Fleadh Cheoil

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The opening parade of the 2008 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Tullamore, County Offaly

The Fleadh Cheoil (Irish pronunciation: [ˌfʲlʲaː ˈçoːlʲ]), or "music festival" in English, is an annual Irish arts festival and competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkoːl̪ˠt̪ˠəsˠ ˈcoːl̪ˠt̪ˠoːɾʲiː ˈeːɾʲən̪ˠ]), or CCÉ, a non-profit organisation which aims to promote the learning of and performance of Irish traditional music and dance internationally and domestically, as the group maintains international branches in several countries.

Each year, a different town or city plays host to the Fleadh Cheoil, facilitating exposure to new musicians and styles, as well as opportunities to discover new repertoire, for all in attendance. Over the decades, the Fleadh has been held everywhere from large cities and towns to rural villages, such as Mullingar, Sligo, and Tullamore, among many others. The competition, arguably the most prestigious and "serious" portion of the event, is held alongside a parade, countless impromptu jam sessions and performing musicians—many of global renown and previous All-Ireland winners, themselves. The public music sessions—which occur spontaneously at the festival and throughout the hosting town—are often a highlight of the Fleadh for many, involving musicians on street corners, in pubs, restaurants, or other public places. Competitors and attendees of the Fleadh Cheoil come from across the whole of Ireland, as well as many European countries, the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and more.

There are various stages within the competition, with varying degrees of local, prerequisite titles one must accomplish before competing at the Fleadh. In Ireland, there are county and provincial competitions leading to the Fleadh. In Great Britain, there are regional and national stages of qualification prior to the All-Ireland. The North American branches of CCÉ oversee two regional, pre-All-Ireland qualifying events: the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh[1] (for residents of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, as well as eastern Canada and the Maritimes) and the Midwest Fleadh[2] (catering to most of the rest of North America). The latter event is not restricted to the American Midwest specifically, as it caters to regions with historically prominent Irish populations and associated music scenes, such as Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and St. Louis, among others. Upon winning in a respective category at any of these festivals, one may be considered for entry into the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, the most prestigious level of the system.

Competitions are in solo and duo categories, and divided into the following age ranges: under 12, 12–15, 15–18, over 18 (senior),U,18, Any Age, U-18, U-9, 9-11, 11-13, 13-15, 15-18 (for Cómhra) and O-35.


The first national festival of Irish traditional music was held in Mullingar in 1951. At its inaugural meeting in September 1951, CCÉ came up with the title of Fleadh Cheoil, aiming to make this a great national festival of traditional music. The fleadh has been held in many different venues.

In the years that followed, the number of would-be competitors grew so large that qualifying stages had to be arranged at county and provincial levels. Since then, Fleadh Nua (the new fleadh), Fleadh na Breataine (an All-Britain fleadh) and regional Fleadhanna in Britain, and two major Fleadhanna in the USA have also become annual CCÉ events.

From its beginning, the goal of the Fleadh Cheoil was to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competition. The fleadh developed as a mainly competitive event, but it also included many concerts, céilíthe, parades, and sessions.

Today, nearly 55 years on, fleadhanna (plural fleadh)at each level provide a platform and a meeting place for the thousands of musicians, singers and dancers who carry on the tradition. Around 20,000 performers compete in Fleadhanna each year.

The 2008 festival was held in Tullamore, County Offaly and attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000 people making it Ireland's largest festival, music or otherwise.[3] The Fleadh came to Sligo in 2014 and 2015.

The 2016 festival was held in Ennis, County Clare and attracted an estimated crowd of 400,000 people over the nine days from 14 to 22 August. Among the visitors to the 2016 Fleadh was President Michael D Higgins, who went to school near Ennis. 10,000 musicians took part in 2016, with 6,000 of them participating in 180 All-Ireland competitions. An estimated €38 million was spent as 80,000 visitors were in Ennis at any one time. There were 28 concerts, with five held in the 2,000-seater Shannon Aerodome at Tim Smythe Park in the town.[4] The 2017 Fleadh Cheoil returned to Ennis from 13 to 21 August. The 2017 festival was opened by Michael Flatley, and over 450,000 people attended, peaking on the Saturday.[5][6]

The largest fleadh to date was 2023 in Mullingar, an event estimated to have attracted over 600,000 people.[7][8][9] The 2018 Fleadh Cheoil in Drogheda is held the record before Mullingar.

