Local area youths win top honors at the World Irish dancing championships

MURRIETA – It wasn’t just the luck of the Irish that led four young Temecula-area residents to capture titles at the 2014 World Irish dancing championships held last month in London, England.

In addition to attending classes three days a week at the Claddagh School of Irish Dance in Murrieta, the dancers also traveled to Ventura, California at least one weekend a month where they were joined by members of the Claddagh School’s other locations around Southern California for grueling practices that lasted six hours a day.

“Performing the five minute choreography is similar to sprinting for five minutes,” 19-year-old Bonnie Bellah said. “We would perform the whole choreography full out and if anything wasn’t perfect we would run through it again. The rule was to keep doing it until you never got it wrong.”

The hard work ultimately paid off for Bellah and her classmates: 10-year-old Fiona Harley, 12-year-old Peyton Stearns, and 17-year-old Alison Casey. The school brought home two first place trophies in the traditional group dancing category known as ceili dancing, which requires teams of eight dancers to perform two historical dances.

The teams must learn the dances in their entirety but don’t know which sections they will be required to perform until the competition starts. Stearns was a member of school’s winning entry in the 11 to 13 age group, beating out over 60 teams from around the world. Casey was part of the team which won in the 16 to 19 age


Both Stearns and Harley were members of a 16-person team that took home second place in the under 13 age group for a non-traditional performance titled “Galway Girls,” while Bellah joined Casey for a similar team, in the highly competitive 16 and over age group, which also secured a second place for a performance inspired by William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans of Coole.”

Harley, who is currently ranked as one of the top 10 Irish dancers in the Western United States for her age, also competed in the under 11 solo dancing competition.

“It was amazing to be competing against the best dancers and schools in the world,” Stearns said. “Some of these schools and dancers are the ones we read about all the time, so just being able to dance against them is awesome.”

The Claddagh School of Irish Dance was started by Irish-born Maire O’Connell in 1985 in Ventura, California. The Murrieta location has been serving the area for over 10 years and is led by Kelly Sullivan, who studied under O’Connell before becoming certified to teach Irish dance in 2001.

Classes are available for beginners ages four through adult. For more information visit 


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