The organisers of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann have bowed to pressure and rejected sponsorship of the annual traditional music festival by oil giant, Shell.
The Standing Committee of Fleadh 2014 – which beings in Sligo next Sunday – took the decision at a meeting yesterday (WED).
The committee had come under severe pressure after the Shell to Sea group strongly criticised the decision to accept sponsorship from Shell in light of the controversy surrounding its development of the Corrib Gas field off the neighbouring north Mayo coast.
Shell to Sea, which has actively opposed the massive gas terminal and pipeline project in Bellanaboy, accused Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann of prostituting itself and reneging on its ideal of promoting peace.
The group also claimed that Comhaltas had put President Michael D Higgins in the “awkward position” of formally opening an event sponsored by Shell. The President spoke out on a number of occasions before his election on the impact of the Shell development on the lives of local people.
Comhaltas is the regulatory body for traditional Irish music and each year decides where the Fleadh will be held. A local committee organises the event and runs it on a day-to-day basis.
The annual Fleadh Cheoil is the biggest traditional Irish music festival and involves the participation of 8,000 performers in 250 events. It is expected to draw an attendance of up to 250,000 to the week-long programme of concerts, sessions and competitions in Sligo next week.
The formal opening of the event by President Higgins takes place in the town at 5pm next Sunday evening.
A press release initially posted on the Fleadh website pointed out that it was dependent on sponsorship, was not for profit and was run by voluntary committees. It stressed that the Fleadh was run by very diverse sectors and community groups throughout Sligo and across the country who were contributing their time and efforts voluntarily.
But a number of those scheduled to take part in the Fleadh are known to have been strongly opposed to the Shell sponsorship.
Renowned musician and authority on Irish music, Gregory Daly had been scheduled to give a talk, as well as play, at one of the major concerts during the Fleadh. Mr Daly, who works at the Coleman Traditional Irish Music Centre in Gurteen, Co Sligo, pointed out that he had been a long-time supporter of the local people in the parish of Kilcommon in north Mayo in their opposition to the Shell project.
“I was booked as a musician and also to give a talk at the Fleadh, but when I became aware of the Shell sponsorship I decided not to take part,” he said. “I told them that under no circumstances would I consider doing anything at the Fleadh under the banner of the Shell sponsorship. But now I am glad to hear that the offer has been rejected.”
In a statement, the organising committee of Fleadh 2014 confirmed that the sponsorship would now be returned to Shell. “In keeping with the ethos of the Fleadh as an inclusive, community-driven and family-focused event and to avoid any unnecessary distractions on the eve of the festival, we have respectfully decided to return the financial support received from Shell. We look forward to welcoming all of our visitors to Sligo for Fleadh Cheoil 2014”.
Shell said last night it was disappointed by the decision of Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann to return the funds “that they had sought from us”.
In a statement, Shell E&P Ireland Ltd added that its support for the Fleadh in Sligo was in keeping with its continuing investment in cultural, community and family events run by volunteers. “SEPIL was approached by the organisers of the Sligo Fleadh in early 2014 to become an event sponsor. We gladly accepted this invitation as it was building upon the support we had previously provided to the Mayo branch of Comhaltas when it hosted its Fleadh Cheoil in Ballycastle in 2009.”