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Joan Denise Moriarty (died 28 January 1992) was an Irish choreographer and musician. She founded the first professional ballet company in Ireland.


Early life

LIttle is known of Moriarty's early life. Her parents were from Mallowmarker, County Corkmarker. The family moved to England around 1907, possibly before she was born. She apparently spent most of her early adult life in Liverpoolmarker, where she explored her love of Irish culture and music. She was a champion Irish dancer and war pipes player. She studied ballet with Marie Rambert in London, however, a bout of scarlet fever at the age of 14 meant she spent many months away from the studio. When she returned she had grown to almost six foot and Madame Rambert subsequently dismissed her from class for being too tall. Rambert encouraged her to go into teaching and she trained and became a distinguished teacher of ballet, registering with the Royal Academy of Dance.

Her early dance and music awards include:
  • Champion Irish Stepdancer of England at the London Irish Step Dance Championship on 24 April 1931. Gold Medal
  • Second Prize for solo war pipes at the Tailteann Games Croke Park, Dublin in 1932. Silver Medal
  • 87 Marks for solo war pipes at a Scots Gathering and Highland Games at Morecambe and Heysham in Lancashiremarker on 15 July 1933
  • First Prize for solo war pipes at Father Matthew Feis on 22 April 1934 in Cork.

Returning to Ireland

Her family returned to Mallow in 1933. In 1934 she set up her first ballet school there. She commuted to Cork regularly to give classes in Gregg Hall and Windsor School. After the death of her mother in 1940 she moved to a little studio in Patrick Street, Cork, where she would live for most of her professional career. In 1945 Moriarty met with composer Aloys Fleischmann. He wanted her to play warpipes in his new piece, Clares' Dragoon's, which led to a lifelong artistic and personal relationship which would produce an original form of Irish ballet and music.

The Companies

Joan Moriarty set up her first ballet company in Cork in 1947. The Cork Ballet Company gave their first performance with a week of ballet in 1947 in the Opera House in Cork. This week, known locally as Ballet Week, became an annual event in Cork and was an integral part of the social calender. This company became the amateur company in later years as the two professional companies were set up. The first of these professional companies was theIrish Theater Ballet. This company performed between 1959 and 1964 when the Arts Council of Ireland did not renew the funding and the company subsequently went into administration. However, not to be put off by such a minor inconvenience, Moriarty lobbied for funding for another company and in 1973 she set up the Irish National Ballet. This company performed until 1985 when, to much personal disappointment, the Arts Council under directives from a commissioned report known as the Brinson Report, terminated the grant and effectively forced the company to collapse. She would continue to work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringingballet to remote parts of Ireland until her death.

Towards A New Ballet Style

Many of Moriarty's ballets have Irish themes and her greatest achievements included fusing the folk style of Irish dance and that of classical ballet. It must be noted that this was fifty years before the Riverdance phenomenon. International success came with The Playboy of the Western World with music by The Chieftains. This was performed in Sadlers Wells and in New York to critical acclaim and was an attempt to fuse folk style and ballet with a score of traditional Irish music.

Cork Ballet Company Folk Dance Group

In the late 1960s JDM choreographed 13 one act folk ballets for the RTÉ television programme An Damhsa. The group she used was the newly formed Folk Dance Group, part of the Cork Ballet Company. The series of programme's attempted to show how one could fuse the two styles together and the final programme was a full ballet en pointe to Hamilton Harty An Irish Symphony called The Seal Woman. Other works performed included the folk ballet The Planting Stick with music by her long term collaborator Aloys Fleischmann. This ballet has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the new millennium and although the original steps are long gone some new choreographers are setting the music using folk style dance to tell the tale of The Planting Stick.


Between Moriarty and Fleischmann, four ballets were produced (The Golden Bell of Ko, Macha Ruadh, An Coitin Dearg, The Táin) and one folk ballet (The Planting Stick). Four out of five of these works draw on Irish mythology and legend and the dance and music reflects this influence. This influence was in keeping with Moriarty and Fleischmann's ideas of a uniquely Irish form of ballet and music. Both the music and dance are fusions of traditional Irish elements and the classical forms of both disciplines. In this respect, the ballet The Táin was to prove their greatest collaboration and received rave reviews at its premiere at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublinmarker on 6 October 1981, although it this work has never been performed since.


  • Fleischmann, Ruth, Joan Denise Moriarty Founder of Irish National Ballet, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998
  • Wulff, Helena, Dancing at the Crossroads Memory and Mobility in Ireland, Berghahn Books, Oxford, 2007
  • Theodores, D, A Dance Critic in Ireland, Dance Chronicle, London, 1996

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