Wednesday 21 March 2018

I may have the trophy but the real winner is Drogheda

Alison during her title-winning performance at the first Fleadh Factor in the Westcourt Hotel last Friday night.
Alison during her title-winning performance at the first Fleadh Factor in the Westcourt Hotel last Friday night.

Well Holy God...!

In the words of Gaybo, I am excire' and delire' to have been crowned the champion of the first Fleadh Factor competition for sean nós singing.

In front of a packed audience in the Westcourt Hotel last Friday night, it was my honour to have joined five of the gamest people in Drogheda, who provided a 'craicin' night's entertainment.

The gathered supporters were in great form, but the esteemed panel of judges meant business - former DI and now RTE journalist Vivienne Traynor, local impresario Tommy Leddy, Ard Comhairle member Seamus Brogan and Fleadh champion Kathryn Browne.

As if that wasn't bad enough, also in the audience was president of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann Vince Jordan, who will have a major deciding vote whether Drogheda hosts the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in 2015 or the years to come.

So no pressure then...

Being drawn first from the hat to perform seemed like a curse at the time, but on the night, was almost a blessing.

Regular readers of this column will know I was experiencing 'technical difficulties' in the oul vocal chords in the week prior.

But thankfully a combination of honey, lemon, whiskey and adrenaline seemed to do the trick, and after luckily starting on the right note (singing unaccompanied is decidedly dodgy), something a lot better than the anticipated croak emerged!

The song my wonderful mentor Noelle Bowe taught me was 'The May Morning Dew', a beautiful ancient ballad, and with eyes closed, I got in the zone and sang my little heart out!

In true X Factor style, the judges gave their comments post performance, and you could have knocked me down with a feather when Mr. Brogan, a world-renowned sean nos singer himself, said he was' blown-away' and likened me to Dolores Keane.

I couldn't have been more chuffed if I'd won the Lotto.

Of course now I could put the feet up and enjoy the rest of the contestants, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too.

Deirdre Hurley from LMFM has been thrilling us with her updates on radio every week, and she really got the feet tapping with her beautiful tin whistle playing, accompanied by her mentor Ciara Brannigan.

'Voice' star Katy Anna Mohan showed she is talented in all things musical, as mentor Aoife McEvoy left her to go solo, and wowed the crowd with very accomplished fiddle playing.

John Watts was rightly proud of his protege Conor Mohan, who handled a bodhran like he had been at it all is life!

Considering he was a replacement with only four week to practice, he had the wrist action of a pro!

Mayor Richie Culhane swapped his chains for a banjo, 'duelling' impressively with mentor Melissa Hayes on her guitar, giving the audience plenty to clap along to.

The definite crowd-pleaser was left until last, as Justin Stubbs gave Michael Flatley a run for his money, burning up the dance floor with mentor Orla Brannigan.

Each showed an incredible amount of skill and flair, considering the short amount of time in their chosen field.

MC for the night was Caroline Kavanagh, and there were raffles and spot prizes galore while the judges deliberated, as well as lively dancing from the Lolo Robinson school, and powerful accordion playing from Michael Curran.

And as I said, I was shocked, but excited beyond belief, when my own name was called as winner.

I have a stunning hand-carved award, courtesy of local artist Terry O'Brien, taking pride of place on my mantelpiece and the organising committee were thrilled with the response.

Lolo said, overall, it was a fantastic weekend for Drogheda Comhaltas, between Fleadh Factor and the weekend workshops.

Vince Jordan told me he was hugely impressed with what he saw in the town, and judging by the giant beam on his face, he enjoyed the show too!

Personally, I'm very proud to have taken part, and hope I can find the time to continue this lovely new skill, as I met some truly memorable people on the journey.

The trophy may be on my shelf, but the real winner will be Drogheda itself if all these tremendous efforts mean the Fleadh Cheoil is held here sometime in the future.

Drogheda Independent