Athnuachan - Renewal

Many hands join Meitheal

By Tomás Ó Maoldomhnaigh

Long before Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann was founded in 1951, Irish native music enjoyed a certain status albeit in the homes of rural Ireland. Most of the dance music and airs, which are preserved in manuscript of published format, have been around for about three hundred years or so.

We are indebted to the great collectors beginning with the first collection in 1726 by John and William Neal of Dublin and entitled ‘A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes’, which contained forthy-nine airs. Edward Bunting (1773-1843) was the first to take down the music from musicians in his publication in 1976 of ‘General Collection of Ancient Irish Music’. Thereafter followed several collections; Henry Hudson (1798-1889) - eight hundred and seventy tunes; George Petrie (1789-1866) - one thousand five hundred and eighty two tunes; William Forde (c. 1759-1850); John Edward Piggott (1822-1871) - over two thousand tunes; James Goodman (1828-1896) - almost two thousand tunes; Patrick Weston Joyce, Limerick (1827-1914) - eight hunderd and forty two airs;

Captain Francis O’Neilli (1848-1936) - 3,616 tunes in four volumes and is highly regarded among musicians today because of his status as a flute player; Frank Roche, Knocklong, Co Limerick (1866-1961) - 566 tunes; Professor Aloys fleischman (1910-1992) UCC who published seven thousand tunes in two volumes; Breandan Breathnach (1912-1985) - 1,206 tunes in five volumes.

In the early years of the last century the recordings of thoes musicians who had emigrated to America, Patsy Tuohy, John McKenna, James Morrsion, Michael Coleman, The Flanagan brothers among them, had major influence in keeping the music alive here in Ireland. Because native music is primarily an Aural / tradition, Those recordings were highly prized among musicians.

Even so, at the time of the founding of Comhaltas in 1951, and status afforded to native music had deteriorated greatly here in Ireland. Emigration,poverty and even the attitude of the church had not helped.

Comhaltas addressed this by putting in place a movement, which was rooted in the community. They adopted an education structure which we can be proud of and which has reaped a rich harvest. Today’s practitioners of traditional music are by and large the result of dedication and effort by countless teachers.

In 2001, Comhaltas rightly celebrated the 50th Anniversay and in 2002 initiaied a period of renewal - Athnuachan. While we reflect on past achievement we must plan for the next 50 years. As part of this renewal programme, the concept of Meitheal - workin together as a team - has been employed. This utilises the expertise within Comhaltas and also bring on board several persons not directly involved with Comhaltas, but who are completely sympathetic with th work of the movement.

Meitheal is aimed at individuals and groups across the country and in Irish communities abroad, to encourage and support personal and community based actions for the promotion and enjoyment of traditional arts. The interests, talents and energies of a wide array of individuals and groups will be engaged through new connections, partnership and local co-operation, to work together for the benefit of all.

Flexibility, partnership, informality mutual support and networking are coner stones of the Meitheal process. Under Meitheal, individrals can participate in project of particular interest to them without having to work through a particular organisation. A very wide range of projects can be promoted, from linking older players in informal musical settings to Internet projects utilising cutting edge technology.

The Meitheal initiative is already bearing fruit. Projects underway include a weekly Internet programme of traditional music compiled by Willie Forarty can be accessed at; the estabishment of a new residential summer school in music; the compolation of directories of local artistes stretching back over the years; a school’s education initiative led by Willie Larkin, comprising of a graded tutor book and CD-ROM/DVD to support the music programme at primary school level.

New regional development teams will be established to promote, support and facilitate the development of the traditional arts on the ground. These teams will be comprised of full-time personnal and will complement the existing provincial, county and branch structures. Comhaltas will develop a number of strategically located regional centres around the country to provide fasilities for teaching, rehearsal, archives, recording and performance and session playing.

Other areas, which will be addressed, include;

There is now in place a Meitheal Larchoiste; Professor Daithi O hOgain, UCD (Cathaoirleach), Professor Seamus Mac Gabhann. Maynooth University; Attacta Brady, Jim Mc Allister, Maurice Mullen, Gary Shannon, Brian Prior and Hohn Deaton. A Meitheal group has already been established in Co Clare and further groups are envisaged for Dublin Britain.

Comhaltas would welcome contact from anyone who feels they have something to contrubute to any facet of the Renewal programme. Contact can be made either at local level through the local branches, County Board, or through Head Office (01/2800295)