With Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann cancelled for the second consecutive year due to Covid-19, Comhaltas have taken the innovative step of producing a virtual Fleadh Cheoil called Fleadhfest, which will take place during the traditional Fleadh Cheoil dates of 1st-9th August 2021.
Fleadhfest will take place in Sligo, which hosted two successful Fleadhanna Cheoil in 2014 and 2015, for this virtual festival, which will feature many of the events typical of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, including concerts, sessions, competitions, recitals, and more. Top names include Dervish, Téada, the Mairtin O’Connor Band, Moxie and the Knocknashee Céilí Band, all of whom will play live from the Fleadhfest gig rig.
“All of our content will be streamed free to air, and depending on the easing of restrictions, we also aim to make a limited number of tickets available for people to attend our main events in person,” says Bartley Gavin, Chair of the organising committee of Fleadhfest. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get live traditional music back into the open air, and we hope that Fleadhfest will give viewers a real sense of things beginning to return to normality with top class performances, and hopefully, by the time next year’s Fleadh comes around, things will have returned to normality.”
The Fleadhfest team have organised a number of concerts, sessions and competitions throughout the nine day festival, which will be streamed across the social media channels of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and broadcast partner TG4, as well as on the Fleadhfest website. These include evening outdoor concerts with some of the main acts featured above, as well as lunchtime sessions from the Hawk’s Well Theatre, and other pre-recorded events which will be streamed regularly throughout the day.
“The Fleadh Cheoil is a huge event, which has been running for 70 years and is known the world over,” says Fleadhfest Musical Director Oisín Mac Diarmada, whose band Téada will also feature on the bill. “This year for Fleadhfest, while we wanted to include many of the regular Fleadh concerts and sessions, we also wanted to offer people something that perhaps you wouldn’t expect at a Fleadh, and this is where online comes into its own.
We’ve reached out to musicians all around the world to contribute music to this year’s Fleadhfest programme. So, throughout the festival programme, alongside live concerts with major names like Dervish and Mairtin O’Connor, we’ll also have clips of people from around the world playing their own tunes at home. For us, it’s important that Fleadhfest is as inclusive as possible. Everyone has struggled with the pandemic, so to have an opportunity to have your tunes streamed alongside those of other musicians from many different countries is a great way to show solidarity with musicians everywhere.
As well as the concert programme, Fleadhfest will also feature competitions, which will take place throughout the weekend of 6th-8th August and which will feature hundreds of musicians competing across a range of instruments. Overseeing this programme of competitions on behalf of Comhaltas is musician and teacher Majella Bartley.
“Competitions have always been at the heart of the Fleadh Cheoil, and we would have people taking part literally from every corner of the world in a normal year,” says Majella. “But this year is different, and so, because we also had to cancel last year’s Fleadh, we wanted to run a special series of solo competitions which would feature many of those who would have qualified to take part in last year’s Fleadh Cheoil but who were unable to do so once the event was cancelled. So this year, we’ll have many musicians either travelling to Sligo for the weekend, or streaming their content online – primarily if they are abroad. We have restricted each competition to three participants, and while we can’t allow the public to attend these indoor events, all competitions will be streamed online, so people can watch them there for free.”
And while tickets for the main concerts and sessions will be available to purchase soon, Fleadhfest organisers are keen to underline that this will not be a regular Fleadh Cheoil, with thousands of people lining the streets.
“To the contrary, we are encouraging people not to travel to attend Fleadhfest, unless you are taking part in the concerts or competitions, or have other business directly related to the festival,” says Peter Farrell, a member of the Fleadhfest committee. “All of the main events will be streamed, and we know that the Sligo public and business communities will rally to support us in ensuring that we can broadcast a superb programme of events. But of course, Covid-19 remains a challenge, and therefore, we want to dispel any idea that large public gatherings will take place. Currently restrictions allow for up to 200 people to attend outdoor events, and this is the limit we currently have on our outdoor gig rig concerts. Those tickets will be snapped up locally, and even should restrictions ease and we are allowed to sell more tickets, all of our events will be done with strict Covid protocols in place.”
For Sligo, this is an opportunity not only to build on the county’s great tradition of music, but also to highlight the incredible scenery and visitor experiences of this county, one of the hidden gems of the Wild Atlantic Way.
“The live brodcasts are an opportunity to bring Sligo and it’s many strengths to a worldwide audience,” says Micheál Ó Domhnaill of Fleadhfest. Throughout the programme, we will offer the viewer glimpses of everything Sligo has to offer, from stunning beaches and mountain walks to showcasing our connections with Yeats and Colmcille. Profiling the county in this way will heighten awareness and should lead to an increase in visitor numbers in the years ahead,” he adds.
For anyone interested in finding out more, visit Fleadhfest.ie, where information on ticketing and live streaming is available. In addition, if you are a budding musician – of any standard – and would like to contribute a short performance to the Fleadhfest programme, information on how to record and send your clip is also available. All you need is a smart phone, a good tune, and the enthusiasm to join musicians from the world over for what should ba a unique showcase of traditional Irish music, song and dance streaming from Fleadhfest this August 1st-9th.