Belfast TradFest is returning for its fifth festival this July with its most ambitious music program yet.

The internationally renowned festival, showcasing world-class traditional music concerts, fiery pub sessions, and Ireland's fastest-growing summer school of traditional music, will take place between Saturday, July 23 through Sunday, July 30 across Belfast, a UNESCO City of Music.

This year's event will be a momentous occasion for the festival, as it recognizes the advancements and achievements since 2017 and all that organizers have overcome to bring people together in celebration of the very best of traditional music, song, and dance.

It also acknowledges and celebrates the cultural diversity of the different traditions in Northern Ireland and is extremely proud of its work, bringing people together, in a shared celebration of traditional music from these islands. 

Belfast TradFest started in 2015 as Belfast Summer School of Traditional, and until 2018 provided a five-day summer school with world class musicians, including concerts, sessions, céilís, talks, master classes and free events. 

The event was rebranded in 2019 to become Belfast TradFest and extended to seven days.

Against the odds, the first festival was hailed a huge success, staging 50 events across the city and welcoming 2,000 attendees.

Belfast TradFest, which is delivered through funding from Belfast City Council, Arts Council NI, Tourism NI, and in partnership with Ulster University is now internationally recognized as a world-class event and has grown to over 200 events across multiple stages and venues, with an annual attendance figure of over 15,000 from all over the world. 

Delighted to share the poster for our upcoming festival. Hope you can share and join us😎🎻🎶

📆 23-30 July

Thanks to our funders & supporters @ourbelfastmusic @belfastcc @UlsterUni @DiscoverNI @TG4TV @dun_uladh @CQBelfast @DiscoverNI @TourismIreland

— Belfast TradFest (@BelfastTradF) May 17, 2023

Dónal O’Connor, Artistic Director for Belfast TradFest, said: “Our 5th edition is a hugely significant occasion for the festival, especially considering the pandemic years and the challenges of recent cuts to Arts funding.

"We will, of course, be paying homage to the musicians, bands, and artists who have contributed, supported, and inspired the festival over the years, but importantly this is also a moment to look to the future.

“Belfast TradFest is showcasing some of the best music these islands have to offer.

"Established and emerging musicians come here to create and perform, and audiences are attracted to enjoy our cultural treasures at first hand. Sharing our music and our arts is a vital part of our human existence, connecting us and enriching lives, and we cherish that.

"We are so excited to bring this full program of events to the people of Belfast and to invite many new visitors to our city from all over the world.” 

Belfast TradFest 2023's highlights

This year’s festival welcomes Trans-Atlantic supergroup and RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards Group of the year The Olllam, for what will be their biggest Irish show to date, in the newly refurbished Mandela Hall. Featuring Belfast’s very own John McSherry, an uilleann piping legend who has founded groups such as Lúnasa, At First Light and Ulaid, the band also features Vulfpeck’s Bass dynamo Joe Dart and US producer to the stars Tyler Duncan.

International festival favorites Four Men and a Dog will play TradFest for the first time, whilst celebrating almost 35 years on the road, having emerged first in 1990 during the Belfast Folk Festival.

The Belfast TradFest Summer School of Traditional Music is the hub around which the festival is built. Young and old musicians come to Belfast to learn from the very best in the business, for a five-day long programme of summer school events. This year’s line-up of tutors features no less than eight previous TG4 Gradam Ceoil Award recipients and amongst the list of world-class talent will be Tyrone’s Ryan Molloy, acclaimed composer and musician Neil Martin, Co Kerry’s Niamh Ní Charra, banjo maestro Angelina Carberry, Sean Nós dancing dynamo Edwina Guckian, and Belfast’s very own set dancing master Ronán Eastwood.

Former Dé Dannan accordion wizard Máirtín O’Connor will bring his acclaimed band back to Belfast for what will surely be an eye-watering display of virtuosity in the Empire Music Hall, featuring Tyrone fiddle legend Cathal Hayden and Sligo’s chanteur extrordinaire Seamie O’Dowd.

Appearing for their debut performance at the festival are four-part female vocal harmony group Landless who feature Belfast’s own Meabh Meir and have been described as a ‘living elegy to the power and beauty of the unaccompanied human voice.'

