Derry’s finest Irish traditional musicians and dancers performed at the European parliament in Brussels on Tuesday evening to promote the city’s hosting of the All Ireland Fleadh.
18 traditional musicians and dancers from Derry put on an exhibition of Irish culture in the parliament buildings in the Belgian capital during an event to showcase the city hosted by Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson.
The exhibition, the first of its kind in the European parliament, was attended by more than 400 people, including MEPS from a number of different European member states.
A delegation from the Ard Comhairle of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann, including the organisation’s president, Vincent Jordan, also travelled to Brussels for the showcase event.
Members of the Assembly’s enterprise, trade and investment committee, including Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin, were also among the crowd.
The chairperson of Fleadh Cheoil Doire, the organising committee of the Fleadh in Derry, Eibhlin Ni Dhochartaigh, and the chair of the Derry City branch of Comhaltas, Brendan Molly, also made up the delegation.
Ms Anderson, a member of the Derry branch of Comhaltas, said she was honoured that her first exhibition as an MEP was in support of Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann. Musicians and dancers from Derry entertained the large crowd in the Yehudi Menuhin suite of the parliament building with and offered a taster of what visitors to the fleadh, which takes place from August 11th to 18th, can expect.
Flute player Siobhan Molly addressed the international audience in fluent French, providing details of the tunes and instruments and encouraging people to visit Derry during the Fleadh.
Speaking before the performance, Ms Anderson said it was a privilege to be hosting the musicians and the Comhaltas delegation in Brussels.
“Irish culture is made up of many strands and we are lucky enough to be able to sample some of the best of those strands through the skills of the traditional musicians and dancers from Derry,” she said.
“This year the honour of hosting the All Ireland fleadh has gone to Derry. It is the first time in its history that the All Ireland Fleadh has gone to the North of Ireland and I am delighted to be able to host this showcase to celebrate and promote this wonderful Event,” she said.
Ms Anderson also welcomed those from other countries at the event and said Irish traditional music has international appeal.
“Comhaltas is an international organisation with thousands of members across four continents. It is important that when we look at our culture we recognise the key role played by the Irish diaspora in keeping that alive, “ she explained.
Following the music and dancing, the performers were greeted with loud applause from the packed auditorium.
Speaking to the Journal following the showcase performance, Ms Anderson said she was delighted by the response from other MEPs and other members of staff at the parliament who turned out in force to hear the music and watch the dancers.
“As it was the first exhibition I have staged I was anxious and worried about how it would go but when I sat there and watched such a large crowd enjoying our music and culture I was filled with a sense of pride,” she said.
“I was particularly proud that Siobhan Molloy from my own branch of Comhaltas, did the city proud, not only with her fine playing but also her excellent communication and language skills.
“To see so many people, from all parts of the EU enjoying the music and dancing made me even more proud of Derry,” she said.
Ms Anderson also said that many people in Brussels have been inquiring about the Fleadh in Derry.
“The level of interest ahead of this showcase was high and many have expressed an interest in coming to Ireland, and Derry in particular, over the summer.
“It is a great opportunity to showcase everyone our city has to offer through this wonderful music.
“There has been a great buzz around the parliament in anticipation of the arrival of the musicians and dancers and they certainly did not disappoint.
“I was very proud to be able to be in a position to organise this event in support of the All Ireland Fleadh, Comhaltas, and the people of Derry,” she said.
The Sinn Fein MEP said the fleadh is not only important in cultural terms but will also provide a major financial boost to the city.
“It is a huge economic driver that will bring visitors to the city and with that will come immense benefits to hotels, bed and breakfasts and the night time Economy,” she said.
Ms Anderson also congratulated all the musicians involved, particularly those selected to play with The Chieftains.
“It is a great opportunity for the musicians and I hope that they enjoy it and that it helps them on their musical journey and can open up further doors for them,” she added.
After the performance, invited guests attended a gala dinner hosted by the NI executive office in Brussels and sponsored by the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure.
Culture minister Caral ni Chilton had been due to attend the event but was unavoidably delayed in the North and was instead represented by Cynthia Smith from the department.
Members of the DETI committee, Irish MEPS and the Irish ambassador to Belgium were also in attendance.
At the dinner, Mr Jordan, Comhaltas president, made a presentation to Ms Anderson and said he is looking forward to visiting Derry during the Fleadh.