Michael Ryan Flatley was born in the United States to immigrant Irish parents Michael and Eilish. He grew up in Chicago in a family of champions in dance, music and boxing. Michael enjoyed early successes in all three fields, winning a Chicago Golden Gloves boxing title and an All-Ireland Flute Championship and becoming the first American to win the World Irish Dancing Championships, all by the age of 17. A multi-talented individual, Michael not only excels in the performance arts and in sport but shows other outstanding abilities in fields as diverse as business, the promotion of Ireland, painting and chess.
Michael Flatley got his "big break" when he was invited to perform with The Chieftains in the early 1980s. His dancing was so well received that he was invited to appear regularly with the group. And so it was that Michael's innovative style of Irish dancing was first seen on the world stage when he toured with The Chieftains throughout that decade. An even larger audience became aware of his talents when he choreographed and performed Riverdance in the interval act at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.
Lord of the Dance premiered at the Point Theatre in July 1996 and broke box office records all over the world. That show led to Feet of Flames in 1998, which reached new heights of success by filling stadia to their 120,000-seat capacity. Other productions since then include Celtic Tiger and Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, which opened in mid-March 2015 at London's Dominion Theatre in the West End following a sold-out run at the Palladium Theatre. The Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games 2016 US tour included Michael's final onstage appearance as a performer. That show at Caesar's Colosseum in Las Vegas on Saint Patrick's Day marked the end of an extraordinary 20-year run for the creator and star of the Lord of the Dance franchise.
Providing employment for dancers, musicians and choreographers, Michael's shows have given rise to an Irish dance industry that did not exist prior to the 1990s. His success has spawned separate dance troupes, which have toured from Tokyo to Switzerland and Johannesburg to Moscow.
Michael Flatley's achievements have been recognised all over the world. He has received countless awards for his contribution to the entertainment industry and the promotion and enrichment of Ireland and Irish dance and music. In 1988, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for his contributions to Irish traditional culture in the United States. Other accolades from the US include an Irish-American of the Year award, an Outstanding Irish-American of the Century award and an Irish-American Lifetime Achievement award. He has been bestowed with the Freedom of Cork and of Sligo, presented with the Ellis Island Medal of Honour and the Grimaldi Dynasty Award Medal and appointed as the first Fellow of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha. In 2004, Nelson Mandela personally requested Michael Flatley to dance in Johannesburg at the opening night of the show in aid of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Michael Flatley has supported many causes during his life, and his career can be summed up in his motto, "nothing is impossible ... follow your dreams", which has aided and encouraged countless people to believe in themselves and their dreams. Here at the University of Limerick we are proud of our association with Michael Flatley. In honouring him today, we seek to acknowledge his enormous contribution to Irish dancing and the promotion of Ireland throughout the world.