A Blackburn woman has been recognised for her dedication to Irish dancing, after spending decades of her life dancing and teaching it.

Philomena Keigher, also known as Phil, received an award in Glasgow, at the World Irish Dancing Championships, from The Irish Dancing Commission.

The award praised her for her years of service and dedication to Irish dancing.

The award also recognised Phil for ‘a lifetime of working diligently to safeguard and preserve Irish dancing’.  She is one of only 10 other people in the UK to have been given this award.

Phil, originally from southern Ireland before moving to Blackburn in the 1960s, was nominated by the North West Regional Council for Irish Dancing.

Philomena KeigherPhilomena Keigher (Image: Philomena Keigher) Phil, 70, joined Irish dancing classes hosted by John O’Brien. What followed were 60 years as a dancer, teacher and administrator.

Phil said: “I always believed Irish dancing was for everyone to enjoy and my aim was with the class to form a strong community ethos and provide financial support where it was needed.

“I always [held] the philosophy that everyone couldn’t be a champion dancer so the young people who wanted to compete were able to do so with great success and the others who wanted to concentrate on displays were also a major part of the class.”

Phil was part of the Blackburn School of Irish Dancing, which closed in 2022. The dancing class was based at the West End Youth Centre in Blackburn.

It was described as “a portal where a positive vision of Ireland was made visible to so many second and third-generation young Irish people”.

It was said to be “an integral part of the story of the Irish in Lancashire” that will be “remembered fondly by all those fortunate to have witnessed the talent that was fostered over the years”.  

Many dancers in the class qualified each year for the world championships.

Phil said: “I co-ordinated the Blackburn Feis (festival) for many years and with the help of the parents we had one of the longest-running and most successful in the north west region. 

“The dancing class survived for more than 62 years until Covid and falling numbers contributed to its closure.  

“I am truly grateful and humbled to receive such a prestigious award and I dedicate it to everyone who has been associated, in any way, with the Blackburn School of Irish Dancing.

“Irish Dancing is an art which can be performed at any event - our class did numerous displays for charity and performed for many mayors and mayoresses of the local boroughs. 

“The school of dancing was an integral part of the story of the Irish in Lancashire and will be remembered fondly by all those fortunate to have witnessed the talent that was fostered over the years. Its founder John J O'Brien certainly provided a legacy.”