Cowen taps into culture as Irish World Academy opens

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen clearly enjoyed the craic provided by The Chieftains yesterday when he opened the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.

As Kevin Conneff belted out The Rocky Road to Dublin in front of hundreds of guests, the Taoiseach could clearly be seen in the front row of the audience miming along with the lyrics, toe tapping the floor.

The Chieftains are among the artists in residence at the academy, which has attracted students from over 40 countries.

The academy provides 16 programmes and its student numbers are expected to rise from the current 300 to 470 by 2013.

Mr Cowen, speaking at the opening of the €20 million building, said the academy underlined the importance of protecting and showcasing our culture and heritage.

He added: “The new academy building not only offers a place to study, examine and develop the many strands of our musical heritage but also lets us celebrate it, and the rich and varied traditions of other cultures.”

The building, which overlooks the Shannon, includes two performance workshop theatres – The Tower and The Sionna – performance control rooms, recording areas and research sections.

As well as 12 degree programmes, the academy provides a postgraduate study centre in cross-cultural music and dance.

The front plaza of the building is linked to the main campus area on the other side of the Shannon by the Living Bridge.

Dr Micheál O Súilleabháin, professor of music at UL and founder of the Irish World Academy, said: “When we started we had no students, no programmes of study, no books and no staff.”

Visiting staff members include dancer Jean Butler and musician Paul Brady, after whom a number of bursaries have been named.

The Tower Theatre can hold 80 people and features a pipe organ, while the Sionna Theatre, which can hold 200, has been designed as a musical laboratory with sprung timer parquet dance floors. Noting that the building is on the Clare side of the UL campus, Dr O Súilleabháin said: “Given the recognition of Clare as the premier county for traditional music and dance in Ireland, I expect jigs and reels to come out of the walls.”

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