Dundalk brothers in Fleadh Dome
For brothers Tadhg and Sárán Mulligan summer meant one thing. Along with their parents Alfie and Bronagh and sister Sabhbh, they piled into the family car and headed across the country to the Fleadh Cheoil. It's an indelible part of their childhood, along with trips to their grandfather's native Dromshanbo and the legendary Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay.
From their early days of attending workshops to winning competitions and All-Ireland titles, they are now about to step out on the main stage as they perform in the opening concert on Saturday night in the Coke Cola Dome, sharing the bill with Damien Dempsey and Teada with Seamus Begley, as well as in the closing concert.
The Mulligans are one of those Irish families who have music running through their blood for generations.
'Our grandfather is from Leitrim so a lot of our music is influenced by the Leitrim north Connaught style,' says Sárán, who making a name for himself as a concertina player and composer. 'We used to go to our grandfather's home place in Drumshanbo every summer and were submersed in the music from an early age.'
'There was always music in the house,' he continues. 'Dad plays the uileann pipes and there were always CDs, tapes, records playing so we were exposed to traditional music from day one.'
To this day, he says his father still plays the pipes in the kitchen most evenings and his uncle Tom owns The Cobberstones in Smithfield, one of Dublin's most famous pubs for traditional music.
Saran started playing the concertina when he was 9 or 10, learning from Micheal O'Reilly from Co Meath while Tadhg studied with the renowned local fiddler Austin Dawe from Bellurgan. Their sister Sadbhbh also plays, having learned the flute with Bronah Needham.
'Our summers were spent going to where there was music, although we didn't realise it at the time,' recalls Sárán. 'We'd go to the Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay and look forward to swimming in the Atlantic at Spanish Point and to the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo, where there was an outdoor swimming pool.'
And while the swimming may have been the big attraction for the brothers, they were also soaking up the music.
The Fleadh, of course, is the highlight of the summer for anyone who plays traditional music, and the Mulligans would travel to whatever town was hosting it.
'We would go down for the music classes the week before the Fleadh and then we would have taken part in competitions with the local Comhaltas Branch,' he says.
'My first time competing would have been in 2008 in Tullamore, when I was eleven.'
Since then, he has competed in various grupai cheoil, as a soloist, in duets with Tadhg and in trios. Both brothers have won All-Ireland's, Saran on concertina, and Tadhg on fiddle and bouzouki, and are highly regarded among the rising generation of new trad players.
'This is the first year that I haven't been playing in competitions or helping with younger groups,' says Sárán.
He is instead, playing with Tadhg in the big opening concert on Saturday night, August 10th which is headlined by Damien Dempsey and Teada with Seamus Begley. He also plays in the Highlanes Gallery on Saturday August 17th when he joins John McCann from Fermanagh in 'Ceol Le Clapsolas'.
The brothers are among a host of local musicians playing in the final concert of the week 'Farewell from the Fleadh, Droichead Atha', when they play in the band Box the Monkey with Conall Duffy, Muirne Nic Riobin, Sean O Casaide, and Macdara O Faolain.
'It's great to have the Fleadh taking place so close to home here in Louth as usually we have to travel the breadth of the country to get to it,' he says. 'I'm really looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere and getting together with other musicians to play music.'
And while it's the big concerts which draw the crowds and feature on Fleadh TV, it's the scores of sessions taking place away from the competitions and cameras which are the big attraction for the musicians.
'It's great to be able to get together with musicians that you'll only meet once a year at the Fleadh to play together and perhaps learn some new tunes. What I love most is meeting people I haven't seen in years and meeting new musicians that I haven't heard before.
'It's great that the Fleadh is taking place in Louth. We've got such a great history of music, particularly in Dundalk and north Louth, an absolute wealth of music and musicians, so it's wonderful to see that being acknowledged.'
He points out that two of the greatest ceili bands came from Dundalk - the Tain and The Siamsa.
'When people think of ceili bands they think of Co Clare and Munster but the Tain and The Siamsa both won three in a row All Ireland titles, and the Siamsa even went back and won two more,' he recalls. 'It's great to see that Dundalk is still producing great musicians.'