Fleadh Cheoil attracts record numbers to Sligo
About 450,000 go to music competition and traders report 25% increase in footfall
Flute, piano and tin whistle player, Barry Conaty, who competed at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Sligo. Photograph: James Connolly
The figures have yet to be officially confirmed, but chairman of the organising committee Bartley Gavin said attendance was up 30 per cent on last year’s Fleadh which brought 350,000 to Sligo. He said many local traders reported a 25 per cent increase in footfall as music lovers from Ireland, Britain, the US, Europe, Japan and Korea moved between street sessions, competitions and the 250 official events, which all sold out.
At one stage on Saturday, when musician and broadcaster Kieran Hanrahan was presenting his RTÉ programme Céilí House from the gig rig on Stephen Street, the footbridge leading to the outdoor venue had to be closed for safety reasons with people lining Rockwood Parade on the far side of the river to hear the music. Almost 25,000 passed through that area throughout the evening, Mr Gavin said.
“The fleadh has surpassed all our expectations,” he said. The trouble-free atmosphere and the dedication of almost 2,000 volunteers – who acted as “street ambassadors”, picked up litter and manned car parks , camp sites and competition venues – helped to ensure that visitors enjoyed the experience, added Mr Gavin.
One such visitor was grandfather Michael Ryan from Clonakenny, Roscrea, who won the senior whistling competition.
The Tipperary man took the top prize after whistling his way through four tunes including one of his favourites Paddy O’Brien’s jig The Fly in the Porter. “I suppose I have a good set of lungs,” laughed the self-taught whistler and accordion player.
Twenty-one-year-old fiddler Rika Takeda had come from Japan via Dubai. Highlights of the experience for her included a session in McGarrigle’s pub on O’Connell Street and busking on the street.
“People were very nice,” said the student who found her way to the cottage home of the late legendary blind musician and composer Josie McDermott in the townland of Coolmine near Kilmactranny, Co Sligo.
Kerry fiddler Gerry Harrington was providing tuition for promising students as part of a residency in the cottage, which is regarded as a place of pilgrimage in the traditional music world.