Mac­room pre­pares for Fleadh Cheoil Chor­caí

Irish Examiner - County - - News - Pet O’Con­nell

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.

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