Committee Reports::Report - Report on Traditional Irish Music::01 January, 1999::Report


An Comhchoiste um Oidhreacht agus an Ghaeilge

Tuarascáil ar Cheol Tire na hÉireann


Joint Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language

Report on Traditional Irish Music

Eanáir, 1999

January, 1999


An Comhchoiste um Oidhreacht agus an Ghaeilge

Tuarascáil ar Cheol Tíre na hÉireann


Joint Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language

Report on Traditional Irish Music

Eanáir, 1999

January, 1999







1 - 38








In accordance with its Orders of Reference and being aware of the relevance of Traditional Music to the indigenous culture the Joint Committee decided to prepare a Report on the subject. As part of this work the Joint Committee appointed a Rapporteur, Senator Labhrás O’ Murchú, to research the subject and bring the conclusions of his research to the Committee. The Joint Committee was very conscious of Senator O’ Murchú’s expertise in the field which is second to none.

This Report therefore incorporates the work of the Rapporteur as it does the conclusions and recommendations of the Members of the Joint Committee. The membership details and the Orders of Reference of the Joint Committee are also appended.

Ceol Tíre na hÉireann

Irish Traditional Music

Rapporteur - Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú

Nollaig 1998

Joint Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language



A Living Tradition


What is Tradition?


Irish Traditional Music in the 20th Century


Composition and Development


Amhránaíocht ar an Sean-Nós


Ag Saothrú an Cheoil


Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann


Ó Ghlúin go Glúin




Mol an Óige


Cultural Tourism


Focal Scoir




A Living Tradition

1 A Living Tradition

The aims and objectives of the Irish traditional music movement remain basically unchanged since its inception, over a period which has seen great social change, a period which has seen the balance of population shift from a mainly rural to a largely urban base. Though urban areas (such as for instance Dublin) had their own tradition of music and song, the national repertoire was, in the main, the music of a rural people.

Bearing in mind that the change mentioned above coincided more or less with the introduction of television and other mass media influences into the country, it would not be surprising if the old music had suffered at least a partial eclipse over that period. It is as much a tribute to the quality and vitality of the music itself as to the commitment, perseverance and virtuosity of its exponents that the music has, in fact, gained in stature and popularity through the transition from the traditional country kitchen to the many and diverse settings in which it may be found today.

National Heritage

An exceptional commitment to an ideal of Irish traditional music was, and continues to be, the single most dynamic factor behind the success of the Irish traditional music movement over the years. This commitment is shared by many thousands of Irish people including both musicians and enthusiasts. For many it is part of a broader commitment to the ideal of Ireland a nation true to her heritage. For all it is a commitment to what is perceived as something highly valued.

Most Irish traditional musicians would agree that their music is important and meaningful to them in a very special way. We find a consensus amongst them that it is desirable that the best features/qualities of this music be preserved, and handed on enhanced to future generations of Irish musicians. This consensus embraces two seemingly contrasting instincts: the first is the desire to preserve the best of the old music in its purity - the traditional instinct. The second is the wish, the desire, to renew and reinterpret the old tunes according to one’s own personal musical taste. This challenge has been taken up and accepted with success by every generation of our musicians within living memory.

A musical way of life

To rework and refurbish the old tunes and songs, to write meaningful new tunes and songs in the old idioms; these are the challenges facing the traditional musician who wishes to propagate and renew Irish traditional music. The inspiration and conviction for this work come from the belief that the inherited body of this music incorporates a vital and worthwhile approach to musicmaking, involving taste, style, intrinsic musical values, critical musical standards: one might say simply ‘a musical way of life!’ To many musicians in many areas of musical endeavour music is indeed ‘a way of life’. Our traditional musicians participating in the worldwide commitment to music, have taken on themselves the task of propagating and developing our particular contribution to the great and delightful musical diversity of mankind. That is the reason why you will find Irish musicians listening to old recordings, studying the diversity of regional style, or trying to grasp the elusive grace notes of the piper or the sean-nós singer.


What is Tradition?

2 What is Tradition?

The debate on what is ‘traditional’ music continues to exercise many minds. Here is a view not of an Irish person but of Sased de Ridder who lives in the Australian bush:

Time plays the villain on all things and the word tradition has not remained immune from the ‘ruinous nature’ of time.

We live at a time when so much that was excellent is now deliberately diminished, words once so clearly understood by all are now often used either in a pejorative sense or are caricatured and often scoffed at - all indications that a wholesome sense of the sacred is no longer a dominant part of people’s lives. Attempts to define once silently understood concepts are so often fragmentary and partial, symbols remain but their contents are so often lost to us over time. However, when speaking of the traditional there are in fact indisputable signs and points of reference that are as enduring as the stars, so let us consider some of these, from the point of view of one who writes from the traditional perspective.