Competition categories[edit]

According to CCÉ's official rules for 2005:

Solo competitions are held for the following instruments: fiddle, button accordion, flute, whistle, piano accordion, concertina, uileann pipes, Irish harp, mouth organ, banjo, mandolin, piano, melodeon, miscellaneous (instruments not named here), accompaniment, Bódhrán and Céilí Drums.
Solo competitions for slow airs shall be held for the following instruments: fiddle; uileann pipes, flute, whistle and Irish harp.

There are also competitions for the following ensembles: duet, trio, Céilí band, instrumental group (grupaí cheoil), accordion band, pipe band, flute band and miscellaneous ensemble.

The full rule set, which may change from year to year, is available from CCÉ web site[10] in the Press Room section. Comhaltas has a constitution (bunreacht)[11] in the Irish language.


Towns and cities wishing to host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann must submit several applications to Ardchomhairle an Chomaltais – the highest committee 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 10 September 2011, the 2012 All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil was awarded to Cavan, County Cavan, for the third year in succession. The other towns who applied for the 2012 festival were Ennis, County Clare; and Sligo, County Sligo. The Fleadh was held in Derry in 2013, the first time that it was held in Northern Ireland. One of the primary reasons for holding the Fleadh in Derry was due to that city being awarded the UK City of Culture for 2013. In 2014, it was confirmed that the Fleadh Cheoil would be held in Sligo for 2014 and 2015. Ennis hosted the Fleadh in August 2016 and 2017, with Drogheda hosting in 2018 and 2019.[12] Mullingar were the planned hosts for 2020 and 2021 (cancelled due to COVID-19 in Ireland),[13][14][15] and finally hosted in 2022, the first in-person Fleadh Cheoil since 2019.[15] An online "FleadhFest" took place in 2021, with a showpiece in Sligo.[15] The 2023 All-Ireland Fleadh is set to take place in Mullingar for a second consecutive year from 6 August to 14 August; Belfast and Wexford made unsuccessful bids to host the event in 2023.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mid-Atlantic CCE". cce-ma.com.
  2. ^ midwestfleadh.org
  3. ^ Tullamore's Fleadh-trick Offaly Express, 27 August 2008
  4. ^ "Records broken at fleadh cheoil in Co Clare". The Irish Times. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  5. ^ "Flatley shows off his flute-playing skills to kick-start Fleadh". Irish Independent. 14 August 2017. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Ennis records highest visitor numbers of any Fleadh". Clare Herald. 21 August 2017. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  7. ^ Murphy, Hubert (6 July 2019). "Fleadh 2019 will break all attendance records". independent. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  8. ^ Spearman, Andy. "Drogheda Life | Drogheda breaks its own record with over 700,000 Fleadh visitors". Drogheda Life. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  9. ^ "Homegrown stars shine at record-breaking fleadh". The Irish Voice. 4 September 2019. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  10. ^ "comhaltas.com". comhaltas.com. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  11. ^ "Comhaltas Constitution (Bunreacht)". Comhaltas.ie. 2 May 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  12. ^ Flanagan, Pat (20 August 2018). "Drogheda will host next year's Fleadh Cheoil after hugely successful festival". Irish Mirror.
  13. ^ "Will Mullingar ever play host to another All-Ireland Fleadh?". Westmeath Topic. 13 April 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  14. ^ "Fleadh Cheoil 2021 Cancelled and Replaced with Online 'FleadhFest'". JournalOfMusic.com. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  15. ^ a b c This Week RTÉ [@thisweekrte] (2 May 2021). "Director General of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann Labhrás Ó Murchú tells @thisweekrte Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann will return in 2022 to Mullingar. Fleadhfest planned for this summer in every county and abroad, main one in Sligo in August, taking account of Covid-19 situation" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

External links[edit]