The Fleadh, back in Ennis…
Ah, County Clare, Ennis and Irish music, a match made in Trad heaven. The 65th Fleadh kicked off in the town last week and expectations were high and bumper crowds expected, especially after the record-breaking attendance figures since Tullamore 2008, which crowned the event as Ireland’s largest festival. Last year’s Fleadh in Sligo broke all records attracting over 400,000 visitors the town over the week.
This is Ennis town’s third time to host the Fleadh, the last one in 1977, nearly four decades ago, fondly resides in traditional folk memory as a seminal event. There were no live feeds from our friends at Fleadh TV being beamed into people’s living rooms back then, you just had to be there. Many great musicians and singers have left for the great music session in the sky since then, so Ennis had a great musical great history to honor.
Over 10,000 musicians were expected to perform in Ennis over the week, including approximately 6,000 competitors from all over Ireland and from abroad. It is a serious music competition after-all, and to win a medal at that Fleadh is a great achievement for any musician or singer, young or old.
Ennis was my forth ever All-Ireland Fleadh experience, and after the success of Sligo last year I was excited to experience that unique Fleadh-buzz again. This massive traditional Irish musical spectacle is a unique Irish experience, there’s nothing like rambling through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds and soaking up the music-soaked atmosphere.
Groups of talented kids and teenagers busk, or just play for the love of it, on the footpaths or in doorways everywhere. Later on the craic begins to rev up in the pubs where impromptu music sessions ensue.
How was it?
I was not there during the week but I heard from people who were that there was a great buzz around the town and that the crowd numbers were good. I came for the weekend and was in there on Saturday evening, Sunday night and the final night on Monday.
The over-riding concern for many was the dreadful weather that plagued the last three days of the Fleadh and may have deterred some from attending. From a logistical standpoint, the traffic management plan, the park and ride scheme, camping facilities and general running of the week-long event was well orchestrated.
The only thing that I thought was needed was some temporary signage around the town to direct people to the various venues like The Shannon Aerodrome, the Fleadh TV site and the Gig rig.
Like I said, the inclement weather put a serious ‘dampener’ on the weekend and put play to a lot of the usual on-street activity. That said, I was out in the town on Saturday evening until 2am and visited many pubs and bars, to my surprise there was no music at all is many of them, and where there was music it was impossible to hear it.
Maybe publicans need to invest in a few small ‘drop-down-microphones’ over their respective ‘musicians corners’ in order to rise the music session over the din of the chatter. You do wonder why some people actually go to the Fleadh as they spend most of the time chatting (loudly) to their friends or are on their phones, often oblivious to the ‘free’ quality music being played beside them.
To me, in the town centre at least, there were not the numbers of people about, especially in the pubs that I was expecting. I thought that the incessant rain would mean that the pubs would be packed, but not so. Now don’t get me wrong I am not trying to encourage folk to go into pubs all the time, but these are the where music sessions tend to blossom on Fleadh nights.
I spoke with many musicians and hardened-Fleadh goers and many were of the opinion that the atmosphere in the town itself ‘wasn’t great’ over the weekend. Yes, the bad weather more than played its part but maybe there were too many venues and events happening just outside the town centre which may have taken from it, who knows? You can’t plan atmosphere, I guess..
Meanwhile, TG4’s Fleadh TV with its double-stage plus indoor and outdoor areas was a great success and is fast becoming an important part of any Fleadh set up (see main pic). I believe the show had over one million viewers over the four nights, which is a credit to the TG4 and the quality of the show and the artists who perform on it. Check out http://www.tg4.ie/en/player/home/ in case you missed any out it!
Ennis is a great setting for the Fleadh and has more than enough space and venues to absorb the numbers and create a brilliant Fleadh week for competitors, musicians and visitors alike. The town of Ennis and the Fleadh Cheoil organising committee should be proud of what they have achieved this year!
Lessons can always be learned, no matter how small, and I look forward to an even bigger and even more wonderful Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2017 in Ennis County Clare.
See http://www.fleadhcheoil.ie/ for further information.