A traditional artform (and in this case we are speaking of music) is marked by the very special hallmarks of directness and totality. By directness it is meant that it speaks directly to the whole man or people, with the unique capacity to transcend differences of whatever kind, even traditional affiliations. What is also not often realised is that the special magic of traditional artform speaks directly to the intellect, and it carries with it all the luminous intelligibility that comes from the intellect, irrespective of what ethnic genius its light filters through. I make the point here that I speak of the Universal Intellect that all men participate in, or rather that all people partake of equally.

Hallmark of Genius

The structure of a given artform may defy rational analysis, but does this not mean that it is in anyway irrational or illogical, quite the contrary, this is yet another hallmark of its genius and yet another reason for its directness. By totality we mean a traditional artform is marked by a sufficiency and adequacy to convey its underlying essence to the person or people (in this case) listening. Tied to this sense of totality, and in a sense because of, it is the unique quality of polyvalency, in part this means that a traditional expression readily escapes the seemingly narrow confines of its medium to cause all the receptive faculties of man to participate in the experience offered up.

Another guarantee of its pedigree is that just like a species that is vital to a particular ecosystem, a traditional art form could not be, its reason for being is as indissolubly linked to the collective well being of a given folk as the given folk are linked to it. Here all questions of arbitrariness simply do not arise.


On the use of the word ‘change’, - traditional artforms develop around an immovable centre or pole rather than change, and this is a core reason for their unending freshness.

A traditional artform has its origins in the collective genius of a given folk, and this genius is in turn rooted in an imperishable archetype; when this artform is touched by duration it develops, but it does so, and this is crucial; - firstly in a manner that never does violence to its original inspiration, and secondly, it develops in order to ‘remain itself’, i.e. remain true to its archetypal essence.


Popular artforms like Riverdance ultimately owe their success to the perfume of the particular tradition they have borrowed from. That they arise and will continue to arise manifests the presence of a need in the wider community (now worldwide) for artforms of this kind, and needs must be fulfilled. However, those of us who fearlessly champion the cause of all traditional artforms know in advance that they are but expressions of what is possible rather than expressions of what must be. If violence is done to the spirit of the tradition from which they have borrowed, particularly in the relentless pursuit of profit and notoriety, well then time will always hold them to account, for it is in time that they will live, and after all, is not time the very thing that tradition so super-eminently conquers.


Irish Traditional Music in the Twentieth Century

3 Irish Traditional Music in the Twentieth Century

Though authoritative books on the history of Irish traditional (otherwise folk) music are still comparatively few, it is possible now at the approach of the Millennium to look back on at least a hundred years of music making of the traditional variety and identify various developments and trends over the decades. Writing in 1910 (in Irish Folk Music - A Fascinating Hobby) the great collector, Captain Francis O’Neill, referred again and again to the ‘decadence’ which he saw as then affecting the Irish traditional music scene. In only a few instances did he find any cause for optimism. ‘Most of the music and melodies of half a century (ago) are forgotten’, he noted dismally.

O’Neill’s labours for the cause of the music he loved are truly monumental and the fact that his work did not receive the accolades it deserved in his lifetime may explain his pessimistic outlook. Certainly the people of rural Ireland had come through a century of turmoil; of famine, starvation and mass emigration, a century of failed revolutions, land wars, a period which saw the native language (Irish) replaced by the English language throughout vast areas of the countryside. Notwithstanding all of this, and in spite of the suppression of the ‘Patrons’ (or ‘Patterns’) and farmhouse dances (which O’Neill listed as a major factor in the decline of Irish music), the old traditional music and dances survived as the popular and cherished musical expression of the people in many areas.

Emigrant Influence

When referring to the 19th century it is also worth noting that the Industrial Revolution which helped speed the demise of folk music in many European countries left Ireland largely unaffected, so that despite large scale emigration and much political turmoil, the pace and style of rural living remained largely unchanged well into the first half of the 20th century. It is relevant also, as we shall see later, to point out that amongst the hundreds of thousands who emigrated to Briatin, the USA and other countries were many musicians who continued to cherish and practice the old music amongst the new Irish communities which inevitably developed abroad.

