The Buncrana lad who beat Michael Flatley!

Michael Carey.

Michael Carey.

The primal roar that greeted the first ever performance of Riverdance during the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre, Dublin made a superstar out of the principal male dancer, a 35-year-old from Chicago by the name of Michael Flatley. Flatley would go on to become one of the most famous dancers of all time, performing to millions around the globe and becoming a multi-millionaire in the process.

But long before Flatley became a household name, he twice came to Buncrana in the 1970s to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. And it was during one of those visits that he went head-to-head with a young Buncrana man by the name of Michael Carey – and lost!

In August 1976, Michael Flatley was already making a name for himself. Already a world champion Irish dancer – the first American to win the title – Flatley also won the All Ireland flute championship (16–18 age category) at the Fleadh finals in Listowel, County Kerry, in 1974 and again in Buncrana in 1975. By the time he rolled into Buncrana for the 1976 Fleadh he had his heart set on the All-Ireland Tin Whistle title.

Ten other competitors stood between the American prodigy and All-Ireland glory – including the aforementioned Michael Carey. Flatley, who would one day write his name in lights, never stood a chance against one of the best traditional musicians ever to come out of Donegal.

In 1976, Michael Carey was already a musician at the very top of his game. Young Carey had been encouraged into music by his mother – one of his earliest memories is hearing the sound of music wafting up the stairs from the kitchen. Michael attended Irish dancing classes with the legendary Dinny McLaughlin and it was in the Excelsior Bar that Dinny spotted that the young Irish dancer had an ear for music. Dinny would play a random tune for his pupils on an old piano – Michael would invariably call it right and win a few bob. When Dinny began teaching music at the Old Tech on the Shorefront, he remembered Michael, sent for him and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Donna Roddy