At first sight, the competition schedule for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is bewildering. Up to 6,000 competitors will play, sing or dance for All -Ireland glory in 180 competitions. They will come from all over Ireland and abroad with a huge contingent from the United States. Teaching and handing on the tradition is central to the Comhaltas mission, so expect Ennis to be thronged with young people hauling instruments hither and thither to various venues. For many, young and old, 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.
The purpose of Fleadhanna Ceoil is to promote and develop Irish traditional music, both vocal and instrumental, encouraging dance as well as well as An Teanga Gaeilge. There are three main elements to the modern fleadh – competitions, street sessions and concerts. It is not intended that competitions should be merely a means by which a competitor may gain a prize or defeat a rival, but rather a medium in which competitors may pace each other on the road to excellence. Most of our best known and highly regarded traditional musicians and singers took part in a fleadh competition at some stage of their careers.
Competitions are generally organised in four age categories under 12, 12-15, 15-18 as well as senior. There are competitions for solo performers on fiddle, button and piano accordion, flute, whistle, concertina, uileann pipes, mouth organ, banjo and more. A total of five competitions are devoted to the classic Irish slow-air on fiddle, uileann pipes, flute, whistle and harp. There are opportunities to compete for duets, trios, ceili and marching bands and for the more informally titled Grúpa Cheoil.
Singing in Irish and English for both men and women is also provided for, not forgetting the whistling and lilting competitions. There’s a competition for new tunes, others for new songs in both Irish and English. Four competition categories are available for “ceilí dancing”, another four for “set dancing” and there is also a “sean nós” dancing competition. Recognising the commitment of Comhaltas to the Irish language, there’s a special Comhrá Gaeilge competition.
SENIOR CÉILÍ BAND
All competitions and competitors have their own following of family, friends, supporters and enthusiasts but there is no doubt that on Sunday 21st August, all roads lead to the Dome in Tim Smyth Park for a fantastic night of ceol and competition. There is nothing quite like the Senior Céilí Bands as they battle for All-Ireland glory. The Dome promises to be a spectacular setting for this spine tingling event. The highlight of the evening is when the Senior Céilí Band winners later take their place on the Gig Rig around midnight.
HOW TO QUALIFY
There are various stages to each competition. In Ireland there are county and provincial competitions leading to the All-Ireland Fleadh. In Britain there are regional, then national stages of qualification for the All-Ireland. North America has two regional qualifying fleadhanna.
Winners of First and Second prizes, and in some instances third place if specifically recommended by the adjudicator, qualify from County to Provincial Fleadhanna. Again winners of First and Second prizes, and in some instances third place if recommended by the adjudicator, qualify from Provincial Fleadhanna to Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht will send qualifying competitors to Ennis as will one regional fleadh in the Britain and two in the United States. In addition the Senior Title Holder from the previous year’s competition automatically qualifies to defend their title.
ORGANISING COMPETITION VENUES
Organising the competitions is a major logistical operation for the Fleadh and is under the direction of Joe Arkins, Chair of the Venues Sub Committee and Vice Chairman of Clare Co Board of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Joe’s job involves proposing a set of venues for approval by Comhaltas and by the Local Fire Officer, arranging sound, stage construction, hire of pianos and other equipment and setting out the venues to comply with Health and Safety requirements. The various venues are selected having regard to the competition requirements.
This involves researching the number of attendees at similar competitions in Sligo and Derry over the past three years. In addition certain competitions by their nature have to be located in close proximity to others. Drumming and Harp competitions are centrally located close to the Céilí Band and Grúpa Cheoil competitions having regard to the logistics of moving large cumbersome instruments. Duets, Trios and Accompaniment competitions are also located adjacent to the main venue hub to facilitate the mustering of competitors and accompanists.
A key task is to arrange adequate stewarding to ensure smooth running of the events . The venue managers and the volunteer competition stewards are arranged locally by the Fleadh Committee and the Clare Volunteer Centre.
The task of arranging the appointment of adjudicators, Call Clerks and Call Stewards falls to Comhaltas Head Office. The Call Steward has a vital role as this individual has responsibility for each competition from start to finish. An Adjudicator’s Clerk is responsible for preparing and checking the adjudicating sheets and returning completed adjudication sheets, result sheets and any other relevant information to the Fleadh Office. A team of runners is employed to ferry this documentation from the venues to the Fleadh Secretary in the Central Fleadh Office. Interestingly for Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann 2016 all the runners will be riders, as the Clare Ladies Cycling Club is undertaking this task.
COMPETITION VENUES IN ENNIS
- Band and Grupa Cheoil competitions will take place in the two domes. Harp and Drum competitions take place in CBS & Rice College.
- Coláiste Muire hosts Duets, Trios & Accompaniment with the Dánlann being the centre for all the Fiddle competitions. St Columba’s will host the Piano competition and the Ennis Community College nearby is the venue for the Bodhrán competition.
- All the Singing competitions take place in the Holy Family School. For those interested in Banjo, Flute, Whistle, Uileann Pipes and Miscellaneous instrument competitions, St. Flannan’s is the place to be.
- Concertina and Accordion lovers will head for the other end of town to the Gort Road to Cois na hAbhna and the Auburn Lodge. The Comhrá Gaeilge competitions take place in Gaelscoil Mhicil Ciosóg. For lovers of music and the great outdoors, Lees Road is a must on Sunday 21st where the Marching Bands competition is being staged.
At each level the competitor faces one or more Adjudicator. These are well renowned experts in the performance and repertoire of Irish traditional music, song or dance. Adjudicators make careful notes of each performance, which are available on request to the competitor following the event. Spectators also crowd the room, including friends, family, and well-wishers. At the end of the competition the adjudicator announces the results, and generally gives a short presentation on the quality of the performances and what they were specifically looking for in the performances which influenced their decision.