Research guide: National Dance Archive of Ireland

This guide provides an overview of the National Dance Archive of Ireland (NDAI) held in the Special Collections and Archives department at the Glucksman Library.

It outlines the various archival dance and performance collections held at UL which may be of interest to researchers, and explains how to access the collection at the Glucksman Library.


black-and-white programme of the Earthquake Festival of International Dance with artwork of a female dancer's legs and feet surrounded by lighting bolts
Dance-Resource-Base N34/4/2/7/1: Programme of the Earthquake Festival of International Dance, 2004

1. Overview

The National Dance Archive of Ireland (Cartlann Náisiúnta Damhsa na hÉireann) was founded in 2010 in partnership with Dance Research Forum Ireland, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, and the Arts Council. Housed at the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library, the NDAI collects, preserves, and provides access to dance-related material donated by individuals, companies, and dance organisations. It contributes to dance education and research by forging links with dancers, scholars, choreographers, companies, and organisations in the wider community. The NDAI provides a valuable resource for dancers, choreographers, students, historians, and all those who have an academic, professional, or vocational interest in the evolution of dance in Ireland.

The NDAI covers all genres of dance on both sides of the Irish border and encompasses a wide range of material, from posters and programmes to costumes, medals, drawings, books, magazines, photographs, and audio and video recordings in various formats. Together, these items provide often the only tangible traces of historic dance works.

In this short guide, you will find information on collections relating to the three main genres of dance represented in the National Dance Archive of Ireland: ballet, contemporary dance, and traditional Irish dance and its derivatives.

2. Ballet

A good range of books on the history of ballet can be found in the collections of Catherine Gyll (N26) and Rosemary Dalton (N72). They include the memoir Come, Dance with Me by the Irish-born dancer and ballet director Ninette de Valois (1898–2001) and works by Arnold Haskell (1903–1980), a noted art critic and Cyril W. Beaumont (1891–1976), one of the most important dance historians of the twentieth century.

For Irish ballet, Victoria O’Brien’s A History of Irish Ballet from 1927 to 1963 provides a good introduction to the subject. A copy of the book is available in the Special Collections and Archives Department at the Glucksman Library. Interviews with former Irish ballet dancers and teachers, recorded by Victoria O’Brien in preparation for her book, can be found in the Victoria O’Brien collection (N6).


black-and-white poster advertising the Tchaikovsky Celebration Gala performed by Ballet Ireland, featuring artwork of a dancing ballerina
Ballet Ireland N27/unlisted: Poster promoting Ballet Ireland’s performances of Tchaikovsky Celebration Gala, 2006


Programmes and advertisements provide useful insights into ballet performances and changes in company repertoires over the years. A particularly good selection of these can be found in N26, which contains some 350 programmes of ballet and other dance performances in Ireland and Great Britain collected by Catherine Gyll between 1935 and 2005. Another good range of programmes can be found in N44, collected by Ann Gallagher primarily in the 1950s. The Sara Payne collection (N43) includes a small but interesting set of Irish ballet programmes from the early 1930s.

One of the key figures in the promotion and development of ballet in Ireland was Joan Denise Moriarty (c. 1912–1992), founder of the Cork Ballet Company (1947–93), Irish Theatre Ballet (1959–64) and Irish Ballet Company (1973–89), renamed Irish National Ballet in 1984. Moriarty’s private papers are held by Cork City Library, but several collections in the NDAI contain material relating to this pioneer of Irish ballet and the dance companies she founded. These include the papers of Domy Reiter-Soffer (N52), who danced with the Irish Theatre Ballet in 1962–64; and those of Patricia Crosbie (N4), who received her early training in Moriarty’s school of dance in Cork city and later danced with Cork Ballet Company and Irish National Ballet. The Terry and Nancy Bowler collection (N47) contains an interview with another of Moriarty’s students, Nancy Bowler née Browne, who shares her memories of her teacher and her own subsequent work with the Royal Ballet School in London. In addition, the podcast series Conversations from the Archive (N24) includes recordings of interviews with Patricia Crosbie and with Michael Blair, former manager of the Irish National Ballet.


Poster advertising The Playboy of the Western World by the Irish Ballet Company, featuring artwork of four men dancing on the beach
Crosbie N4/1/2/1/16: Poster promoting Irish Ballet Company’s performances of The Playboy of the Western World in New York, 1979


Two collections, N77 (Irish National Ballet) and N73 (Pat Murray), provide an exceptional and extensive photographic record of the Irish National Ballet and its performances over the years. A small but interesting photographic record of some of the company’s early performances was captured by Gerard O’Meara (N25) between 1973 and 1974.  In addition, N65 (Norman Maen) includes a recording of a TV-broadcast of Reputations, a ballet created by Moriarty. Finally, N63 (Joan Denise Moriarty collection) contains a copy of the biography Joan Denise Moriarty: Ireland’s First Lady of Dance by Ruth Fleischmann and photographs taken at the launch of the book in November 2012.

