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Jean Butler Happy In Post-Riverdance Life

By Bill O'Donnell, June 3, 2010

By Bill O’Donnell
In the mid-1990s, Jean Butler and her dance partner, Michael Flatley, were the talk of the entertainment world from The Point on Dublin’s Liffey to Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall. “Riverdance” was the show to see (and see again) and she was the perfect partner for the creative, self-absorbed dance maestro. Together they caught lightning in a bottle and her ethereal beauty, incandescently memorable, was every step the equal of Flatley’s genius on the dance stage.

In the fifteen years since she left the glare of “Riverdance,” she has been back and forth between the US and Dublin, working, creating dance, trying new things, moving forward as the memories fade. In a recent Irish Times article, Roisin Ingle interviewed Butler and for an old fan like myself (I caught her twice, and the show three times, beginning with the initial Dublin production) it was a seriously satisfying glance back at this special lady of the dance. It was good to hear that she has come to grips with the sometimes mixed bag that was her time with Michael Flatley and Riverdance. And no regrets.
Butler, 39, and married now, has spent recent years between hops to Ireland, in New York and at the time of the Times’ article was rehearsing in Dublin for her new solo work “Day,” which ran at the Abbey for the Dublin Theatre Festival in mid-May. Eschewing the high-stepping Irish jigs and reels that captured Riverdance audiences, Butler’s passion today is contemporary dance, which she describes as like watching someone paint a canvas. I hope Jean Butler will showcase her solo dance work sometime soon here in the states. But in the interim, it is welcome news that she is still dancing, has broadened her horizons, and plans to be in the dance business for decades still to come.
An interesting footnote to the Riverdance years: Butler and Flatley, who were the lead dancers on Eurovision and when the breakthrough show opened in Dublin, are American-born. She from Long Island with a mother from Mayo and he from Chicago with Irish emigrant parents.
Discount Cards For Tourists With Roots – The Irish Foreign Affairs Department, with an eye to the 70 million people of the diaspora across the globe, is looking to create an Irish heritage card that will entice folks to visit Ireland and enjoy cut rate prices at tourist attractions. The certificate of Irish heritage is in the planning stage and would ask people with Irish roots to apply for and receive a small credit card-style card (like AAA or WGBH) that entitles users to special discount prices.
The program, monitored by Foreign Affairs, would be run by a private company. The target audience: the millions of people of Irish descent who do not qualify for Irish citizenship but feel close to Ireland —and, would, of course, boost tourism revenue. Two problems that might impede the plan’s adoption (not ready until 2011 or later) is a fee for the heritage card and the application, which would mean an applicant producing supportive documents.
Inishowen Homes For Sale on eBay – The Irish home market has been devastated by the global recession with most homes having lost value and thousands of owners now “under water” with expensive Celtic Tiger mortgages far higher than current house values. There was a snapshot in time two-three years ago when Irish homeowners saw their property steadily increase in value by hundreds of dollars a month. That, sadly, is history.
With a stagnant housing market owners are turning to the Internet trying to reach a wider audience and are looking to eBay to bail out. Currently there are more than 3,000 homes in Donegal listed for sale online, 650 of them in Inishowen alone. But even with the intensified marketing online there are many homes that have been listed on eBay for two years. Properties are generally taking 6-12 months to sell and are being picked up by buyers at up to 50 percent less than 2007 prices.
Back-Pocket Research Satisfies Ministers – The departments of the Irish government have traditionally employed well-paid consultants and ample research staff. However, possible cost-cutting trends in several ministries (?) or maybe just internal sloppiness has the government doing some of its fact-checking on Wikipedia, the notoriously unreliable faux encyclopedia that often leads the pack in a Google search.
The Irish ministries resorting to Wikipedia —which allows unmonitored editing & changes by the public -- are Justice, Agriculture, and the Environment departments. Until these ministries get their act together anyone seeking official, fact-driven information should view these Irish government sources the same as one would when calling the American IRS with tax questions, that agency is traditionally wrong over 40 percent of the time. Caveat Inquiry!
Former IRA Commander could Unite The Unionists – The Democratic Unionist Party and the once powerful, but now on life support Ulster Unionist Party have been jousting for years. The DUP, despite leader Peter Robinson’s bad, bad year, remains unionist top dog; the more moderate Ulster Unionists are near disappearing but still have a degree of community support. The logical thing (that which rarely surfaces in Northern politics) would be an agreement between both Unionist parties (not unlike the Tory-Lib.Dems in England) to get together as one dominant force representing their largely Protestant constituency. Both have adamantly refused.
