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Joan Denise Moriarty (1912?-1992)

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Joan Denise Moriarty was an Irish choreographer, ballet dancer, traditional Irish dancer, traditional Irish musician, teacher of ballet, founder of the Cork Ballet Company (1947-1993) and founder of professional ballet in Ireland. Joan Denise Moriarty

Her first professional company, Irish Theatre Ballet (1959-1964), was a touring company bringing ballet all over the country, but its funding was insecure, and it had to close after five years. Her second professional company, the Irish Ballet Company, later re-named Irish National Ballet (1973-1989), was also a touring company bringing classical, Irish folk and contemporary ballets to the four provinces of Ireland. It was funded by the Arts Council.


During the recession of the 1980s, the Council first reduced and then stopped its grant; the company had to close in 1989. Moriarty continued to work with the Cork Ballet Company until shortly before her death. She created 115 original ballets for her companies, the best known of them, The Playboy of the Western World, was performed in Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Rennes, New York and in London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre to traditional Irish music performed live by The Chieftains. She worked for nearly 60 years to develop dance, a degree of service to her art without parallel in the short history of ballet in Ireland.


Joan Denise Moriarty Reading Cork City Library from on Vimeo.
The Constant Reader Series 2009
Ruth Fleischmann speaks about Joan Denise Moriarty


No documentation of Moriarty’s life before 1931 has come to light
?-1933  Resident in Liverpool with her mother, a native of Mallow
1931  Wins the Irish Step Dance Championship of England
1932  ‘Highly commended’ for solo war pipes at GAA Tailteann Games, Dublin
1933  Wins the Munster Open Championship for solo war pipes
1933 Sep The Moriarty family returns to Mallow
1934  Moriarty begins to teach dance there and, from 1938, weekly in Cork
1940 Feb. Death of Moriarty’s mother, Marion Moriarty
1940 Nov Moriarty School of Dance set up in Cork
1947  First performance, in the Cork Opera House, of the Cork Ballet Group, later re-named Cork Ballet Company, with the Cork Symphony Orchestra
1948-93 Annual Cork Ballet Week with the Cork Symphony Orchestra
1950-70 Moriarty attends Royal Academy and other ballet summer schools in England
1956-93 Guest producers and dancers in the annual Cork Ballet Company performances
1959  Founding of Ireland’s first professional ballet company, Irish Theatre Ballet
1959-64 Irish Theatre Ballet performs all over Ireland, north and south
1963-64 Irish Theatre Ballet merged in June with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet under the name Irish National Ballet
1964  Closure of Irish National Ballet in March
1970-73 Cork Ballet Company performs in Dublin’s Abbey and Gaiety Theatres
1973  Founding of Moriarty’s second professional company, Irish Ballet Company, in 1983 re-named Irish National Ballet
1974 Ninette de Valois donates half her Erasmus Prize to the Irish Ballet Company
1974-89 The professional company travels the country during two annual touring seasons
1978-84 Moriarty’s Playboy of the Western World travels to Dublin, Belfast, New York, London and Rennes accompanied by The Chieftains
1979  Honorary Doctorate of the National University of Ireland
1979  Purchase of Firkin Crane by Arts Council as home for Irish National Ballet
1984  The Arts Council of Ireland commissions a report on dance from Peter Brinson
1985  Publication of the report; Moriarty resigns from Irish National Ballet
1988  Arts Council withdrawal of funding to Irish National Ballet
1989  Closure of Irish National Ballet
1992 Jan 24 Death of Joan Denise Moriarty
1992 April Opening of Firkin Crane, Cork’s Dance Centre, by the Taoiseach
1993  Final performance of Cork Ballet Company, attended by President Robinson

Moriarty Founder of Professional Ballet in Ireland by Ruth Fleischmann (311KB)