Other ballet-related collections in the NDAI include those relating to Cliodna O’Riordan (N2), one of the first pupils of the Irish National Ballet School established in 1954 under the directorship of Valentina Dutko; Rosemary Dalton (N72), likewise a student and later a teacher in the Irish National Ballet School; Cork City Ballet (N21), founded by Aidan Foley in 1991 to fill the void created by the closure of the Irish National Ballet; Irish National Youth Ballet (N28), founded by Anne Campbell-Crawford and Professor Jean Wallis in 1995; and Ballet Ireland (N27), established by Gunther Falusy and Anne Maher in Dublin in 1998. In addition, N75 contains a large collection of costume and set designs by Rosemarie Cockayne for three Dublin City Ballet productions in the early 1980s.


black-and-white picture of pupils of the Irish National Ballet School in white dresses on a stage, Valentian Dutko in the front
O’Rirodan N2/3/1: Pupils of the Irish National Ballet School on stage with Valentina Dutko, 1956

3. Contemporary dance

The NDAI contains records of more than thirty contemporary dancers and dance companies.  This experimental and highly versatile art form can be challenging to interpret as choreographies do not necessarily contain a narrative and there may be an absence of a connection between dance and the music that accompanies it.

Contemporary dance arrived in Ireland in the early 1940s, when Erina Brady established her Irish School of Dance Art in Dublin. However, the genre did not gain wider prominence until the early 1970s, when the American dancer Terez Nelson (b. 1930) began to teach the so-called Graham technique in her dance studio in Dublin. Material relating to Terez Nelson, mainly photographs taken during performances of her dance works, can be found in the collections of Joan Davis (N39) and Adrienne Brown (N45).


black-and-white picture of five dancers of the Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre mid-dance, two men and three women
Davis N37/2/6/1/3: Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre, c. 1985–86


Terez Nelson’s work was continued by her pupil Joan Davis (b. 1945), who made her public debut as a contemporary dancer in Dublin in 1975. Two years later, she co-founded the Dublin Contemporary Dance Studio with Karen Callaghan. The school, located at premises on Harold’s Cross, provided an opportunity for dancers to work with guest teachers from abroad, and it was here that many of Ireland’s prominent dance personalities received their first grounding in contemporary dance.

In 1979, Davis and Callaghan established Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre, a professional performing company which quickly built up a versatile repertoire of its own and guest choreographers’ work.  Its core members included Mary Nunan, who later went on to establish Daghdha Dance Company (N1), and Robert Connor and Loretta Yurick, co-founders in 1989 of Dance Theatre of Ireland (N38).

Joan Davis’s long and varied career from her early days as a contemporary dancer to the more experimental explorations of the therapeutic aspects of movement in her later years has been captured in the Joan Davis collection (N39).  It incorporates a wide variety of material, including a substantial collection of photographs relating to Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre.  Additional material, including posters, flyers, photographs, and recordings relating to this dance company can be found in N37 (Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre).


programme advertising Wishes and Waves performed by Chrysalis Dance, featuring artwork of three female dancers mid-dance
Chrysalis-Dance N10/2/2/3/(1): Programme of performances of Wishes and Waves by Chrysalis Dance, 2006


Another early practitioner of contemporary dance in Ireland is Adrienne Brown (b. 1956), founding member and former chair of Dance Ireland, the representative body for professional dance in Ireland.  Her collection (N45) highlights not only Brown’s many-faceted career as dancer, choreographer, and dance academic, but, on a broader scale, the financial difficulties faced by dance artists in pursuit of creative expression.  The collection also provides interesting insights into the creative process of a choreographer, containing as it does a full set of recordings of the choreographic sessions during the creation of her full-length dance work, Colmcille.

Contemporary dance can absorb many influences. Chrysalis Dance (N10) and Fiona Quilligan (N7) have fused it with ballet, while Shakram Dance Company (N9) draws heavily on Indian classical dance.  Marguerite Donlon (N17), who made her choreographic career as director of ballet at the state theatre of Saarland, Germany, has created dance works that combine contemporary dance with ballet, Irish traditional dance, and hip-hop.  The combination of dance with other art forms is also common.  Fiona Quilligan (N7) has explored linkages between dance, art, poetry, and sculpture, while Adrienne Brown (N45) has collaborated with musicians and Liv O’Donoghue (N57) with photographers.  Fearghus Ó Conchúir (N5) has created site-specific installations in which buildings and streetscapes play an important role.