Music of the People

Overall, and without going into too much detail, the available evidence seems to indicate that contrary to Captain O’Neill’s impressions, Irish traditional music remained the chosen and popular music of the people in large areas of counties such as Donegal, Fermanagh, Tipperary, Wexford, Kerry, various parts of the midland counties, and all the counties West of the Shannon, etc., etc. Certainly in much of the countryside, and in numerous small towns and villages, it was the music played when people assembled in someone’s home, at crossroads or in village halls, for a ‘night’,‘scoraíocht’, or night’s ‘céilí-ing’. The most basic and frequent of these events was the session at the céilí-house - or scoraíocht-house, there being some such house in every townland. It might be any house in the area that was suitably situated and where the good man and woman of the house liked music and company and didn’t make too much fuss about getting to bed at an early hour! Preferably it would have a spacious country kitchen with a stone-flagged floor.

At these meeting places the young men and girls, as well as some of the older folk from a radius of half a mile or so, would assemble on a couple of nights a week. There might be as many as twenty-five or thirty people involved, or as few as seven or eight. They whiled away the hours between milking time and bedtime - both conveniently variable - with talking, card-playing, storytelling or dancing.

Dance and Song

In cases where dancing took place, sets or half-sets would be the order of the night - traditional group dances, usually danced by four or two couples respectively. There were numerous regional kinds and variations. In some parts of the country, also the Lancers, the barn-dance and even the waltz were not unknown. The music would be provided on a fiddle, a melodeon, concertina or a wooden flute, or some combination of these instruments; if need be, one or more of the company would lilt the required tunes. Dancers who prided themselves on the footwork vied with one another in ‘battering’ out intricate rhythms on the stout flags of the farmhouse kitchen floor (‘Battering’ in this context refers to the dancers’ lively footwork). There might be a few songs, usually comic songs or songs about some local incident. In areas where there was a strong singing tradition, there might be a particular house or night for singing rather than dancing, but music and dancing were widely favoured.

These nights of music-making took place all the year round, though in many areas they were either abandoned or operated at a low key during Lent. There were also ‘special nights’, such as ‘wren dances’, weddings and threshing nights. These were normally attended by large numbers of people so that not only the house but also the barn or some such spacious outhouse would be used. It was common practice throughout most of the country that all musicians who were willing to play had an open invitation to such functions. So it was that the musician was frequently to be seen heading homeward to the song of the lark in the morning.

Travelling musicians

Travelling musicians who sang and played at markets and fairs helped to bring tunes and songs from one area to another. Travelling and local musicians were also willing, for a few pence per lesson - or sometimes, in the case of the former, for their keep - to pass on their skills and tunes to aspiring youngsters.

Such then was the standing and place of Irish traditional music in the lives of the people in the greater part of rural Ireland about the turn of the century. The cities such as Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast also had traditional music communities, clubs, etc. where immigrants from the provinces were wont to meet their city-born peers for sessions of traditional music.


Composition and Development in Irish Traditional Music

4 Composition and Development in Irish Traditional Music

In the context of Irish traditional music, the word composition has a number of quite different meanings.

Clearly, the enormous repertoire of some thousands of reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides, mazurkas etc. has not always been there. The tunes have been composed and expanded out of previously composed tunes.

Much of the basic traditional repertoire is considered anonymous, as we do not know who the actual composers were, through some have their names attached to their tunes. However, we should realise that in times past, as in times present, the personal name in the title is sometimes that of a player associated with the particular tune and not that of the actual composer.

Composers’ names from a previous generations include Liddy, O’Boyle, Darley, White, Ryan, Potts, Reavy, Wynne, Fahy and a host of others. Their tunes are in most players’ standard repertoire: one might say they are tunes that were mined at the coal-face of real traditional music and sit comfortably in the tradition.

Over the last twenty years or so, composers of genuinely new tunes that are making their way into the traditional player’s repertoire are really far too numerous to catalogue here, but the list includes Byrne, Lennon, Conroy, Ó Canainn, O’Flynn, McCarthy, Crowley, Masterson, Keenan, Breathnach, Hession, Spillane, Reavy, O’Brien, Brady, Ryan, etc., etc.

We have been talking so far, about composers who are themselves an intrinsic part of the tradition - performers whose compositions, to some extent, come out of their own playing. Some of them also compose in the more formal medium of, perhaps, combining a traditional instrument or instruments with strings or full orchestra. Such traditional composers would seem to have an advantage, by virtue of their traditional background, if the old adage applies: ‘To know the way forward you must know the way back.’ Put another way, one is tempted to say that the composer would make his way forward, looking back all the time, to get his bearings!

The traditional composers we are discussing are joined in this type of composition by others, some very well known, who may not have the same background of traditional music, but who may come from a strong background of composition in the European tradition. The group also contains some who have a foot, as it were, in both camps. This group, bringing together the three types of composers, contains such names as Ó Riada, Davey, Moloney, Ó Súilleabháin, Lennon, Ó Canainn, Martin, Hardiman, Cassidy, etc.

