The first national festival of Irish traditional music was held in Mullingar in 1951. At its inaugural meeting in September 1951, CCÉ came up with the title of Fleadh Cheoil, aiming to make this a great national festival of traditional music. The fleadh has been held in many different venues.
In the years that followed, the number of would-be competitors grew so large that qualifying stages had to be arranged at county and provincial levels. Since then, Fleadh Nua (the new fleadh), Fleadh na Breataine (an All-Britain fleadh) and regional fleadhanna in Britain, and two major fleadhanna in the USA have also become annual CCÉ events.
From its beginning, the goal of the Fleadh Cheoil was to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competition. The fleadh developed as a mainly competitive event, but it also included many concerts, céilíthe, parades, and sessions.
Today, nearly 55 years on, fleadhanna at each level provide a platform and a meeting place for the thousands of musicians, singers and dancers who carry on the tradition. Around 20,000 performers compete in fleadhanna each year.
The largest fleadh to date was 2013 in Derry, an event which attracted 430,000 people. This Fleadh was notable as it was the first All-Ireland Fleadh to be staged in Northern Ireland
The 2008 festival was held in Tullamore, County Offaly and attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000 people making it Ireland’s largest festival, music or otherwise. The Fleadh came to Sligo in 2014 and 2015.
The 2016 festival was held in Ennis, County Clare and attracted an estimated crowd of 400,000 people over the nine days from 14 to 22 August. Among the visitors to the 2016 Fleadh was President Michael D Higgins who went to school near Ennis. 10,000 musicians took part in 2016 with 6,000 of them participating in 180 All Ireland competitions. An estimated €38 million was spent as 80,000 visitors were in Ennis at any one time. There were 28 concerts with five held in the 2,000 seater Shannon Aerodome at Tim Smythe Park in the town. The 2017 Fleadh Cheoil returned to Ennis from 13 to 21 August. The 2017 festival was opened by Michael Flatley and over 450,000 people attended over nine days, peaking at 100,000 for the Saturday.
According to CCÉ’s official rules for 2005:
- Solo competitions shall be held for the following instruments: fiddle; two-row accord
- ion; concert flute; whistle; piano accordion; concertina; uilleann pipes; harp; mouth organ; banjo; mandolin – excluding banjo-mandolin; piano; old-style melodeon; bodhrán; war pipes; miscellaneous such as three and five row button accordion, piccolo, [chromatic] harmonica and other stringed instruments; céilí band drums; accompaniment – confined to piano, harp, guitar and bouzouki-type instruments; solo traditional singing in Irish and English; whistling; lilting; newly composed ballads and amhráin nua-cheaptha (newly composed songs in Irish).
- Solo compe
- titions for slow airs shall be held in all age groups for the following instruments: (a) fiddle; (b) concert flute; (c) whistle; (d) uilleann pipes; and (e) harp (as of 2010).
There are also competitions for the following ensembles: duet, trio, céilí band, instrumental group (grupaí cheoil), accordion band, pipe band, and miscellaneous ensemble.
The full rule set, which may change from year to year, is available from CCÉ web site in the Press Room section. Comhaltas has a constitution or “Bunreacht” in the Irish language.