Hundreds of devoted Irish music and dance fans descended upon San Antonio for the annual Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann North American Convention on the weekend of March 25th. The annual event, held in different cities around the U.S., was extra special this year, as it was also a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the organization’s founding in Ireland in 1951. Today, there are over 600 CCE branches around the world – 44 in North America and Canada – all of them committed to the practice and preservation of Irish traditional music, dance and language.
Hellen Gallon, the Limerick-born chairperson of CCE North America, declared the San Antonio weekend a resounding success. “It was the first time that we went that far south with our conventions and [San Antonio] is our newest branch, so it was a celebration of the branch’s founding as well as the North American convention and the 60th anniversary,” she told Irish America, speaking by phone from her home in St. Louis. “We actually had some people drive all the way down from Canada to Texas, and musicians from all over the country, including such big names as Larry Reynolds, Joanie Madden, Joe Furlong and Margie Mulvehill and others, and about 600 people in attendance at our banquet.”
Gannon does a lot of traveling in her role as CCE’s chairperson: she was just back from Ireland when we spoke in early May. She and other Comhaltas members from around the world had gathered in Tullamore, Co. Offally, for Comhaltas Ireland’s 60th Anniversary celebrations with entertainment that included all-Ireland accordion and fiddle champions going back all the way to the 1950s. Barely home, she was just about to hop on a plane to Atlanta to hand out scholarships to musicians. She explained: “There are 299 feiseanna every weekend in the year in North America and we realized a few years ago that we were hurting for musicians that could play for this high-profile dancing, so we established a scholarship for musicians to come and play and see if they can keep time to the dancers. And it’s working. The feises are now vying for these competitions.”
Next up for Helen and CCE: working out the logistics of the Comhaltas concert tour of North America in October.
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