A tribute to the ‘Great Grandmother of Irish Dance,’ Mauretta Armstrong
By Brendan Farrell
The church of the Sacred Heart and Holy Souls in Acocks Green was packed to capacity last month, as mourners attended a two day funeral service to bid farewell to Mauretta Armstrong, the lady dubbed as ‘The Great Grandmother of Irish Dance` in Birmingham.
Mauretta who had celebrated her 90th birthday last December, passed away at her home in Hall Green following a short illness.
On December 14th last, The Harp was the only newspaper to cover Mauretta 90th birthday celebrations- a day long party at her home, attended by family and friends and later being included in a special Mass at the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes church in Yardley Wood.
Over the past few years we have featured Mauretta’s life-starting with her arrival in Birmingham from her native Ashford in County Limerick back in 1944.
She worked for what t’was then the Lucas munitions factory in Birmingham, where she was to meet her husband Bobby. Later Mauretta began teaching Irish dancing classes at various venues across Birmingham under the banner of the Colmcille School.
Over the years her pupils went on to formed their own Irish dance schools and they in turn carried on the tradition.
I have known Mauretta since 1970 when I started work at the then new Irish Post newspaper-her Colmcille Feis was the very first Irish dance competition I had ever covered-in the late 1980s. Mauretta was nominated for an Irish Post Community Award and together with members of her family and Irish dance friends; we travelled to London to attend a big gala evening where Mauretta was presented with her award by the Irish Ambassador.
Mauretta had always said that she wanted her funeral to be a joyful affair- with music, song and dance-she got her wish. Irish dancers in full class costume from various schools in Birmingham formed a guard of honour in the church, Irish piper Gearoid Mac an Mhoir piped the coffin into church and music and song filled the church-from gifted singers and musicians such as Mick Hipkiss, Brian McDaid, Pat Brennan and the Lawrie and Jordan familes, to name but a few.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments was when one of Mauretta’s great friends, Brian McDaid brought tears to the eye with his wonderful rendition of Mauretta’s favourite song, Limerick Your a Lady.
The Irish Dance Commission, based in Dublin, was represented at the funeral by the Chairperson of the Organisation, Grainne O’Connor, who flew over from Ireland.
Grainne told The Harp that Mauretta had been invited to be a special guest at this year’s World Dance Championships during Easter week at The Hilton Hotel in London. A special engraved crystal award was due to be presented to Mauretta on Easter Saturday in recognition of her huge contribution to the world of Irish dance. Instead Mauretta’s three daughters, Nora, Bernie and Lucy will travel to London to accept the award on behalf of their mother.
One of Mauretta’s former pupils, Dublin born Annie Kidd who runs the Kidd Academy in Birmingham said, “Mauretta was a no frills and strict teacher but she had a heart of Gold. Thanks to the teaching skills she passed on to me, the Kidd Academy will be celebrating it’s Golden Jubilee later this year.”
Another dance teacher Carole Scanlon had dubbed Mauretta as one of ‘The Golden Girls’. Carole said,”Every year Mauretta would join my mother Margaret and two other friends Joan Amond and Bridie Reilly for a special birthday celebration at my club (Scanlon’s). They were always on hand every year to help out at my annual Feis or Mauretta’s annual Colmcille Feis. Mauretta has left us all with a legacy which will go on and on.”
Mauretta was buried in Oscott Cemetery in Sutton Coldfileld -she now lies at peace alongside her husband Bobby who died in 1967.
She is survived by her daughters mentioned above plus extended family.
If you are out and about one starry night and look towards the heavens you might just hear the faint sounds of Irish music -that will be Mauretta, teaching the Angels how to dance an Irish Jig-and no doubt clipping their wings should they put a foot wrong!