Fleadh Cheoil: Thurles

Fleadh Cheoil: Thurles

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Co. Tipperary, Mary Immaculate College (MIC), St. Patrick's Campus, Thurles




8-10 June 1965


30min 38sec


mute, sound



black and white


Digitised as part of the UTV Archive Partnership Project (ITV, Northern Ireland Screen and PRONI)


Department for Communities, ITV, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, UTV Archive

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It is illegal to download, copy, print or otherwise utilise in any other form this material, without written consent from the copyright holder.


A roving reporter James Boyce reports on the 1965 Fleadh Cheoil in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

The journey starts at a train station and once the ticket is bought, James eagerly awaits the train, clutching his Fleadh Cheoil brochure. It is Friday afternoon in Thurles, and beginning of the weekend whole island looks forward to. James strolls across the deserted and tranquil town centre and settles for a quite evening in his hotel. He knows very well all this would change soon. As he emerges from his hotel on Saturday afternoon, he’s greeted by the crowds of music lovers who eagerly wait for the festival to kick off. “All roads in Ireland lead to Thurles now” says James and he might be right. The festival recorded about 40 thousand visitors at the time. Our reporter investigates what exactly Fleadh is about and ask the organiser, Mr Conway, about its history.

Outside the music is in full swing and crowds of musicians and music enthusiasts gather in every bit of open space Thurles can offer. James first listens to a traditional travelling fiddler, Christy Dunne from Limerick, before he lends a hand moving a piano outdoors through a narrow doorway. One of the musicians he interviews is a jolly fiddler and pharmacist from Newry, Frank Sweeney, also referred to as ‘the king of the Fleadh’. His secret to keeping his energy levels up for the duration of the Fleadh is “a happy mixture of brandy and poteen”. The tour of the Fleadh continues as James moves from one group of musicians to another meeting musician visitors from Birmingham, listening to ‘The Maid of Sligo’ by John Rea from Glenarm on dulcimer, Christy Dunne and Tommy Gunn from Belfast on fiddles or the harmonising duet of siblings Sheila and Sammy Heffernan from Randalstown. On Sunday, James checks out the opening ceremony and the pipe band competition as he takes in the sun and the music filled Tipperary air. Moving on, James meets a young singer, Maureen Connery, who shares an old Irish love song called ‘Eileen Arua’ and listens to the uilleann pipes played by Jim Dowling. James also meets a foreign visitor of the Fleadh, Genas Pillai from South Africa, who is returning to the Fleadh for the third time.

The festival is coming to an end and it’s time to depart. Stopping by a traffic sign ‘Thurles 8 1/2’ (a subtle nod to Federico Fellini and his 1963 surrealist classic) James reflects on his experiences of this three day all Ireland music festival. Is Fleadh Cheoil becoming too big? Is it a victim of its own success? Unlike the morning papers which saw the growth of the festival as essentially negative, James suggests that with better planning and organisation Fleadh could continue to grow both in quality and in size.


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.

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.


Presented by James Boyce

Contributors: Mr Conway, Christy Dunne, Frank Sweeney, John Rea, Tommy Gunn, Sheila Heffernan, Sammy Heffernan, Maureen Connery, Jim Downling, Genas Pillai 

An Ulster Television Production 


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