Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Society of the Musicians of Ireland) is the primary Irish organisation dedicated to the promotion of the music, song, dance and the language of Ireland. The name of the organisation is often abbreviated to Comhaltas or CCÉ. The organisation was founded in 1951 and has since been extremely successful in promoting Irish music and culture among the Irish people and the Irish diaspora. Its current Ardstiúrthóir (Director General) is Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. Today it has more than 400 branches worldwide, in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Mexico, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. Its total membership numbers some 75,000 people.
Comhaltas was founded in 1951 in Mullingar, County Westmeath by a group of traditional pipers who felt that the Irish musical tradition was in decline. It was the most successful in a series of attempts around this time by lovers of Irish culture to revive the country’s rich musical heritage and to publicise and bring it to a wider audience.
Aims and Goals
The aims and goals of Comhaltas were written at the organisation’s foundation and have changed very little since. They are as follows:
1. To promote Irish Traditional Music in all its forms
2. To restore the playing of the Harp and Uilleann Pipes in the National life of Ireland
3. To promote Irish Traditional Dancing
4. To foster and promote the Irish language at all times
5. To create a closer bond among all lovers of Irish music
6. To co-operate with all bodies working for the restoration of Irish Culture
7. To establish Branches throughout the country and abroad to achieve the foregoing aims and objects
Comhaltas is responsible for organising the annual national Irish music festival/competition called the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Usually held in August, the 2010 and 2011 events were held in Cavan Town and it will also be the host town for the 2012 Fleadh.
There are various stages to the competition. In Ireland there are county and provincial competitions leading to the All-Ireland Fleadh. In Britain there are regional then national stages of qualification for the All-Ireland. North America has two regional qualifying Fleadh Cheoil. The Mid Atlantic Fleadh covers the US eastern seaboard, eastern Canada and the Maritimes. The Midwest Fleadh covers the rest of North America from Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta and Detroit to San Francisco.
Competitions are divided into the following age categories: under 12, 12-15, 15-18, and over 18 (senior).
Solo competitions are held for the following instruments: fiddle; two-row accordion; concert flute; whistle; piano accordion; concertina; uilleann pipes; harp; mouth organ; banjo; mandolin – excluding banjo-mandolin; piano; old-style melodeon; bodhrán; war pipes; miscellaneous such as three and five row button accordion, piccolo, [chromatic] harmonica and other stringed instruments; céilí band drums; accompaniment – confined to piano, harp, guitar and bouzouki-type instruments; solo traditional singing in Irish and English; whistling; lilting; newly composed ballads and amhráin nua-cheaptha (newly composed songs in Irish).
Solo competitions for slow airs are held in all age groups for the following instruments: (a) fiddle; (b) concert flute; (c) whistle; (d) uilleann pipes; (e) harp
There are also competitions for the following ensembles: duet, trio, ceilí band, instrumental group (grupaí cheoil), accordion band, pipe band, and miscellaneous ensemble.
Application to host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
Towns and cities wishing to host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann must submit several applications to Ardchomhairle an Chomaltais – the highest commitee within CCÉ. Certain members of the Ardchomhairle then inspect the applicant towns and the locations that have been proposed as competition venues, before coming to a final decision several weeks after the preceding fleadh, usually in September. Once a town has been chosen to host the Fleadh, it undertakes to host the festival for two consecutive years. However, Comhaltas has the right to deny any the successful town the Fleadh for the second year if poor venues, organisational problems, etc. are demonstrated on the town’s first year of hosting. On September 10th 2011, the 2012 All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil was awarded to Cavan Town for the third year in succession. The other towns who applied for the 2012 festival were Ennis, County Clare; and Sligo, County Sligo.
On 29th January a historical decision was made by the Ardcomhairle at Comhaltas Headquarters in Monkstown, Dublin, when it was decided, uniquely earlier than the usual September date, to award the 2013 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann to Derry, the first time to cross the border to any of the six counties of Northern Ireland.
Link to press release for Derry 2013