This is Siobhan O’ Mahony, a former World Champion from Limerick City who used to dance with the Scoil Rince Uí Nualláin, wearing her first solo costume in 1968. This gorgeous dress was made and hand-embroidered by Alice O’Brien who had made, designed and embroidered all of her other Irish dance costumes.
‘I always, always, always wore red – being a blonde… red was my Irish dance colour’, she told me.
The design for the embroidery was taken from a book with Celtic knots from the Book of Kells.
The collar of the dress was actually crocheted by her nana Margaret Denton Clark (1890-1974), originally from Carrickmacross. Ann Tier (O’Mahony), Siobhan’s sister, told me the story of how she always remembered their nana sitting by the fire doing chrochet. If her memory is correct, their grandmother would have sold a collar for 3 Shillings and 6 Pence. The design would always consist of a shamrock and a rose, alternating each other. Collars could be round or also peaked, if preferred. She remembered how her job as a child then was to stick her thumb into the rose design to make it stand out more, before their nana would use Robin Spray Starch to starch the collars.
Siobhan further explained that dresses were worn until they were too short before a new dress would be made. Sometimes, a piece of fabric would be inserted on the waist in order to make it longer and get a few more years out of it.
The socks would have been regular cotton socks – poodle socks weren’t a thing back then.
In that photograph, she would have been about 5 or 6 years old she said. She’s wearing plain black soft leather shoes with a regular strap on them – she’s not even sure if those were proper dancing shoes or if they were her outside shoes she was wearing for the photograph.
Stay tuned here for upcoming pictures of other dresses worn by Siobhan!
Ann Tier (O’Mahony) and Siobhan O’Mahony were part of Scéalta Damhsa, a project aiming to collect and preserve dance stories.
S.S.K. Marbach, 2020
- Original photograph: unknown
- Photograph of photograph: © S.S.K. Marbach, 2020
- Photograph taken from personal scrap book, with kind courtesy of Siobhan O’Mahony
If you have any information about the original photographer, do let me know please.