Worldwide Popularity

It is too early yet to say what influence, if any, such formal new compositions will have on the living tradition of Irish traditional music. Obviously, they are a different genre, whose natural milieu is the concert platform, their very presence is an indication and a result of the worldwide popularity of the music.

What one might regard as an entirely native development is the emergence of, for example, Siamsa Tíre, based in Tralee, who have developed folk theatre based on real traditional music and of Brú Ború, based in Cashel, who draw the threads of traditional music and song together in an authentic stage presentation.

Over the last thirty years, of course, the major ambassadors of Irish music abroad, have been the regular Comhaltas tour groups, and the professional or semiprofessional traditional music groups, beginning with McPeakes, Ceoltóirí Cualann, followed by the Chieftains, Na Filí, Planxty, The Fureys, Bothy Bank, Clannad, Dé Danann, Altan and others. All of them have, to a greater or lesser extent, developed the music in a group context, with some original composition and much arrangement.

It is interesting to speculate what effect all this compositional activity will have on the average traditional player, who, until now, has picked up his or her music from family, friends, recordings, radio, television and, increasingly, from meeting other players at Fleadhanna Cheoil.

Apart from such informal learning, there is much formal instruction nowadays, with organisations like Comhaltas teaching youngsters in an enormous network of Comhaltas branch classes, from Antrim and Donegal in the north to Kerry and Wexford in the south. To support this, over a number of years now, qualified teachers are graduating from Comhaltas Summer and Easter courses, the better to spread the music, when they return to their branches. The ‘partnership’ between the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Comhaltas in the new traditional Irish Music Examinations is a further sign of the progress being made in the promotion of Ireland’s native music.

What an exciting world it all is for those many thousands of young traditional players, who already are surpassing their elders in skill and enthusiasm. Gura fada buan iad!


Amhránaíocht ar an Sean-Nós

5 Amhránaíocht ar an Sean-Nós

Má tá gné amháin de cheol dúchais na hÉireann go mbeadh daoine buartha faoi, ó thaobh na todhchaí de, is cinnte gurb é an ghné sin ná an amhránaíocht ar an sean nós. In éagmais polasaí éifeachtach náisiúnta ó thaobh athbheochaint na Gaeilge, is deacair a bheith dóchasach faoi chúrsaí ar bith a bhaineann leis an teanga ná leis an Ghaeltacht.

Maidir leis an amhránaíocht bítear ag brath ar na hamhránaithe Gaeltachta chun na seanamhráin agus na seanleaganacha a chur os ár gcomhair gan truailliú. Tá amhránaithe óga cloiste againn sna ceanntair Ghaeltachta thoir, thiar, thuaidh agus theas agus na sean amhráin ar an sean stíl ar a dtoil acu. Ar ndóigh am ar bith a mbíonn amhrán á casadh bíonn an timpeallacht agus an cóluadar i gceist freisin; is mór an chabhair don amhránaí cóluadar tuisceannach báidhiúil a bheith taobh leis/léi, a thuigeann scéal agus brí agus mothú na n-amhrán. Ach tá athruithe móra tagaithe ar an saol le blianta anuas agus ar shaol na Gaeltachta comh maith le háit ar bith eile. Anois tá daoine ann a deireann nach dtuigeann cuid de aosóg na Gaeltachta, in aois seo an micro-chip agus an scáthlán video, nach dtuigeann siad teanga ná leagain chainte na sean amhrán. Ach sin an dearcadh doirbhíoch agus tá an taobh soirbhíoch ann freisin, ach go háirithe i gcás na hamhránaíochta. Tá anchuid daoine, anois, agus daoine óga a bhfurmhór, ag déanamh tréan iarracht chun na sean amhráin a fhoghlaim agus a chasadh ar an sean nós; daoine nár tógadh sa Ghaeltacht atá i gceist. Do bhíodh an tuairim ann, agus tá sé ann go tréan fós, nach bhféadfadh duine, nach duine Gaeltachta é (nó í), amhrán a chasadh ar an ‘sean nós ceart’ mar adeirtear. D’fhéadfaí bheith ag argóint faoin gceist seo go dtí lá an Luain, agus ní thiocfadh, de bharr na cainte, ach easaontas agus éadóchas. Ach tá an méid seo le rá ag na daoine a bhí ag déanamh moltóireachta ag na fleadhanna cheoil le blianta beaga anuas: go bhfuil amhránaithe óga ag teacht aníos, amhránaithe a rugadh agus a tógadh sa Ghalltacht, go bhfuil caighdeán an-ard bainte amach aca in amhránaíocht ar an sean nós.


