"Mags" McCarthy brings a group of students to a hotel for a night of traditional Irish dance and music every Tuesday. | Benjy Egel/Mustang News

Benjy Egel
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The last “Guy I met in the pub last night” isn’t actually a guy at all. She’s a short, red-haired dancer, teacher and musician named Margaret McCarthy, referred to by nearly everyone as just “Mags.”

Every Tuesday of the school year, McCarthy and her taxi-driving friend Martin bring visiting students out to a hotel next to Blarney Castle for a night of traditional Irish music and dancing (commonly referred to as trad).

When teaching an Introduction to Step Dancing class at University College Cork in 2011, McCarthy noticed most of her international students didn’t really know what they were getting into.

Many were interested in seeing skilled dancers perform but didn’t know where to find them in Cork. So McCarthy teamed up with the International Education office to get the word out about Blarney, where trad has been played on Tuesday nights for years.

“I bring all the students out just so they can enjoy their night and see Irish culture and meet local people,” she said. “It was a class thing at the start … then their friends wanted to come out and it just sort of became this ‘Blarney Tuesdays’ thing.”

McCarthy teaches music as well as step and set dancing at primary (elementary) schools. In her free time, she plays fiddle and dances with a number of different performance groups at weddings and other events.

After graduating from college, McCarthy toured around the world with an Irish rhythm and dance crew, performing in 42 different countries. While performing in the United States, her skills caught talent agent Michael Anthony’s eye.

Anthony helped set McCarthy up with solo performances across the U.S. after her group tour ended, where she played fiddle and danced in a country band. She met celebrities like Dolly Parton and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Tracii Guns, who told her how he missed too many rehearsals and was replaced by Slash before the band made it big.

However, the highlight of McCarthy’s time in America came when she played and danced for President Barack Obama and his family on St. Patrick’s Day in 2009. Meeting First Lady Michelle Obama was a dream come true, McCarthy said.

“She gave a big hug and he welcomed me and looked after me,” she said. “It was just a super achievement for me, for him to let anyone like the likes of me in his house.”

Despite her success in America, McCarthy kept getting homesick and flew back to Ireland as often as she could. Finally in 2011, she gave up touring and moved back to her family’s farm in Drispey, County Cork.

Though she described herself as a “homebody,” McCarthy will likely return to the United States for another long tour in the future, she said.

“I’ll probably go back (to the U.S.) again, but I’m happy out here for now,” she said. “Maybe next year I’ll go back. I play music with different bands here, but I’ve still got the band in America and I’d love to go back and play with them.”

McCarthy’s love of music extends past country and trad to pop, hip-hop, rock and even EDM, with Patsy Cline, Michael Jackson and Tiesto among her favorite artists. Her interest in American music has resulted in a pluckier, more bluegrass-like sound than other trad fiddlers.

Having three older brothers meant McCarthy was surrounded by sports growing up, especially Formula 1 Racing and soccer. She still watches both with her family, as well as rugby and American football.

She went on a run every morning growing up to build cardio for Irish dancing and still exercises when her busy schedule allows.

“When I’m not busy, I don’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I always want to do something. I can’t just sit there. Whether it’s washing the car or milking the cows, there’s always something to do.”

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