Flame of tradition burns bright at Fleadh Nua 2015

“And then the boys from Comhaltas decided then and there To take this fleadh from Dublin and bring it down to Clare This music song and dance event is now part of our folklore Since it arrived here in Ennis in Nineteen seventy four.”

The sense that we were about to witness a special Fleadh Nua was evident from the very opening night when Oliver O’Connell’s powerful delivery of his ode to the festival was accompanied by music of the highest standard performed by his son, Michael on the pipes and Jennifer Markham on Fiddle. In recent years, local Comhaltas branches have been invited to produce a programme for entertainment at the Official Opening which so as to give the audience an idea of what they might expect over the following days. This year Ennis Branch took to the stage and with pride of place very much at stake, Miriam Glynn and Mary Boohan ensured that the Townies more than upheld the high standards shown by their rural counterparts on previous occasions. Deirdre Whelan and her daughters’ spirited rendition of “Four and Nine” was warmly received. Accordeon virtuoso, Martin Connolly has called Ennis home for many years and his playing lit up the evening – his interpretation of the old Irish Air “Gol na mBan san Ár” being a particular highlight. Colm Nestor is doing Trojan work in the promotion and teaching of our traditional music to the younger generation and his charges showed that the future of the music in the town is very much assured.

One of the main features of this year’s festival was a programme offering events morning, noon and night every day for the duration of the festival – a daunting challenge but one which was successfully met. From small beginnings the Cupán Ceoil Café Sessions have become an integral part of the programme. They have proved immensely popular with musicians, visitors and locals alike. They provide an invaluable opportunity for visiting musicians to play with some of Trad Music’s finest exponents such as Eoin O’Neill, Yvonne Casey, Liam Lewis, Murty Ryan, and Dessie Kelleher – to name but some. We are greatly obliged to all of the participating musicians for their generosity in helping to make these Sessions so successful.

Such was the overwhelming demand for places at the “Riches of Clare” Concert Series that a change of venue was necessary to accommodate the throngs wishing to sample the finest musicians from County Clare and beyond. And with a line-up featuring musicians including Anne Marie McCormack, Niamh O'Dea, James Devitt, Christy Barry, Conor McCarthy, John Faulkner, Finola Ryan, Liam Ryan, David Sanders, Elaine Hogan, Dave Harper, Conor Keane, Johnny Ringo McDonagh and Kevin Finnucane you can understand why. The Sanctuary proved an ideal alternative venue and the switch was achieved with a minimum of fuss and disruption – testament to the good nature of the musicians involved, the Clare County Council Arts Office, Management and Staff of the Venue and the audience.

As afternoon came around, it was time to head over to the newly developed Parish Centre for Frank Custy’s Foinn Seisiún. Frank and his crack team comprising Pat O’Loughlin, Flan Murtagh and Noel Casey were joined by over 40 musicians with plenty of singers and dancers thrown in for good measure. It was great to hear John Gavin display his prowess on the Mouth Organ at the ripe old age of 91. The atmosphere generated at Foinn Seisiún is truly unique and the event exemplifies the highly participatory nature of the festival.

The range and quality of this year’s schedule of evening events was particularly pleasing. The Tribute Night which was held to mark the posthumous presentation of a Gradam Seirbhíse an Chomhaltais award to the late Marty Marrinan in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to our traditional arts will be spoken of for years to come. It seemed like the population of West Clare decamped en masse to Cois na hAbhna so as to honour one of their own with the music, songs and dances that Marty loved so much. In the midst of all the performers who gathered for the occasion, it was only right and fitting that the Marrinan family should play such an active part in the night’s proceedings and on a night that was replete with emotion his daughter, Gráinne’s fine rendition of “Around the Chapel Gates in Cooraclare” did her late father’s memory proud. Marty Marrinan’s legacy lives on in the memories of all who ever heard him play or sing, performances of a rare true spirit and feeling that can only come from the heart of the tradition. A visitor to the Fleadh from North Carolina remarked of the evening: “I had never heard of Marty Marrinan before but now I feel like I have known him, his family and friends all of my life.”

Concerts and Recitals at the Fleadh included a spectacular late night recital by Jack Talty and Cormac Begley in the fabulous setting of the Rowan Tree Café Bar. The Friday night Concert featured Pipers Union, Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Blackie O’Connell, Siobhán Peoples and Cyril O’Donoghue and a delighted audience lapped up the virtuosity on display and the sheer energy of the performances.

Glór was packed to capacity as Seán Ó Sé received the inaugural Loise an Traidisiúin award from Ard-Stiurthóir an Chomhaltais, an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú in recognition of his life’s work in keeping the flame of our Traditional Arts agus an Ghaeilge burning brightly. Seán delivered a bravura performance showcasing all the old favourites including: “Im’ Aonar Seal” accompanied by Peadar Ó Riada, “Iníon an Phalaitínigh” with Michael Tubridy and John Kelly, “Do Bhí Bean Uasal”, “Sliabh na mBan” accompanied by Eileen O’Brien, “An Poc ar Buille”, “Bacach Buí na Léige” with the Turloughmore Céilí Band and a masterful rendition of “The Foggy Dew” accompanied by Geraldine Cotter. Nóra Butler and Alice Stewart were also on hand to share the singing duties with their great friend on the night and with ceol den scoth from Chris Droney, Áine McGrath and Francis Droney and Martin Donohoe and dancing from Mark Nestor and friends this concert was a sheer delight from beginning to end.