Many dance companies have harnessed dance for therapeutic purposes or to facilitate social and community development.  The Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company (N3) includes both disabled and non-disabled dancers and highlights the artistic value of creating performances with diverse physical bodies.  The dance development company Dance United Northern Ireland (N33), later renamed DU Dance, works with disadvantaged children and youths, and is involved in cross-community work to foster tolerance.  Contemporary dance frequently explores difficult issues, none more so than Irish Modern Dance Theatre (N19), renowned for its dance works created in collaboration with refugees and victims of torture.


black-and-white poster advertising Fuchsia by Dance Theatre of Ireland, featuring artwork of a male and female dancer, bare-feet, mid-dance
Dance-Theatre-Ireland N37/2/2/5: Poster promoting performances of Fuchsia by Dance Theatre of Ireland, 1994

4. Irish traditional dance and its derivatives

One of the most comprehensive Irish traditional dance collections in the NDAI is that relating to Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan (N59).  Joe O’Donovan (1918–2008), born in Cork City, played an important part in the revival and preservation of many Irish regional and national dances.  He gave dance classes, workshops, lectures, and interviews; wrote articles on dance, and with his wife travelled around Ireland, Britain, Europe, and America to demonstrate and teach Irish dancing at festivals and other events.  He created a video recording to demonstrate old style traditional Irish step dancing from 1700–1930, and in 1984 started a dance class for music students at University College Cork under the direction of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin.   In his lifetime, Joe received many honours for his lifelong commitment to Irish culture, including the Comhaltas Bardic Award and TG4 Gradam Saoil Award.  The collection, donated by his family, reflects every aspect of Joe O’Donovan’s long and varied career and contains a broad range of material, from administrative records of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, of which Joe O’Sullivan acted as branch secretary, to posters, flyers, and programmes of the many events he and his wife attended.  It also incorporates a large set of photographs, more than 70 video recordings, and over one hundred books on Irish traditional music and dance and Irish history and folklore.  The collection is currently being listed and will be made available for research shortly.


black-and-white picture of Patricia Mulholland, holding a violin, John Garvin and Hugh Murray in the background, in a scene from The Black Rogue
Mulholland N29/2/3/16: Patricia Mulholland, John Garvin, and Hugh Murray in a scene from The Black Rogue, 1959


Another prominent Irish dancing figure represented in the NDAI is Patricia Mulholland (1915–1992), founder of the Irish Ballet School in Belfast and of the Irish Ballet Company, which made its debut in 1951.  Patricia Mulholland is regarded as one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century Irish traditional dancing, which she developed in a new direction by teaching her pupils to use not just their feet but their entire bodies.  By combining elements of classical ballet and Scottish dancing, she broke away from the more rigid and formulaic ‘Feis’ style and encouraged her students to fill their movements with animation.  A copy of her biography, The Deep Green Pool by Joyce Ann MacCafferty, is available in the main library and in the Special Collections and Archives reading room.  The Patricia Mulholland collection (N29) contains programmes, press cuttings, and photographs collected by Tom Butler and Joyce Ann MacCafferty and includes costumes created for performances of Mulholland’s dance works The Dream of Angus Óg and The Hound of Culann.

Patricia Mulholland’s most famous pupil was Norman Maternaghan (1932–2008), an All-Ireland champion Irish dancer for many years in succession.  He later changed his surname to Maen and shot to fame as a choreographer, creating dance routines for stars like Liza Minnelli, Julie Andrews, and Tom Jones.  The Norman Maen papers (N65) contain a small but interesting set of records relating to the Irish Ballet Company, including a recording of an interview with Patricia Mulholland.  Another of her pupils was Brian Bunting, whose collection (N78) incorporates photographs and recordings of Mulholland’s dance works and a number of designs by Mercy Hunter, who created the costumes for Mulholland’s ballets.


Róisín Cahalan's certificate of participation in the World Irish Dancing Championships from 1983, featuring Celtic ornamentations
Cahalan N54/2/1: Certificate of participation in the World Irish Dancing Championships issued to Róisín Cahalan, 1983


Other collections of Irish traditional interest include the papers of Terry and Nancy Bowler (N47), who taught Irish dancing in London from the 1950s to the 1990s, and those of Nan Quinn (N76), who established a traditional Irish dancing school in Bessbrook, County Armagh in 1933.  Recordings of interviews with former Irish dancers can be found in N60 (Mary Mulcahy) and N61 (Brenda Springer).  In addition, the Conversations from the Archive podcast (N24) includes an interview with Jonathan Kelliher, artistic director of Siamsa Tíre the National Folk Theatre of Ireland.  The Michael Meehan collection (N70) contains a recording of Irish folk dances created to accompany the book Ar Rinncidhe Foirne published by An Coimisiún.

