Beautiful noise as thousands of music lovers take over the streets of Sligo
The best free music show in Ireland, the Fleadh Cheoil, has packed the streets of Sligo.
With large parts of the centre now a big pedestrian-only zone, thousands yesterday parked their cars up to two kilometres away from the town and took special buses to enjoy sessions of traditional music and dance in dozens of pubs and at every street corner.
Buskers - aged from eight to 80 - fiddled, whistled and tapped their bodhrans in thronged parades along the banks of the Garavogue River, which flows through the town centre.
An estimated 30pc of the 350,000 visitors to Sligo this week for the 63rd Fleadh Cheoil are from overseas, mainly from Britain and America, but they also include dedicated Irish music lovers hailing from as far away as Australia, Japan and Korea.
The fleadh school, Scoil Eigse, which has been staging lectures and music classes, has been so packed that people were turned away on some days.
Crowds were also turned away from a special fleadh film running at the Gaiety Cinema.
Fleadh chairman Bartley Gavin said while the festival had been attracting crowds since President Michael D Higgins opened it last Sunday, yesterday was the biggest day so far.
The surge in visitors was partly attributed to it being the opening day of the contests. Three days have been set aside for competitions this year, compared to two in previous years. They will finish tomorrow night, but there will be other events, including a ceili finale on Monday.
Mr Gorman said he expected many traditional musicians to stay over until about next Wednesday, when the pubs have quietened and they can enjoy each other's music.
More than 10,000 singers, musician and dancers started their contests yesterday. That's an estimated 30pc up on previous years.
Mr Gavin said: "That's partly down to third places in many contests in the provincial finals going through this year. In the past it was always two.
"But it's also down to Sligo having played such an important part in our traditional musical heritage."
Robert Naczas (38), from southern Poland, was attracting lots of interest.
He was selling homemade two and three-string instruments made with hurleys and called da shtick guitars.
Robert, who has been in Ireland for eight years and lives in Sligo, plays harmonica in a group called the Out Of Towners.
He said: "They are real ash hurleys and when stringed they produce a beautiful sound. I hadn't a clue what a hurley was before I came to Ireland."
Robert was charging somewhere between €200 and €300 for each da shtick guitar. He admitted sales were very slow, probably because he wasn't allowed turn up the volume on his amplifier.