The Comhaltas Vision for the Nation's Culture

27m Development Programme Ahead of Target as First Five Regions Announced

Our cultural assets should be an enriching part of the lives of Irish people everywhere, particularly our young people; they should be a living, higly visible and vibrant part of society; they should be easily accessible to all; and their unique social, cultural and economic benefits should be fully realised by communities and individuals throughout the country and in Irish communities abroad.

This is the vision and aim of the 5-Year Development Programme of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

At Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, on Saturday, 27th August, Dr Charlie Lennon, the well-known traditional musician and composer, introduced the 1st year’s Progress Report of the Development Programe. Dr Lennon was inaugurated as Ard-Ollamh at this year’s Fleadh. The Ard-Ollamh in 2004 was Dr Tomás Ó Canainn, who launched the Programme last year. The first Ard-Ollamh in 2003 was Dr Micheál Ó Suilleabháin.

What have a gaol, a church, a school, a castle and an emigrant musician in common? They will have a role in the Development Programme.

The first five Regional Resource Centres, which are at the hub of the Development Programme, will be Dundalk, Ennis, Dublin, Gurteen and Cashel.

The Dundalk Centre will be in the beautifully restored Gaol donated by Louth County Council.

Ennis will be in Clare’s traditional music centre Cois na hAbhna. This will have an outreach centre in Kilrush where the Church of Ireland has donated the local church.

The Dublin Centre will be in Cultúrlann na hÉireann, Monkstown - the former Rathdown School.

The Gurteen Centre will be in the Michael Coleman Centre, dedicated to the memory and music of one of the most illustrious emigrant traditional musicians of all time. The Centre has now affiliated to Comhaltas.

The Cashel Centre will be Brú Ború, the award winning cultural centre at the foot of the Rock of Cashel.

The five centres will service 23 counties in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Negotiations are taking place regarding Resource Centres in the Midlands and Northern Ireland. A further centre in Clontarf has also been mooted for which a site has been donated by the Local Authority and initial finance provided by the Government.

The Regional Resource Centres will benefit from a decentralisation initiative by Comhaltas under the headings of education/training; performance; archives; information bureau; publishing; networking; merchandising; community partnerships.

Comhaltas are pleased to announce that their euro27m 5-Year Development Programme is now well ahead of target. The ambitious and imaginative Programme has met with exceptional endorsement and success. In just one year, the well-prepared road map for strengthening and enhancing indigenous culture (particularly at community level) has attracted euro15m in capital assets from regional interests.

Speaking at the launch of the 1st Year Progress Report by Dr Charlie Lennon, Ard-Ollamh at Fleadh ‘05, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Director General of Comhaltas said:

In the face of an over-invasive globalisation, the Programme has identified important milestones to ensure that communities are prepared and resourced to opportunities and challenges.

Dr Charlie Lennon who outlined his own association with Comhaltas over the years, including during his time in Liverpool, said:

If Comhaltas had not been founded in 1951 Irish traditional music might now be found only in archives. The continuity of tradition, as happened in many other countries, would have been broken. The importance and need for Comhaltas was never more evident.

The Development Programme received another welcome boost when it was endorsed by the Government. With emphasis now being placed on community regeneration and volunteerism, Comhaltas - with its half-century track record - was ideally positioned to respond to and servie initiatives identified by Government as the way forward.

The Development Programme will place particular emphasis on the Irish Language. This will respond to the goodwill which now exists for Irish and the opportunities presented by the new Language legislation at home and abroad and the official working status for Irish achieved in Europe.

Comhaltas now has 400 branches in 15 countries on 4 continents and services up to 2m people each year. It operates several hundred major projects which they finance to the tune of over euro12m annually generated from their own resources, made possible in the main by an army of cultural volunteers who are rooted in the community.

President Mary McAleese put it thus:

Take Comhaltas out of the equation, turn back the clock and contemplate Ireland without Comhaltas and the sheer scale of what we owe you is revealed. You enriched the cultural development of so many far away places and here at home the pride and self-confidence you injected into our unique but neglected musical tradition cascaded into every other sphere of life, bringing into our national consciousness a ringing, singing, new confidence. I would be very surprised if the Celtic Tiger didn’t stride to the beat of the bodhrán.

Speaking in Seanad Éireann, Mr John O’Donoghue, TD, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said:

Recently when I visited the wonderful Brú Ború cultural centre in Cashel, Co Tipperary, I said I was reminded of the statement by Daniel Corkery when he expressed his disappointment at some of the literature being produced by some of the post-colonial Irishmen writing in English. he pointed an accusing finger at the crowd attending the 1934 Munster hurling final and asked the immortal question, “Who speaks for these?”

It would be right and proper for this house, which has played such a significant role in the cultural life of the nation, to acknowledge that the Abbey Theatre certainly did that, and from its inception in 1951 Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann most definitely did also. It is important that these things should be acknowledged in a forum such as this.

Education is one of the main planks in the Comhaltas crusade. There are 1,000 classes weekly and up to 25,000 traditional performers come through the validation network annually. In addition, the movement has 650 teachers qualified through its TTCT Diploma course, directed by former Chief Music Inspector with the Dept of Education Micheál Ó hEidhin. The Scoil Éigse (Summer College) accepts up to 800 students each year - most of them on scholarships. It is intended to expand the education opportunities in urban and rural areas under the Development Programme.

With 44 Fleadhanna Cheoil annually, the movement provided an unique conduit with the community. This, together with the SEISIÚN nationwide entertainment scheme, will be developed into an integrated package which will coalesce with the multi-element Development Programme.