By Harry Keaney
The clickety-clack of fancy footwork is music to Pat Fay’s ears, particularly if he has supplied the shoes. “I wouldn’t have to look, I only have to listen and I would know from the sound that they are my shoes,” he said.
For those who make and supply Irish dancing shoes, business has never been better, boosted in no small part by the phenomenal success of Riverdance and its successor, Lord of the Dance. Indeed, the company run by Fay, 34, and his 32-year old brother Eamon, in Dublin, has supplied Riverdance dancers and was featured in the Riverdance video “The Journey.”
“God bless Michael Flatley,” Fay remarked, referring the male superstar lead of both shows.
Fay, who now lives in Yonkers, N.Y., is the second generation of his family in the shoe business. It all began when his father, Donal, a native of Cavan, moved to Dublin as a young man. “He was a shoemaker making regular shoes,” Fay said. “About 1993, he was doing some work for Irish dancers and he noticed that the hard shoes gave kids problems with blisters and he came up with the idea that more flexible shoes with softer supple leather was the future.”
From that idea came Fay Dancing Shoes’ biggest seller, the Flexisole, with fiberglass tips and heels.
Fay, who learned Irish dancing himself as a child, explained that the advantage of the Flexisole is that it makes arching of the feet easier and enables the dancer to perform a lot of footwork. “Our Flexisole shoes are 100 percent leather, which means the lining is leather also,” Fay explained. “It fits like a glove, it takes the shape of the foot. And we have not stuck the soles on but stitched them on.”
Asked what’s the secret of the Flexisole, Fay would only say that it’s “a certain type of leather that I am not going to mention.”
The Fay brothers came to the U.S. in 1989. For four years, Patrick was a bartender and Eamon worked in construction. “Before we came here, we both had our own shoe repair shops in Dublin but it was a dying business,” Patrick said.
While general shoe repair, the age-old art of the cobbler, was in decline, Irish dancing was about to explode in popularity. And after Donal Fay had come up with the Flexisole, Patrick and Eamon returned home.
“We decided we would go back and expand the business in Dublin with the idea of me coming back here,” Patrick said.
“We got very lucky,” he added. “We only started making the shoes in 1993. At that stage Riverdance wasn’t even thought of.”
Today, Eamon Fay heads a thriving shoe factory in Dublin’s Denmark Street, supplying hand-made shoes to dancers not only in Ireland but throughout the world.
Patrick Fay will soon set up his own workshop in Yonkers to give Irish dancers in the U.S. a “more complete and efficient service.”
“At first I will make the shoes myself with the hope of having a couple of guys working for me in a few months,” he said.
Such is demand for Irish dancing shoes in the U.S. that Patrick Fay said he could use all the shoes his brother currently makes in Dublin.
Patrick Fay’s is now a familiar face at dance competitions, feiseanna, and Irish festivals throughout the U.S. He also visits and fits entire dancing schools. Next Easter, he will travel to the world Irish dancing championships in Ennis, Co. Clare.
On the American west coast, Fays’ dancing shoes are available through Shamrock Imports, in Valley Village, north of Hollywood, Calif.
Entering his office last week, Fay’s phone was ringing. “Do you know what size you need,” he asked the caller. He listened, then queried further. “Size 7, is that Irish or American?”
With a few more details settled, a delivery date promised and credit number in hand, another pair of Fays dancing shoes was on their way.
Little wonder Michael Flatley has Pat Fay’s blessings.