County fleadh draws a wealth of talent to Ballybunion

Liam O Suilleabháin (left) and Darren Roche, Newcastle West; Andrew Nihill, Listowel and Michael Walsh, Glin enjoying the Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí experience in Ballybunion on Friday night. Photo by John Reidy
Liam O Suilleabháin (left) and Darren Roche, Newcastle West; Andrew Nihill, Listowel and Michael Walsh, Glin enjoying the Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí experience in Ballybunion on Friday night. Photo by John Reidy

Dónal Nolan

BALLYBUNION became the traditonal music and dance capital of the county over the weekend as thousands descended on the seaside town for Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí.

Ballybunion was judged one of the best venues ever for the county fleadh when it hosted the event for the first time in 50 years last year. It was even better this time around with the Tínteán Theatre and the St Joseph's school complex the centres of competition, drawing an extraordinary breadth of talent from across the county.

Ballinskelligs natives (with the Cahersiveen Barr na Sráide Comhaltas branch) Ann Wharton and daughter Aisling were really enjoying the north Kerry hospitality on Saturday afternoon. Aisling (12) beautifully performed in the fiddle and English singing categories, regaling St Joseph's with The Little Beggar Man and The Land of the Gael. "I love singing and I wasn't too nervous!" she said. Little sister Aoife was also with her for that vital moral support.

"It's a fine town for the Fleadh," mom Ann said. "We're really enjoying it and we have to get over to the Tínteán now as my son Robbie is competing with the Barr na Sráide Grupa Cheoil, playing the accordion with 16 other musicians under teacher Gearóid Keating."

Orla O'Connor from Fenit, a member of the Lixnaw Comhaltas branch and a maestro of the cello was competing in the fiddle, fiddle slow air and grupaí cheoil competitons. The Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí Junior Cert student admitted to a little bit of nerves prior to performances. "It can be daunting enough. I was very nervous today, but once I got into it I was grand!"

Orla was thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. "It's really good and it's a great place to make new friends!"

Margaret Casey from Lispole was also present with her family as they performed in competitions. "We had to stay last night in a bed and breakfast because it wasn't practical to travel back to Lispole so late. The town is great and the venues are all packed, the only downside is that there is no food available for the children coming out of the competitions late at night. That's the one thing they do need to address," Margaret said.

Singer, musician and Dromclough NS teacher Karen Trench was celebrating with her family following a number of county wins. "Méabh won the concertina under-15 and Fionnuala won in the duet and trio under-15," Karen explained as Fionnuala came smiling out of a music room clutching a rather attractive trophy.

The young fiddle player was in good company in her music. "I won the duet with Donagh McElligott and then Donagh and I won in the trio with Lorraine Nash," said Fionnuala who has been playing the fiddle since third class and clearly honing her art with each passing year.

Karen said parents were very happy with Ballybunion. "It's a great town and there's a great sense of north Kerry pulling together for it."

Comhaltas County Board PRO John Moriarty said the organisation was delighted with the turnout. "It's been excellent and we had a full house for the dancing over the past two nights. Wednesday's concert was packed out as well and the whole Fleadh has been very enjoyable with a lot of local talent on display," he said.

Young Waterville woman Hazel Dineen and sister Muireann were clearly enjoying the north Kerry resort no end too. Muireann had competed in the English singing category with a strong breakfast and dairy theme to her selection. "I sang The Shores of Lough Bran and The Song of the Cheese." The talented teen took the solo performing all in her stride, but why wouldn't she - "I'm fairly used to it by now", she said.

Sister Hazel said she was very impressed with Ballybunion on the whole. "It's a great place for the Fleadh in that the venues are very central and compacted making it easy to get around. It's very handy!"