The great celebration of Irish traditional music, Fleadh Cheoil has developed into Ireland’s premier traditional festival, attracting over a quarter of a million visitors each year – as well as the 11,000 or more participants. Ever since its relatively small beginnings in Mullingar in 1951, Fleadh Cheoil – literally, the Festival of Music – has sought to establish the highest standards in Irish traditional music by organising competitions. These have continued right through to today, but Fleadh Cheoil doesn’t stop there by any means; concerts, parades, pageants, ceildhs and impromptu singalongs make sure that the week in the middle of August absolutely flies by.
During the course of each year, qualifying competitions are held throughout Ireland to select the musicians to play in the Fleadh Cheoil competitions. There are solo competitions for a host of different instruments – including such traditional Irish ones as the bodhrán, the flue, the uilleann pipes, the fiddle and many, many more. Singing, in Irish and English, and whistling also form the basis of some competitions. When you take into account the fact that there are age-range categories of Under12, 12 to 15, 15 to 18 and Seniors, you begin to have some kind of idea just how much competition takes place at this festival. Even the finals of the All Ireland Annual Irish Language Conversation Competition take place here.
The events surrounding Fleadh Cheoil itself have developed substantially during recent years. For example, on the Sunday there is likely to be a Family Fun day, Fun sa Pháirc, with face painting, music, craft workshops, stalls and plenty of free activities. Young people are catered for by the Club Éigse – the largest indoor session for young people anywhere in the country – which gives them a wonderful opportunity to join in the musical jamboree. Every night, additionally, visitors can go along to the Singing Club – to join in or just to listen.
Although ‘the Fleadh’ developed mainly as a competitive event, its aim has always been to establish the highest possible standards in Irish traditional music and this is also reflected in the number and quality of the concerts held throughout the week. As with all festivals such as this, however, many people derive just as much enjoyment from the impromptu sessions that carry on into the small hours, involving people from all over the world.
Delightfully, this is one festival where there really are no boundaries between the generations. Young and old alike can be seen enjoying the experience of carrying on the great traditions of Irish culture – cherishing the songs, tunes, steps and rhythms of this always welcoming country.
The Fleadh Cheoil is organised annually by Comhaltas ceoltóirí Eirann, who are responsible for many other regional events and concerts during the year. There are always excellent camp site facilities associated with the Fleadh, many of which can be pre-booked. The organisers always work closely with bus and train companies, for those wishing to attend by public transport.
Traditionally, the Fleadh has not had a permanent home – the organisers preferring instead to visit all corners of the country. The event usually takes place in August. Confirmed details will be announced on the Comhaltas website once the decision has been announced.