Also on the bill in The Empire Music Hall will be the legendary triumvirate of musical magpies Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle, and John McCusker. These masters of the tradition have shared stages and recording studios with everyone from Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler to Paul Weller, Joan Baez, and Linda Thompson.

Scottish singing sensation Kathleen MacInnes brings highly acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass to Belfast to share the bill with award-winning Highlands Indie Folk band Elephant Sessions, who will excite revelers to dance the night away and surely raise the roof, at the festival’s closing concert.

Front woman of Cherish the Ladies and American Irish legend of traditional music Joanie Madden will bring her vivacious brand of musicianship to local audiences at the Strand Arts Centre as part of ‘With Fife & Drum’ concert in partnership with Eastside Arts Festival. This concert celebrates the Scottish and Irish traditions and will also feature Belfast’s own Desi Wilkinson, considered to be the world’s greatest tin whistle player, Mary Bergin, Field Marshall Montgomery’s Scott Wallace, 6-time world pipe band championship winner Gareth McLees, and Scottish Smallpipe legend Fin Moore.

A special show entitled “Ceol na nGael / Wild music of the Gael” will showcase some of the most exciting performers of traditional music today in Áras Mhic Reachtain. Hosted by current RTÉ Radio 1 Folk singer of the year Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, the concert will also feature Joan Baez’s musical director and founder member of Solas John Doyle, alongside RTÉ Radio 1 Emerging Folk Artists of the year Cathal Ó Curráin, outstanding exponent of the Co Clare concertina style Lorraine Ní Bhriain, and master uilleann piper David Power from Waterford.

In partnership with Belfast Pride, The Black Box will host one of the annual highlights of the festival The Pride Céilí. This spectacle of dance, color, excitement, fun, and inclusivity that must be seen to be believed, is just one of the four Céilís that take place during the festival that are hosted by world-renowned Belfast Céilí dance caller Ronán Eastwood.

At the famed music and beer house “The John Hewitt," much loved local trio Music in the Glen, featuring the astounding flute playing of Brendan Mulholland, will share the bill with exciting young singer and composer Róis from Fermanagh who is making her own indelible mark of the music scene.

Legendary Belfast virtuoso fiddler Seán Maguire will once again be celebrated in the Duncairn Arts Centre with an annual fiddle concert in association with the Seán Maguire Music Society. This promises to be a spectacle of virtuoso fiddling by the likes of Bríd Harper, Scotland’s John McCusker, who will cross the water fresh from recording with Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, Siobhán Peoples of the famous Donegal fiddling dynasty, current TG4 Gradam Ceoil Ceoltóir Óg na Bliana Méabh Smyth from Armagh, and many more. Also on the bill are legendary County Antrim singer Len Graham and probably the world’s greatest tenor banjo player Gerry ‘Banjo' O’Connor. 

The Bunting Collection housed in Queen’s University Belfast, perhaps the most significant collection of ancient Irish airs extant, was collected at the Belfast Harpers festival on Donegall St. in 1792 by St. Anne’s Cathedral organist Edward Bunting. The annual Belfast TradFest Harp festival concert will this year celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bunting’s birthday, with a very special concert in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiach featuring Mayo harping legend Laoise Kelly, Monaghan uilleann piper Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn and Sligo accordion wizard Daithí Gormley amongst others.  

In association with An Droichead, “Na Máistrí / Masters Of Traditional Music” will feature the cream of traditional music talent, presented by Belfast composer and musician Neil Martin. Also on the bill will a be member of Trans-atlantic supergroup Solas Mick McAuley, Co Leitrim Dancing queen Edwina Guckian, Manchester banjo player Angelina Carberry, and Co Tyrone pianist extraordinaire Ryan Molloy, amongst others.

The Belfast TradFest Session Trail runs across a wide range of venues. The trail, sponsored by McConnell’s Irish Whisky, features over 50 sessions in some of the finest traditional pubs Belfast has to offer. All sessions are free admission and run for two hours. 

You can learn more about Belfast TradFest 2023 on its website.