Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018

I’ve been a fan of Irish traditional music since I was in college. It was the mid-1980’s and I was collecting Planxty records and anything I could get my hands on by the likes of Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Paul Brady, the Bothy Band, Clannad, the Pogues, etc. Over the years I’ve followed many of those musicians through various constellations and gradually broadened my circle of awareness. I had of course heard of the Fleadh Cheoil, the national music festival, but I had never imagined the energy, variety and excitement of it until I caught pieces of it this year on TG4.

The coverage, partially in Irish, was very compelling, and I was already hooked at the provincial level. Jarvath Henderson and Ross Ainslie’s piping at the Ulster Fleadh took my breath away, but the four days of the national festival in Droichead Átha knocked me off my feet. I come away from it with all kinds of new music in my collection: the aforementioned Jarvath Henderson and Ross Ainslie, The Whileaways, Hoodman Blind, Nava, Atlas, Buille, Stevie Dunn, The Friel Sisters and more. In a big shuffled playlist these became the soundtrack for a long drive to western Pennsylvania where my wife is running the Erie marathon.

Many old favorites made notable appearances: Matt Molloy, John Doyle, Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, but the kids made a deep impression, too. So many young people with so much talent and enthusiasm, singing, dancing, piping, fiddling, lilting.

At the end of it all, the performance that stands out most in my mind came during the fourth and final broadcast of the national festival: Jarvath and Alana Henderson’s “The Wounded Hussar,” Jarvath using the pipes as a drone while Alana accompanied lightly on cello. It was the beautiful, tragic signing that broke my heart.

Thank you, all you magnificent musicians, and thank you, TG4.