Good afternoon all.
As Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, I am delighted to be with you today on a very unique and historic occasion; Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2017 is about to reach the penultimate period in its schedule of events as upwards of 6000 competitors, their families and supporting communities take part in over 180 competitions. They have qualified from within the framework of 43 Fleadhanna Ceoil with 25000 competitors; part of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s mission has been to provide emergent artists with a framework through which they pace themselves on the road to excellence; the competition itself is a means to an end.
Their journeys to reach this highest level of achievement as traditional musicians, singers, dancers, Irish language speakers and storytellers are all unique; young and not so young they hail from the four provinces of Ireland, Britain, North America, even as far afield as Japan all motivated by their passion for and commitment to their art forms and their Irish identity.
From the foundation of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 1951 the movement developed the Fleadh as an event that brought musicians together to share tunes and their music. Coming together at Fleadhanna, at a time when traditional music and song was nationally at a low ebb, enthused those who had previously felt isolated and strengthened their belief in their traditions; without the aid of digital technology they played and listened to each tune with care, eager to learn from each other, listening to tunes form different regions or different settings of tunes which resulted from creativity, innovation and individual expression. My aunt in law Aggie Whyte and my uncle Séamus Ryan were amongst those stalwarts – musicians today refer to a reel Aggie Whyte’s Chattering Magpie.
It is a matter of personal pride for me, therefore, that this government is recognising the values of Comhaltas in its Creative Ireland programme, the legacy of Ireland 2016, our wonderful Centenary Year.
As you know, Creative Ireland is a 5 year all-of-government initiative designed to place creativity and the arts, including our traditional arts, at the centre of public policy.
The programme specifically speaks of the importance of our language, our cultural heritage, folklore, games and music. In 2016 we celebrated not just the brave men and women who took up arms but also the cultural bequest of the revolutionary generation born out of the Gaelic League, the Irish Revival, The Irish National Literary Society and other institutions of the time – a great cultural tradition that is so crucial to our identity and that is carried on so magnificently by Comhaltas.
Tonight in the 2000 seat Shannon Aerdome the performance of Legacy by the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland and guest artists with composer/director Tom Doorley and producer Ray Conway will commemorate and celebrate the legacy of the icons and stalwarts of the tradition, many of them acknowledged in the lyrics of Robbie Mc Mahon’s signature ballad The Fleadh Down in Ennis. I was fortunate grow up in a household where those who attended this Fleadh and who featured on the recordings and radio broadcasts of the 50s and 60s were familiar and revered. At the opening of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann last Sunday 12000 gathered to hear Michael Flatley play with Gerard Fahy; Gerard, Máirín and the Fahy family, and their cousins Michael Harrison are all passing the legacy of Aggie Whyte to the next generations to come. The contribution of world famous dancer and flute-player Michael Flatley, the son of Irish emigrants to America, to bringing Irish dance and music to global audience is unique; by opening Fleadh 2017 he has acknowledged the legacy enabled his potential; his contribution to Fleadh 2017 will undoubtedly inspire others into the future and is now part of the legacy of Fleadh 2017.
Over the years Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann has developed into a 9 day festival. Building on the success of last year Fleadh 2017 welcomes over 300,000 visitors to Ennis for the second successive year, a cultural festival with a programme of 400 events that will generate in the region of E38million for the local economy. Fleadh 2016 in Ennis had a very significant overseas attendance and very high visitor experience ratings according to an independent study carried out by Fáilte Ireland; it also had 32 hours of national media broadcast.
Fleadhanna Ceoil and the many traditional festivals - CCÉ’s Annual Fleadh Nua, held in Ennis for over three decades - and Summer Schools held throughout Ireland are a core element to Ireland’s cultural tourism. During this last week CCÉ’s national/international Summer School brought 800 students and their families from all corners of Ireland and abroad to Ennis. Comhaltas Seisiún an annual programme of traditional entertainment extends to upwards on 450 shows throughout Ireland; Comhaltas units in Clare host Seisiún in Cois na hAbhna Ennis, Ennistymon, Tulla, Kilrush, Corofin and Feakle. As part of its An Ré Nua Community Development Programme Comhaltas units are continuing to extend and develop their Fleadhanna, Festivals and Commemorative events into the future. Fleadhanna and Scoil Éigse are also central to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Educational programme which also includes its SCT Examinations and TTCT Teachers Course and the regular Comhaltas branch classes which have been the foundation to the successful transmission of traditional music to present generations and into the future.
