years Honor would teach step dancing to school children from Tralee to Lios Póil.

"Winter or summer I travelled to places like Sneem, Cloghane and Brandon. Batt Burns, who was a school principal, told me the children would never have had the chance to dance only for me as not many were teaching it at the time. I loved it and the children loved it."

Honor is quick to praise others who taught Irish dancing at that time, and still do to the present day - people who helped inspire generations of dancers in Tralee and beyond.

It's fair to say that while much of the focus has been on preserving the Irish language, Honor and her peers have done their fair share to help preserve Irish culture through dancing and music.

Honor later merged her know-how with popular Tralee dance teacher and life-long friend, Jimmy Smith, and Rinceoírí na Riochta was formed in 1984.

Honor and Jimmy grew up together and spent hours practising their new steps in her house as children. They travelled to feiseanna all over the county and always tried to merge the modern with the traditional style.

"I remember my father shouting 'Jimmy Smith go home' as we practised steps for hours," she laughs.

"We're great friends and in the space of a few years Jimmy, Pat (Hanafin) and I did our teaching exams. The Hanafin, Smith and Flynn schools all taught separately at one point but we never fell out as we had a great bond."

A traditionalist at heart, Honor gives credit to River Dance for helping to revive Irish dancing. As a child she fondly recalls visits to Phil and John Cahill's house in Leith where the traditional style was instilled in her from a young age.

The Cahill's were dance teachers and Honor and friend, Patricia Hanafin, took lessons there. When the concertina played they danced as Phil, who was in his 80s at the time, gave them instructions.

"The Cahill's are the reason why we never let go of the traditional way of dancing," Honor said.

"Phil showed us all the old steps and he totally dismissed the modern stuff. Ms Cahill would bake flat bread, which we'd have after dancing with a mug of tea. We had absolutely wonderful memories. Having said that I do like modern dance as I think there's a place for both, which the competitions today reflect."

One of the last places Honor taught dancing is at Listellick National School where she stepped down in December 2017.

But she hasn't ruled out a comeback.

"I've had great times travelling all over Ireland and elsewhere meeting people.

"It has enriched my life and I wouldn't take back a single moment of it. If I'm feeling well come September I might even return to teach."

Kerryman

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