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Sunday, 11th August 2019

Fleadhmageddon averted as Michael D sets the ball rolling

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Brendan Geehan has a great way with words. “My God, it’s Fleadhmageddon” he said last night as he looked out the pub window at the torrential rain bouncing off the pavement and sending rivers of water gushing down the street.

Thankfully though, it wasn’t the end of the world or the Fleadh and today dawned grey but dry. Perhaps people had taken out the Child of Prague statues like they used to do the night before a wedding.

President Michael D Higgins is another man with a great way with words and he has used this gift to great effect as he represents Ireland all over the world.

He was greeted with rapturous applause as he returned to the gig rig in Bolton Square this afternoon to open Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2019. The sun shone and he raised his face to the sky and said thank you to Oliver Plunkett.

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In a wide ranging speech the President returned time and again to the importance of community and volunteering and the special role music and our Irish culture have in creating an inclusive and welcoming society.

“The Fleadh truly is a community event, an occasion and a space which strengthens understandings of our native Irish traditional culture and enhances local and national pride in who we are as a nation and how we celebrate the best and most imaginative aspects of our Irishness” he said.

Origins of Drogheda Comhaltas

“The Drogheda branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was founded 50 years ago in William Street, just a stone’s throw from where we are today. The founding members were three fiddle players:  Roger Ryan from Clare, Tom Kavanagh from Mayo, and Brother Forrestal from Wexford who was a teacher here in the local CBS. If it were not for the enthusiasm and foresight of these lovers of music in their generation, we would not be standing here today welcoming Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann to Drogheda for the second year in succession.

The President had some kind words for the people who worked so hard to organise the Fleadh and also for the many volunteers without whom it would not happen.

“An event like this, of course, requires enormous planning and commitment, and its success is based on the collaborations and interactions of communities, businesses, sponsors and, most of all, leadership from the Fleadh Executive Committee and Louth County Council. The support and financial input from Fáilte Ireland, the Credit Union, Louth County Council and local businesses, is what makes it possible, and the success it has proven to be.

“The volunteering that underpins the success of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, as it approaches its 70th year in existence, is at the heart of the Fleadh. Volunteers give willingly of what is their most precious resource. They offer their time, skills and experience, contributing to an event that makes a difference for all the public.

John Watts remembered

“We must never forget how indebted we are to the people who have gone before us, who worked unstintingly to promote and keep traditional Irish music alive in Drogheda and the surrounding area. We remember especially today John Watts, Leas-Cathaoirleach of Drogheda Comhaltas, who sadly passed away recently. John was one of the main people involved in bringing Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann to Drogheda, having worked tirelessly over the years to bring the Fleadh to his adopted town. He was so proud to see his dream come to fruition here last year.

“Over the next ten days, our native Irish traditional music, song, dance, storytelling and language will be celebrated here, at the mouth of the majestic River Boyne in Drogheda and in the heart of the 5,000 years of history at Boyne Valley and Brú na Bóinne. Fleadh 2019 will become part of the continuation of the Oriel Tradition, which included harpers, musicians, poets and Gaelic scholars.

Music - a world without borders

“Music is one of our most valuable connections we have to a wider world, a world without borders. During this year’s St Patrick’s Day, Comhaltas artists performed in Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Lebanon. I understand that Fleadh 2019 will extend the international dimension, and Drogheda will welcome the first uilleann piper from Brazil to participate at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, a testimony to the worldwide interest in the unique Irish uilleann piping tradition which now has UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status.

Young people

Another recurring theme of the President’s speech was the importance of ensuring that young people have access to, and acquire, performance skills in the “wide repository of Irish traditional music, song and dance.”

“…Amongst next weekend’s 6,000 competitors, and the 25,000 who competed at 43 County and Provincial level Fleadhanna Ceoil worldwide, are the inspirational virtuoso artists and the custodians of the traditions of the future” he said.

As young people are increasingly experiencing the world through digital and virtual means, it is reassuring to witness the palpable fulfilment and sense of collegiality these young musicians receive from ‘sharing a tune’ and playing in a session with musicians of all generations. No amount of online social networking can replace such a sense of connection, the intensity of feeling and emotion that comes from playing music, and indeed taking part in wider arts and cultural events…

Green Fleadh

“…I was especially delighted, given the circumstances we are in, to hear of the great effort that has gone into ensuring that this year’s event will be another Green Fleadh. Continuing on from the greening of previous Fleadhs, the committee in Drogheda undertook a number of sustainability measures, including a Green Fleadh local business programme, a reusable Fleadh beer glass, bike hire, shuttle bus provision, public transport and walking promotion, as well as providing recycling facilities and talks.

Climate change is the great existential challenge of our time, a challenge that requires brave and wise decisions from world leaders, but it is important that we do not lose sight of the many small ways in which we as citizens can make a significant contribution to our shared planet’s global welfare.

The President finshed by saying: Fleadh 2019 brings the journey by local enthusiasts and cultural activists to take the All-Ireland Fleadh to Drogheda to a celebratory end. I hope visitors and participants will enjoy the Irish music, song, dance and other cultural arts on offer over the week, and I wish Fleadh 2019 every success.

Welcoming President and Mrs. Higgins to Drogheda Mayor Paul Bell said: “I am confident that as a Freeman of the Borough District of Drogheda that you will enjoy your visit to the Fleadh almost as much as we love seeing you visit our town and County.

“And of course Mr President as an honorary Drog I suspect that you know why the Fleadh is so special to Drogheda.

“It is the citizens of our historic town that are key to the success of Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann both in 2018 and now in 2019. It is the warmth and hospitality extended by the citizens of Drogheda.

The history of Drogheda has recorded for centuries the welcoming of visitors and traders to our town from all corners of the world acting as a gateway to new ideas, new experiences, new people, new culture and embracing challenges and diversity.

For those visiting for the first time remember, Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland, in the smallest County, home to citizens with a big heart and unstoppable ambition.

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