The Comhaltas Vision for the Traditional Arts

The traditional arts should be an enriching part of the lives of Irish people everywhere, particularly our young people; they should be a living, highly 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.


Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was founded in 1951 with the objective of keeping our unique arts traditions in all form alive and returning them to a prominent position in Irish life. Ths was at a time when the future of the traditional arts was under threat after many years of neglect. Our unique arts were often dismissed by people within influential sectos in society as minority irrelevancies, celebrated only by the hopelessly old fashioned. As a result of the pioneering work of Comhaltas, public interest in our ancient arts was rekindled and that torch, once lit, has burned with increasing intensity over the last 5 decades.

Fifty years on the standing of the traditional arts at home and abroad is radically different. The artforms themsleves have been immeasurably strengthenend through the creativity and proficiency fo the individual artists. The number of people participating as artists and as audience members has grown expotentially. The impact of this growth has been overwhelmingly positive, but new and significant challenges to the traditions have to be addressed.

A major concern of Comhaltas today is that, despite undeniable progress in restoring the traditional arts to a prominent position in the life of the nation, the goal of reaching everyone on the island and Irish communities abroad has yet to be genuinely realised. As a consequence, local communities and society at large have not reaped the social, cultural and economic benefits that should flow from the traditions. Even in those areas where the arts are strong, changes in lifestyles mean that we have to plan new ways of ensuring a central place for our traditions in the future and of securing the means to pass them on to generations to come.

Our music, song and dance forms are internationally recognised and admired as part of waht is distinctively Irish, and our heritage and culture, based on ancient origins, are cornerstones of our distinctive national identity. These are worht cherishing and developing in the face of increasing globalisation, homogeneity and threats to the rich heritage that distinguishes nations.

5 Year Development Programme

Since its foundation Comhaltas established strong roots within the community through a branch structure based, in many cases, on the local parish. Today, with 36,000 members and 400 branches spread throughout the world, Comhaltas and the traditions are very much alive.

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2001, Comhaltas launched a process of renewal, ‘Athnuachan’, to tke it forward into the next 50 years and meet the challenges of fostering and developing the traditional arts in the community in a changing world.

This Development Plan sets out how the Comhaltas vision for the traditional arts can be realised, not by it acting in isolation but by working in the community with a variety of partners. The ground-up, broad-based partnership approach is one of the particular strengths of Comhaltas and the importance of building on this so that success can be embedded in the community for long-term benefit is recognised.

Over the 5 year perios, Comhaltas will focus on 4 key areas for aciton that together will give people genuine access to the traditional arts. Comhaltas will:

The process of developing this Programme has involved dialogue at all levels of the organisation, including with representatives of Comhaltas in Britain and in North America. Under the ‘Meitheal’ initiative some 10 separate working grops considered various aspects of the developmental and promotional needs of the traditions. The Programme also incorporates the views of interests such as teachers of the traditional arts, schoolteachers, Irish language interests, local and national public representatives, as well as individual members of Comhaltas working in branches throughout the country and abroad.

Bringing the various initiatives in this Development Programme to fruition will require a very significant commitment and contribution from Comhaltas members everywhere. It will also need the support of Government, public bodies and agencies and other organistions and individuals to work with Comhaltas on the actions identified for our common heritage.

The by-line ‘The Living Tradition’ adopted by Comhaltas over many years is a practical expression of the unique position of our traditional arts in the modern world. The world looks to Ireland as a place where the traditions of past generations still flourish, but with the pressures of modern living these traditoins are under threat as never before. We must not repeat past mistakes but rather treasure what we have and plan for the future.