She started with a bicycle. And ended up in an airplane.
Back in the 1940s in Cork, Ireland, Maureen McTeggart started biking to neighboring villages to teach Irish dance when she was 16. Later she switched to her brother’s motorcycle or the family car. By age 21, she’d founded her own school, the McTeggart Irish Dancers.
After marrying William Hall, immigrating to Los Angeles in 1958, moving to Firebaugh and then Fresno, and eventually starting a network of Irish dance schools throughout the western and central parts of the United States, she was more than familiar with a different mode of transportation: the airplane.
She racked up more than 5 million lifetime miles.
“Near the end of her life, Mom was teaching classes in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Lexington, Ky., and Oklahoma City,” says son Kevin Hall. “She was doing this into her early 80s. On top of this, she would fly to Ireland at least three times a year.”
Kevin Hall sent me an itinerary a few days ago from one of his mom’s trips in 2013. It exhausted me just to read it: a whirlwind 10-day teaching trip from Fresno to Houston, Lexington, New Orleans, Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Mrs. Hall, who died Feb. 16 at age 87, leaves behind a remarkable legacy in terms of Irish dancing. The McTeggart Irish Dancers schools are still going strong under the supervision of two of her daughters, Pat and Anne. She taught thousands of students over the decades, and some went on to become regional, national and world champions. She served for 40 years on An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, the worldwide governing board of Irish dancing. At last summer’s national championships in Orlando, Fla., she was honored with a lifetime achievement award as a pioneer of Irish dance in North America.
“She was one of those essential figures without whom Irish dance would not be the tremendously successful activity it is today,” says Anne Hall.
Perhaps most important, dozens of Mrs. Hall’s students became certified Irish dance teachers themselves, a rigorous process.
“One of her dancers just took the teaching exam,” says Russell Beaton, the president-elect of the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America. “As Maureen helped create new teachers, she helped create the next generation.”
Drive and passion for Irish dance was always in the cards for Mrs. Hall, who said farewell to a highly successful school serving hundreds of students when she moved from Ireland to the U.S. with her husband and two children (with another on the way). It took a lot of fortitude to leave that behind and start in a new country.
In Firebaugh – not exactly known as a hotbed of Irish culture – she started classes at St. Joseph’s Elementary School. She learned and then taught a number of different international folk dances, including from Mexico, Spain, Ukraine and the Philippines. Once a week she offered an Irish dance class. All were welcome.
Long before “cultural diversity” became buzzwords, Mrs. Hall was adept at coaxing children of different ethnic backgrounds into the world of Irish dance.
Kevin Hall remembers that her teams in the 1960s and ’70s were unusual because of their diversity.
It was a tradition years ago for each competitor in an Irish dance competition to enter with his or her “Irish name.”
“She’d add an ‘O’ or a ‘Mc’ to names like Gonzales, Monreal and Martinez,” he says.
Fresno later became her home base. After her husband died in 1990, she moved to Denver but returned to Fresno a decade later. The constant flying became part of her life. She didn’t mind the travel – she always had a bit of wanderlust, her daughter Anne says – but it was the teaching she loved.
I’m intrigued with this idea of a woman with a fierce purpose always at the forefront, almost like an evangelist. What kind of teacher was she?
“I would say she was loved and feared in equal measures as a teacher,” Anne Hall says. “My mom’s personality was very strict and very giving. She demanded much respect from her students. And she got that respect because they knew how much she cared about them. She always wanted Irish dancing to proliferate. It was never about her personally. She was never doing this for her own self-promotion.”
Determination is the word that comes to the mind of Beaton of the North American Irish dance group. “She always struck me as the kind of person who had a really strong mission in mind. She accomplished her goals simply by saying, “I’m going to do this.”
Anne Hall tells me that while her mother didn’t get mushy about it, she was touched that McTeggart Irish Dancers would continue after she’s gone. “She did let me know that she was tremendously proud that my sister and I had continued in her footsteps,” she says.
She didn’t let her later years slow her down, continuing her teaching trips into her mid-80s.
“Keep in mind she'd already had a stroke which affected her vision, both knees replaced, advanced macular degeneration in both eyes, and cataracts removed in both eyes as well,” Kevin Hall says. “She was like a heroic knight you see in the movies who has taken a dozen arrows and continues to fight and win.”
Still, for all her conviction and persistence, Mrs. Hall had a tenderness to her that could soar. Her son remembers a recent interaction between her and a 6-year-old student nervous about making a leap.
“My mom took her by the hand to support her while she leaped into the air,” he says. “She was literally and figuratively passing along the tradition.”
- Born: March 28, 1929
- Died: Feb. 16, 2017
- Occupation: Founder, McTeggart Irish Dancers
- Survivors: sister Betty Walsh of Cork, Ireland; children and in-laws Pat Hall of Tucson, Ariz.; Christina Hall of Fresno; Kevin Hall and Anne Mosgrove of Fresno; Tom and Jan Hall of Henderson, Nev.; Bill and Leila Hall of Fullerton; Vince Hall of San Diego; Anne Hall of Denver; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Preceded in death by her husband, William, and son Jack Hall of Fresno.
- Services: A Rosary will be prayed at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, at Whitehurst Sullivan Burns & Blair Funeral Home. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Interment will follow at St. Peter’s Cemetery.