SYLVIA Murphy-Brennan may have dedicated the past five decades to teaching Irish dancing, but when the Birmingham woman received a letter telling her she was on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, she could hardly believe it.
“I thought this it a hoax,” Mrs Murphy-Brennan told The Irish Post. “That was my initial reaction. I actually rang through to Buckingham Palace to check that it was correct because it was so unexpected.
“I could not understand why and they told me it was for services to dance, which left me shocked and humbled.
“I have always been a great admirer and respecter of the Royal Family. And to hear British Empire Medal and to hear that the Queen is going to be awarding it to me, I am extremely amazed and touched by it.
“And it is wonderful for members of the Irish community to be recognised in this way. There is so much good that the Irish have contributed to Britain.”
The news that the successful Irish dancing teacher will receive a British Empire Medal comes in the same year that Mrs Murphy-Brennan, 67, celebrates 50 years of work with her Irish Academy of Dance, Music and Song.
In that period, she has worked with “thousands” of youngsters in Birmingham, including her own three children and “dancers of all ethnicities, whether they be Indian, African or Polish”.
Mrs Murphy-Brennan has also worked in Cheltenham and in Newport, Wales, where her dancers made history by becoming the region’s first group to make it to the Irish Dancing World Championships.
Asked what has kept her motivated for all those years, Mrs Murphy-Brennan recalls the passion for Irish culture instilled in her by her parents, who met in Britain after emigrating from Co. Cork during the Second World War, and her love of working with children.
“Even now I look forward so much to going to my classes,” she explained. “I just get so much fun out of it and they become an extended part of your family.
“I also think it is important to keep our culture alive. Birmingham has done so much for the Irish in terms of giving us work, but the Irish have done so much for Birmingham too.”
Among her academy’s highlights, Mrs Murphy-Brennan counts several visits to New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, where her academy’s dancers grabbed the award for most entertaining group in 2002.
“And when they returned four years later, they were brought up to the front of the parade,” she added. “The dancers were on the news channel all day and in the press coverage. Now we are hoping to do it again next year.”