Touring North America for 25 Years

The 1996 Comhaltas Concert Tour of North America will mark the 25th anniversary of the first Tour of that Continent. The intervening 25 years have seen the Tour - and Comhaltas - go from strength to strength in the United States and Canada.

The idea of a Comhaltas Tour was first mooted by the late revered accordeonist Paddy O’Brien. In 1968, Paddy was leading a Tour of the United States, which was being organised by that Chicago-based stalwart Frank Thornton, and he invited the newly elected President of Comhaltas, Labhra’s O Murchá, to accompany the Tour with a view to promoting Comhaltas and researching the possibility of a Comhaltas Tour.

At the Tour venues an information booth was serviced by Una O Murchá, Secretary of Comhairle na Mumhan of Comhaltas, where she explained Comhaltas to the patrons. She also enrolled subscribers for the newly launched TREOIR which at that stage was a four-page newsletter.

One of the biggest drawbacks facing Comhaltas in regard to a North American Tour was finance. Money was scarce in the fledgling movement. It was agreed to take a quantum leap and charter a whole plane! This was done and Kit Hodge, leader of the Liverpool CO Murchéilí Band, who had returned to live in Ireland joined the recently opened first Comhaltas Head-Office at the top of Harcourt Street, administered the sale of seats. So successful was the venture that not only did the entire Concert Group travel free to the United States but there was also a profit of £1,500 - a considerable sum in those lean days.

Around this time, Comhaltas succeeded for the first time in negotiating a Government grant of £10,000. This enabled the movement to open the office in Harcourt Street and also appoint staff. Among these was Diarmuid O Catháin who travelled to America to establish the Tour venues.

Then came Bill McEvoy, that indomitable son of Laois - fiddle player extraordinaire. His leadership and energy demolished all further obstacles and the first Comhaltas Tour of Americ became a reality in 1972. Bill, now Chairman of the North American Provincial Council of Comhaltas, still co-ordinates the annual Tour.

Over the last 25 years the local Concert Committees in the USA and Canada; those who sold tickets and, of course, the patrons; those who developed the Comhaltas structure are due a debt of gratitude by the Irish nation.

The 1996 Tour will be nostalgic and another milestone in the history of Comhaltas. It will revive many happy memories and will encourage us all for the future.