The 7 Comhaltas Regional Centres including Cois na hAbhna in Ennis provide a range of cultural, educational and archival services to the general public and their facilities, and that of local outreach centres Cnoc na Gaoithe, Teach Ceoil Ennistymon and Teach Ceoil Kilrush are available to a wide variety of organisations and community groups in their region.. These resource centres support and complement the work of the Comhaltas voluntary structures and its cohort of 50,000 volunteers to provide services to 3 million people annually. Such centres are part of the network of nationwide community-based arts facilities that have received funding by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. CCÉ events hosted by branches at local level will again form part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Culture Night initiative on September 22 2017. Clare Comhaltas branch activities from East Clare, Clarecastle, Kilrush and Ennistymon feature amongst others in the County Culture Night Programme of events.
Over the past six decades Irish has remained central to the work and activities of Comhaltas at all levels. The 20 year strategy for the Irish Language recognises the important role of the voluntary sector and Government recognises the key role of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in promoting our native language. Fleadh 2016 and 2017 in Ennis have placed a particular emphasis on an Ghaeilge mar mar theanga bheo.
The social and economic benefits of the Fleadh extend far beyond the event itself. Comhaltas was awarded the European Citizens Prize following the 2013 All Ireland Fleadh in Derry played a significant role in Irish history building bridges and bringing communities together through shared participation in eachothers traditions; Ennis has a continued engagement with the Hounds of Ulster fife and drum band.
As Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation I am particularly heartened by the forward thinking Colloquium, an innovative and timely concept by the 2017 Fleadh Executive Committee inspired and directed by Rory Casey, Fleadh Secretary, and Chaired by Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh which I now formally bring to a close.
This Legacy Colloquium adopting the collaborative ethos which is encouraged by Creative Ireland focused all here today, and through its documentation, on the outcomes, opportunities and challenges which emerge in the wake of Fleadhanna Cheoil na hÉireann 2016 and 2017.
The three essential operating principles for Creative Ireland namely, Collaboration and Communication, Community Empowerment and Internationalisation underpinned today’s presentations. While its first two pillars were specifically emphasised; - “Enabling the Creative Potential of Every Child” and “Enabling Creativity in every Community” we have also heard keynote addresses relevant to the key concepts, principles, policies strategies and practices which can bring about true enrichment of, engagement with, and participation in our cultural heritage over the five year duration of the Programme. This afternoon we have gained further insights into The Arts in Education Charter, the power of poetry, creativity in Irish Traditional Music, cultural and media Issues in the digital age, regional and rural development from a Local Authority perspective, the role of the Irish Cultural institutions as valued amenities for communities and resources for economic activity, the importance of promoting an Ghaeilge mar theanga bheo through the performance arts, Ireland on the international stage and the role the Irish Diaspora and Ireland’s outward expression of identity.
It is more than appropriate that having focused on the future during this Colloquium this afternoon’s proceedings will revert yet again to the artistic milestones of bygone years continue to live on in the Irish traditional music of today played worldwide. The legendary fiddler Seán Keane who as a member of the Chieftains has brought Irish music to so many world stages launches the re-release of the CCÉ Ceol an Chláir album by Frank Whelan’s Cois na hAbhna’s Archive.
Inspired by the Ireland 2016 Programme to which CCÉ contributed upwards of 600 events, tonight’s Legacy performance will tell the story through music, song, dance and narration the cultural and musical development of Ireland form the Easter Rising onwards. The basic themes will be based on some of the great musical characters who helped shape, define and inspire musicians from generation to generation while also incorporating new compositions and arrangements by composer/director Tom Doorley; in his consideration of creativity within this Legacy performance Tom cited” The tunes and songs we enjoy today have adapted and survived. It is in our nature to change, our life’s journey is testament to that’”.
Labhrás Ó Murchú, Director General of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann speaking on the potential of volunteerism in strengthening Community and Identity has reminded us that At the heart of the Fleadh is the volunteerism that is at the core of Comhaltas; this generosity of spirit combined with core support of the local authority, statutory agencies, corporate sponsors and private enterprise stakeholders too numerous to mention is the essence of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann: Clare County Council’s partnership with the local Comhaltas in hosting Fleadh 2016 & 2018 understood that Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann is a cultural phenomenon celebrating all that is best in Irish traditional arts and culture and that, as the home of traditional music, County Clare was delighted to host the Fleadh in Ennis the capital town. Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was considered as a perfect fit to progress the Council's objectives in the area of social, economic and cultural development. The Fleadh which appeals to all ages young and old offers an opportunity to achieve integration amongst all elements of the community with music, song and dance being the unifying theme.
As Fleadh 2018 in Drogheda begins its preparations, the legacy of hosting Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann will be a stronger community, an even greater emphasis on traditional arts and culture and a feel good factor that will likely long remain in Ennis and the wider county.
As Comhaltas branches and units throughout the world start their community based classes and regular local activities this September the collective pride in community and our Irish identity experienced by all involved in Fleadh 2017 and will guarantee a memorable and fulfilling participative celebration of our Irish culture into the future.