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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Stephen Faherty

It’s never too cold in an Irish winter, no colder really than October or March, but late at night when there is not a cloud in the sky and God’s light show is in full display, a certain crispness creeps into the air and if you’ve forgotten your coat you’ll feel the nip as you stagger home from the pub.

It was on a night like this that forty-two year old Stephen Faherty fell into the side of a back road on Christmas Eve 2012. He’d been drinking in his favorite bar, The Holly Bush, and had been there since five in the evening. He didn’t go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve anymore. In fact he’d mostly given up on God and his Church and all his priests. Frankie the bartender had tried to tell him to go home around nine but he’d got loud and rowdy and it was better just to leave Stephen with his pint and whisky chaser and keep him quiet.

People whispered about him when they thought he was drunk enough not to listen. He was a legend in his own town. He’d grown up there when he was a wee lad and earned great fame at sixteen when he won the Ulster Irish dancing championship. Boys his own age made fun of him for being a dancer, but they were careful not to say it to his face, cause he could dance with his fists just as well as he could with his feet.

He kept up the dancing for years, all the while he finished secondary school and went to college in Dublin. He got first class honors from Trinity in a business commerce degree. That set him up nicely with his first job in a big office in Dublin managing accounts for multinational companies that came to Ireland, raped her for tax incentives for five years and then left. Even though he was becoming a successful young businessman, the dancing was still his real passion. He practiced all he could and in the summers he went to the USA and Australia to compete in the World finals. He’d won it once when he was eighteen and had placed well every year since.

Then the phenomenal success of River Dance broke onto the screen of millions during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest half-time interval. It was suppose to fill a ten- minute void while the presenters and performers took a break. Instead it rocked Ireland and it shook the world. It made the rest of the amateur entertainers look like pure dog’s bollocks, it was fresh, it was electric it was what Stephen Faherty had been waiting for.

When he saw the dancers fly across the stage, he knew in that instant it was what he wanted to do with his life. It didn’t take long for him to contact RTE and find out where he could meet the right people and learn more about the River Dance. As such there was no word of another show like the one during the Eurovision. However, in the weeks and months following the enthusiasm grew so much that the producers had no choice but to create a full-length version of the River Dance.

Stephen got the call from the organizers, they wanted him to try out as one of the back up dancers. He dreamed of being the man in front of everyone, but that position was filled and there was no chance he was going to give it up. The only problem now facing Stephen was he had to quit his office job in Dublin. The River Dance was going to be full time for at least a year and the pay was nearly half what he was making in Dublin. He thought hard, but not long and took the audition.

He passed with flying colors and three months later he was on stage at the Point Depot dancing before five thousand people. He felt his life come alive for the first time, his stale outer shell crumbled and he could see the look on the faces of people that wanted to be him. He was earning respect for his dancing and that meant more to him than all the money in the world.

He followed the River Dance troop all over Ireland and the UK. The success grew every day and it wasn’t long before a fully-fledged tour of the USA and Australia was in the works. The River Dance became an entity beyond its humble beginnings and no one could keep up with the success of it: not its producers or its main dancers.

Rifts began to tear the original crew apart and there was arguing about money and by the end of the second year the female star of the show was replaced by a nobody and even though she was out there dancing her heart out to thousands of people every night, she didn’t catch the audience like the first girl had. It was then that they knew they had to be careful. Placing the wrong person in the leading role could send the whole magic of the River Dance faltering back to earth and back to the small halls and classrooms of Ireland.

It was because of this thinking that so much energy was spent trying to retain the male star. He wanted more money, wanted half of what the show was earning or he was going to leave and start his own production company. By the end of another year he did leave and Lord of the Dance was competing with River Dance.

Stephen had been asked to join the Lord of the Dance but he wanted to stay with the original troop. The new male lead was an amazing failure. He had about as much charisma as a wet paper bag. Looks he had, but nothing electric, nothing that made him become superhuman when the lights came on and the music started.

A year had passed and The River Dance was loosing ticket sales to the Lord of the Dance, they had to get it right or it would be the end of them. Wherever they went they trailed behind their rivals and the reason for this was that the defector knew their tour schedule and made all his own tour dates a month or two before the River Dance was to perform in any city. This infuriated the River Dance Company, especially since their lead man was nothing compared to the magician of the Lord of the Dance.

They were booked for six nights in Sidney and the first night came out to terrible reviews. People who had already bought tickets for the second show didn’t even turn up and the venue was half-empty. On that night, just before the intermission, the lead miss-timed a jump and caught the back heel of his lady lead square in the face. The sharp heel cut a gash in his face and sent him off balance, he fell hard to the stage floor and the cracking of his knee could be heard for about twenty rows back. All the dancers on the stage froze, the music stopped. Nobody knew what to do. The dancer tried to get up, but his leg was like a useless appendage making him sprawl around the place and the blood gushing out of his face made him quite a sight.

Two men from back stage ran out and grabbed the fallen man and carried him behind the curtain. In a panic the producers were about to get on the microphone and announce they’d have to cancel the performance when Stephen Faherty leapt up in the air, stood beside the leading lady, did a little clip-clip with his heels and raised his hand to signal the orchestra to continue the music.

The magic was back in the River Dance and the reviews of “the man that Saved the River Dance” were so overwhelming that they were forced to add three extra nights to their Sidney shows. They had found what they were missing. Stephen was the most famous man in the world for a week. He was on the cover of nearly every magazine in over eighty countries and the hype for the US tour just took a huge jump and ticket sale soared there too.

The American tour started on the West Coast and slowly made its way east, stopping off in Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia and eventually the highlight of the performing world; Broadway in New York City.

Stephen Faherty stole Broadway, the papers said they hadn’t seen a human move like he did since Fred Astaire was prancing around with Gene Kelly. He signed a contract with the River Dance Company for two more years with an option to extend, increased salary and stock options, to become part owner.

This was the high point of Stephen’s life and that summer when he went home to rest for a month before another nine months of touring he was treated like royalty and his home town threw a huge street ceremony in his honor and allowed all the bars in town to stay open all night without closing.

He bought airline tickets for his parents to go to Jamaica for two weeks, partly for them and partly so he could have some peace and quiet at home without them in his face every five minutes seeing if he wanted something or could they do something for him.

While they were gone he got up around six every morning and went for a five mile run, picking up the paper on the way and after a short work-out he’d have his breakfast and read the paper.
On the sixth day of such luxury he opened the Irish Times and read the headline: Four Irish Slain in Jamaica. His heart jumped in his mouth and his eyes scanned down to the names on the page. He crumpled the paper up into a ball and threw it away.

He was their only son and spoke some very brave words at the funeral. Everything was left to him: the house, the lands, the cars, everything. The River Dance Company tried to make him come back to them, but he refused to even talk. As suddenly as his life began, so too did it end.
This is why it was such a tragedy on Christmas morning 2012 when they found the frozen body of Michael Faherty lying in a ditch on the side of a back road, with more alcohol than blood in him.

Every human has a story to tell; some are of fame, some of riches, love or death. Whatever it be, we should all take a minute to listen and learn from the lives of others.

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