- 13 Feb 12
It all came right in the end – with the inevitability of a well-crafted novel, Derry was chosen to host the 2013 All-Ireland Fleadh. It almost didn’t happen though...
A family was split in two, brother claiming they were betrayed by brother. In other words, Derry’s right to host the Fleadh was questioned by those you might have expected to uphold it with most vigour.
If the complaints had come from across the border in Donegal, I might have been more readily able to get my head round it. After all, Donegal has produced, and continues to produce some of the country’s most interesting and vital players. From the likes of Proinsias Ó Maoinaigh and Con Cassidy through to the younger generation of Doimnic MacGiollaBhride and Fidil, there is a strong claim that Donegal rather than Derry should have been chosen to host the Fleadh. Or you might have entertained a claim from Sligo where there are many, many players working tirelessly to preserve and grow the tradition. Or indeed from Ennis which boasts one of the finest venues for traditional music, and whose own bid deserved to be given serious consideration.
The controversy though didn’t come from those quarters, and the objections weren’t raised on those grounds. The Derry (or Stroke City as it’s known up here) bid was temporarily derailed by objections from the Ulster Council of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann with the reason being given that Derry couldn’t be trusted with the Fleadh as there was a clear and present danger (my smart arse italics, not theirs) that dissident republicans might target the Fleadh and that lives might be at risk. It conjures visions of suicide bombers with accordions laden with Semtex and AK47s cunningly disguised as fiddles raining terror on the jig and reel-loving masses. If the truth be told, dissident Republicans would far more likely be target the events being promoted as a part of Derry’s year as UK ‘City of Culture’.
Therein, I suspect, lay the nub of the matter. In a year when the citizens of Derry will align themselves with the UK in order to accept an accolade that reflects their contribution to the cultural richness, not just of the UK but of the planet at large, Ceoltas Ceoltoirí Éireann may have found the connection a little to rich. At the heart of it Derry is a deeply and richly cultural place which has given the world Dana, Joseph Locke, the Undertones, Phil Coulter, Pete Cunnah, Scheer, Nadine Coyle, Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane, Brian Friel, Nell McCafferty, Eamon McCann, Willie Doherty and more.
As that lists testifies, no-one has to agree on everything. Although this city has one of the most turbulent, complex and troubled political histories of any in these islands, it can agree that culture and artistic and literary endeavour should raise its head above that.
From the days of the civil rights movement, via the artistic manifestos that issued from Field Day, Derry has realised that there is no one answer to the question and that diversity is part of the solution, not part of the problem. I know people there who would surely prefer if the ‘UK’ was omitted from the title just as surely as many in that city would feel ill at ease with the notion of the ‘All-Ireland’ Fleadh. But they’ll live with it in the same way that they live with their unionist neighbours, in a spirit of acceptance and occasional common purpose.
The All-Ireland Fleadh has never before been north of the border. You can be sure that this Northern Irish city will exhibit jubilation far beyond what might be seen in an equivalent town in the Republic. Sometimes, viewed from up here, ‘All-Ireland’ doesn’t appear very All-Ireland at all. We’re strangely sensitive on the matter.
Derry, schism riven in every cultural and political sense imaginable, hangs on even more dearly to the different cultures to which residents claim allegience. While both Sligo and Ennis may have an inherent affinity with traditional music and dance, while they may in fact live and breathe it in a way that Derry never can, neither can invest as much in it as the traditional musicians of Derry. They have had to claw their own heritage back from generations of suppression, have had to cossett it like a rare plant that grows readily in more hospitable climates but whose existence in Derry is tribute to a dedication and devotion of local trad activists.
Thankfully the veto by the Ulster Council was overturned and Derry’s bid admitted. If even Sinn Féin and the DUP can agree on the positive effects that the Fleadh would have for the city you have to think it’s a no-brainer. Last year’s Fleadh in Cavan was hugely significant for the area and brought an enormous amount of visitors to the otherwise moribund border county. Derry boasts a ready-made infrastructure in terms of musicfrom the point of view of the tourists who will throng to the Fleadh. If we are tempted to think this a whole lot of something about nothing, let’s look at the value of the event to the local economy with an estimated 300000 visitors bringing in the region of €48 million worth of business to town.
I think a widespread celebration is in order that there has been a recognition of the multiplicity of cultural identities on this island – the first Feadh north of the border will provide the perfect opportunity.