THE All-Britain Fleadh—essentially the British Championships for Irish culture —took place recently in the picturesque market town of Kirkby Lonsdale.
The Fleadh always attracts a large audience from across Britain and Ireland, but is usually confined to a school or university campus’ with last year’s event being a great success in Stirling University. While venues of this kind are practical for the 150 competitions to take place—offering lots of rooms and halls—they are somewhat shut off from the wider community. That was certainly not the case this year, as the Fleadh took over virtually every usable space in the town, including utilising the two main schools, the council’s main hub—called Lunsdale Hall—and also the two churches within the town.
Even the town’s market square (above)—which takes the form of a car park on any given weekend—was transformed with an open air stage featuring performances of a wide range of disciplines, even hosting the dancing competitions.
With many of the traditional establishments in the town flying the Union flag—as they do the whole year round—the Irish tricolour bunting certainly created a contrast, but the atmosphere in the town from first minute to last was nothing but celebratory, with lots of music, song and dance on display.
Many of the locals were desperate to bring the event back next year, however they were disappointed to learn that the event will only return again to northern England in 2023.
In the competitions themselves, the contingent travelling south from Scotland were incredibly successful—many of which placed first or second which secured their place at the All-Ireland Fleadh which once again takes place in August in Drogheda.
It is traditional to host a ceili at the All-Britain each year, and this year was
something of a spectacle with the band being the current All-Ireland Champions, the Blackwater from Tyrone. Scottish Taditional supergroup Talisk also performed a sell-out concert in one of the town’s churches while music, song and dance flowed from virtually every establishment in the town.
Another break from convention this year was the awarding of ‘Ard-Ollamh’ or chief bard of the fleadh. The choice for this year’s award was celebrated musician, poet and broadcaster Mike Harding. This will be an annual award from within the Fleadh with the next being chosen in London in June 2020.
As attention now turns to Drogheda for the Fleadh, which runs from August 11-18, we wish all those who have qualified well in their pursuit of All-Ireland glory, and we do so safe in the knowledge that Irish culture is as strong in Scotland as it is anywhere else in the world.
For more information on the All-Ireland Fleadh visit: www.fleadhcheoil.ie
Paddy Callaghan is the Scottish Region Development Officer for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann