This is my second time at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, held in February at Ballyferriter on the beautiful Dingle Peninsular. I said in my blog a year ago that it was one of the best and nothing has happened to change that view.
What was different though was that this year the Festival lost its funding from the Arts Council . This was a heavy blow and there was some doubt about how the quality of the festival would be affected. The organisers however redoubled their efforts and raised the extra money from various sources so there was no real visible evidence of the funding cuts.
it was great to catch up with the many familiar faces that make an annual pilgrimage to this Festival and the quality of the musicians attracted to the Festival remained outstanding.
The Scoil is actually two distinct events. There is of course the school which runs for three days and finishes with the traditional performances in the Church on Saturday at lunch time and parallel to this is concerts and events with a strong Irish cultural focus centred around the West Kerry music and dance tradition. And there is the bonus of the sessions which are legendary.
I will say a few words about the School. I had Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh as my tutor. He is an inspirational character and for three days we explored the fiddle and what it was capable of. how to discover new ways of expressing ourselves. So many variables that come in to play and the many choices we can make in playing each note. He has made me think quite differently about my approach. I also had a master class from Paddy Glackin. This was a nerve wracking experience as we were each asked to play a tune which he then proceeded to critique. It was a bit of a buzz for me spending a couple of hours with Paddy. His album with Jolyon Jackson, which I have on vinyl is one of my all time favourites.
I only went to a couple of events this time. I enjoyed immensely a presentation of songs, poetry and music which told the story of 1916 written and performed by Mike Hanrahan and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich. And the concert on the Saturday night was a cracker though I was not familiar with any of the acts other than Dermot Byrne and Florianne Blancke. This led to some wonderful surprises. The standard was incredibly high and included a virtuoso performance of Scottish fiddle from Ian MacFarlane.
Mark my words Ballyferriter is different. It is a festival where everyone comes away happy. Musicians, singers, dancers, listeners. It is a festival for the locals and they embrace it and it is a festival for the loyal visitors who come year after year. The sessions are never so crowded that you can’t find a seat and there is huge respect for the music. The Irish language is everywhere and many times announcers would forget (?) to translate. It didn’t matter. It is in a spectacular location; though other than the first Wednesday there was no sunshine until the Monday when everyone had Ieft. More than anything else for me though, it was the quality of the sessions and accessibility of the musicians. Leading by example the Begleys were everywhere. Breandann, Seamus, Maibh, Cormac, Neil; as were the headline acts who all participated. There was no session trail and sessions popped up organically. The four venues were all so close you could check them in a minute or two and decide where to settle.
This one is a permanent fixture on my Calendar. We have a year to work on the Arts Council to restore funding to make it bigger and better.
Congratulations Breandann and Niamh and team.