Television’s Dáithí Ó Sé and Doireann Ní Ghlacáin host the “Fleadh 2020” series.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Congratulations to the Irish Echo on last week’s “Big IrishEcho Campfire!” It was a momentous and really interesting event that explored, well, the current state of things.
Of particular interest to the readers of this column was the panel on the future of Irish festivals. Chaired by Catherine Barry (Director, Irish Culture Bay Area, San Francisco, VP Irish Literary and Historical Society), the half hour segment featured Colleen Kennedy (President, Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation), Frankie McCormick (Chair, North American Province, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann), Alison LeRoy (Director, Irish Fest Dublin, OH), Martin Cottingham (Chairman, The Great Irish Fair of New York), and Cindy Lerick (Irish Fair of Minnesota), and featured a lively discussion about the state of performance in this Covid-19 moment.
That this is a crisis moment for music and the arts was fully acknowledged. Topics that were discussed included concerns about how to monetize online content, how to retain audience share after this lull, and how increasingly restrictive immigration infrastructure will affect presentation as we move forward. It was a lovely discussion, but what I was perhaps struck most by was how fully the concerns and challenges theater folk share, as discussed in the day’s earlier panel chaired by Paddy Meskell (Co-Chair Solas Nua), map onto our own. We truly are in this together.
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Later on in the afternoon, Paul Keating (Public Relations Officer, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, North America), my counterpoint at the Irish Voice, spoke well about Comhaltas’s mission in a pre-recorded video. Hopefully, McCormick and Keating’s lead helped shed more
focused light for Campfire’s viewers on the economic and cultural impact Comhaltas has every year, and how important it is to support the organization and its mission.
And you know, normally, we’d all be in Ireland right now having the craic at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Covid changed that, unfortunately, and it’s a major loss for the music, especially since there are no guarantees the pandemic will be over in time for Mullingar 2021.
We’re not totally out to sea, however. Earlier this year, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and TG4 partnered to create a bit of rich Fleadh-replacement programming. Originally broadcast in June, and now available online through the TG4 website, the “Fleadh 2020” series has four episodes, each thematically linked to one of the four provinces – “Mumhan,” “Connachta,” “Ulaidh,” and “Laighean” – that do an excellent job in capturing the Fleadh’s spirit.
They’re marvelously done and feature a broad sampling of different Fleadh Cheoil experiences that are sure to whet the whistle of attendees past, present, and – hopefully – future. The four episodes are hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé and Doireann Ní Ghlacáin, who make a great team. Viewers will know Ó Sé from RTÉ One’s “Today” and from the Rose of Tralee. Ní Ghlacáin is a rising television presenter, but readers here should remember her as a fiddle player of exceptional stature who, with concertina player Sarah Flynn, was behind the brilliant album “The Housekeepers” (2019).
Each show is thematically driven, highlighting the music of one province. Several “Fleadh familes” are profiled, paying tribute to those that show up every year. One visit, for example, is with the famous Droney family in Co. Clare. Another segment profiled the Ó Fátharta family from Moycullen, with family members talking about what the Fleadh means and how the cancellation this year affects them. It’s poignant stuff. Attention is also paid to the Fleadh’s international reach. The first episode, for example, features a group of musicians based in Brisbane, Australia. In the next, Ó Sé highlights the international flavor further, mentioning participants from “Brazil, Nova Scotia, Argentina, [and] Finland,” before a lovely feature on the Toyota Céilí Band from Japan. There are lots of fine performances by representatives from all strata of the music.
Episode one starts off with a fine performance from five-in-a-row U18 winners, the Crossfields Céilí Band. Episode three includes another fine U18 group, County Down’s Banna Cheoil an Aird. Performances such as these (from all age groups) pepper each episode and highlight the vitality
of the tradition as it’s being cultivated today. Episode two includes a lovely profile on Marie Walsh and the Comhaltas branch in Clifton as well.
Performances and interviews from the big guns that they’ve included are excellent. I think of segments featuring the Sí Fiddlers (with an interview with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Aisling Byrne, and Tara Connaghan); Lisa O’Neill; Doireann interviewing and then playing with Paddy & Kevin Glackin; Four Men and a Dog; Steve Cooney w/ Séamus Begley; Ademar O’Connor w/ Gearóid McNamara; Michael Flatley (on flute!); and Matt Molloy w/ John Carty as being particular standouts, but there is much more to see and enjoy.
These are really programs about generational music making and building bridges. At times, the shows focus on the nostalgia and reminiscences of older folks. Elsewhere, they capture the spirit of discovery for young people and older initiates. We also learn about people
on different sides of political opinion finding common ground in the music. Shining through it all, though, is the notion that music is about the craic, the camaraderie, and the relationships that build through it over time.
Each episode runs about one hour, 20 minutes, and they’re presented in Irish (with available English subtitles), but there are plenty of segments in English. These are must-watch shows for anyone affected by the cancellation of this year’s Fleadh. They will help scratch the itch. But because of the high production standard, the excellent selection of guests, and the diverse focus, I recommend them to anyone who loves great traditional music. (The shows are available to watch on the TG4 website. The following link will bring you to all four episodes: tinyurl.com/TheMusicContinues) Roll on Mullingar 2021!