Seán Fegan, 1938–2022

In January 2023 ITMA received an extensive collection of Irish dancing medals won mainly in Ireland and England in the 1940s–60s by Seán Fegan. The collection was donated by the Fegan family to An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) and presented by Carol Leavy Joyce and Máire Mhic Aogáin per Kevin McCormack. This collection is becoming part of the Cullinane Archive Collection which is housed in ITMA. Seán Fegan, Irish dancer, and former President of CLRG is remembered here by longtime friend Kevin McCormack.

Oireachtas Rince na hEireann Medals
A selection of Oireachtas Rince na hÉireann medals won by Seán Fegan.

Seán Fegan was born in Dublin on 21 March 1938, the only son of Anne (née Kelly) and Peter and brother to Joan, Rhona and his twin sister, Patricia. Seán’s mother Anne grew up in Gaeltacht na nDéise, Co. Waterford and so Seán was brought up in a house where there was great love of Ireland’s culture, her language, music and dance.

Seán endured ill health as a young child and was bed bound for long spells. It was one of his doctors who suggested to Anne that she bring her son to Irish dancing lessons to help with his mobility and strengthen his legs. Anne brought Seán, aged around eleven and a relatively late starter, to the renowned Harry McCaffrey school. Seán learned fast and loved the dancing and it wasn’t long before he was competing at local feiseanna. In those days the most important event in the Irish dancing calendar was Oireachtas Rince na hÉireann or the All Ireland as it was and still is affectionately known. There were only three age groups at the time, Minor, Junior and Senior and Seán won all three during his competitive career. He also traveled further afield and competed all over Ireland and in England and Scotland.

A photo tribute to Seán Fegan, 1938–2022, compiled by his family.

In his medal collection there are Feis Átha Cliath medals from 1950 and Willesden Music and Dance Festival medals from 1964, demonstrating that Seán, by modern standards at least, had quite a long competitive dancing career. Seán also competed in céilí and figure dancing teams with the McCaffrey School or “the green and gold” as Seán liked to call the school after the colours of the class costume. Seán was immensely proud of the school and always maintained a special bond with other “green and golders” both older and younger than himself. Along with The McCaffrey school, he appeared on television in the early days of RTÉ and Seán is particularly remembered for an iconic two hand jig he performed with fellow green and golder, Kevin Massey.

Seán also excelled academically and studied accountancy and law. He was eventually headhunted by a global company which took him away from Ireland for many years although he visited frequently and liked to surprise his Irish dancing friends by turning up unannounced at the major events. Seán actively shared his love and knowledge of the dance. He was a mentor to many down through the years and even taught a regular class in Singapore during a long work posting there.

Seán loved to talk about Irish Dancing and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the form and its exponents. He particularly enjoyed watching the ladies dance the slip jig and his favourite set dance tune was The Garden of Daisies. Seán was an innovator in dance and is credited by his contemporaries as the dancer who introduced syncopated rhythm in the heavy dancing. In spite of his innovation, Seán remained quite the traditionalist in Irish Dance terms but always encouraged and commended departures in modern choreography that built on the traditional pillars.

Seán was an innovator in dance and is credited by his contemporaries as the dancer who introduced syncopated rhythm in the heavy dancing.

Seán retired to Ireland and became a Conradh na Gaeilge representative on An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha. He worked tirelessly for many years at both regional level on the Leinster Council and internationally with CLRG and held many senior positions within the organisation. This culminated in Seán being elected President of CLRG, an achievement he was especially proud of. Seán’s love of Irish dancing never diminished and he passed away on 20 February 2022.

Extract from Oireachtas Rince na hÉireann 2023 programme
Extract from Oireachtas Rince na hÉireann 2023 programme

With thanks to Kevin McCormack & Carol Leavy Joyce.