Inaugural Fleadh an Phobail (community Fleadh) a huge success in Ballina with the event now set to advance to all Provincial Fleadhanna in 2024
Musicians, singers, dancers and members of Comhaltas Árd Comhairle converge
in North Mayo.
The Connacht Fleadh and inaugural Community Fleadh – or Fleadh an Phobail – kicked off in style last Friday June 23rd in Ballina, with Irish traditional music and more enlivening a host of different venues around the North Mayo Capital.The heart of the Fleadh – the competitions – took place Saturday and Sunday, July 1 and 2, after Dr Labhrás Ó Murchú, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Árd Stiúrthóir, officially opened the Fleadh in the Ballina Arts Centre.
For many in Ballina, the Connacht and Fleadh an Phobail, brought with it a sense of great nostalgia from the time the town hosted the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1997 and 1998.
The weekend featured a lively performance in Ballina Arts Centre by Máirtín O‘Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd, as well as the Mayo Teenage Trad Ensemble. Sunday was ‘Uilleann piping day’, with workshops and a talk on the most-Irish of instruments – and of course a performance – taking place in the Merry Monk.
The week-long series of the Fleadh community events featured a whole range of traditional events, including music sessions, Irish-language meet-ups, a Croagh Patrick climb, Nephin Mountain Climb, Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park, GAA matches, a Macra na Feirme quiz night and a Singing club.
Ballina Library hosted Ceol agus Amhránaíocht while Gael Linn hosted Tráth na gCeist le Páisti Ó’Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maol, Béal an Átha. The Merry Monk hosted a step dancing workshop with Noel Devery.
Éamonn Ceannt’s set of Uilleann pipes were on display at the Jackie Clarke Collection , and his grandniece Mary Gallagher delivered the Éamonn Ceannt Lecture at the same venue. Then back to the Merry Monk, where acclaimed box player PJ Hernon launched his latest CD and local trad musicians joined forces with special guests Paddy Tighe and Darren Regan for a bumper music session.
Master classes with Bríd Harper and Dermot Byrne took place in Ballina Arts Centre followed by a recital with the duo. The pair were also on hand later that night to host a tribute night in memory of musicians who recently passed away, including Peter Gallagher (Accordion), Mick Shannon (Fiddle), Michael McCarrick (Guitar) and John Cosgrove (accordion/guitar, singer).
Friday’s daytime event, a Field trip to the Céide Fields, followed by the official opening in Ballina Arts Centre, then a Killala Bay Folk Club session in the Arkle Lounge, Rouse’s Bar, Pearse St.
While the competitions dominated the weekend’s events, attendees also enjoyed a musical instrument showcase in St Mary’s Secondary School, a historical tour of Ballina with Terry Reilly, a ‘Pop up Gaeltacht’ with Mayo County Council on Market Square, a Céilí, a Busking competition, an introduction to rowing, a handball Match, Mayo ICA, High Nellie Cycle display, Mayo Vintage Car display, Farmers Market, a Fly casting demo on the River Moy, wood turning demonstration with Willie Creighton, non-stop music on the Fleadh Gig Rig , and Set and Sean-Nós dancing in the Marquee. There was even a Boxty and Potato-cake making demonstration and of course lots and lots of musical showcases.
CCÉ DG Dr O’Murchú and Árd Comhairle member Pat Flanagan spent a number of days in Ballina to over-see the inaugural community Fleadh taking shape and to liaise with the local Fleadh committee, County Board and Connacht Council throughout the week and identify ways in which the community Fleadh can be developed and further enhanced. The Ballina Fleadh committee pulled out all stops to ensure it went off without a hitch.
With the success of the inaugural Fleadh an Phobail in Ballina, the Árd Comhairle will now advance the event further in 2024, “This Provincial Fleadh will be Fleadh an Phobail – a community celebration,” Dr O’Murchú explained. “All organisations in the community will have the opportunity to be part of this celebration of who we are as a people – a sense of place, nation and tradition. The local meitheal of volunteers have given of their time and talents to deliver this shopwindow of Irish cultural traditions.”
Speaking to the Western People on Monday post the Fleadh, Mr Ó Murchú said Ballina ticks all the boxes for hosting an All-Ireland Fleadh event. “I have no doubt. Every time I come to Ballina, I realise it has all the requirements for an All-Ireland Fleadh. It is big enough to provide the services and the atmosphere.
“A lot of big towns don’t have the atmosphere required but Ballina has it everywhere. The ’97 and ’98 Fleadhanna are a part of Comhaltas folklore.”
He said Ballina has now provided a good template for rolling out the Community Fleadh Nationwide next year after the town was awarded the honour of hosting the inaugural Community Fleadh this year.
“We wanted to develop the Community Fleadh and we had a competition among the towns in the four provinces. Ballina realised everything about community involvement in the Fleadh.
“Looking at the programme, there were so many different aspects over and above what would be at a Provincial Fleadh.”
“We’re expanding it next year into other Provinces. Ballina has provided a template for each Province to look at.
Irish culture, language and music were celebrated on an ongoing basis from the beginning of the Connacht Fleadh on June 23 up to the grand finale on July 2nd.
The final notes rang out around 10pm on the closing Sunday night at a gala finale session headed by Árds CCE Belfast in the Merry Monk, bringing an end to the Connacht and Community Fleadh in Ballina