But, there is a new and threatening force that could bring the two unionist political parties cheek to jowl at long last. That would be former IRA Derry commander and current Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. In the May 6 election Sinn Fein just nosed out the DUP for most total votes. If that happens again next year in the assembly elections, Sinn Fein/IRA could take over the First Minister’s position. Unionists could have the largest assembly block but if Sinn Fein had the most total votes they would, if current rules remain in force, be in line to be top dog in the Stormont government. And that electoral scenario is the unionists’ worst nightmare.
Did You Know … that the US Department of Homeland Security reported that more than a million (1,130,818) non-US nationals in 2009 became legal permanent residents or received a green card? That number reflects the average of slightly more than a million immigrants granted legal residence or green cards each year over the past three years. The surprise number in the statistics is that last year only 1,637 of those were Irish natives. This is one-tenth of one percent of the total granted legal residence or green cards. This number of Irish represents one of the lowest totals of the 200 plus countries in the report. Imagine that!
Knock Visit & Visionary Strike Out – Joe Coleman, who claims to be having a running conversation with the Virgin Mary, was at Mayo’s Knock Shrine with 300 followers in mid-May waiting in vain for a personal appearance by Mary. Coleman’s third promise of an apparition never happened but the self-appointed heavenly medium, claiming illness and clutching his side, left the full-bore faithful to fend for themselves while looking skyward.
Just to reassure faithful readers that the Irish Church, despite some recent rocky times, has not gone rogue, the official word out on Joe Coleman and the as yet unfulfilled sightings is that the Catholic Church has dismissed any claims or proclamations associated with this ever-patient man. Amen!
Irish Peacekeepers Ranks Thinning – At the end of this year it is highly probable that the Irish contingent of UN peacekeepers could be down to zero. Recent moves reflecting changing needs have cleared Irish troops out of Chad and more have been withdrawn from Kosovo. Dublin has agreed to keep 50 troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina until the end of this year but unless there is a call for more Irish peacekeepers, that could be the end of large scale UN involvement by Ireland.
United Nations service has been a long and honored tradition by neutral Ireland and has involved roles since 1955 in a dozen different peacekeeping missions beginning with a small force sent to Lebanon as observers. This was followed by Irish military serving as a UN force in the Congo in 1960, a return in 1978 to Lebanon with a UNIFIL contingent, Cyprus and Sinai followed, featuring a large Irish peacekeeping force ultimately totaling some 9,000 after it originally landed there in 1964. Other areas of UN service by Ireland have included troop postings in Iraq-Iran, Somalia and Eritria, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Liberia, and Darfur and Chad more recently. In the 55-year history of UN related duty, 86 Irish military have died.
Ireland over the years, in good times and bad, has punched above its weight in many ways. Another major humanitarian outreach by Ireland, in addition to its UN peacekeeping duties, has been the country’s highly praised bilateral aid programs that provide financial and in-kind assistance to troubled regions around the world.
Irish Pols Reach out to US Consultants – Fianna Fail, in power for over a decade, is in decline with the only factor keeping the party of Charlie Haughey and Bertie Ahern viable politically is the Irish electorate appearing to have no more enthusiasm for Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael Party then it does for Fianna Fail. The main obstacle facing the Soldiers of Destiny is that Bertie Ahern and Ahern’s finance minister and successor as Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, were ruling the roost when it all began to go bad. The Irish voters are famous for two things: their patience and their long memories. While one may be running out, the memory of who lost the reins of reality during the boom (Fianna Fail) and who expensively bailed out the three main Irish banks is part of the current culture. The punter watching all this just might be willing to take a chance on the main opposition, Mr. Kenny.
All of which is driving an extremely nervous Cowen-led Fianna Fail party to reach out as others in Europe, Israel, and Africa have done in the past to the political guns for hire in America. In this instance it is Cowen and company talking with Sam Jeffers and Gregor Poynton of Blue State Digital. While those two political pros and their company may not be household names to many of us, suffice it to say that they managed President Obama’s extraordinary online fundraising and social networking campaigns that raised half a billion dollars in donations and organized one of the slickest volunteer networks since the internet was created.
The main goal, party insiders whisper, is to find and re-energize the missing half of Fianna Fail’s voter base, which has been a consistent 25 percent of the electorate in recent history.
Catholic Action League Could Be More Christian – C.J. Doyle and his Catholic Action League (no ties, he says with the National Catholic League led by Bill Donohue) got my attention when Doyle was quoted in the Boston Globe re the 8-year old son of lesbians who was quickly booted out of Catholic school when his parents’ sexual orientation became known.
