Michael: Happy 60th birthday

As Michael Flatley celebrates a major milestone today, CHRIS DUNNE reflects on his illustrious dance career, his love of Castlehyde in Cork and his plans to release a movie
Michael: Happy 60th birthday
Michael Flatley in scenes from his new 2018 movie Blackbird which is in post-production.

IT doesn’t seem like 16 years ago that Michael Flatley welcomed the Evening Echo into his Fermoy home, Castlehyde. The super-hoofer, celebrated his 60th birthday this week, July 16 amassed a fortune of $367 million from his International Broadway dance shows, Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames and Celtic Tiger.

Flatley got his first big break when he danced on tour with the popular band, The Chieftains, in the 1980s.

Riverdance, the magnificently choreographed seven minute interval act at the 1994 Eurovision hosted at The Point, Dublin, capitulated Michael Flatley into the world’s spotlight, making him fabulously rich and famous. 

After he split from Riverdance in 1996, Michael created his own dance shows. The Broadway shows played to a staggering 60 million people in 60 countries. 

Now, the man, who previously had a reputation as a hell-raiser and who is dad to son, Michael Jnr, aged 11, is set for movie-stardom, starring in ‘Blackbird’, a spy thriller, which he wrote and directed.

“I’ve dreamt of making a movie since I was seven years old,” Michael announced on Facebook recently.

The Chicago-born dancer started dancing when he was 11 years old, becoming the first American at 17 years old to win the All Ireland World Championships in Ireland.

“Nothing great is ever easy, but Nothing is Impossible. Job done!” 

Meeting my hero Michael Flatley, in the flesh at his home in Castlehyde, 16 years ago, was like being in the movies. Real but surreal.

He bounced into the kitchen rippling with bulging muscles and good cheer. Just like a friendly neighbour; he said; “Hiya all! Welcome to Castlehyde."

We embarked on a whistle-stop tour, wowed by the massive wine cellar, opulent drawing room, magnificent art-work and his collection of sports cars in the adjoining garage.

“We’ll take a spin later,” he promised. He was true to his word.

The 18 th century Fermoy mansion, built in 1760, was bought by Michael Flatley in 1999 for €3 million when he spotted it from a helicopter when he was seeking to buy a home in West Cork.

Michael, born to Irish parents, Michael and Eilish, had his wedding reception there attended by 250 guests when he married Niamh O’Brien, from Kilbride, Co Meath, in St. Patrick’s Church, Fermoy, in 2006.

Publicist Geraldine Roche said: “The couple were thrilled so many local people went out of their way to wish them well on their wedding day.” 

Their son, Michael St. James, was born on April 27, 2007 in the newly opened maternity wing of CUMH.

Michael, thrilled with the new arrival, described himself as “the luckiest guy in the world.” 

Jean Butler and Michael Flatley perform 'Riverdance' (1994)
Jean Butler and Michael Flatley perform 'Riverdance' (1994)

Back in 2002, Michael, super-host, was settling into his Fermoy home, showing us around the splendour of the former ancestral home of the first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. 

It was obvious the mansion, being restored at an estimated €27 million euro, with a further €20 million’s worth of antiques, art works and rare books for its three-storey library, was Michael’s pride, joy and obsession. 

The refurbishment, described as the ‘greatest restoration in 30 years’, was completed in 2004. The mansion is currently up for sale guiding in excess of €12 million.

Michael, with houses in Chicago, London, France, and Barbados, enjoyed being Lord of the Manor on the banks of the Blackwater.

“I feel right at home here,” he said, surveying his extensive property from the impressive front door carefully preserved from bygone days.

When he wasn’t in the gym of beneath the limestone cliff that housed the Norman castle; or entertaining in one of the seven reception rooms, or in the whiskey room; his favourite pursuit was walking the 100 acres of extensive woodlands bordering the Blackwater River that boasted its own fishing rights.

“Walking here beside the river is what I love best,” says Michael, who liked to stroll through the grounds of Castlehyde with one of his collection of Irish blackthorn sticks. His feet, breaking records at 35 taps a second, once insured for $40 million dollars, knew every twist and turn along the river bank.

“It is so peaceful, you know?” he said. “I often wave to my neighbour across the river. And I have a favourite seat on the banks of the river under a leafy tree where I sit and think awhile.”

Michael didn’t let the grass grow under his feet. After a brilliant career, celebrating 22 years, The Lord of the Dance hung up his dancing shoes.

The day before his final performance, Flatley received an Arts and Humanities Award from the American Ireland Fund in Washington DC.

“He told the crowds, “As I finish in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vagas I can honestly say, hand on heart, in front of God, that I have given every last drop of what I have to my art and to Ireland.” 

Michael Flatley, having conquered the world of dance, music and theatre, as well as the hearts of Cork and Irish people alike, is now set for stardom on the big screen. 

‘Blackbird’, shot on location in Ireland, London and Barbados, is set to hit Irish screens in the autumn.

His birthday, today falls under the Zodaic sign of Cancer, relating to an emotional individual with meaningful insight over life.

Happy 60 th Michael-and thanks for the memories. 

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