President and Sabina officiate at the opening of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018

Sun 12th Aug, 2018 | 14:00
location: Drogheda, Louth

Speech at the opening of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018

Drogheda, Louth, Sunday 12 August 218

A Dhaoine Uaisle,

A Chairde Gael,

Tá áthas orm a bheith libh anseo i gContae Lú inniu chun oscailt na 67ú Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann a cheiliúradh. ‘Sí buaicphointe cultúrtha na hÉireann chuile bhliain í an Fleadh, agus is ócáid í ina fheictear toradh go leor oibre i gcaitheamh na bliana, sa bhaile agus i gcéin.  Is ócáid í a thugann deis dúinn scoth chultúr na hÉireann a cheiliúradh ina bhfoirmeacha éagsúla: ár gceol, ár n-amhráin, ár ndamhsa agus ár dteanga.

Is mór an phléisiúir dom é go bhfuil mé in bhur dteannta inniu chun seoladh Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018 a cheiliúradh libh anseo i nDroichead Átha, an 67ú Fleadh Cheoil agus an chéad Fleadh riamh i gContae Lú.

Is fiú smaoineamh siar ar Feis Lár Tíre a tharla sa Mhuileann gCearr sa bhliain 1951. Ní raibh i láthair ag an am ach cúpla céad ealaíontóir agus tacadóirí. Anuraidh, tharraing an Fleadh níos mó ná 450,000 cuairteoir agus rannpháirtithe go hInis, rud a thugann le fios fadbhreathnaitheacht agus fís na ndaoine a d’eagraigh an chéad Fleadh seasca is a seacht mbliana ó shin.

It is humbling to recall that the Feis Lár Tíre held in Mullingar in 1951, the first Fleadh Cheoil, was attended by a few hundred dedicated artists and supporters. The Fleadh held last year in Ennis attracted over 450,000 visitors and participants, a reflection not only of the vision and foresight of those who organised the first Fleadh Cheoil sixty-seven years ago, but of the commitment of people all over the world to the preservation, celebration and renewal of our ancient culture.

Just as Fleadh 2017 has left its legacy in Ennis, so too Fleadh 2018 will leave its legacy in Drogheda and in Louth - a legacy that will demonstrate our capacity for working together, that will strengthen the community, forge new friendships and that will, above all, inspire all those engagement in creative labour.    

During the next week our native Irish traditional music, song, dance, storytelling and language will be celebrated here at the mouth of the majestic River Boyne, and in the heart of the Boyne Valley, an ancient landscape given form by the mythic migrants who first settled this island – the Muintir Partholóin, the Nemedians, the Fir Bholg, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Milesians – and by succeeding generations of migrants – Celts, Vikings, Normans, Scots, Welsh, English, and today, in our contemporary Ireland, by migrants from all across the world.

The heart of the Boyne Valley – site of those mysterious 5,000-yera-old monuments built by the first migrant – is still unveiling its secrets to us today, as the recent discoveries by archaeologists at Brú na Bóinne have revealed. It represents not only a diasporic people, but a diasporic island, shaped by, and shaping in turn, the peoples who come to this land.

These successive great migrations endowed us with a vast cultural inheritance, one which has created a people defined not by any narrow national territory but by a shared heritage and tradition, given expression in our music, our song, our dance, our stories, and our language. This tradition has been carried by our people across the world, and it attracts so many kindred spirits to our shores.

Cruthaíonn ár gceol agus ár n-amhráin nasc láidir lenár n-oidhreacht agus lenár gcultúr Éireannach, agus cuireann an Fleadh i gcuimhne dúinn go bhfuil meas agus éileamh ar an gcultúr seo sa bhaile agus thar lear. Cruthaíonn an Fleadh nasc láidir lenár gclann domhanda, agus tugann an diaspóra ár n-oidhreacht leo ar fud na cruinne, áit a dhéantar athshamhlú air ionas go mbeidh ár dtraidisiúin ag fás agus ag forbairt i gcónaí.

That flourishing will be on full display over the next week here in Drogheda, as artists are make new friendships and rekindle old ones, finding inspiration in collaboration and shared performances, imbuing ancient forms with creative new expressions. 25,000 people competed at County and Provincial level, and 6,000 shall participate in the Fleadh – they are and will be the custodians of the traditions of the future.

Three months ago I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the re-establishment of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branch in Fintona, County Tyrone. There I saw first hand the devotion of the teachers to transmitting their craft to a new generation, the support given by parents to their children as many of them began their musical journey, and the dedication and professionalism of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

It was but one branch amongst hundreds across the world, but it was an indication of the ongoing revival of our heritage and our culture, and of the spirit of generosity, hope and companionship that sustains the movement, and provides young people with the opportunity to reach their full potential. Though the performance of a tune, song or dance is but a moment in time, the skill and discipline of application, concentration and appreciation will remain with those young people throughout their life, as will friendships formed at Fleadhanna Ceoil and during Scoil Éigse.

The 68th Fleadh programme will celebrate the contribution of young people through the Bloom of Youth concert and the the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland’s performance of LEGACY, with mixtures of old and new both from within the tradition and other musical genres, a demonstration of our capacity to innovate while maintaining fidelity to our heritage. The Muintearas honours the those musical families who played such an important and consistent role in protecting that heritage and passing to down to future generations.

As we meet here in Oriel, with all its association with the ancient kingdom of Airgíalla, Cran will bring the repertoire of the region to the stage, while Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, in concert with the Voice Squad, will bring a unique mix of instrumental and vocal music to the Fleadh. Louth’s Zoe Conway and Julie Fowlis will put music to new Irish and Scots Gaelic poems, displaying the innovative and creative transmutation of forms of expression so indicative of our native culture. One our greatest musical ambassadors, Frankie Gavin – to whom I was honoured to present the ‘Musician of the Year’ award at the Gradam Ceoil – will showcase his characteristic technical brilliance and mastery of the art.

