Ennis Céilí Band Triump in Clonmel

A third 'three-in-a-row' title for the Banner County!

By Brian Prior


Everyone will agree that to win an All-Ireland senior céilí band title is a phenomenal achievement, but to win three successive titles in succession has to be the stuff of lagend. Up until 2003 only four bands have managed to accomplish this incredible feat in the 50 year history of the competition. These were the Kilfenora (in the 1950s again in 1993, 1994 and 1995), the Ormaonde from Tipperary and the Siamsa and Táin Ceilí Bands from Dundalk. In 2003 ar Colmel, a new name joined that illustrious group when the Ennis Céilí Band from County Clare took the title for the third successive year. They make history by bringing the third ‘three in-a-row’ to the Banner County. It also bring the total number of All-Ireland successes for Clare to twelve when the legendary Tulla Céilí Band’s victories back in 1957 and 1960 plus the Kilfenora’s success in 1961 are taken into account - a testamen to the strength of traditional music in the county.

About the band

The Ennis Céili Band was originally formed as a junior band in 1992 by Garry Shannon, who stepped into the void left by the retirement of Kilfenota stalwart Gus Tierney. The band enjoyed many successes at Fleadhanna Cheoil and Slógadh competitions down the years One of these was in 1994 when they took the All-Ireland Slógadh title and were presented with a special Gradam award by President Mary Robinson. Another sign of what was to come their two-in-a-row Under 18 All-Ireland titles at Listowel in 1995 and again in 1996. Céilí Band line-up in 1995 wass Pádraic O’Reilly (piano) Brendan Vaughan (drums) Rachel Galligan, Monica Queally, Aodhaidin Ní Shé (fiddles), Niamh O’Dea, Éilís Faherty (flutes), Rena Quelly (banjo), Joseph Queally (button accordion) and Pat Nolan (concertina). Travel and work commitments have resulted in minor changes in personnel since the mid-nineties. These include Liz Gaughan ad Mark Sheehan (fiddles) who repaced Rachel Galligan and Aodhaidín Ní Shé. One other change is on button accordion where Nula Hehir has replaced Joseph Queally.


The band’s journey towards their third title was featured on RTÉ’s Léargas programme in September, a documentary produced and directed by Pat Butler. It also feature footage of the band appeating at Fleadh Nua 2003, interviews with the chief protagonists,a mong them band leader Pádraic O’Reilly and musical advisor Garry Shannon (himself a member of the current Kilfenora Céilí Band), and interciews with Kilferona legends Jerry Lynch and Gus Tierney. L&argas Producer and Director Pat Butler received rave reviews for the pace and style of the programme which succeded in showing modern céilí bands in a cotemporaty light.

The Céilí Bands competition can (at time of going to print) be viewed online on the Tipperary Institute website: http://www.trbdi.ie/fledh.htm. It will also be shown on the Comhaltas Internet TV programme at www.comhaltaslive.ie. Ennis Céilí Band’s winning performance will be shown later in the year on Forefront Productions annual Fleadh programme on RTÉ1, as will their open-air midnight performance on the Guiness Gig Rig from Clonmel town centre, where they played for up to 10,000 Fleadh revellers.

The Future

Comhaltas Competition rules require ‘three in-a-row’ winners to retire from competition for at least one year. However, band leader Padraic O’Reilly says that it’s ‘very unlidely’ the current line-up as a unit will return to competitive action. Instead, they will be concentratring on touring, both in Ireland and abroad, and prompting their new CD, ‘Traditional Dance Music from Co. Clare’, which was launched earlier in the year.

During 2003 they have played at the Fleadh Nua, the Corofin Traditional Festival, the Ennis trad Festival, Féile an Phobail in West Belfast (from where the band were featured on RTÉ 1’s Nationwide), Féile Cois Cuan in Scarrif, County Clare, among others.

The band has been reding on the crest of a wave following RTÉ’s Léargas documentary. Fututre confirmed Irish dates include The Ennis Trrad Festival in November, a home-coming shindig in St. Flannan’s College in late November, a planned appearance on RTÉ Radio’s Céilí House, the Corofin Traditionnal Festival in March, Fleadh Nua in May, and a concertin aid of the Brothers of Charity in Galway’s wonderful Town Hall Theatre, which hosted the Kilfenora band during the Summer of 2003. Tentative plans for a tour of North America are also under review.

The Ennis Céilí Band prides itself on playing traditional dance music, but in a way that pleased the listener as well as the dancer. Following on from the great tradition estabished by the Kilfenora and Tulla Céilí Bands over the past century, the Ennis Céilí Band has delighted audience around Ireland with the swing, lift and rhythm that it puts into its music

Can the Clare Céilí Band Tradition Continue?

It’s very heartening to see history repeat itself with the Ennis and Turloughmore Céilí Bands following in the footsteps of the great Kilfenora and Tulla Bands of yesterday who battled it out on so many memorable accasions wheren whatever the result, the music was always the undisputed winner! There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Ennis-based Turloughmore, who’ve been All-Ireland runners up now for two successive years in 2002 and 2003, will make every effort to return the trophy to Clare in 2004!

However, what about the next generation? Well there’s no reason to fear for the future as the Inis Óg U-15 Céilí Band achieved their own ‘three-in-a-row’ fot their age-group, while their U-18 counterparts finished runners-up in their category for the second year running. Both bands were coached by Ennis Band leader, Pádraic O’Reilly. The Barefield and Burren Céilí Band coached by Denis Liddy and Garry Shannon respectively also kept the Clare flag flying in the U-12 age-group, finishing first and second in that order. The Barefield U-18 and Burren U-15 Grúpaí Cheoil ensembles also took the 2003 All-Ireland titiles in their respective competitions.


The Band would like to aknowledge the many people down through the years who have provided the necessary support to make their success possible. This includes their parents, Joe Queally whose enthusiam and drive was so important; also Garry Shannon for his capable stewardship and continuing involvement. Special thanks are due to the Kilfenora Band members for teir advice and support, particularly over the past 8 years since Ennis went Senior. This includes their leader, John Lynch and also veterans from the earlier Band such as Gus Tierney, Jerry Lynch and Phil McMahon