Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is already in full swing in Drogheda with a packed weekend predicted for Ireland biggest traditional music festival and competition.
Drogheda, County Louth, my hometown, is famous for being sacked by Cromwell in 1649. Now it will be remembered for something else entirely, something, joyous uplifting and historical.
Five hundred thousand musicians, writers, locals, music fans and tourists are expected by the end of this week when the Fleadh Cheoil literally the “Music Celebration” ends.
It has been a week so far like nothing else. Just a stone's throw away from my front door on the Cord Road lies St Laurence's Gate reminiscent of a Drogheda past, built in the 13th century to protect a medieval town.
There's certainly a presence to it today with local musician and Uilleann Piper Darragh O'Heiligh and company leading the crowd with their music from 12 every day in “Music at the Gate” for the Fleadh Cheoil and a flock of Irish dancers in tow.
The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann “Irish musical festival” is an annual competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), a non-profit group promoting traditional Irish music, dance, language and the arts. It has grown in numbers with the first event being held in 1951 in Mullingar and Drogheda has become its host for the next two years.
The Fleadh spirit can certainly be felt all over the town. There's an upbeat ambiance and a wild Irish vibe in the air - dance, sing, play - it is all part of an exuberant expression that would have driven Cromwell mad.
Familiar street corners are filtered with musicians from all over Ireland. Families playing traditional Irish music from as far-west as Clare are playing until late into the night and the talent is phenomenal.
The bunting, the banners and the newly arranged flowerpots are visible across the town. It’s Samba with an Irish smile, Coachella with a brogue, Rio Carnival with uilleann pipes The streets have suddenly become alive.
Living away from Ireland, it's refreshing to see coffee shops open well into the night and pop up food stalls. There is a hectic atmosphere all around. It's both touching and beautiful to see elderly people who are wheelchair bound enjoying the music and craic across the town and the overall sense of community and unity that the Fleadh has brought.
Walking into my local pubs, I feel like I'm in Galway with corner seats being reserved for musicians and signs outside the doors advertising “Musicians welcome.” The classics are heard from bar to bar, with astounding renditions of “Grace” capturing an enraptured audience into the wee hours of the morn. And it wouldn't be uncommon to witness the lead singer of the Wolfe Tones after his gig hanging out in the main street hotel.
There's a saying in Irish which goes “Tá sé dubh le daoine” meaning “The place is black with people” and it's certainly true on the streets these days. And it's only mid-week so far!
The excitement is building, flocks of Americans can be seen taking part in walking tours across the town and embracing the Irish tradition. Houses have been put up for rent by locals. Overheard conversations include set times and upcoming events with the expected spectator and participant numbers to reach up to 500,000 this weekend.
All in all, its great to see the overall sense of pride among the locals in the town. “Sure isn't it great for the town” can be overheard in many a conversation along the streets. There was an air of anticipation for Tuesday night with hush-hushed rumors that the High Kings, one of Ireland's biggest bands, may make an appearance busking across the town and you never know just who will show their face. Maybe Elvis!
Hector Ó hEochagáin, Irish television and radio presenter hailing from not that far away in Navan, Co Meath, has been providing comical updates on his journey over this side this afternoon, posting a picture of a sign on back roads claiming, “the last stop to Drawda.”
Anyone familiar with the local dialect of Drogheda has also seen a change in word usage these days. With “Fleadh” fast becoming a verb in the Drogheda twang. It's not uncommon to hear “I'm Fleadh out of it” - translating to “I’m wrecked tired from too much Fleadh time” - or “Are you coming Fleadhing?” But by far the most popular saying so far has been “Up the Fleadh.”
Up the Fleadh indeed!
Have you ever attended or competed in Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann? Let us know when, where and what you thought of it in the comments section, below.