Oriel has been the home of a distinctive tradition of music, song, dance and poetry, a tradition that has been wonderfully recovered by Pádraigín Ni Uallacháin in her book, A Hidden Ulster, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. We only need think of the great harpist and hedge school master, Peadar Ó Doirnín whose poetry, written 250 years ago, was described by our first President, Douglas Hyde, as the ‘most sensuous attempt to convey music in words’ and as ‘an art between literature and music’.

The tradition of Oriel has not only been recovered but which has been given new vibrancy. In the past century, the novelist, playwright and scholar, Peadar Ó Dubhda, the founder of the Conradh na Gaeilge branch in Dundalk, immersed himself in Irish in the village Omeath, and may have been one of the last to recall the ancient dialect once spoken there. To Peadar we owe not only the Irish translation of Douay Bible, an immense achievement now housed in the National Museum, but the revival of many old airs.

For Oriel is also home to a strong and unbroken tradition of Irish Harpers and Uileann Pipers, our indigenous musical instruments. When Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, spoke to half a million people at the Hill of Tara one hundred and seventy five years ago, he was welcomed by five young students from the Drogheda Harp Society, the last surviving of its kind in Ireland. The society in turn drew inspiration from the last of the great harpers, Patrick Byrne, who died in Dundalk in 1863.

Drogheda is synonymous with the Billy and Charley Taylor, who learned to make uilleann pipes from their father as young men. They plied their trade here and in Philadelphia, two of the millions of Irish people who would make a new home in the United States, and the ‘Taylor’ sets of pipes became emulated by makers on both sides of the Atlantic, and remain prized possessions today. When  Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was founded, one of its primary aims was the preservation of uileann piping.

Last December, uilleann piping was placed UNESCO Intangible Heritage List, a recognition of its international importance as part of the shared cultural inheritance of humanity. I said then, and I saw now again, that this decision was a valuable recognition of the skills, imagination, creativity, and importance of those who make, restore and play na píobaí uileann.

This Fleadh, in the ancient region of Oriel, will continue the tradition of building bridges between all the communities on our Ireland. The historic Fleadh held in Doire Colmchille in 2013 demonstrated that the diverse and distinctive traditions on our island can find common ground and common space through culture engagement and a shared love of music, of song, and of dance.

Let us recall the vital role that Presbyterians played in sustaining the Irish language, by making it the language of everyday spiritual expression. Roger Blaney and Padraig Ó Snodaigh have reminded us that at one point in our history half of all Presbyterians in Ireland spoke either Irish or Scots Gaelic. Our culture, and our lyric and musical tradition, are a consequence of the contribution of so many diverse communities.

Fleadh 2018 is a magnificent opportunity for all people, of any age and any background, to experience, to mould and to give a new and renewed shape to our culture. Hundreds of schoolchildren in the region have joined together to sing as Gaeilge, celebrating Blian na Gaeilge 2018. Tréaslaím leo.

During the Fleadh our native Irish language will be heard and spoken as a living language in its natural setting, inspired by the linguistic heritage of the Omeath Gaeltacht.

For the people of Drogheda, this Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann will represent six-years of hard work by so many citizens, whether through state, civic, or commercial bodies. This Fleadh would not be possible without your perseverance and dedication of many hundreds of volunteers in so many different capacities. It is thanks to the spirit and generosity of the people of Drogheda, the various community groups and volunteers that this year’s Fleadh will live long in the memories of those who visit the town.

At the heart of the Fleadh is the joy and fulfilment that music, song and dance can bring the experience of sharing tunes, songs, a step or a word of friendship. The story of this Fleadh will reach around the world through FleadhTV, national and local broadcasting and the newest of digital technology. The success story of today was built on the foundations of the forebears of our traditions– those who believed in the uniqueness of their native music, song, dance and lore, and who lovingly practiced it with care and passed it on with generosity and goodwill.

The Fleadh Cheoil has become more than an organisation or an event – it is a unifying force for people throughout the island of Ireland and abroad to experience creativity and to celebrate their sense of community and Irish culture.

Is mian liom tréaslú leis an uile duine a bhfuil baint acu leis an Fleadh Cheoil. De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin agus is iontach agus is spreagúil an chaisleán í an féile seachtaine seo atá á cheiliúradh againn inniu. Cé go bhfuil an ceol, an damhsa agus an amhránaíocht i gcroílár na Fleidhe i gcónaí, is ceiliúradh í freisin ar na nithe sin a bhaineann go dlúth leis an tÉireannachas – ár stair, ár ndrámaíocht, ár fhlaithiúlacht agus ár gcairdeas.

Ba ceart go mbeadh an Fleadh ina ceiliúradh ar an bpobal agus ar rannpháirtíocht ghníomhach, a léirítear trína shásta is atáimid ár gcuid traidisiún, ár gcuid buanna, agus ár gcuid scileanna a roinnt san iliomad ceardlann agus taispeántas a bheidh ar siúl sna laethanta amach romhainn. Labhair mé cheana ar an fhlaithiúlacht lena dtugtar ceoltóirí nua isteach i seisiúin ceoil agus ar an spreagadh a fhaigheann siad iontu. Cur chuige ar leith is ea é seo, nach bhfuil ann dó i gcultúir agus i dtraidisiúin eile, agus dlúthchuid luachmhar d’ár gcultúr is ea é gur fiú a chosaint agus a fhorbairt. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an fhlaithiúlacht seo le braith go láidir le linn na Fleidhe, agus amach anseo go deo na ndeor.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.