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Irish dancing legend honoured

Suzanne McGonagle s.mcgonagle@irishnews.com

DANCERS from across Ireland gathered in Belfast yesterday to pay tribute to a woman whose distinctive style of folk-ballet inspired both performers and audiences.

An Ulster History Circle blue plaque was unveiled to Patricia Mulholland in north Belfast with her former pupils among those to form a dancing guard of honour.

Ms Mulholland was known for her own form of folk ballet with her style regarded as opening the world of Irish dancing to a much wider cultural community.

One of her most famous former students, actor Ciaran Hinds, said Ms Mulhol-land was "adamant that Irish dancing was not pure Catholic, Gaelic culture, it was for people from this island who would dance together and weave patterns together".

She was born in Mileriver Street, Belfast, in 1915. Her family later settled in Newington Street.

She had a love of music from an early age winning many violin competitions and seemed to be heading for a career as a classical concert performer.

But dancing lessons in an upstairs room in the Newington Street family home began before classes at the Belfast Folk Dancing Society as well as training from Peadar O'Rafferty, regarded as the father of Irish Dance in the north.

Her involvement with British-influenced festivals caused tensions with the Dublin-based Gaelic Cultural Commission behind the Feiseanna.

This led Ms Mulholland to devise a unique new style - a form of folk ballet, which she hoped would appeal to Protestant and Catholic heritages.

Ms Mulholland, who died in 1992, was known as one of Ireland's most talented choreographers, performers and teachers of Irish dance.

Belfast lord mayor Nichola Mallon yesterday unveiled a blue plaque at Brookvale Drive in the north of the city, where Ms Mulholland dancing school was based.

Chris Spurr from the Ulster History Circle said: "Patricia Mulholland created a distinctive style of Irish folk-ballet, which inspired both performers and audiences alike.

"We are delighted to commemorate her achievements with this blue plaque, in the year of the centenary of Patricia Mulholland's birth in 1915 and the circle's contribution to International Women's Day."

* INNOVATIVE STYLE: Patricia Mulholland

* PROUD: The family of Patricia Mulholland at the unveiling

PICTURE: Mal McCann

* DANCING IN THE STREET: Former pupils of the Patricia Mulholland School of Irish Dancing at the unveiling of a blue plaque at the dancing teacher's home at Brookvale Drive in north Belfast yesterday PICTURE: Mal McCann

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