The first ever virtual Fleadh Cheoil is an exciting musical and cultural innovation that will enable us to share our music with people all around the world.
When the difficult decision was taken to cancel Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann for both 2020 and 2021, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was faced with a major challenge. The pandemic had put paid to one of Ireland’s most iconic cultural and music events in 2020, and no-one wanted to see the same scenario repeated in August 2021, the first week of which have traditionally been set aside for the Fleadh Cheoil.
And so, Fleadhfest came into being. While the festival concept was developed in response to public safety concerns around the gathering of large groups of people – a feature of every Fleadh Cheoil – the idea of people in different countries participating in a virtual Fleadh is also a great opportunity to push the boundaries for Irish music.
Being hosted in Sligo, which ran two highly successful Fleadhanna Cheoil in 2014 and 2015 was a good starting point when Comhaltas decided to assemble a group who could plan, co-ordinate and implement a music programme which would include many of the Fleadh Cheoil mainstays like competitions, concerts and sessions, but with a strong emphasis placed on virtual online platforms, and, of course, with Covid-19 guidelines being adhered to.
And so, between August 1st-9th, Sligo will play host to a number of online events every day, streaming free to air on our online platforms, principally the Fleadhfest website and on our social media channels, but also on partner channels, including that of TG4, our principal media partner.
Currently, the programme of events which will take place is currently being planned. All of these will prioritise the delivery of quality music via online platforms. Perhaps, if Covid-19 restrictions ease, limited tickets will also become available, enabling the public to attend some outdoor events. To register your interest in attending these events, we recommend that you sign up to our newsletter, which will bring the latest information directly to your email inbox as soon as these decisions are made. This is also the best way to follow the programme as it develops in the coming weeks.
What we do know about the music events being planned is that the emphasis will be on live virtual concerts, sessions and competitions, and that the remainder of the programme will be compiled from pre-recorded clips submitted by musicians, concerts which may have been streamed previously, and existing, archival content which will delve into the many aspects of traditional Irish music, not just here in Sligo, but all around the country. TG4 has also committed to the production of several broadcasts throughout the festival.
At Fleadhfest, the main concerts will feature some of the biggest traditional Irish music groups, as well as up-and-coming bands. Other, niche live broadcasts will also take place, recreating the intimacy of the music session, another Fleadh staple (without any audience participation, alas!). Like every Fleadh Cheoil, competitions will take centre stage and some of these will also be streamed online.
We also invite musicians all over the world to self-record themselves playing a tune or singing a song, and – provided that they have been filmed to a reasonable standard – this content will also be included in our online schedule. To help you record your tune or song using nothing more than a smartphone, we recommend you check out our video tutorial. Finally, Scoil Éigse, our pop-up music school tutored by some of Ireland’s finest musicians, which is a central part of any Fleadh Cheoil, will also happen online this year. So, despite the challenges, that looks like a pretty full programme for our virtual trad fans!
Put the dates 1st-9th August in the diary. We would ask anyone hoping to visit Sligo or local people who would like to attend any of the events in person to follow the latest health advice. Currently we are planning for an online-only festival, but, as mentioned, should Covid-19 restrictions allow, we may be able to allow attendances in person. We reiterate that these events will be ticket-only to ensure that everyone involved, whether musician, volunteer, crew or member of the public, can enjoy Fleadhfest in a safe environment. All of these details will be posted on the website, across social media channels and on our newsletter.
Sign up now, and let’s look forward to the music in August!
With special thanks to the Diocese of Elphin and to Sligo Social Services.