It’s the largest celebration of Irish music and culture anywhere in the world. But beyond the festivities, there’s a reason why The All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil is known as ‘The Olympics of Irish music'
To be the best
They rise before dawn, eager to cram an hour or three of practice in before work or school. Tin whistles poke out from school bags and shirt pockets, while banjos are slung over shoulders for the walk to work. It takes supreme dedication to compete in The All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil (which literally means feast of music and is usually known simply as just ‘The Fleadh’).
It takes a quiet kind of passion to make it through the regional and then provincial heats. Beating off fierce competition from all over the island of Ireland and the UK to make it through to the largest gathering of traditional Irish musicians anywhere on the planet.
This is the Olympics of traditional Irish music.
This year, though, the cream of the trad music crop set course for the City of Derry~Londonderry. It was the first time The Fleadh had taken place in Northern Ireland in its illustrious and competitive 60-year history. The city’s huge historic 17th century walls didn't repel the invaders this time, though. Instead, the gates were wide open and welcoming.
History in the making
Musical competitors – from knee-high to ripe old age – converged on the walled city from every corner of Ireland, bringing their regional styles of music along with them. The fiddlers of County Clare with their slow, lyrical style; the bold bodhrán players from the rebel County of Cork, the concertina players of the kingdom of Kerry and the pipers of County Armagh.
Thousands of years worth of musical heritage echoed around Derry~Londonderry’s walls.
Tom Hanafin, Musical Director of Siamsa Tire, National Folk Theatre of Ireland, explains its magic: “The Fleadh is where the tension of competition fuses with the excitement of success. But it’s the informal music sessions that are to be found in every nook and cranny that make the Fleadh cheoil a truly unique experience.”
Champions of the Trad world
There are more music makers you should be familiar with…Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (Association of Ireland’s musicians and also known as CCE) are the people behind The All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil. This is a cultural movement stretching around the globe dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional Irish music. It was the CCE’s task to judge and choose the winners in the various heats.
And boy, did they have a job on their hands.
Competition from the fiddlers to the flutists, the Uileann Pipers to the harpists and all the rest was friendly, but it was ferocious, too.
As the dust settled, and instruments were tenderly placed back into cases, the new champions of the traditional Irish music world were crowned, proud as punch and beaming with pride. Their rewards are fame and glory, but everyone comes away a winner from The Fleadh.
You see, spectators of this musical feast were rewarded the best trad music Ireland and the UK had to offer. For those of us who can’t string a tune together, but adore the rhythmic magnetism of traditional Irish music, you can’t beat this rhythmic Olympics.
And with TripAdvisor voting Derry~Londonderry the 4th best city to visit in the world during 2013, not to mention Lonely Planet giving the place its huge seal of approval, all that’s left to ask is:
Are you dancing? Because we’re asking…