Temple Bar Trad Festival for The Gathering was a huge treat


Michael Rooney conducting The De Cuellar Suite.

Temple Bar, Dublin -- In the year of The Gathering, the massive Tourism Ireland initiative attempting to stimulate travel to Ireland in 2013 from the Irish Diaspora around the world, you can’t get too early a start reaping the hoped-for harvest.

So the Temple Bar Trad Festival (TBTF) drew the important role of being the first big festival enticing visitors to the Dublin’s capital city and also marking the first traditional Irish music festival to get out of the blocks as well.

It’s now in its eighth year of operation under the auspices of the Temple Bar Company representing the many businesses within the confines of the historic district on the south side of the Liffey River near O’Connell Bridge, with Dame Street more or less the main boundary up to Christchurch Cathedral.

Festival director Martin Harte, who had been working with the organization since graduating from college, created the TBTF as a way to draw people into the innovative quarter in late January when attracting tourists of any kind would be a challenge. 

He hit upon the idea of using trad music as the focal point because Dublin lacked a large festival for at least 20 years, and when musician Kieran Hanrahan came aboard as the artistic director four years ago they formed an effective team moving it forward.

Hanrahan is both a musician and presenter with his finger on the pulse of the trad scene who not only has an informed handle on trends and development from his work with RTE Radio, but also an easy-going personality imbued with a keen sense of humor.

Last year, I had the opportunity to sample a few concerts in the incredible Christchurch Cathedral seeing Rod McTell and the 50th anniversary concerts of the Dubliners who have since disbanded.  The limited exposure to such a grand concert venue whetted my appetite to experience more of the TBTF the next time I could.

So 2013 provided the chance, and the expansion to six days afforded many additional options, though try as I might I couldn’t be in more than one place at a time.

The week started with a bang, with some of Ireland’s most creative voices and musicians joined in a concert dedicated to love songs entitled “A Stór Mo Chroí,” which was taken from a compilation produced a few years ago by the Celtic Note record store opposite Trinity College. 

The featured singers included Karan Casey, Muireann nic Amhlaoibh, Lumiere’s singers Eilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon and John Spillane, with extraordinary accompaniment of stellar musicians Donagh Hennessy, John McSherry and Donal O’Connor. A talented ensemble like this set the tone for the quality entertainment to be experienced all week, and it was hard to know who enjoyed it more, the artists or the audience.

On Wednesday another matchup of the Sands Family (Tommy, Colum, Ben and Ann) opened up the Christchurch Cathedral evening and gave a well-received opening set that displayed the delightful folk charm that they have exuded over 40 years.

Fiddler Martin Hayes and his compatriot Dennis Cahill once again found another venue that they could conquer with their mesmerizing musical act as they made their maiden appearance at Christchurch Cathedral to another sell-out crowd which would number about 500 in full-view seating. 

Starting on Thursday the choices became more difficult, but like any good festival there were only good ones.  Each provided spectacular opportunities to see great artists and hear wonderful music in historic settings in Dublin like Christchurch, the 18th-Century gem City Hall and St. Werburgh Cathedral just steps from Christchurch which was founded in 1178 after the Normans arrived in Ireland. 

In keeping with gathering overseas visitors, musicians from Cape Breton appeared representing Celtic Colours International Festival, including Wendy MacIssac, Mary Jane Lamond, Kimberly Fraser and others who performed at City Hall, which is where most of the talent from abroad was featured.

A short walk up Dame Street once again to Christchurch allowed the rare opportunity for the Irish to see Maura O’Connell, the Clare-born songstress who lives in Nashville who was one of the Yanks who were brought home.