The Fleadh Cheoil (Irish pronunciation: [fʲlʲaː çoːlʲ], meaning "festival of music") is an Irish music competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ). There are various stages to the competition. In Ireland there are county and provincial competitions leading to the All-Ireland Fleadh.
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is the most important event in the traditional music calendar. For many, it is the culmination of months of hard work and practice as they compete against fellow musicians, singers and dancers to achieve the recognition of being an All-Ireland champion.
For others it is a unique and welcoming festival of the best of traditional arts that offers a wide range of activities to be enjoyed by all.
In any town in County Kerry and any town in Ireland when there is a Fleadh Cheoil held you will see it full of people dragging wheelie suitcases and musical instruments through its streets as Fleadh Cheoil is the biggest traditional Irish music festival on the planet.
Fleadh Cheoil is regularily attended by up to and over 350,000 people.
The Fleadh is a magnet for the “larger Irish family” and also for people with no links to County Kerry or Ireland. Visitors with neither ancestral nor geographic links to Ireland but who, with a curiosity that we all welcome, have developed a kinship with the Irish through culture and the folk traditions.
A lot has changed over the years. Fleadh hoodies and T-shirts are the attire of choice for many young musicians. The official Fleadh cheoil website is encouraging them to play music, make new friends and take music selfies.
The elite of the traditional music world will arrive throughout the week and will be warmly welcomed, judging from the number of signs outside pubs declaring “musicians welcome”. “Sterling welcome” is another popular notice.
Listowel Town in Co. Kerry is widely regarded as the home of the Fleadh, as it has a proud record of hosting fourteen hugely successful All-Ireland Fleadhanna, most recently, in 2002.
There is always an action-packed programme of events for the Fleadh. These include a wide selection of outdoor and indoor concerts and events, céilithe, workshops, sessions, exhibitions and most importantly the Munster Fleadh competitions where competitors from the six counties of Munster will compete for a place in the next year’s All-Ireland Fleadh.
The first national festival of The Fleadh was held in Mullingar in 1951. At its inaugural meeting in September 1951, CCÉ came up with the title of Fleadh Cheoil, aiming to make this a great national festival of traditional music.
In the years that followed, the number of would-be competitors grew so large that qualifying stages had to be arranged at county and provincial levels. Since then, Fleadh Nua (the new fleadh), Fleadh na Breataine (an All-Britain fleadh) and regional fleadhanna in Britain, and two major fleadhanna in the USA have also become annual CCÉ events.
From its beginning, the goal of the Fleadh Cheoil was to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competition. The fleadh developed as a mainly competitive event, but it also includes many concerts, céilíthe, parades, and sessions.
Today, nearly 50 years on, fleadhanna at each level provide a platform and a meeting place for the thousands of musicians, singers and dancers who carry on the tradition. Around 20,000 performers compete in fleadhanna each year.
Wednesday night is the official opening and there will also be a concert. Thursday and Friday will see the dancing competitions takes place, along with a singing club. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be céilís, trad groups, and Comhaltas Branches performing on stage as well as music sessions in pubs around the town. On Saturday and Sunday, music, singing and comhrá competitions commence.
Competitions are divided into the following age categories: under 12, 12–15, 15–18, and over 18 (senior).
It is often said, as
another Fleadh draws to a close, “This was the best Fleadh yet...!” And there
is always some truth in that because each Fleadh builds on the success of its
predecessors, adding the uniqueness of its own place and traditions to the
experience gained by hardworking Fleadh Committees down through the years.