The Drogheda Traditional Music weekend

Irish traditional music lovers came to life in Drogheda two weekends ago from the 29th to the 1st. of December during the 17th annual Drogheda traditional music festival.

The organizers and the Drogheda arts centre invited musicians from all over the country to entertain at a number of official performances and sessions during the weekend. These performances were well attended and very enjoyable. All venues were very comfortable and there was great respect shown to the musicians during tunes and songs. It was commented by a few musicians on Saturday night that the audience in Drogheda was one of the best they had ever played for.

The sessions were also very well attended by listeners and musicians alike. With credit to the organizers, for the most part, they organized sessions in very centralized and very friendly venues.

I was very fortunate to make it to most of the performances and sessions during the weekend. As Drogheda has a particularly weak traditional Irish music scene, I relished the opportunity to play in my own area for a change.

I have voiced concerns in the past about the lack of traditional Irish music in Drogheda. There is nothing I would like more than to be able to go somewhere local for a few tunes in the evening. For over ten years now, I have ventured to Dundalk, Dublin, Carlow, Limerick and Cork regularly to get my regular fix of tunes but my motivation and determination has just kicked up a gear. There is nothing I would like more than to share the pleasure I get from music with my daughter. I want her to know the opportunity, freedom, enjoyment and relaxation playing music with a few friends can provide. Unlike me, I would like her to have friends that she can join with that have similar musical interests in her own area. The Drogheda traditional music festival is a great way of promoting this tradition in our little corner of the country. It highlights Irish music and brings people together. However, in my opinion, there really isn’t enough exposure given to local musicians. There are some really talented people in Drogheda but they spend all of their time playing music in other parts of the country. These people need to be encouraged to play at home and to highlight the talent that we have locally. Instead, the organizers continue to bring musicians from other parts of the country completely overshadowing our home grown talent.

I mentioned the central locations of the sessions earlier but this of course can have a down side. One of the sessions was in a very nice Italian restaurant called divine. It was a reasonably nice venue but as the session started at around 3PM, Emma and I decided that while we were there we’d grab a coffee and a sandwich. For a coke, a coffee and two sandwiches I paid over €19.50! Now, I’ve paid a lot for a coffee in a really nice hotel in Dublin city centre and I’ve thought to myself that it was a tad on the expensive side. However, that was a really expensive hotel right in the heart of Dublin. Divine is a reasonably nice place in the basement of the Drogheda town centre! It’s far from nice enough to pay nearly twenty quid for a very small lunch! It wasn’t even a nice small lunch! I had to send the wrap back because it was made so badly and Emma’s sandwich had a tiny bit of chicken and a huge amount of onion! Now, my aim here is not to put down a valuable local business. My aim is to maybe make the point that if the aim of having sessions in restaurants is to make them more family friendly then perhaps more family friendly restaurants should be picked. At the very least, their prices should have been discounted ever so slightly for the weekend. In the session that started earlier that day, one of the organizers actually strongly suggested that I go directly to the later session as there wasn’t enough room. Again, if you don’t have room for more than three musicians in a session, that’s a bad location. It’s a nice restaurant there across the road from the art centre but on a Saturday afternoon when it’s busy, maybe it’s not the best venue to get musicians into. That happened twice actually. On Saturday night, the same person who is an organizer of the festival suggested that I should wait until some musicians left before joining the session. As I said earlier, I’ve travelled extensively around Ireland. Not once have I been told that there wasn’t enough room for me to join into a session. It made those around me feel very uncomfortable that a local man would suggest that. I was actually asked later on Saturday night by a visiting musician that I have met at different festivals in the past few years if there was some kind of ill will between me and the organizers. She thought that she picked up a “negative vibe”. I’d like to say here very openly, nothing could be further from the truth. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. I would love to see more people taking part in this festival and I think they have done an exceptional job. I have a lot of constructive feedback for them and I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in this festival but none the less, I have nothing against any of the organizers.

I have to say, I absolutely loved listening to Donal O Conor, Paul Meehan and Martin Meehan playing in the Tholsel. I arrived late because a session ran on a bit long but as soon as I got there I was drawn in by the tunes. Some lovely slow airs, a few strange tunes with lovely time signatures and a few of nice upbeat jigs and reels. I had Méabh on my knee for the whole time and although two weeks ago she wanted constant entertainment, she was fascinated by the musicians and the music. She couldn’t see the musicians from where we were because her eyes wouldn’t have been that developed but she was so content when they were playing. I was delighted! I danced her on my knee throughout the entire performance and apart from a small squeak during a slow air by Donal, she was very quite and happy. They even said hello to her during one of the tune introductions. She loved Nell Ni Chronin’s singing on Friday night. So she has good taste!

I’m really looking forward to next year’s event. Marcella from the Drogheda Art Centre has suggested that I put a submission together for consideration by the organizing committee. I’m already thinking of what I should include in this.