Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann celebrates 60 great years

There is still plenty of action to be had after St. Patrick’s Day in the world of traditional Irish music and dance. With the big holiday out of the way, moving to center stage is the cultural movement known as Comhaltas, dedicated to preserving tradition music, dance and the Irish language.

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (pronounced ceoltas kiltory erin) is now in its 60th year, and that occasion will be marked on several fronts over the next three weekends around the U.S.

Back in 1951, a number of musicians and individuals who were concerned about the survival of traditional Irish music with immigration depleting the populace in Ireland alongside the national disinterest in the native music, song and dance met in Mullingar to see what could be done about it.

A series of music competitions commonly known as fleadhs sprung up, with one culminating in deciding who would be All-Ireland champions on a variety of instruments associated to traditional music.

CCE sent over some missionary concerts in the late 1960s which established beachheads in a number of North American cities where the tour appeared, and local committees took up the challenge of organizing branches starting in 1972 which now number 47 in North America. CCE has expanded to 415 clubs worldwide in 15 different countries.

The North American network will meet next week from March 24-27 at the San Antonio Airport Hilton for its annual convention, where the primary activity is music and dance workshops, ceilithe and sessions, while active officers find time to hold planning and administrative meetings. (In full disclosure, your correspondent serves as the provincial public relations officer for North America).

It is the first time that annual confab has ever held a convention in the Lone Star State when a well-organized but very new branch stepped up last year to take on the responsibility of hosting all the delegates and Irish music fans in Texas, where the Irish have been for a very long time.

They quickly arranged for a full slate of workshops in music, dance and the Irish language for the weekend, and scheduled ceilithe and the gala banquet which marks the high point of the weekend.

San Antonio is one of the most popular places to visit in Texas, with the landmark Alamo proudly on display downtown within easy walking distance of the beautiful Riverwalk area of the city. It may be too late to make plans to attend, but you can read about it at www.cceconvention2011.org.

The MidAtlantic region of CCE has made major plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary in the metropolitan New York area over the weekend of April 1-3. The annual Fleadh Cheoil which qualifies competitors to go over to the All Ireland Fleadh (in Co. Cavan in August) has been relocated from the Pearl River area for the occasion to the Parsippany Hilton Hotel which proved so accommodating for the CCE conventions held there as recently as last year.

On Saturday, April 2, competitions in all the solo instruments, singing and the Irish language will take place starting at 10 a.m., and then the duets, trios, grupai cheoils and ceili bands will compete on Sunday, April 3 at around 10 a.m. (Sunday Mass at 9 a.m. will be celebrated at the Hilton Hotel).

All these competitions are open to the general public, and it is a very good opportunity not only to see the hard work and success that our young music students display but also to provide support for their teachers and music schools that have made the greater New York area one of the prime areas for traditional music education.

The atrium area of the Parsippany Hilton will also serve as a town square, with afternoon performances slated to take place there.

Fleadh secretary Terry Rafferty (201-288-4267 or traff5788.com) will be taking entries for the fleadh up to day of the competitions (late fees apply), and is available for any questions not answered at the www.nyfleadh.com website.

The fleadh weekend was enhanced with the addition of the annual Hall of Fame ceremonies that are the centerpiece of the Saturday evening banquet on Saturday, April 2. This takes place from 7-9:30 p.m. in the grand ballroom, with the ticket prices for $60 ($15 for children under 14 for children’s menu) with reservations in advance by March 29.

The 2011 inductees are Don Meade, Margie Mulvihill, John Reynolds and the late Jim McGinty. Meade is being recognized for his valuable contributions to New York City Irish music as a musician, organizer, writer and tunesmith extraordinaire. Mulvihill has been a leading musician with Morning Star and the Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band and one of the instrumental teachers in the Pearl River School of Music, galvanizing that community to great achievements along with her husband John Reynolds.

Reynolds was trained by Pete Kelly and played with a number of Irish showbands, including Jesse Owens for years, before devoting himself to promoting traditional Irish music in Pearl River.

McGinty, who passed away last year, was involved with CCE in New York since its inception and primarily responsible for building up the New York Fleadh and the region where he served as the first regional chair along with the longtime chairmanship of the Michael Coleman Branch.

Immediately following the banquet will be a ceili with music by the Joanie Madden All Star Ceili Band, including the previously inducted Hall of Fame musicians in attendance.

On Friday night, April 1 the weekend will open with a ceili from 8 p.m.-midnight to the music of the Inisfree Ceili Band from Co. Sligo led by Oisin MacDiarmada. Both ceilithe will be open to the general public with separate admissions, but those who purchase banquet tickets will be admitted to the ceili as well.

There is a value priced meal and all events plan for the weekend which includes four meals (including the banquet) on Saturday and Sunday and can be purchased separately from hotel rooms which are booked through the Hilton Hotel directly with the CCE Irish music weekend rate (973-267-7373). Visit www.cce-ma.com or contact 201-705-8948 or 201-965-6598.

Over the weekend of April 8-10 the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil takes place at the Irish American Heritage Center on the North Side of Chicago, and that also qualifies contestants for Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Cavan August 19-21 (www.fleadh2011cavan.ie).

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