New Jersey Fleadh weekend a huge success


Pearl River 2013 under-12 ceili band at the Parsippany Fleadh. (Photos by Sean Conway)
Pearl River 2013 under-12 ceili band at the Parsippany Fleadh. (Photos by Sean Conway)

Parsippany, New Jersey -- In last week’s column we extolled the virtues of the visionary people who were concerned with the disappearance of traditional Irish music and dance after World War II and took action to reverse the tide before it was too late. 

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had created a fleadh system in rudimentary fashion as a vehicle to encourage young people to learn music and provide incentives for taking on their native music.   As we noted, the concept has mushroomed to the point where there are probably more people playing and enjoying Irish traditional music than at any time in its history on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  

Fleadhanna today have become much more than mere music competitions attended by people who embrace Irish music to the core of their being as a vital part of our Irish heritage.  That was borne out last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil at the Parsippany Hilton in New Jersey from Friday to Sunday evening.

The weekend got underway on Friday night as the opening ceili for the fleadh weekend featured the invited guests from Ireland, five members of the Shannon Vale Ceili Band, half of the contingent that garnered the Senior All-Ireland Ceili Band Cup in Cavan in 2011. 

It was reputed that the night before at the New York Irish Center where they made a guest appearance that one of them said they were the better half, but you didn’t hear that from me.  That opinion aside, it was a pure delight to listen and dance to the music of Danny O’Mahony (button accordion), Colm Kissane (fiddle), Joe O’Sullivan (flute), Michael Collins (banjo) and Patsy Broderick (piano). 

They would be part of a 14 member adjudication panel on Saturday and Sunday, adding some expertise with the All-Ireland adjudication process which is always helpful when so many competitors from here aspire to go over to the All-Ireland fleadh.

The competitions began in earnest on Saturday morning with all the solo competitions and grupai cheoils to be dealt with.  According to fleadh secretary Terry Rafferty, who has been handling the fleadh registrations and office for 24 years, it was one of her busiest weekends ever.

Triplets Mairead, Caitriona and Angel Fee had a big day in Parsippany.
Triplets Mairead, Caitriona and Angel Fee had a big day in Parsippany.

Entries were over 350, with folks coming from as far west as California, south to Georgia and north to New England to see if they could place first or second and earn the right to qualify for Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann.   Most of the competitors would come from the metropolitan New York area through the Pearl River School of Music, Acosta School of Irish Music and dance and the Woodlawn School of Music.  

The duets, trios and ceili band competitions all took place on Sunday which was Mother’s Day as well, so it was a real testament to the commitment of the parents who invest so much time, energy and money into passing on the tradition to their children.

The bloom of youth was very apparent in all the age brackets but was especially impressive in the youngest category of those under 12 years old.   Whether they were encouraged by the under-12 Pearl River Ceili Band last year winning first in Parsippany and then going on to achieve All-Ireland gold in spectacular fashion in Cavan last August, they fielded eight ceili bands this year in the competition and 81 solo competitors.