Ag Saothrú anCheoil

6 Ag Saothrú an Cheoil

For well over a century Conradh na Gaeilge and Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, as part of their cultural programme, gave generous recognition to Irish traditional music. Oireachtas na Gaeilge in particular played and continues to play an important role in the promotion of our native music. RTÉ radio (Radio éireann) in the early years of the music revival travelled the length and breadth of Ireland recording and broadcasting Irish traditional musicians and singers. Notable figures in this regard were Séamas Ennis, Ciarán Mac Mathúna, Seán Mac Réamoinn, Bryan Mac Mahon, Seán Ó Síothcháin, Donncha Ó Dúlaing, etc.

In more recent years, RTÉ radio and television, local radio stations, UTV and BBC all gave a service of varying degrees in the promotion and exposure of Irish traditional music.

Groups and organisations such as Gael Linn, Siamsa Tíre, Na Píobairí Uilleann, Cáirde na Cruite and others have all made an important and effective contribution to the promotion of Irish traditional music.

Several Summer Schools and Festivals continue to provide a focus for Irish traditional music i.e. Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Milbay, Joe Mooney School in Drumshanbo, Slógadh, Sligo Summer School, Aonach Paddy O’Brien in Nenagh, Keadue Harp Festival, Granard Harp Festival.


Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

The Irish Cultural Movement

7 Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

The Irish Cultural Movement

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, or Comhaltas as it is known to its friends, was founded in 1951.

Today Comhaltas is rooted in every one of the 32 Counties of Ireland. It is also extensively organised through the Irish Communities in Britain, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, Australia, Hungary, Japan and Italy: many non-Irish - friends of Ireland - have joined this movement.

With the formation of new branches of Comhaltas in Nuremberg, Budapest and Milan, the cultural movement continues to grow and expand throughout the world. The evergrowing network of branches, in excess of 400 with their diverse programme of activities, continues to spread the knowledge and appreciation of our cultural traditions. It is interesting to record that participation in activities is not confined to Irish people: many non-Irish are also active participants in the movement. Branches in such places as Sardinia and Tokyo, with their most impressive work programmes, are fine examples of the world fraternity of Comhaltas. This vigorous cultural fraternity who enjoy and propagate the native traditions of Ireland in so many parts of the world also promote a knowledge of Ireland, her status and aspirations.


Ó Ghlúin go Glúin

8 Ó Ghlúin go Glúin

From its earliest years, Comhaltas appreciated the necessity of passing on our traditional music to the younger generation. The social scene was changing in Ireland and the same opportunities for young people to be exposed to native music-making and dancing were disappearing. The house-dance and crossroads-dance were giving way to the many changes taking place in Ireland. It was obvious that a network of classes was the answer and it can now be recorded that we have one of the most extensive education networks of its kind in the world. Virtually all exponents of traditional music in this generation came through these classes.

In its extensive programme of activities, the most important work of Comhaltas has been in the field of education. It is now generously acknowledged that but for this pioneering work the phenomenal growth in the playing and appreciation of our native music would not have been possible. Today there are in the region of 600 classes involved in this important work.

The classes are but one step in the education process. Young performers are also exposed to the experience and expertise of the masters through sessions, workshops, concert tours, television programmes, Scoil Éigse etc.

Cúrsaí do Mhúinteoirí

TTCT Teachers’ Course

400 teachers have now qualified for TTCT certification. In the formative years of Comhaltas one of the great challenges facing the movement was how to motivate well known exponents of Irish traditional music to become tutors in their own localities. The TTCT - Diploma Course for music teachers - is now in its 20th year. The Course is designed and directed by Micheál Ó hEidhin, Music Inspector with the Department of Education. Micheál is an accomplished traditional musician in his own right and is an ideal Director for the course. His professional skills combined with his knowledge of and adherence to the principles of our native traditions has made the Diploma Course a milestone in our education programme. In the region of 20 applicants are accepted for the Course each year. There is now a waiting list of applications.

The assessors and instructors to date have been: Micheál Ó hEidhin, Seán Ó Drisceoil, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Pádraig Ó Riain, Martin Power, Noel Hill, Joe Burke, Tomás Ó Canainn, Micheál Ó hAlmhain, Michael O’Brien, Domhnall de Barra, Mary Bergin, Tom Glackin, (R.I.P.), Catherine McGorman, Kathleen Nesbitt, Maebh Ní Lochlainn, Michelle O’Sullivan, John McCarthy, Anne & Nicky Mc Auliffe, Eoin Ó Cionnaith, Frankie Gavin, James Kelly, Seoirse Bodley, Briain Ó Dúill, Tomás Ó Neachtain, Janet Harbison, Seán Montgomery, Colette O’Leary, Séamus Meehan, Colette Moloney, Jimmy McGreevy, Fidelma O’Brien, Kay Webster, Steve Cooney, Alan Domhnullach, John Regan, Attracta Brady, Kim Fleming, John Carty, Lourda Griffin, Mary Crowley, Frank Kelly, Charlie Lennon, Caroline Murphy, John Connolly, Brendan McGlinchey, Jimmy O’Brien Moran, Thomas Doorley, Tom Cussen, Gráinne Hambly, Johnny Connolly Snr., Micheál Ó Rúnaí, Brian McGrath and Carmel Gunning.

