Tome throws spotlight on band competition's history

Folks, have you heard?  Registration for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Fleadh is open!  Yes, open!  The area’s only Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann qualifying event (and one of only two in the country) will take place Friday, May 10, through Sunday, May 12, at the Parsippany Hilton in Parsippany, N.J.  Now is the time to get on board if you or a loved one is planning on competing.

 A few new wrinkles to report this time around.  First off, there’s a new, revamped website and a fresh url to take you there,, so update those bookmarks!  There, you will find a couple fundraising efforts, including a link to buy Mid-Atlantic Fleadh spiritwear, such as shirts, hoodies, stickers, magnets and more, and another link to buy tickets for the Fleadh & Hall of Fame raffle

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 Click on the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh tab at the top of the page and you’ll be taken to the the competition registration page.  Click on the registration link and you’ll be taken to FEISWEB, the online competition entry system used for Irish dance Feiseanna.  Although new and different, fret not: the FEISWEB system will streamline the registration process and improve coordination with Comhaltas in Ireland.

 On the Fleadh page you’ll also find information about purchasing ads for the digital ad journal, one of the newer Fleadh weekend innovations.  And at the bottom of the page, there is a link for the Region’s email list – the best way to stay up-to-date with the Region’s goings on.

 The weekend itself has a lot in store.  As always, there will be céilithe and competitions but once again, the big event will be the Hall of Fame Banquet which will take place of Fleadh Saturday.  This gala event will feature the induction of Dawn Doherty, Niall Mulligan, Siobhan Kelly and Kathleen Collins (RIP) into the Region’s Hall.  In addition, Gar Disalvo will be given the region’s Service Award for his consistent, high level contributions.  All of this recognition is well deserved — so congrats to everyone being recognized this year!

 So that’s that!  The 2024 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh weekend is shaping up to be a brilliant event, especially for the young folks looking to compete in Ireland.  For more, visit

 Hey, speaking of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, a short while ago I got my hands on an incredible book called “On the Night: Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Musicians and Senior Céilí Band Winners 1951-2021” by Philip Duffy.  An awesome 977-page tome that includes two accompanying CDs, it should be considered the defining statement chronicling Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Senior Céilí Band Competition, the crown jewel of its annual Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.  Fans of traditional music, especially those interested in this entirely consequential competition, should make an effort to check it out. I highly recommend it.

 Author Philip Duffy, a fiddle player who was a member of the 2009 champion Dartry Céilí Band, has done something incredibly significant here.  In uncovering the history of this annual competition, he has shed really comprehensive light on an important part of music making in Ireland, “where the band names themselves,” as he tells us in his introduction, “in many cases have tended, especially with the passage of time, to overshadow those individual men and women that played with them.”

 Although this book certainly possesses serious scholarly value, it isn’t presented as a mere academic exercise.  Duffy, for example, doesn’t really take an exhaustive look at the history of céilí band music, nor does he offer comprehensive critical analysis of Comhaltas’s mission and growth.  Rather, his goals, are more gentle, modeled more an “attempt to capture an oral history and record the collective memories of a generation who lived through a time when these céilithe gatherings were indeed the mainstay of our country’s entertainment.” 

 But in profiling the 36 bands covered here, he brings 408 musicians into a rigorous and well-deserved spotlight.  We learn about the name brand céilí bands that anyone who plays traditional music knows about, the lesser known ones, the more recent ones, the musicians who played in all of them when they won and the overlapping webs of musical relationship that animate the stories of these folks.  All of it is revelatory stuff that sheds light on a type of music making in Ireland that’s been a focus of national competition and local pride for more than a half century.  

 In addition, we learn about things like institutional change within Comhaltas, such as how competition qualifications developed and affected the competition over the years.  Although not at all the book’s focus, these bits come as part of the larger tale, adding to the picture and giving this book a very “complete” feel.

 The book includes a lavish number of marvelous archival photographs that span the competition’s 70 years.  I’m not sure how many are published here for the first time, but the curation is excellent and really helps bring the stories being told here to great life.

 Two CDs are found inside the book’s back cover and contain 39 tracks of great, well selected céilí band music.  Some of these tracks are taken from commercial recordings, others from organizations like Comhaltas, RTÉ and the BBC, and still others from private sources.  The choices here are quite good because they reveal each band’s individual character and style, despite the apparent similarity some find in céilí band music in general, and really add to the stories Duffy tells.

 I think “On the Night” is a truly incredible book.  The way the information is organized rewards both casual and completist reader.  The research is expansive and contains a wealth of well-handled information that not only says something about Irish music making, but speaks about the cultural path of modern Ireland.  The photos are brilliant, both adding to the story and conferring a kind of “coffee table” style look.  This book will, of course, appeal to fans and to scholars of traditional music.  But I wonder if the scope, presentation and, frankly, prestige of this publication will attract diplomatic/corporate attention as well – it certainly warrants it.  Again, very highly recommended.  To learn more, visit