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Exclusive Interview with
Dr. John Cullinane

By Annie of Dublin

Dr. John (Sean) Cullinane is a lecturer of forty years' experience in Plant Science at the University of Cork in Cork City, Ireland. He is also Irish Dancing Master, teacher and adjudicator, Vice Chairman of the Irish Dancing Commission, distinguished author, archivist and researcher, and the world’s leading authority on the History of Irish Dance.

In past years he has run a very successful Irish Dance school, his pupils winning titles in the All-England, Great Britain and World Championships. His folk dance troupe toured almost every European country including Czechoslovakia in 1967. He now travels the world adjudicating, researching the history of Irish Dance and giving Master classes from the farthest reaches of Australia to North America to South Africa. In his scientific capacity he has lectured in many countries on marine botany and done research work as a scuba diver in such far-flung places as the Galapagos Islands off South America. Nowadays however, his love of Irish Dance has somewhat taken over his life.

Having seen Dr. Cullinane on television speaking about Irish Dance a couple of months earlier I first met him quite by chance in the Herbert Park Hotel in Dublin after the June 27th performance of Lord of the Dance at the RDS in 1998. That night I shared a brief but most interesting conversation with him and dancer Daire Nolan, and I felt then that I would love to spend time with him and learn more about his obviously superb knowledge of Irish Dance. But I never dreamed at the time that I would have the wonderful experience of visiting him at his office in Cork just two years later.

Since then I had found one of his books, ‘Aspects of the History of Irish Dance in North America’ in the shop of the new Ceol (Music) Museum in Dublin, and found it fascinating.

After finding multiple and very positive references to Michael Flatley in the book, I chanced to take a copy of it with me when I went to see Feet of Flames 2000 in Mannheim, Germany, in July. There, I had the good luck to have the opportunity to give it to Michael personally. To my surprise he had not seen it before, and from his reaction it meant a great deal to him that his contribution to Irish Dance was at last recognized and respected in print by an Irish scholar.

On return home I posted about the book on the Internet, knowing others would be interested also, little knowing that the details gave Bernadette of the Celtic Cafe exactly the contact information long-sought to get in touch with Dr. Cullinane to ask for an interview! Of course I was honored to be invited to conduct it. I did expect my welcome to Cork to be agreeable, based on my impressions of Dr. Cullinane's enthusiasm for his subject, but the reality of the experience I could never have imagined.

Not only did Dr. Cullinane fit our meeting into an already overcrowded schedule but he had also left visiting friends at his holiday home in Kerry and drove a three-hour drive to be back in Cork for our 11 AM appointment. I found this an extraordinarily generous gesture. But more was to come - I thought I would have an hour, perhaps near two at most for the interview, but it was well I had packed plenty of spare tapes as to my total amazement I came away four hours later with just over three-and-a-half hours of recorded conversation. The time had gone in a flash, at least for me, and left me enthralled and yearning to learn yet more.

So it is with great pleasure that through the Celtic Cafe I can now share the fruits of that very special August day (a perfect day of blue sky and sunshine too) with all who browse here, and I know you will find Dr. Cullinane’s words as informative and inspiring as I do. I thank him most sincerely for his generosity in helping put this feature online. I wish him every success with his excellent series of books and I hope fervently that his dream of a museum dedicated to Irish Dance and based on his unique archives does indeed come to be - on Irish soil - in the very near future.

Dr. John Cullinane with the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese

Read University College Cork's 1997 article
about Dr. Cullinane's History of Irish Dance Costumes

University College Cork


Proceed to Interview


Page 1
Irish Dancing Hits Center Stage
Page 2
No Barriers For Irish Dance

Page 3
Writing History So That Others May Know
Page 4
Ambition is NOT a Bad Word

Page 5
The Michael Flatley Revolution


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This CelticCafeDANCERS mail list has already brought together over 300 Irish dancers (of all ages) and interested fans who enjoy discussing all aspects of the art. This includes step-by-step instructions of many of the dances seen in the major shows like Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames, Riverdance, Dancing on Dangerous Ground, Gaelforce Dance, etc. Whether you're a dancer or a "wannabe" dancer or just a fan interested in what goes into the world of Irish dance, this list is for you. Let's discuss some of the fascinating things that Dr. John says in this feature, shall we? :-) By the way, your e-mail address will not be used for spam or anything of the like. eGroups is pretty good in that regard!


Cover Image Title and Description

Irish Dancing Costumes, Their Origins and Evolution

Fascinating study of the evolution of costume in Irish Dancing, including unique period photographic record from as early as 1892.

123 pages. softcover. b/w photographs. First published 1996.

Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing in North America

Study og the history of Irish Dancing in Norht America from research begun when Dr. Cullinane was first invited to give workshops in San Francisco in 1972. Includes photographs and sections on different regions of North America, also details of costume evolution and feiseanna in North America.

99 pages. softcover. b/w phtographs. First published 1997.

Aspects of the History of Ceili Dancing 1897-1997

Produced to celebrate the centenary of the foundation of Ceili Dancing, includes valuable photographic records plus sections on the origins, the contribution of the Gaelic League, classification of Ceili Dances and an account of the First Ceili in London, 1897.

80 pages. softcover. b/w phtographs. First published 1998.

Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing in Ireland, England, New Zealand, North America and Australia

First look at world history of Irish Dancing. Includes excellent gallery of photographs, plus sections on the history of the Ceili dancing, the dancing masters, costumes, the Cork contribution, feiseanna, competition, dancing around the world.

185 pages. softcover. b/w photographs. First published 1987.


Further Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing (Ireland, Scotland, Canada, America, N. Zealand and Australia)

This is a real reference book, listing accounts of feseanna and competitions of various years in the different places, and is clearly meant to be read in conjunction with the first book of the title.

150 pages. softcover. b/w photographs. First published 1990.


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