Why did Fleadh need Shell’s money in the first place?
Opinion: Shell row could spare us prospect of a ‘fracking Fleadh’ down the line
At the 52nd Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Clonmel: Kevin O’Riordan, Ed Owens, Paddy Mullins and Peter Molloy tune in to Emer Walsh during her rehearsal for the concertina competition at the Fleadh. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Subtle capering on a simple thought,
the vindicated music soaring out
William Butler Yeats will gaze down at many of the fleadh travellers arriving into Sligo over the next few days: you can’t miss him, freshly painted and enormous, looming from the gable wall of a house close to the railway station and the dual-carriageway that intersects the town and carries traffic north towards Donegal.
He’s surreal, impressive in a faintly disturbing way, a kind of still life of frozen literary time. He should stay fine and fresh for next year’s celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.
Sligo looks brighter these days in anticipation of the 250,000 people expected to visit over the course of the 64th Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann – a recent flutter of flowers and potted plants lend a touch of colour to austere, stone-grey streets. For the next week those streets and the town’s pubs will ring with the sound of reel and jig, hornpipe and slow air; fiddle, flute, whistle and pipes will add another layer of colour to all, the musical tradition of Ireland immeasurably stronger than it was when the first fleadh cheoil was held in Mullingar during the Whit weekend in June 1951.
This year’s festival is a much more elaborate and expensive affair than the first straggling efforts to bring together “the cream of traditional musicians from the four corners of Ireland”. It’s a long way from the Ennis fleadh of the early 1960s captured so brilliantly in Pearse Hutchinson’s poem Fleadh Cheoil, with its image of men back from “the trim scaffoldings and grim digs of England”, men in dowdy Sunday suits, flashy ties and frumpish hats gathering “to play an ancient music, make it new”.
The Sligo fleadh made news for the wrong reasons this week when the organisers handed back the sponsorship money they had accepted from the multinational oil company Shell.
Their move will certainly avert embarrassing public protests at tomorrow’s official opening event with President Higgins and the potential withdrawal of a number of musicians and speakers scheduled to take part in events during the week.
But the glossy full-page advertisement for Corrib gas remains in the official event guide and the same publication asks the reader to please support the corporate sponsors of the fleadh. Shell’s logo remains vivid in orange and red on official fleadh posters and publicity material. We were never told how much money Shell gave in the first instance and one wonders about the financial implications of the fleadh flying on a Shell-less wing. If the event can go ahead as planned without Shell’s money, why did the organisers seek the sponsorship in the first place?