Thousands attend mighty Enniscorthy Fleadh
Tens of thousands of traditional music fans descended on the picturesque Wexford town of Enniscorthy recently for craic, ceoil agus lán, lán ól.
The All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil was held in the town again this year, in keeping with the tradition of travelling to each town for a two-year stint. A great success last year by all accounts for both visitors and locals alike, this was a worthy encore. The crowd was estimated at over 200,000, four times the number who attended the annual Slane castle concert the same weekend.
Visitors gathered from the four corners of Ireland, and even torrential downpours over the weekend couldn't dampen spirits. Officially, the Fleadh is a weekend event but as all seasoned visitors will know, the best craic is often to be had the day or two both before and after the crowds arrive.
Friday marked the first official night of the Fleadh and the flood of people into the town was only paralleled by the deluge from the heavens, as a thunderstorm passed overhead. ``Dancing naked to the waist, wrapped in tune to the beat of the primal drum'' was how one reveller described his Friday night, as the storms obviously did little to dampen the spirits of the festivities.
From Friday evening on through to Sunday afternoon, a giant gig-rig was set up down by the banks of the river, in the shadow of Enniscorthy castle. This provided a focal point for much of the activity, as various bands entertained the crowd.
The town's main square provided a conduit and a central point from the many pubs and taverns on the weaving side streets. From the square, visitors wandered up and down the cobbled hilly streets of the town and explored the charm and atmosphere of each new location.
The festival traditionally attracts little by way of trouble and this weekend was no different. As a result, the authorities adopted a relaxed attitude to the various goings-on, and bar extensions were not so much a technicality as a misnomer! When the pubs eventually did close up for the night, the music continued as the campsite came into full swing.
When the Fleadh was originally established in the 1950s, one of its aims was to attract young people back to traditional music by countering the increasing popularity of the Showband era and the new ``Rock `n Roll''. This strategy certainly seems to have worked, as the campsite fused the contemporary festival culture of Glastonbury etc. with the traditional music scene.
The Fleadh also enjoys a very family-orientated, child friendly atmosphere, with plenty of street entertainment and colourful outdoor stalls, etc.
Enniscorthy was an appropriate venue for a celebration of Gaelic culture, as the town is steeped in the tradition of asserting its right to freedom and Irish identity. Vinegar Hill, where ``the hillside blushed'', was of course the venue for ``the final conclave'' between the United Irishmen and the Crown forces in 1798 and the surrounding countryside provided the backdrop for much of the fiercest fighting of that campaign. Wexford United Irishmen defeated the Crown forces at the battle of Oulart in early June that year. Battles continued at New Ross, Boolavogue, The Harrow, Gorey and Arklow before the rebels were finally overpowered at Vinegar Hill. One feature of the town well worth a visit is the award-winning 1798 centre, with its unique interpretive style and outline of the movement towards democracy across Europe. Vinegar Hill itself is also well worth a visit, where it is possible to reflect on the fate of the croppies whilst enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding hills and clearing the cobwebs from one's mind.
This Fleadh was noteworthy for the great numbers of young people playing in the competitions and to such a high standard. It was also marked by a big growth of interest in traditional singing and the huge crowds who came to the singing club sessions in the Bellfield Sports Complex heard hundreds of solo individual singers. Urban ballads, rural ballads, old ballads, new ballads, love ballads, comic ballads, nonsense ballads, sweet ballads, coarse ballads and any other ballad you want to sing were rendered beforethe large appreciative audience of Fleadh-goers.
The Fleadh moves on next year, travelling to Listowel, County Cork, for the next two years, a definite date in every Trad aficionado's calendar for next summer.
BY SEAMUS Ó LAIGHLÉIS