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UL’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance marks anniversary with spectacular cultural celebration



Pictured are students from UL Irish World Academy performing the Can Can with Contemporary Dance Student Karah Delaney, Limerick City, out front. Photo: Arthur Ellis

A spectacular celebration of creative expression at UL marks the foundation of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance

A spectacular celebration of creative expression at UL marks the foundation of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance
The 350m-long steel bridge over the River Shannon that connects UL’s Limerick and Clare campuses swayed as the spectacular musical and dance showcase by UL Irish World Academy took place. Pic Arthur Ellis

There was a love of music and dance in the air on the UL campus this Valentine’s Day as the festive event began a year of celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the internationally renowned Academy.

House of Light, the opening event of ‘Academy 30: Fís and Fás/Vision and Growth’, filled the campus with colour and sound this Wednesday.

A procession across the Living Bridge featuring aerial dancers, an African drumming ensemble and Irish traditional music and dance was the centrepiece of the event.




The 350m-long steel bridge over the River Shannon that connects UL’s Limerick and Clare campuses swayed as the spectacular musical and dance showcase took place.

Professor Helen Phelan, Director of the Irish World Academy said, “Thirty years ago, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance existed in the realm of hopes and dreams. Today, it can be found, not only on the banks of the River Shannon, but in the feet of every dancer, the hands of every musician, the voice of every singer, and the heart of every person committed to the search for creative wisdom.

“The theme of our year-long celebration, Fís and Fás or Vision and Growth, evokes our shared vision for the continued growth of a sustainable, interconnected ecosystem of well-being, sourced from the regenerative well of culture, creativity and community.”

Founded in 1994, the Academy appointed world renowned composer, performer and educator, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, as its first Chair of Music. From Ó Súilleabháin’s vision – championed by the University and strengthened by philanthropic support – the Academy has grown into an internationally recognised centre of innovative performing arts education, with around 2,500 graduates across three decades and over 300 current students from more than 50 countries.

From undergraduate programmes to postdoctoral research, the Irish World Academy offers educational opportunities in Irish music and dance, classical music, contemporary dance, medieval chant, songwriting, ethnomusicology, ethnochoreology, festive arts, music therapy, music education and community music.

It has also hosted more than 40 musicians, dancers and singers as artists-in-residence, with a parallel programme of artistic commissions resulting in new compositions, choreographies and art works.

A centre of academic and performance excellence housed in a state-of-the-art building, which includes two theatres, recording studios, individual practice rooms and dance studios, the Academy is one of the most culturally diverse performing arts education energies in Ireland and is a pioneer in the introduction of indigenous and global artistic practices into higher education culture.

Dr Sandra Joyce, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – who served as Director of the Irish World Academy from 2013 to 2022, said, “Situated within the ‘Home of Firsts’ at UL, the Academy has truly elevated that reputation across three decades with a series of global ‘firsts’, as the very first academy in the world to offer both a full degree in Irish traditional music, and undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees in Irish dance.

“Nationally, the Academy was also the first in Ireland to offer Masters programmes in music therapy and community music, and to develop a structured doctoral programme in artistic research.

“We are so proud in UL of all it has achieved over three decades and look forward to a year of events that celebrate the past while also looking to an exciting future of growth,” Dr Joyce added.

The House of Light celebration coincides with the Celtic festival Imbolc, marking the return of light after the winter months, and is also a reference to architect Daniel Cordier’s original vision for the Academy. This is the first of a year-long programme of events celebrating the Academy, tying into the theme of Fís and Fás.

A highlight of the event was a series of ‘duologue’ performances at a reception in the Academy building, in which creatives will perform improvised transdisciplinary duets. Pairings included Irish traditional dancers and singers, fiddlers and electronic artists, and pipers and contemporary dancers.

Dr Matthew Noone, Course Director of BA in World Music and Curator of House of Light said: “House of Light is a celebration of the creativity and diversity embodied in the Irish World Academy. This year’s event is drawing upon a rich wellspring of talent of students and graduates to immerse the Academy and University of Limerick campus in a celebration of creative expression.

“The event features a series of transdisciplinary duets, called duologues, that pairs artists from divergent disciplines and challenges performers to find common ground. Irish traditional dancers collaborated with singers, fiddlers with electronic artists and pipers with contemporary dancers, while the audience moved freely between the performances throughout the afternoon, which was really wonderful,” Dr Noone added.

find more information on the year of celebration
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Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.