While the town waited yesterday afternoon for President Michael D Higgins to arrive and start Fleadh Cheoil 2014, a group of young buskers gave a taste of what was to come at the feast of traditional Irish music.
The children playing a selection of reels outside Mullaney’s shop on Sligo’s O’Connell Street were so intent on making music they did not even glance at the cascade of coins landing in their instrument cases.
As President Higgins said, the music is all about “engaging with a fleeting present in order to create something that will be lasting and beautiful”.
The president also alluded to the widespread appeal of Irish music in his speech, pointing out that among the 10,000 competitors in Sligo this week were many who have “neither ancestral nor geographic links to this island”. Some visitors had come quite a distance too.
In McGarrigle’s pub Yuko Aikawa from Tokyo said she is learning the fiddle and had timed this trip to coincide with the fleadh and the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim. “I love Irish music,” said Yuko, who takes fiddle lessons in an Irish pub at home and is on her 17th visit here.
Another native of Japan, Tomoko Endo (29) was here for the Fleadh and was hoping to get a few tin whistle lessons while in the country. “Fun” was her take on the action so far.
Seamus Hernon, a flute player, tutor and son of legendary box player PJ Hernon from Gurteen, Co Sligo, gives lessons to a number of Japanese students. “When the Rolling Stones were really big, the Chieftains visited Japan and sold more records there than the Stones,” he said.
Hernon will, with his father and a number of other family combinations, take part in “The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From the Tree” concert at the Hawk’s Well theatre on Thursday.
He has two other gigs to play during the week. “I would not have wanted anything to do with it if Shell was involved – and many other musicians felt like that,” he said. The Shell to Sea protesters stayed away, following the handing back of a cheque from Shell last week, but another determined group was out in force.
The Revenue Commissioners recently said they would have a presence at the fleadh. It is part of “streetscape” which involves “tackling shadow economic activity” through visiting all businesses on a street, including markets and festival events, according to the Revenue website. The physical streetscape has changed too and Sligo has had a pre-fleadh facelift.
Also during the week a “Peace in the Fleadh” programme will feature novel events such as “Jailtacht,” which involves former Republican prisoners explaining the relevance of the Irish language to them, and In Our Own Voice, a performance starring young Sligo Travellers.