New performance certification

Deputy Síle de Valera, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, visited Brú Ború at the foot of the Rock of Cashel to present certificates for performance skills in traditional music, song and dance to 12 graduates of the course, held at Brú Ború which was run in co-operation with City and Guilds and FÁS.

The course, the first one of its kind in Ireland (and possibly Europe), enables performers of traditional music, song and dance to have the opportunity to have their skills recognised with a prestigious national and international certification.

Twelve people participated on the first course and, as with this year, all students passed their practical and written examinations with credit. There is an urgent and widespread demand from the tourist industry and other career agencies for traditional performances of a high standard. Certification will help to guarantee the personnel and the standards required. The intention is that having piloted the course in Brú Ború it will be introduced nationwide. It is felt that the course will enhance the opportunity of employment for several hundred people in a performing, training or teaching capacity.

Examination Network

History was made in December ‘98 in the magnificent surroundings of Dublin Castle when Uachtarán na hÉireann Mary McAleese launched Ireland’s first Traditional Irish Music Syllabus. This new exciting development is a ‘partnership’ project between The Royal Irish Academy of Music and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and supported by the PMPA Insurance.

Fáiltím go croíúil roimh an comhoibriú idir Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann agus Acadamh Ríoga Cheoil na hÉireann. Tá an tionscnamh comhpháirteach stairiúil seo tráthúil agus oiriúnach go mór mhór mar lóchrann an dóchais don mhílaois nua. Is breá le daoine óga dúshlán chun caighdeán a fheabhsú agus a gcumas a fhorbairt agus, dar ndóigh, tá an scéal amhlaidh le ceoltóirí traidisiúnta na hÉireann.

It is timely and appropriate that this joint cultural venture between the RIAM and CCÉ is being launched on the eve of the new millennium. This co-operative, nationwide examination network is a further example of the vibrancy of, and the standards being achieved in, Irish traditional music. This native music of Ireland now enjoys an enviable status, not only nationally but also internationally, and none more so than among young people.

Young people welcome a challenge to improve their skills and raise their standards and this applies also to the young traditional musicians of today. They have demonstrated their prowess, adaptability and innovative artistry and they have won the admiration of many people at home and abroad. These young performers have remained true to the tradition which they have inherited from the older exponents while at the same time bringing their own artistic enthusiasm to bear on their musicianship.

It is now generally acknowledged that Irish traditional music should enjoy the fullest recognition and equality, with all the necessary resources, within the education system and at all levels. One hopes that this will be achieved for the new millennium.

Dr John O’Conor, Director of the RIAM, has been to the forefront of the cooperation between CCÉ and RIAM and his key role in this regard has greatly influenced the successful outcome. The contributions of Annette Andrews and Réamonn Keary are also worthy of note.

Micheál Ó hEidhin, Music Inspector with the Department of Education, has given unstinted and invaluable service - based on his own professional and traditional background - to the development of the examination syllabus. In this he was ably assisted by the CCÉ Project Committee, consisting of Dr Antóin Mac Gabhann, Dr Tomás Ó Canainn, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Máirtín de Paor, Micheál Ó Briain, Lourda Griffin, Micheál Ó hAlmhain and Mary Nugent. Among others who gave considerable assistance were Noel Hill, Kathleen Nesbitt and Paddy Ryan. To all who helped in any way to bring this project to fruition we express our heartfelt appreciation.

Cultúrlann agus Tithe Cheoil

Cultúrlann na hÉireann is situated at Belgrave Square, Monkstown, Co. Dublin. The Cultúrlann provides worthwhile and necessary facilities as a cultural information agency, training and education centre. It houses one of the most valuable archives of traditional music backed up by a fully equipped recording studio.

It is the administrative headquarters of Comhaltas; it promotes ongoing traditional entertainment; it is used by RTÉ and other television networks; it is a valuable cultural resource centre for people from all over Ireland and abroad.

Many of the projects which Comhaltas has undertaken would not be possible without the Cultúrlann. The necessary facilities would not be available or would be too costly. Comhaltas as a national and international movement has been greatly enhanced and expanded by the assistance of Cultúrlann na hÉireann.

