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Irish Dancing Costume Collection goes on Display for the First Time

Posted By:
Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council

10th Mar 2023

Members of the public are being encouraged to visit an exhibition of historic Irish Dancing costumes as part of the celebrations for St Patrick’s Day and International Women’s Day.

The collection of vintage Irish Dancing costumes have been made available for viewing to the public for free thanks to the kind generosity of former Irish Dancer turned collector, Mr Les Baird.

More than 160 costumes, which were worn by performers from the Festival Tradition of Irish dancing, are being displayed across two sites; Theatre at The Mill in Newtownabbey and Clotworthy House, Antrim Castle Gardens throughout March.

The costumes, some of which date back to as early as the 1940s, were donated over the years by dance schools and individual performers from across Northern Ireland.

As well as celebrating one of the busiest times of year for the Irish Dancing community, the exhibition’s launch coincides with International Women’s Day by way of acknowledging some of the influential women who shaped the Irish Dancing scene in Northern Ireland over the past few decades.

Speaking about the launch of the exhibition Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough, Alderman Stephen Ross said, “On behalf of the Council I would like to thank Les for allowing us to display such a fantastic collection of costumes. I think the sheer volume of beautiful materials and colours on display is a spectacle alone, and I would encourage everyone to visit both public spaces and witness the craftsmanship and skill behind these outfits.”

Costume collector Les Baird commented: “I am so pleased that these costumes are on display to the public throughout March. This is the first time ever that the collection has been exhibited in its entirety and I can’t wait for everyone to see it. I think the collection is a fitting tribute to the founders of the Irish Dancing Festival Tradition in Northern Ireland. Women such as Patricia Mulholland, who established Irish Ballet School and Irish Ballet Company in Belfast and was considered by many to be a shining light for many young dancers across the region. Patricia’s unique approach of focussing on the style of the individual dancer and combining classical and folk styles established her a founder figure of Festival dancing, which was embraced by both sides of the community. I hope that when people view these costumes they bring some of the joy and warmth for which she was renowned.”

For more details on the exhibition visit: