First Published April 2022
TRADFEST RETURNS – MEANING MORE THAN EVER
I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in feeling like 2022, although just entering its fourth month in the last few days, already feels like it’s been one of the heaviest years we’ve ever known. There’s been so much that’s been way out of the norm to process in the last few months, that sometimes – if I’m being honest – it all kind of numbs you a little bit. Covid is still with us, for one thing. But at least with that – at last – it looks like we might be reaching a place where some kind of ‘normal’ as we knew it before is possible again.
But even if you forget about the pandemic for a while, what we’re seeing happen in Ukraine, the senseless devastation wreaked on that country by a man who will never again deserve to be known as anything other than a crazed dictator – and those around him, and on the ground in Ukraine doing his bidding…he’s not alone -is heartbreaking.
Where that ends, well, that’s still anybody’s guess right now. But that it will end soon is something that we all pray for.
When it comes to remembering 2022 here at home, in Tullamore and the midlands, and indeed, throughout the entire country, the shock, the horror, and the pain at what happened to Ashling Murphy at the beginning of the year will be felt by all of us – and deeply – for many’s a long year to come. But, in recalling how swiftly that darkness descended upon us, we must also remember to shine as bright a light as we can on the wonderful person that Ashling already was, and was in the process of becoming. And at the heart of Ashling’s life was music.
This year, as TULLAMORE TRADFEST returns – and meaning more than ever before – Ashling’s friends in the trad music community are going to remember her in a way that she will, quite simply, always be with us…through the beauty and the power of music.
The Tradfest committee recently announced their delighted at being able to confirm some of the headline acts who will be appearing at the CEILIÚRADH CEOLMHAR ar ASHLING MURPHY in the Tullamore Court Hotel on April 10th. Among the acts performing are Ballyboy C.C.E., the Macalla na hÉireann Tour Group, the Sacred Heart School Choir and Orchestra, and the legendary Best Foot Forward. Thanks to the support of Hymany Films and TG4, this celebration of the life and music of Ashling Murphy will be live-streamed.
In a recent post on their official Facebook page, Tullamore Tradfest said, “We also feel privileged to be the first organisation to fundraise for the ‘Ashling Murphy Memorial Trust’. This trust fund was recently set up by the Murphy family who will administer donations received to causes and organisations relevant to Ashling’s memory. As tickets for this event were made available for free and performers are giving of their time and talent for free, we are appealing to those attending the event either in person or via live stream to support our GoFundMe campaign (link available on the Tullamore Tradfest Facebook page). All donations are greatly appreciated, and all funds raised will go directly to the Ashling Murphy Memorial Trust.”
Back in 2019, in looking back upon that year’s first edition of Tullamore Tradfest and looking forward to the 2020 festival, I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the visionaries behind bringing such a brilliant event to Tullamore in the first place, the one and only Tommy Craven, the then chairperson of the Tullamore Tradfest committee.
Now, as we look ahead to the return of the event this year, and, as I’ve already said, at a time when we need it more than ever, it’s worth taking a little trip back in time to that chat with Tommy (first published September 2019). And it all began with him explaining how Tullamore Tradfest actually came to be in the first place…
“Well how it came about was a group of us were down at Dingle Tradfest, and my wife, who wouldn’t be a trad-head at all, said ‘Ye guys travel all over the country, why don’t ye bring the festival to ye for a change.’ And there was logic there that we couldn’t argue with, ya know [laughs]. So that was the initial spark for it all. And it snowballed then after that.”
So what exactly is Tradfest?
“The gist of Tullamore Tradfest was that we intended to flood Tullamore with traditional music over the weekend in question. The core element of any tradfest is the session trail, so we put that in place and then built in other elements around it. We had a big concert on the Friday night which was sold out, three-hundred people were at that. We had workshops then on the Saturday morning with one-hundred-and-twenty kids in for them. On the Saturday night we had the Festival Club, which was also sold out, at two-hundred capacity. And then the session trail again on the Sunday.”
Who featured in that Friday night concert?
“We had a great act. We had Brid Harper on fiddle, Darren Breslin on accordion, and they had Brian McGrath on keyboard. It’s gas that you ask that, actually, because we tried to be strategic in who we picked, ya know, you have to be. And Darren would be kind of a cult figure, He actually brought people from Glasgow and Leeds, as in they came from there just to see him alone! So even though traditional music doesn’t have superstars, it does have its own little folk or cult heroes all the same.”
Tommy stressed that Tradfest is not about any element of competition, but rather inclusion, so that anyone who wants to play and be part of it all, has the chance to. The workshops he referred to would have, I imagined, played a huge part in helping people to further develop their love of trad music, or perhaps even discover it?
“Absolutely. The workshops were key for us. We wanted to give an opportunity to local music students to come and learn from some of the best tutors from around the country, giving them a flavour of some of the regional styles. We had Aoife Granville on flute from Kerry, we had Oisín MacDiarmada as well, and Brid Harper on fiddle, who would have brought a kind of a northern style. They were all hugely popular and all sold-out. We even had one fella on the day who just turned up, without any prior contact with us at all, he was on his holidays from Canada. And up he rocked with a fiddle to take part! [laughs]. There were loads of little incidents like that, little surprises. And when you think about it, those one-hundred-and-twenty kids in the workshops, they all bring mammies and daddies along, too. So it’s great to have them around the town and bringing a bit of business to Tullamore, which was also one of our aims.”
Tommy mentioned a core group who had kicked-off the whole Tullamore Tradfest adventure…
“That gang of us who were down in Dingle would have been myself, my wife Eimear, James Hogan, his wife Lorraine, and Ann-Marie Kearns and her husband Damien. That’s where it all came out of to start. But since then, we’ve been joined by Frank Walsh, Denise Bracken, Brian McDaid, and Paddy and Mick Buckley. It’s a great committee. Now I don’t like the name chairperson, even though that’s what I am [laughs], because everyone I’ve mentioned provides leadership to the group. We all work really well together.”
I wondered what the response was like from the businesses and the people of Tullamore when the idea for Tradfest first came to light?
“The whole Tullamore community was absolutely phenomenal. The first people we approached were the vinters, to get them on board for the session trail. And they were super. From there, we followed on with the hotels, with Offaly Local Development Company, Tullamore Credit Union, all the local media like the Tullamore Tribune and Midlands 103, and so many more. The response in general was amazing. And that great response from everyone really allowed us to push the boundaries with what we could try and do and achieve in year one. I think at times we sell ourselves a bit short here in Tullamore. There’s no reason why events like this can’t happen, ya know. We have the facilities, the infrastructure, and most importantly of all, we have great people locally. That was one of the biggest parts of the feedback from our 2019 visitors, they couldn’t get over how welcoming and friendly and helpful everyone was.”
Since this year’s Tullamore Tradfest Tommy and others who were involved in its organisation have been around Ireland at similar events, and word on the success of the initial festival in Tullamore seems to have spread far and wide…
“It has. And it gives us a great sense of pride and achievement, so it does. Obviously it’s the people who came and visited us this year who have gone home and spread that good news about us around the country. We’ve been to other events over the summer, some of the more established and well-known festivals, and we’d be meeting new friends as you do. Say you’re from Tullamore, and they’d be like, ‘Oh we heard that ye had a super first festival up there, we heard great reports about it. Ye looked after the musicians really well.’ Now that wasn’t just us, of course, the committee. That was all of the local people here in Tullamore. It was everyone they met while they were here. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the local people and agencies who helped us out in that regard.”
Have the Tradfest folk anything planned for Culture Night at the end of this week?
“We have, we’re hosting a trad music session in Digan’s pub at nine-thirty. Everyone’s welcome to come along, and we’d love to see as many people there as possible to enjoy the night with us.”
So onto 2020, and Tullamore Tradfest which will be happening in April…
“It will! It’s the third, fourth and fifth of April next year. And we’re easily gonna double everything that happened this year. So we’ve doubled our own efforts for a start to make that happen. Not only are we gonna have one concert on the Friday night again, we have plans for one on the Sunday, too. We have plans to double-up on the instrumental workshops in Colaiste Choilm, and plans to extend the session trail onto the Monday as well. Because we had such a great year-one, and because we’re getting such great support again, we’re pushing the boat out further this time, too.”
I wondered if Tommy and the rest of the committee even had a chance to sleep over these weekends?!
“No [laughs], sleep is at an absolute minimum over that weekend! But look, it’s great fun. We all do this on a voluntary basis, there’s nothing in it for us only the enjoyment of getting to play a few tunes at the end of it!”
Tommy referred to ‘year-one’ on a few occasions, which was this year, with year-two obviously being what’s coming in 2020. It all suggests that the committee have a long-term vision in mind for what Tullamore Tradfest can become?
“Yeah, we do, and that goes back to the committee again. We have serious people involved there. We were able to announce the dates for 2020 on the Sunday at the end of the festival this year, and once we had 2019 over and behind us, we started developing a vision for the future. It’s going to be an annual event, and we have a five-year plan that we’re already working on. I can’t tell you yet exactly what we have planned for Year-Five [laughs], but we do have that plan in place with something special coming down the line in Year-Five.”
And what about Tommy himself as a musician?
“Well I’d be far from an accomplished musician, I’d be very average, if the truth be told, ya know. But that again is another element to the Tradfest idea. It’s an event for everybody. You don’t have to be a champion musician. It’s to give everybody a chance to come together, and to collaborate, and to learn tunes and share tunes. And you get to make friends, have fun, and have the craic as well. It’s just about throwing yourself into it and making the most of it.”
Looking back on this year, and on putting it all together for the first time, can Tommy remember any particular moment over the course of the weekend where he felt like, ya know what, we’ve made something great happen here…!
“There were one or two moments like that for me, alright. So I’m a teacher in Colaiste Choilm, and we finish at lunch-time on a Friday. I hopped over to the Court Hotel just to check in on things with them, to make sure everything was o.k. for the weekend. And as I approached reception, I was met by two carloads of lads from Dublin who were down for the weekend! They had banjos, fiddles, and all their gear for the weekend with them. The trad community is small enough, you’d know lots of people, you’d know them to see. But I didn’t know who these eight, nine, ten lads were. I had no idea. So that was a kind of a, ‘Jesus, we could be onto somethin’ here, this could be a great weekend!’ [laughs]. That was one moment. The concerts were great. The workshops were great. The session trails were great. There was so much to enjoy about everything really. But the Festival Club with Damien Mullane on the Saturday night, that was something totally different, something that Tullamore had never had before. It’s not a sit-down concert. Damien Mullane and Eugene Quinn, for the Festival Club they get up on stage and, in his own words, ‘puc tunes out of it!’, for two hours! [laughs]. Everyone gets up and jumps around, and just has the craic. That was special. And the Sunday sessions were very special as well, the session trail seemed to be wedged no matter which pub you went to. Everyone, even at that stage, were saying they were looking forward to 2020. And like I said, we already had dates ready to go, posters ready to go, and we announced the dates on the Sunday so that people could book in for the following year when they were checking out of where they were staying. And the feedback from the hotels was that yeah, people had been doing that.”
How satisfied are Tommy and the rest of the committee that what they’ve put together for Tullamore matches the standards of similar events they’ve experienced around the country?
“Well from the feedback we’ve got from people who attend festivals all the time, what we’ve heard is that Tullamore Tradfest far surpassed the vast majority of festivals around the country and was well on its way to matching and meeting some of the top ones, the ones that are already well established. So that’s what we’re aiming for. Now look, we didn’t get everything 100% right this time, but that’s part of the learning process. We tried to include as many people as possible, but even then, on the weekend of the event, people were coming to us saying they would have loved to have been involved. So we’re open to anyone becoming involved and we welcome anyone contacting us, be it myself or any of the committee members, to chat about that.”
~ TULLAMORE TRADFEST 2022 kicks on FRIDAY, APRIL 8th. For a full listing of events that will be taking place over the weekend, check out the official Tullamore Tradfest Facebook page or visit www.tullamoretradfest.com
The CEILIÚRADH CEOLMHAR ar ASHLING MURPHY – a special musical tribute and celebration of the life and music of Ashling Murphy – takes place in the Tullamore Court Hotel on SUNDAY, APRIL 10th AT 6PM. Donation to the ASHLING MURPHY TRUST, a charity established by the Murphy family, can be made at the event. This concert will also be live-streamed by Tullamore Tradfest and TG4.