September 20, 2018


Many thanks to Mike De Georgeo for writing about his experience in Drogheda!

Norah asked me to write a few thoughts about going to the Fleadh Cheoil in Ireland.  Our family of four traveled to Ireland with the CIM community twice, last month to Drogheda and last year to Ennis.

It was the All-Ireland competitions that prompted us to go to the Fleadh Cheoil in the first place.  After returning from Ireland for each of the past two years, many people would often ask us, “How was Ireland? How did your kids do?” Meaning, did they win?

As you probably know, despite lots of Center for Irish Music success at the regional competition (the Midwest Fleadh), very few of our young musicians received any formal recognition in the form of a trophy or a medal from the All-Ireland competitions.

But being there, participating in the four-day school, walking the streets, enjoying time with friends at various meals, and playing tunes in numerous sessions in addition to preparing for and competing in the competitions are the experiences from which the true memories are made. Actually, it’s all of this and so much more!!!

Having seen the Fleadh twice now, I have so enjoyed watching all of the CIM kids take on many new experiences across the span of this amazing music festival.  I’ve seen the kids . . .

Discover the ancient towns of Drogheda and Ennis for the first time, and enter into the Irish culture by just knocking about. By the end of the week, they know the main streets, back alleys, lively pubs, and all of the places to get a “99” (soft serve ice cream cone with a Flake candy bar). With this new knowledge comes increased confidence and independence. By the end of the week, the kids look like they belong, and indeed, I believe they feel they belong, too. The kids understand well that the kids eat Tayto and drink Club Orange – if not a Rock Shandy – in the pubs as they play tunes!  Also, the kids have gotten out of the towns and into the countrysides. Many of us made the short trek from Drogheda to Newgrange, Ireland’s Neolithic passage tomb. Standing inside the 5,200 year old tomb with family and friends is a thrill, and the experience deepens and expands anyone’s knowledge and appreciation of Irish history and culture.

Engage with new people, from their classmates and teachers in Scoil Éigse, to other musicians in sessions in pubs, to the random encounters with people on the streets. As the days pass by, the likelihood of the kids knowing and recognizing new friends on the crowded streets increases. These chance encounters seem to drive a sense of excitement in the kids; they are out with their CIM friends on the streets, and they are meeting new friends along the way. And, the Fleadh experience requires the kids to engage, be present, and occasionally, actually, put away their mobile phones!  The fun of connecting with others is at the heart of what it means to be at the Fleadh!

Deepen their enjoyment, understanding, and love for the music. The kids learn new tunes all week, and they also play tunes that they’ve known for years. I think the kids gain a sense that they are part of this tradition that is bigger and deeper than they realized, and that they are connected to it, that the music is part of who they are now, part of how they think of themselves. And I think they also discover that the more they learn, the faster they learn, and these new tunes just seem to come out of these amazing, young musicians! Sure, the music is the main event at the Fleadh, but it also forms the soundtrack to this experience of discovering who they are and the sheer fun of taking part in this huge music festival not as a spectator but as a participant. I personally had a number of conversations with local Irish people about our kids and the quality and spirit of their music; everyone I met was so complimentary and enthusiastic that we would come from so far away to take part in the Fleadh. Case in point, I invite you to view the video taken by Dave McKenna on our final night in Drogheda all together. This moment captured on video shows a bit of what it’s like when it all comes together.  I can tell you that the spirits were high that night in McDonnel’s pub!

So, the question about whether the kids “won” is easy to answer: YES, THEY WON! True, very few tangible medals and trophies were brought home these past two years.  But what the kids gained in friendship, connection, Irish music and culture, and the pure joy of being there in Ireland are the real treasures awarded for making the journey to the Fleadh Cheoil.

Mike De Georgeo

“Club Orange” photo by Mike De Georgeo, all other photos by Emily Flagstad

Video provided by Dave McKenna