In 2015, An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha honoured the following "Legends of Canada" for their life-long dedication to promoting and preserving Irish dance, at the World Championships in Montreal.
Brigid Grant, TCRG, ADCRG
Brigid Grant (nee Woodgate) was born and raised in County Kilkenny where she studied Irish dancing under Mrs. Ruth, until age 14. She emigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1958, where she met and married the love of her life, Bill Grant.
When Brigid’s oldest son, David, was five years old, she returned to dance classes under the direction of Noreen McMullin Quinn (a former pupil of the great Anna McCoy). Brigid began teaching her own school in 1968 and retired from teaching in 2011, at which time the school was passed to her niece and goddaughter, Rose Fearon, in amalgamation with the Butler-Fearon-O’Connor School.
During her more than forty years of teaching, Brigid produced many Canadian, North American and World champions, and had great success both in solos and team events on a regional and international basis. Brigid is also very proud to have been one of the founders of the Irish Dance Teachers Association of Canada.
Through the years, her dancers have performed in numerous productions including Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, the Trinity Company and many more. Brigid is proud of the many former students who have become TCRGs and opened their own schools, and has been a well-known and respected adjudicator for many years, enjoying the travel and company of her fellow legends through that time.
An accomplished singer, Brigid is very proud to have passed on her love of Irish culture, music and dance to her own children and grandchildren. That passion was passed on with great success as within the family there are titles from the World, North American, All Ireland and Great Britain Championships.
Brigid has always felt her calling in life was to provide excellence in dancing, while nurturing the same excellence in character to the young lives she has come in contact with. Her love for Irish dance and music is, and will always be, an inspiration to all, for generations to come.
Paula Woodgate, TCRG, ADCRG
Paula was born Eileen Paula Burke in Cork City, Ireland. In the late 1950s, her parents emigrated the family to Toronto, Canada. As no Irish dancing was available at the time, her mother enrolled her in tap, jazz and baton. Fortunately, Mae Butler started teaching dancing and Paula was immediately enrolled in her classes. Paula won many championships in Canada and the United States.
At one of Paula's performances in the community, she met her husband, Michael Woodgate (from Kilkenny, Ireland) and it wasn't long before she encouraged him to play his button accordion at the feiseanna. Eventually they married, had two children - Shannon and Brian - and devoted themselves to the Woodgate School of Irish Dancing.
Paula produced hundreds of champions, who have won awards in solo, figure, ceili and drama events at local, regional, national and World level competitions. The Woodgate Irish dancers have the esteemed distinction being the first Canadian team to place at the world championships, along with having performed for three Prime Ministers of Canada, the King and Queen of Spain, at the Canadian Olympics and on Canadian television.
Paula is the founding president of the Irish Dance Teachers Association of Canada - Eastern Region, and through her perseverance, Canada was recognized as a separate qualifying region for the World Championships. She established the “parade of champions” and the awarding of sashes, which are now enjoyed worldwide. Paula has served the Eastern Canadian Region for over 30 years as Regional Director and in other official capacities. She is an accredited adjudicator in demand worldwide and her greatest thrill was being appointed Vice President of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha.
Her love of Irish dancing has produced generations of dancers and she has the distinction of having taught 25 pupils who are now TCRGs. Paula acknowledges Irish dancing is one of the greatest gifts in her life and she spreads through that love and dedication into the promotion of Irish dance. Two of her famous quotes are “pace each other towards perfection” and “without dance there is no music, and without music there is no dance.”
Mary Bryan, TCRG, ADCRG, BG
Mary was born in England, and at the age of five was adopted by an Irish family. It wasn't long before she began her Irish dancing life. Irish dance in the 1950s England was quite small but classes were very popular for the Irish immigrant families who went to England to find work. The cultural aspect included music, dance and language.
Mary competed at the highest level of dance during the 1950s and attained many awards for dance and Irish language. She was Cross Channel Champion when traveling to Dublin for the All Ireland Championships in 1958.
Mary came to Canada in 1964, and soon afterward, she was asked to dance for a fundraising event by Mr. O’Hearn, a second-generation Irish man. It wasn't long before Mary was approached to teach dancing in St. Catharines, Ontario, and formal classes began in 1967. Much competitive success followed Mary and her dancers, and many St. Catharines dancers were Canadian champions and represented Canada at the World Championships. Her dancers carry on her legacy in both Ontario and Nova Scotia as teachers of their own pupils.
Mary continued to teach until knee injuries caused her to slow down. Her niece, Kelly Taylor, became the principal teacher of the Bryan-Taylor school in 2002, and Mary is now a consultant and choreographer in the Taylor School of Irish Dance. As well as being a successful qualified teacher, she is also a qualified adjudicator and has been privileged to have adjudicated all over Canada and the USA, as well as England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand.
Although Mary is English, and acquired her Irish roots through adoption, she loves everything Irish. She says that she is privileged to have been trusted with hundreds of children to teach whose families also love everything Irish.
Mae Butler, TCRG, ADCRG, TMRF (and Family)
Mary Josephine “Mae” (McDonnell) Butler learned to dance in her native Dublin from Maggie Kane. Mae and her husband Patrick Joseph “Paddy” Butler arrived in Toronto in 1953 with their sons, Michael and Patrick Jr., and daughter, June. Mae opened an Irish dancing school in 1958, where authentic Irish dance was taught in its true and traditional manner. At that time, she was the only TCRG in Toronto.
Irish dancing was almost non-existent in the region, but Mae went on to establish an Irish dancing empire. In 1964, Mae traveled to New York to become one of the founding members of the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America, and saw great success at the American Oireachtas each year, which began in 1969. The Butler Academy had the largest North American entry at the first World championships in 1970, with nine dancers (three solo dancers plus one 8-hand ceili team), and it wasn't long before the Academy brought home trophies, including a third place finish for their 8-hand ceili team and a tied-third place finish for Jennifer Mathews, both in 1972. Nine years later, the Butler Academy celebrated its first World Champion, Ruth Garrett, the first female from North America to be crowned as such.
The Butler family were held in very high esteem among their fellow teachers, parents and students, and this is epitomized by the refinement and perfection they projected through their highly trained dancers, who competed with honour and excellence throughout North America and Ireland.
The Butlers, to their credit, produced many champion dancers, including their son, Patrick Jr., and their daughter, June, both of whom went on to teach under the family name and spread Irish dance throughout eastern Canada and the United States.
Along with world champion dancers, the Butler School produced some 39 teachers and adjudicators.
Today, people of Irish heritage humbly express their appreciation to the Butler family. Their memory will live on forever in their children, through Irish dancing and music.