Musicians, singer and dancers descended on Ennis from the four corners of Ireland, from Britain and the USA for the launch of “Maestro” – the eagerly awaited CD of Bobby Casey’s music which has been produced by Cois na hAbhna Regional Archive. The evening began with a short video presentation which included archive footage of Bobby as a young musician in London. Produced by Ray Conway and Edmond Krasniqi, it received a prolonged round of applause. The line-up was a veritable who’s who of Irish music. Glór was packed to capacity and the audience held spellbound by the various performers each with their own heart touching memory of a fun loving family man and a master musician. Unfazed by the daunting number of performers, Clare F.M. presenter, Paula Carroll skilfully weaved a most entertaining programme making it a truly memorable celebration of the music and musicianship of this giant of Traditional Music for both audience and artistes alike. And what a glorious line-up it was featuring the talents of John Carty, Jacky Daly, Danny Meehan, Francie Daly Set (Rinceoirí an Chláir) John Kelly, Antóin Mac Gabhann, Séamus MacMathúna, Ian Roome, Michael Falsey, Séamus Ó Rocháin, Eamon McGivney, John Joe Tuttle, Angela Crotty, Tim Dennehy, Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis, Eamon Cotter, Geraldine Cotter, Maeve Donnelly, Vincent, Griffin, Breda Keville, Claire Keville, John Lyons, The McCarthy Family Miltown Malbay, Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha, Máire O’Keeffe, Róisín White, Denis Liddy, Mary Liddy, Thierry Masure, Barry Taylor, Susie Cox, and Eoin O’Neill.

“The London Lasses” brought their newly released CD “The One I Loved the Best” to Fleadh Nua much to the delight of their many fans and their performance at the festival will undoubtedly have attracted many, many new ones.

Year after year, the Singing Sessions arranged by Joe O’Connor continue to gain in popularity. They provide an oasis of calm in the midst of all the music and dance which abounds at Fleadh Nua. Songs and recitations addressing themes as diverse as unrequited love, the loneliness of the emigrant, pride of place, rebellion, and the vagaries of the economy brought us from the battlefield of Waterloo right up to the demise of the Celtic Tiger. In the year which saw the sad passing of Kit Hodge, leader of the Liverpool Céilí Band it was wholly appropriate that the long established link between Britain and the festival be maintained by awarding Gradam Ceoil Fleadh Nua to Bruce Scott and Seamus Brogan for sterling services rendered in the promotion of Traditional Singing. Guest appearances by Christina Pierse and Annmarie O’Riordan completed the line-up for the sessions. These nights of song and verse will live long in the memory of those privileged to attend thanks in no small part to contributions from the current TG4 Amhránaí na Bliana, Róisín White, Aoife Casey, Nóirín Lynch, Vincent Pierse, Ann Marie Fitzgerald, Pat Murray, and a simply gorgeous rendition of “Bunclody” by Terry Wilson.

Despite the unseasonable chill in the air, some of the most enjoyable entertainment took place amuigh faoin spéir at this year’s festival. Karen Vaughan is to be highly commended for her work in teaching and promoting our Traditional Arts to the pupils of Scoil Chríost Rí who come from many diverse cultures and nationalities.

Their session at the O’Connell Monument was simply a sight to behold. Patrons of Glór were treated to a Seisiún na nÓg assembled by the County Youth Officers ably assisted by Ann Hayes. Many of the young artistes who performed on the Opening Night were also on hand for a great display of music in the Temple Gate Plaza with thanks again due to Colm Nestor for his efforts in this regard. An Open Air Art Exhibition and a free Guided Walking Tour by Joan O’Brien completed the outdoor events programme.

The dancing fraternity were delighted to avail of the host of opportunities afforded by the festival in the form of Céilithe, Céilí / Set / Sean-Nós Dancing Competitions and Set Dancing Workshops. Ireland’s foremost Seanchaí, Eddie Lenihan kept the audience in the palm of his hand as he carefully distinguished between “the Good People” as presented by Walt Disney and those who inhabit his stories. Screenings of “Last Night As I Lay Dreaming” were well received by appreciative audiences eager to learn of the life and songs of the King of Spancil Hill, Robbie McMahon whose absence is always keenly felt at Fleadh Nua. A youth recital and plethora of CD launches completed the formal programme of events. A comprehensive Pub Music Trail involving 66 separate sessions and 125 musicians added greatly to the enjoyment of the festival.

What better way to end the review of this year’s festival than with the words of our very own poet laureate, Oliver O’Connell:

“The Fleadh Nua is music, set dancing, songs and craic Parades and Entertainment cups of Tea and Barm Brack…

Friendships and Memories and visitors from afar And a re-evaluation of the people that we are”

Source : Fleadh Nua Press Release

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