It is fitting that the Cultúrlann would also lead to regional cultural centres such as those at (or in construction) Tralee, Ennis, Wicklow, Lixnaw, Moate, Cashel, Tyrone (Omagh), Antrim (Dunloy), Ennistymon, Corofin and Derry. A further centre is planned for Rockchapel.

North-South rapport

Irish traditional Music has been a cohesive influence in bridging the gap between both communities in Northern Ireland. It is one of the areas where there has been potent and on-going co-operation and rapport in North-South relations - in a subtle and effective manner proving that an ancient heritage is more enduring than our recent political divisions.


The National and Regional Archives

9 The National and Regional Archives

Comhaltas has one of the most valuable national archives of traditional music and song in the country: this is housed at Cultúrlann na hÉireann. There are over 4,000 hours of edited priceless material. This was collected over the years by An Timire Ceoil Séamus Mac Mathúna. It reflects the many talents and styles of the various regions of the country and the Irish community abroad.

The archive is being added to regularly. Comhaltas recently initiated a new campaign to establish Regional Archives. These will be located in Counties Clare, Westmeath, Tyrone, Sligo, Kerry, Wexford, Tipperary and further centres to be selected. Britain and North America will also be included. Material will be exchanged between the national and regional centres. The new development will ensure that archive material will be more easily accessible for students and others in the region concerned. It will also help to highlight the regional significance of our native traditions.

A number of excellent videos on local musicians have been completed by the regional centres. More of them will be made in the coming year.

The important feature of the Comhaltas Archive is that it is available to and used by the general public. This is achieved by people visiting the Cultúrlann; by correspondents throughout the world; by school projects nationwide; and by a regular music section in the Treoir journal over the last 30 years.

A number of other Archives also exist in Ireland and abroad including the Irish Traditional Music Archives in Merrion Square, the RTÉ Archives etc. At some stage consideration could be given to a federation or co-op embracing all the Archives and ensuring the maximum development and use of the potential available.


Mol an Óige

10 Mol an Óige

Comhaltas could be described as one of the most successful youth movements in the world. The movement works with young people from a very early age (sometimes as young as four years) right into adulthood. One of the key elements of its success is that there is no age barrier; young and old fraternise comfortably in the social outlets of the movement. Comhaltas is very much a family movement.

A whole range of services and activities are provided for young boys and girls. These range from classes to competitions, and from the fleadhanna cheoil to international tours.

It has been remarked on by several commentators that the young people connected with the cultural movement are a fine example for their generation. This is due to the fact that they are so engrossed and interested in what they are doing that they have little time to be bored. They develop as positive-thinking young citizens with concern for the interests and rights of others.


Cultural Tourism

11 Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism is now very much in vogue. More and more discerning tourists wish to experience the distinctiveness of their holiday destination rather than a carbon copy of what they leave at home.

In recent major surveys of tourist pursuits in Ireland ‘heritage’ headed the list with national monuments and Irish traditional music very much to the fore in the top six interests. This is not only commercially satisfying but is also a vote of confidence in us as a distinctive people with a rich cultural heritage.

Irish traditional musicians, singers and dancers have brought their art and talent to the four corners of the earth. They have won the hearts and minds of their audiences and by extension have attracted the people to Ireland - the source of this entertainment.

Fleadh Cheoil

Comhaltas makes a major contribution to the Irish economy each year, an example of this is Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. In 1998 the media estimated that up to 170,000 people attended the Fleadh Cheoil in Ballina. A major portion of these were out-of-State visitors. In the region of £10m was generated by the event; this means that the State coffers benefited from taxes to the tune of almost £2m. Bearing in mind that Comhaltas organises almost 40 fleadhanna each year in Ireland, it can be seen that the movement is a major money spinner for the country.

The vast Comhaltas network throughout the world promotes a favourable image of Ireland as a worthwhile tourist and industrial destination. They are an influential and on-the-spot voluntary agency for the dissemination of information from the homeland. They have attracted into their ranks many non-Irish people who become firm supporters of our country.

Through the 600 classes teaching Irish traditional music, instrument-makers find a lucrative market. In these classes there is an on-going turn-over of pupils and this results in an ongoing demand for instruments.

Brú Ború

When Brú Ború performed on Australian TV for 10m viewers the station received 180,000 calls. The performance was repeated within on week for another 10m viewers.

What have the following people in common: the President of the United States, the Australian Prime Minister, the Egyptian Ambassador, the Papal Nuncio, An Taoiseach, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr and Liza Minelli? They have all been entertained by the world famous Brú Ború group whose heritage centre at the foot of the famous Rock of Cashel has fast become a mecca for Irish people and visitors alike.

