His feet may not be big enough to fill Michael Flatley’s shoes just yet but county Limerick dancer, Ronan O’Brien, is certainly the local lord of the dance.
The eight year old from Kilmallock has earned the title of North American Champion after he travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to take part in the North American Irish Dancing Open where there was over 3,000 competitors dancing for titles.
The primary school student who is going into second class at Scoil Mocheallog in Kilmallock was victorious in the U8 age group.
Ronan was the only competitor to take a perfect score of 900 at the championships.
“It was fantastic over there, the Americans are great, they love the Irish and they really appreciated us going over,” said Ronan’s mum, Jackie.
Ronan, who is both the reigning Munster Champion and Scottish Champion, has been Irish dancing since the tender age of three-and-a-half.
He is a student of the Costello School of Irish Dancing based in Mungret.
“He has an older sister, Megan, who is 15 who dances and the reason why he went into it in particular is he has got very bad asthma,” Jackie explained.
“He used to be very sick as a child and he got pneumonia and the physiotherapist recommended that he do some sort of exercise whereby he would be jumping up and down, She added.
“I asked would they mind if he went into class and jump around and he just took off.”
Cheering Ronan on at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville was his mum Jackie, brother Callum and sisters Megan and Caitlin.
“He is lucky that he has Megan here at home. If he hadn’t anyone here at home, we wouldn’t be able to work on the steps with him but Megan was here and that has been a great help,” said Jackie who hopes her son will continue dancing in the future.
“I hope he would continue. He is there at the top and he does have some sort of talent, he must do,” she said.
Both Ronan and Megan will be appearing on Jig Gig on TG4 over the Autumn.
“They are lucky in that the school has four excellent teachers - they have great experience between them,” said Jackie.
The Kilmallock kid shared the limelight in Nashville with 16-year-old Niamh O’Brien from King’s Island in Limerick city who danced her way to the top spot to claim the North American Championship trophy in the Under 16 category.
“I started Irish dancing at the age of four. I go to class four nights a week at the school (the Costello School of Irish Dancing) and when I don’t have class, my cousin Ciara takes me for two hours,” she explained.
A student at Ardscoil Mhuire, Corbally, Niamh has taken part in numerous competitions throughout the world. She has won five Munster Championships in a row and is the reigning Scottish champion.
“We have travelled to Philadelphia, San Diego, we have been to Tennessee twice. We have been to England a lot. You would keep up contact with friends you make through Facebook,” she said.
So what is it that makes a top class Irish dancer?
“Your feet would be the main thing,” Niamh explained.
“If you haven’t got good feet it’s quite hard. It’s everything – your posture, you have to be dedicated. It’s very competitive,” she added.
Her favourite Irish dancer of all time is Bernadette Flynn.
“You would see her in Lord of the Dance, she is very good. She is very elegant,” said Niamh who travelled to Nashville in July with her cousin and aunt, Ciara and Antonia Smyth.
“Niamh was very quiet, she wouldn’t go to pre-school and they wanted her to mix with other kids so that’s how it came about,” said Antonia of how Niamh became involved in Irish dancing.
“She started Irish dancing at the age of four. Anthony used to teach across the road in the community centre at King’s Island,” she added.
Anthony Costello who started the school in Limerick in 1974, has trained 25 world champions and over 300 major champions in total.
He is principal of the school where there are three other teachers, Siobhann Dorman, Breeda Mulcahy and Conor Holmes.
Pupils of the school have won all major Irish dancing titles on numerous occasions including of course the big two- All Ireland and World Championships.
Former pupils of the school have been selected to perform with Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and a selection of other shows.
To date the school is still going strong and still training champion dancers to compete at all major championships throughout the world.
Classes not only cater for all levels from beginner through to championship level but also for competitive and non-competitive pupils.