The Fleadh for First-timers
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is coming to Sligo. Translated, its name means The Music Festival of Ireland and that is exactly what it is. The Fleadh, as it is usually called, is the largest single festival of Irish Music and can reach attendances of 400,000 over the course of nine eventful days.
The Fleadh is a competition for amateur musicians. From the mythical times to the present day there have been festivals in Ireland judging and celebrating the skills and arts of entertainers. The focus was always on individual ability and so it is to this day. Few places in the western world have managed to maintain their musical traditions as successfully as Ireland has. The Fleadh is the showcasing of this tradition as well as a celebration of the individual skills of the competitors. It is a valuable testament to creativity. It is a celebration of the new ways for doing the old things. It is a great holiday. It is a big party.
The Fleadh means many things to different people. The first half of the week is taken up by Scoil Éigse. Classes are held for people of all ages and abilities in traditional Irish music. Walking and historical tours are held for visitors along with films, seminars, street performances and markets. The evening is usually spent crammed into a nice cosy little pub for a hearty sing-along, a seisiún and a ‘quiet’ drink!
As a folk festival you do not need to be an expert on music to enjoy the Fleadh. Audiences are welcome at the competitions where they will be delighted by the amazing skills of the (mostly) young competitors. There are adult competitions but these only make up a quarter of the bouts. Other competitions are held at u12, 12-15 and u18 levels. There are competitions for all the traditional instruments but also whistling, lilting, singing and dancing. The competitors have all won their right to participate at regional heats so every bout is a guaranteed concert.
The heart of the festival is the enjoyment of music. This is found in the lively street sessions and late-night seisiúns (same word different language) that the competitors and other musicians spin out in an unending offering of top-quality live music.
And when the day is over, and you creep back to your home, hotel, campsite, hostel or tent you will understand how easy it was for Ireland to keep this tradition alive.