By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Grafton – For the Murphy siblings – three sisters and two brothers – their love of Irish dancing has transported them from local St. Patrick’s Day parades and events to prestigious competitions in Ireland and to many other fascinating venues in between.
Since they were toddlers, they’ve been sharing their Celtic heritage with others. And they continue to celebrate the magic of Irish dance with a vitality that’s as vibrant as the Irish countryside.
The first to experience that magic was Bridget Murphy. Now 26, her parents registered her for Irish dancing classes to help her overcome shyness. Not only did it help her become more outgoing, she loves being able to dance with her siblings. However, she said that her fondest childhood memories are of participating in feiseanna (festivals).
“A ‘feis,’ Gaelic for festival, is a competition where dancers showcase their steps,” said Bridget, who established the Murphy Academy of Irish Dance in Grafton in 2017. “But a feis is more than just a competition, it is a great way to perform what a dancer is being taught in class, learn sportsmanship, and meet friends from around the world. My parents would bring us all around the northeast to participate in feiseanna during the weekends.”
Between competitions and dancing at performances by famous Irish musicians and singers, including The Chieftains, the siblings’ immersion in the world of Irish dance has been exhilarating. For Shane Murphy, 25, the most exciting part has been their travels.
“The years of traveling to the World Championships overseas, as well as the numerous performances all around New England are something I’m so thankful for,” Shane said. “My family was lucky enough to compete at the highest level and perform in front of so many people that it truly shaped who we are.”
Elizabeth Murphy, a 24-year-old who also teaches at the school that her sister started, said that her most heartwarming experience as a dancer happened at an event where she and her siblings performed for an enthusiastic audience of Special Olympics athletes.
“During one of the dances, I was lucky enough to be in the front row as one of the athletes reached out his hand…,” Elizabeth recalled. “I will never forget the feeling of giving him a high five and making his night as well as mine. After this moment, I truly realized how performing…brightens people’s days, and I think about this moment when I am watching my own students perform on stage.”
The form of dance has also connected the family to their heritage. Thomas Murphy, 22, said that he and his siblings were heavily involved in the Irish-American community, while they competed at feiseanna throughout the country. He said families gathered at those festivals to celebrate the traditional arts and cuisine of Irish culture.
“A lot of these traditions have been passed down through multiple generations,” Thomas said. “Looking back, it is cool to see how committed today’s Irish dance community is to preserving the culture of Ireland through dance and music.”
Looking ahead, the future is also bright. Erin Murphy, 20, will compete at her fifth World Championships in Irish Dancing in April.
“Following the competition, I plan on hanging up my dance shoes to focus on my teaching career and potentially become a certified judge of the competitions,” Erin said, adding that she first needs to take a teachers’ certification test. “Once I pass, I would love to continue instructing with my sisters…and continue to spread the joy of this sport to my students.”
Meanwhile, Bridget is grateful for the support her siblings provided as her school’s dancers performed at several St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the area earlier this month.
She said: “It is so rewarding to continue to make memories with my siblings as we spread the love and tradition of Irish dancing through Central Massachusetts.”