Macroom prepares for Fleadh Cheoil Chorcaí
How does one of the smallest branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann succeed in hosting Ireland’s biggest county fleadh cheoil not once, but four times?
For Aghinagh Comhaltas, gearing up to welcome 1,200 competitors and hundreds more audience members and supporters to Fleadh Cheoil Chorcaí in Macroom next week, the secret of success can be summed up in one word — unity.
The musicians, singers, Gaeilgeoirí, storytellers, and dancers descending on the Mid-Cork town on May 11-13 will be accommodated by a group of volunteers whose branch boasts less than 20 adult members but whose teamwork amply compensates for any lack of numbers.
“Unity. That was always our magic ingredient,” says Peggy Lynch, chairperson of Aghinagh Comhaltas branch, which is celebrating 40 years since its foundation.
“We have never had a row, never had a cross word. It was just for the good of the community and the branch. We’re friends, as well as members of Comhaltas.”
Peggy, a singer with three CDs to her name, was instrumental in the foundation of a branch whose members went on to host the Munster Fleadh and tour America together.
It was a Comhaltas programme on RTÉ radio that inspired Peggy to inquire about forming a branch of the cultural association in the rural parish of Aghinagh.
The songs she heard on the programme struck a chord with Peggy, who was reared in a house where visitors regularly dropped in to share music, song, and stories, as well as the latest local news.
“It reminded me of my childhood. Our house was a gathering house for ‘scoraíocht’ and from a young age I loved listening to the songs and music,” she recalls.
It was an area rich in poetry and song, composed by the likes of ‘Poet’ Aherne, famed for ‘The Banks of Sullane’, and Dan ‘The Master’ Coakley of Ballinagree School, and Peggy was keen to help promote and preserve its heritage by forming a Comhaltas branch.
A letter to Dublin HQ was duly dispatched and in April 1978 Aghinagh Comhaltas came into being, with Peggy as secretary. Within a year she was organising an American tour with local seanchaí Neily Coakley and a group of musicians, supported by a two-year fundraising campaign. Having sung and played their way around New York and Boston, Aghinagh’s travelling troubadours got a taste for p r o m o t i n g I r i s h c u l t u r e abroad and have since visited Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, and more.
Back home in Aghinagh, the branch started running music classes in Coachford, its young musicians among those attending the fleadhanna it hosted in Macroom in 2001, 2008, and 2012.
“We even ran a Munster Fleadh in 2005. This is all due to a great dedicated group of people — members, friends of our branch, and our neighbouring branches,” says Peggy. “Our small rural b r a n ch , t h o u g h f ew i n number, is strong in spirit.”
This year’s Fleadh Cheoil Chorcaí, organised in co-operation with Cork Comhaltas, starts on May 9, with a tribute to local accordion player and céilí band leader Tadhg Kearney, in the Auld Triangle.
Thursday sees an oíche amhránaíochta in the Riverside Park Hotel, with the official opening of the Fleadh in the Castle Hotel on Friday night also celebrating 40 years of Aghinagh Comhaltas, and a céilí taking place in Crookstown hall on Saturday, May 12.
Sean-nós dancers get the competitions under way on Friday evening, with musicians, singers, groups, and céilí bands battling it out over the weekend for the chance to qualify for Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan in Ennis and ultimately Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, which this year takes place in Drogheda.
Members of Aghinagh Comhaltas tune up for the Cork Fleadh.
Junior members of Aghinagh Comhaltas prepare for Fleadh Cheoil Chorcaí.