“Music makes me happy and I could not live without it.”
That is according to 10-year mandolin and banjo player, Calvin Butler who was one of thousands to converge on Ennis, Co Clare, yesterday through their love of traditional Irish music for the opening day of the annual Fleadh Ceoil na hÉireann.
The biggest annual event in the traditional music calendar is making a return to Ennis after 39 years and promises a dividend of €38m for the local economy.
Four hundred thousand people are expected in Ennis over the next week and such are the volumes of crowds anticipated that organisers are making plans to make Ennis’s main streets, O’Connell St and Abbey St, one way for pedestrians at peak times.
From the nearby village of Crusheen, Calvin was busy enjoying the rich tradition of youngster busking on the streets during the Fleadh on Saturday by busking on the town’s Parnell Street and earned €77. Not bad for less than one hour of playing.
He said yesterday: “I like busking because people stop when they are walking past just to hear my music. Little kids often come up and dance in front of me.
“I am looking to playing more in my home town where my friends and family can see me play,” he says.
Calvin and his older sister, Abby, 13, who plays the fiddle, will join hundreds of other children from today at the Social Eigse that runs for the next four days. Abby will also be competing in an U15 group in the Fleadh Ceoil.
Looking on as president Michael D Higgins formally opened the Fleadh, Abby said: “Competing in my home town is great. You get to show people how far you’ve come. You also get to meet new people through music from around the world.”
Addressing thousands in the Abbey Street car park yesterday, Mr Higgins said: “Ennis, as the capital of a county that is renowned internationally for its wonderful, living music heritage, continues to be a place of great creative possibility.”
Reared in the nearby village of Newmarket on Fergus and schooled at St Flannan’s College in Ennis, President Higgins said: “Clare has an unbroken chain of creative performers from the earliest of times, from the days of Mrs Crotty, through the Willie Clancy School, and the contemporary, internationally recognised genius of Martin Hayes, Tony McMahon and Noel Hill.” He said: “It is appropriate, then, that we are gathered here in Ennis for the All-Ireland Fleadh, one of the greatest cultural festivals in the world and one which attracts many music lovers from abroad to Irish shores.”
Mr Higgins said the first fleadh attracted just a few hundred visitors in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in 1951.
This year’s fleadh will cost €1.1m to stage and involves 10,000 musicians and 6,000 of those participating in 180 competitions in search of All-Ireland glory.
Over 1,000 volunteers have been recruited to ensure that musical extravaganza runs smoothly and they could be seen in their distinctive green tops and one of those, Rosemarie Collins from Kilkishen said: “I got involved because you want it go well and there is a great sense of pride that it is taking place in Ennis this year.”
Throughout the week, 28 concerts are to take place and feature traditional Irish music luminaries such as Martin Hayes, Maura O’Connell, Stockton’s Wing, Frankie Gavin, and The Kilfenora Céilí Band.
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