Doyle’s somewhat unChristian quote was, “It would seem [the parents] are either looking for an excuse to litigate or an opportunity to embarrass the church in the court of public opinion.” How he know that? Could there be another reason, namely, seeking a good, value-oriented education for their child?
To cut to the chase, I e-mailed Doyle and asked him to support his claim about the child’s parents and their motives. Doyle, who would rather talk than type, checked me out at the paper then called me. It was near supper time and with one hand stirring pasta and the other clutching the phone, I did a 10-15 minute standing tap dance with the indefatigable, driven Mr. Doyle.
His only “answer” to his original quote about motives was that in a similar situation in Colorado the homosexual parents did end up suing the school. Hardly a smoking gun, but we moved on midst his alternating between frequent interjections of “you liberals.” No harm, no foul. He went on to question me about my Catholicism, which produced a “not your business, friend.”
He called the Globe the “most anti-Catholic newspaper in America” and Jim Carroll’s column “anti-Catholic.” Doyle then moved to the default position: abortion. No surprise there. He took a shot at Jack Connors despite my reminding him that Connors was a tireless fundraiser for Catholic schools. That cut little ice with Doyle, who recalled that Connors seemed to support same sex marriage. Doyle was an admitted devotee of Cardinal Law (his anti-Globe Rosetta stone ?), but Cardinal Sean, hinted Doyle, is a bit further down the list of Doyle’s top churchman. What he do?
Short of answers but with a non-stop patter that almost had me ruining the pasta, Doyle reached into his memory box and recalled that years ago I had supported Irish divorce in a column I wrote. We didn’t get further into the Irish divorce question that put an end to wives as indentured, penniless chattels of their husband. At that time women’s lives as Irish spouses were not unlike a Middle East marriage. I wanted to scream, “Of course I supported divorce in Ireland.” What doesn’t Doyle understand about servitude and no civil or property rights as a female in a marriage breakdown? Finally, the spaghetti was ready and C.J. was wrapping up trying to show me the error of my ways.
I am more convinced than ever after our chat that these groups of volunteer religious vigilantes (a charge I leveled at Doyle) are more fascist than Christian, ultimately hurt the Church, and have no brief to lecture you or me in how to practice our religion.
Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen isn’t afraid of anything except an election. … Good angling, I guess, in Galway’s Lough Corrib with a 25-pound trout taken, the biggest caught in Ireland in over 100 years. … Hospitals in Ireland are closing beds and lines of waiting patients on gurneys signal deep budget cuts. … Give a resounding cheer for Galway’s Druid Theatre Company, which marked its wondrous 35th birthday last month. … British economists are predicting that the Value Added Tax (VAT) will go up in the UK, which still includes the North. Derry is still battered by unemployment double the jobless rate of other areas in the North. … If you see the ever expanding supermarket chain in the North, Asda, building out and creating jobs, remember it is a WalMart store by any other name. … As many of their sisters did, the Sisters of St. Joseph (PA) supported the health reform measure, concluding the legislation had no effect on abortion financing, and now an upset Bishop Brandt of PA is refusing the good nuns the use of the diocese’s parishes or newspapers for recruitment purposes. … The JFK Library & Museum has some really compelling free forums at Columbia Point. Evenings around 5-5:30. Just call the Library to reserve a seat.
Speaking of the Kennedys, a large family contingent will be traveling to Tipp as the late Senator and his sister Jean Kennedy Smith will be honored with the Tipperary Peace Prize in June. … The newly opened duty free shop at Shannon has been closed as US Customs and Border Patrol were concerned with security. … A Unionist Minister is warning that the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising could encourage breakaway republicans to up their “veneration” and pursue the “nihilistic path of violence.” Huh? … Veteran Irish Senator David Norris thinks it would be good for Ireland to join the Commonwealth and reach out, and Irish athletes could compete in the Commonwealth Games. Ah, yes. … Banks beware on both sides of the Atlantic: An Irish couple was just awarded $20,000 from the Bank of Ireland for bad mortgage advice. It could open the floodgates. … It’s “only” been 38 years since Bloody Sunday and the victims’ families are still waiting for the Saville Report, due, the Brits say, early in June. But haven’t we heard that before? … The Bank of Ireland, bailed out with Irish ratepayers euros to the tune of billions, wants to sell its art collection and donate proceeds to charity. How about “donating” the money back to the Irish Treasury that let it survive? … Good & Bad News. The euro, which is at its lowest value in four years, could be heading to parity with the resurgent dollar. Great for tourists and Irish and British exports, but bad for the euro’s health and long term viability.