Brú Ború, this oasis of art and culture situated at one of the most hallowed spots in Europe, has had its success acknowledged by being awarded two prestigious awards - the Tourism Enterprise Award and the Heritage Environmental Benefit Award.

Brú Ború, built at a cost of £2m, adjoins the car part at the Rock of Cashel. It is a beautifully designed, comfortable amenity incorporating folk theatre, restaurant, craft centre, recreation chamber, information centre and genealogy suite. It is air-conditioned; centrally heated and furnished to the highest standards. The extensive use of native Irish timber throughout the complex gives a pleasing, traditional atmosphere and the views from the building are breathtaking. The landscaping, with an unique amphitheatre feature and cooling pool, is adorned by a magnificent Rowan Gillespie sculpture.

World Class Entertainment

Visitors are entertained by the resident Brú Ború group who have given Irish traditional music, song and dance a whole new stature in the world of entertainment. The Group performed at the invitation of the Irish government in Osaka, Japan for Expo and again for Expo in Seville when they won the hearts of the thousands attending this world fair. They were featured on Italian television in Milan for the World Cup; on German televisionn in Baden-Baden; on the ‘Good Morning America’ coast-to-coast television programme. They performed in Sardinia and France; for the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Australia (who visited the centre) - the list is endless.

They have appeared on several television programmes in Ireland being described by Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show as ‘the best in the business’.

And Now China

The Ború Ború group accepted an official invitation to visit China in October, 1998. They played to packed theatres and as one critic described it: ‘I have never seen a Chinese audience so energised’.

‘Ború Ború,’ declared the Irish Ambassador in Beijing Mr Joe Hayes,‘is the cultural face of the Celtic Tiger - young, vibrant, confident and professional.’

The group were accompanied by an RTÉ television crew who captured many of the highlights including performances on The Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.


Focal Scoir

12 Focal Scoir

It is worth pausing and reflecting on all those traditional musicians and dancers who down through the years rescued our native traditions; nurtured them and passed them on to future generations. The unsung heroes and heroines who gave of their time and talents and who very often funded their activities from their own meagre resources; who didn’t have access to sophisticated technology, huge funds or prestigious settings.

These noble and self-effacing artists would, no doubt, be delighted - in their typical spirit of generosity - to see others reaping the harvest of their endeavours: to have Irish artistry and creativity acknowledged worldwide.

Innovation may complement or challenge tradition but it is a total misunderstanding of tradition to suggest that innovation could replace it. Tradition is deep-rooted: it has its own intimacy of performance which is like magic to the honoured listeners.

People from all over the world will continue to flock to what might be considered inconspicuous settings to savour the source of this great river of cultural richness and give recognition and pay homage to the ‘masters’. This river will never run dry while the source is intact…

Is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil le Séamas Mac Mathúna, Sased de Ridder agus an Dr Tomás Ó Canainn as ucht a gcabhrach.



13 Recommendations

1Full recognition for Irish traditional music in the education system.

2The re-activation of Seisiún - the nationwide scheme of Irish traditional entertainment - with Arts Council funding.

3A comprehensive assessment of the potential of Irish traditional music, song and dance in the sphere of cultural tourism.

4An examination of State funding for organisations, events and agencies related to Irish traditional music, song and dance with a view to improving the role of those bodies who are in a position to benefit from increased funding.

5Consideration of the formation of a national State council for the development and promotion of the traditional arts such as native music, song, dance, storytelling, etc.

6An appropriate cross-border body for heritage.



1.The Joint Committee wish to congratulate its Rapporteur, Senator Labhrás O’Murchú on a splendid piece of research and are conscious of the fact that they are the beneficiaries of a thorough analysis from one of the foremost experts in the field.

2.The Joint Committee fully concur with the view that traditional music should be afforded its proper place and consequent State support in modern Irish society including appropriate recognition in broadcasting schedules.

3.The specific role of traditional music and dance as cultural ambassadors for the country in many foreign fields should in the opinion of the Joint Committee be recognised and in so recommending the Joint Committee acknowledge the strong case for an agency with the brief to promote Irish culture in general abroad.

4.The Joint Committee wish to see full recognition for Irish traditional music in the education system.

5.The Joint Committee feel that consideration should be given to the formation of a National State Board for the development and promotion of the traditional arts such as native music, song, dance and storytelling.

6.The Joint Committee agree with Senator O’ Murchú’s proposal that SEISIÚN - the nationwide scheme of Traditional Irish Entertainment - should be revived with Arts Council funding.

7.The Joint Committee recommended the establishment of an appropriate cross-border body for heritage.