An air of calm has swept over the quaint North-Western town of Sligo. Yes, it’s business as usual today as the Fleadh Cheoil 2015 has come to a close.
For the past week, thousands of Irish music fans descended upon the town to celebrate one of the world’s biggest traditional music festivals. Reports suggest that crowds totalled somewhere in the region of 450,000 – something that this Sligo native has never seen the likes before.
From the moment I set foot on the 15:30 train, the festival began; four Dublin lads blasting their melodious favourite, ‘The Auld Triangle’, from an iPhone with beers in hand, easing themselves (and their livers) into a weekend of craic agus cheoil.
Scenes at the MacDiarmada train station reflected the sheer chaos that awaited us on the main streets of Sligeach – instrument carrying blow-ins with smiles on their faces, rushing to find a free cab.
My taxi driver – who I pray is enjoying his first day off today – expressed his utter exhaustion and lingering stress levels, but undertones of festival joy overshadowed his road rage and red-light anxiety: “Sure I’m feckin’ wrecked. It’s been mental all week, but sure it’s great to see the place buzzing.”
After arriving in the midst of the madness, the most surprising element was the huge number of international visitors I spotted between arches and alleyways. Ardent lovers of our rich artistic heritage came in their droves from every corner of the globe to celebrate with us, their Celtic Brothers and Sisters: USA, Canada, Japan, Italy, Spain, and Eastern European friends.
These were the individuals who President Michael D. Higgins fondly mentioned in his speech on the Feile’s opening night: “neither ancestral nor geographic links to Ireland but who, with a curiosity that we all welcome, have developed a kinship with the Irish through culture and our folk traditions”.
Aside from the ‘tuirseach traochta’ taxi driver, literally every single person who I spoke to had nothing but positive, uplifting words:
“It was an absolutely fantastic week and I enjoyed every second of it! We will definitely miss it in Sligo next year.” – Sligo Artist, Katie Jane Queenan
“I’m still hoarse from screaming at The Quakers! They made my weekend.” – Artist, Linda Cunningham
“It’s the ultimate Irish experience.” – Helen Feeny from Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim
“Rain, craic, and music, what else would ya’ want?” – Neil Higgins, Galway
“It’s my first time in Ireland; it’s amazing and would love to live here.” – Alicia Acera, Granada, Spain
On Friday night, in the Belfry bar, we witnessed a coming together of generations, as a young man from the Capital joined some “older” gentlemen in a rendition of ‘The Foggy Dew’ – showing us that trad music is safe in the hands of the younger folk.
Saturday night saw Sligo’s bluegrass boys, The Quakers, rock out Room 2 in 5th on Teeling. As usual, the local lads had the crowd (including myself) enthralled with their brand of rowdy, banjo- led tunes.
From the visual art exhibitions in the Model gallery to impromptu sessions down by the Harp Tavern and Swagman Bar, and of course, the electric (fiddle) atmosphere, Fleadh Cheoil was truly a coming together of creative energy that, hopefully, will be replicated at next year’s festival in Ennis, Co Clare.
We’ll be there with bells and whistles on!