Recent decades have seen a merging of Irish dancing with theatrical dance. The NDAI includes collections donated by Marie Duffy (N69), dance director and associate choreographer of Lord of the Dance and Róisín Cahalan (54), five-time Munster Champion of Irish dancing who later toured with Riverdance.  Also represented is James Devine (N50) who toured with the Lord of the Dance show for two years and holds the world record for the fastest tap-dancing speed at 38 taps per second.


poster advertising the Irish World Academy's Annual Traditional Dance Celebration, Tráth na gCos, featuring artwork of Irish dancing shoes
IWAMD N16/unlisted: Poster promoting Tráth na gCos, the Irish World Academy’s Annual Celebration of Traditional Dance, 2009

5. ‘Conversations from the Archives’ podcast series

Inspired by the holdings of the National Dance Archive of Ireland, the podcast series ‘Conversations from the Archives’ contains a growing collection of interviews that have been initiated and recorded by Dr Catherine Foley, Director of the NDAI, in an effort to add to the existing primary source material available to researchers in Irish dance.

Click audio icons below to listen to each recording


N24/1 Michael Blair

Recorded 20 November 2015; audio length 27:40

Recording of an interview with Michael Blair, former stage and technical manager and later company manager of the Irish National Ballet. Blair discusses the foundation and evolution of the ballet company, shares his recollections of its founder Joan Denise Moriarty and his memories of touring with the company, and describes the folding of the Irish National Ballet in 1989 and the factors contributing to the company’s demise.


N24/2 Brian Bunting

Recorded 7 June 2016; audio length 24:34

Recording of an interview with Brian Bunting, who discusses his early interest in dance and his times with Patricia Mulholland’s School of Irish Dancing as a young boy and teenager.


N24/3 Patricia Crosbie

Recorded 20 October 2016; audio length 29:50

Recording of an interview with Patricia Crosbie, a ballet dancer and dance teacher. Crosbie discusses her early introduction to ballet, her training with Joan Denise Moriarty, and her time with the Cork Ballet Company and the Irish Ballet Company (later Irish National Ballet). She describes her most memorable roles, including the Widow Quin in The Playboy of the Western World and Odette/ Odile in Swan Lake. She describes her subsequent career as a dancer in London, which included choreographing for and touring with the rock band The Kinks, her subsequent return to Cork in the late 1990s, and her role as Ballet Mistress, teacher, and choreographer for Cork City Ballet. Crosbie concludes by sharing her memories of touring in the former Yugoslavia and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.


N24/4 Marguerite Donlon

Recorded 30 October 2016; audio length 42:30

Recording of an interview with dancer and choreographer Marguerite Donlon. Donlon discusses her passion for dance and improvisation from an early age and the lack of opportunities to cultivate these interests in a rural community in County Longford. She outlines her introduction to ballet at the age of 14 and subsequent training in London, first in the Royal Academy of Dance and later with the English National Ballet. She describes the commencement of her professional career as dancer and choreographer with Staatsballett Berlin and her growing interest in choreography, which led to her resignation and the commencement of a career in freelance choreography. Donlon concludes with her growing interest in coaching and her plans and hopes for the future.


N24/5 John Scott

Recorded 1 March 2017; audio length 1:23:49

Recording of an interview with John Scott by Dr Catherine Foley. Scott discusses the gradual development of his interest in dance, his training with Dublin City Ballet and with Meredith Monk, and the founding of the Irish Modern Dance Theatre in 1991 to provide creative and employment opportunities for Irish dancers and choreographers in Ireland. Scott discusses the dance works he has created, his creative collaboration with other artists, and his ground-breaking work with victims of torture which culminated in the production of the dance work The White Space. More broadly, the interview provides an interesting insight into the evolution of contemporary dance in Ireland.


N24/6 Jonathan Kelliher

Recorded 5 October 2018; audio length 47:46

Recording of an interview with Jonathan Kelliher, artistic director of Siamsa Tíre the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, by Dr Catherine Foley. Kellhier recalls his early training at Siamsa Tíre and his appointment to its professional performing company at the age of 18 in 1989. He shares his memories of Fr Pat Ahern, founding member of Siamsa Tíre, and his recollections of touring with the company. Kelliher describes the shows he has created for Siamsa Tíre and the way in which they were created. He discusses traditional Irish dancing styles and his preference for the Kerry style. He concludes by outlining his ethos as artistic director and his vision for Siamsa Tíre for the next five years.

6. Access

Access to the National Dance Archive of Ireland is by appointment. Please let us know in advance the items you are interested in viewing. You can search our catalogues here.

Access to items is for the most part unrestricted, except for recordings on magnetic tape, which are unavailable owing to their fragility. A digitization programme is currently under way and access to digital copies of recordings may be available. For more information, please consult with a member of staff.