Thousands of traditional Irish music lovers donned their waterproofs and wellies yesterday to soak up the carnival atmosphere as the 2013 Fleadh Cheoil got into full swing in Derry’s city centre.
The heavens may have opened (more than once!) but nothing could have spoiled the mood for city visitors and local folk alike.
There was a noticable increase in numbers on city streets, especially in areas like Guildhall Square, Waterloo Place and within the city walls, where a pipe band and trad musicians performed. The riverfront remained thronged, the smell of the Continental Market’s exotic food and goods wafting over the entire quayside.
While shops and businesses outside the main Fleadh zone are reporting a less-than-impressive trade so far, elsewhere local businesses are thriving. That’s especially true for Maiden City Butchers, who are based in the Northern Counties building on Waterloo Place. Staff manning a makeshift barbecue outside the shop reported roaring trade, particularly for one choice item - the Legenderry Sausage!
According to its creator, known as Red Gerry, this homecooked Derry delicacy boasts the contents of a traditional fry-up.
“We commissioned these especially for the year of Culture and they’re flying out the door. They’re pork-based, with white pudding, black pudding and bacon inside and a few other secret ingredients I couldn’t possibly divulge! I’m still trying to figure out how to get an egg in there too,” he laughed yesterday.
“They’re local, home-produced and cheaper than any other hot-dog in the city. It’s a fry in a sock - and when you bite into it, it bites back!”
D. Cooley Jewellers on Shipquay Street has seen a distinct surge in customers this week, particularly for their Derry-inspired collection featuring the Peace Bridge, the Oak-leaf and such like.
Manager Brenda Kearney told the ‘Journal’: “Our History of Derry collection has been selling really well, both with visitors from America and further afield, and also by Derry people who have moved away but have come home on holidays from the Fleadh. Although the weather hasn’t been the best, there’s definitely a great buzz around - the atmosphere here in the town is amazing, it really is.”
Gerard Moyne, owner of Molly’s Cafe in the Craft Village, is delighted at the exposure that the Fleadh has given their quaint city centre establishment.
“We are doing really, really well, our turn-over is up at least 100%, but we haven’t got greedy on it,” he says. “We’ve actually reduced our prices for the Fleadh. And do you know, 40 million people saw live music transmitted on TG4 from our front door here - can you imagine that?! The presenter kept saying ‘and we’re back to Molly’s now’, that is amazing. We have to look at the positives here - not the profits this week, but the profits of next week, next year and so on. It’s all good.”
Local street trader Aaron O’Neill has a stall selling local merchandise on Waterloo Place and enthused: “Business has been brilliant, there are plenty of visitors and it’s fantastic.”
Manager Adrian Kerr says the Museum of Free Derry in the city’s Bogside is thriving this week.
“It’s definitely been a busier week and we’re expecting it to get even busier over the weekend. We’re seeing both local people and international visitors coming in, much the same mix as we always see.”
In the streets, people are buzzing too. John McIntyre from Cooley in Louth is a musician and a Fleadh regular. “I’m very impressed,” he says. “I love Derry, I love the old charm, the old walls, it’s a very attractive city. I was on Fleadh Live last night too, which was brilliant.”
Well-known Derry writer Dave Duggan is also soaking up the feelgood atmosphere. “I tell you one thing - I’m Fleadh-ed out!,” he laughs. “I’m having a fine time, I have mates up from Dublin and we’re having a ball.”
Some visitors come from far and wide to revel in the magic of Fleadh Cheoil. One such visitor is traditional Irish music lover 65 year-old Jean Pierre La Selve from Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar, who has brought his banjo to Derry in search of music. This is his first visit to the city and he has been impressed with the warmth of the welcome he has received.
“Derry is such a friendly place. People come up and say hello and ask me to play. It is a really fine city,” he says.
“I am absolutely delighted with this Fleadh. The atmosphere is fantastic and the people are so friendly. The rest of the week should be amazing and I am really looking forward to playing my banjo in sessions.”
Vanessa McGuire from County Clare appears to have fallen for Derry’s charms. “We’re delighted to be here to this week to enjoy some traditional music - we hope the Fleadh comes back to Derry every single year!”
Meanwhile, Jim Roddy, manager of the City Centre Initiative, describes the feelgood factor in Derry this week as “immense”.
“The Fleadh has been a great success so far. All the reports we are getting is that people are working away and the footfall has been great. Obviously, it’s much better for some than others, for instance there are licenced premises doing really well in certain areas, but some of the smaller shops are reporting that they’re doing much better than they thought they would.
“People’s experiences in general have been much much better than they imagined. Most importantly for everybody is how people are really enjoying themselves here. We need to concentrate now on keeping our best foot forward to get the Fleadh back to the city in the future. It has to be said, full credit to Comhaltas for bringing the Fleadh to Derry and organising everything so well.”
Mr Roddy also advisedsDerry residents to think of the congestion before heading to the Fleadh in their own cars. “I would appeal to local people, if they are thinking of coming into the city centre, to please use either the park and ride or public transport for ease of access.”
Derry’s Mayor, Colr Martin Reilly, says the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil has been a phenomenal success to date.
“The Fleadh has been a huge success to date and we are delighted that all the agencies have been working successfully together to deliver this fantastic event for the city. The Fleadh is one of the key highlights during our City of Culture year and we are confident that city businesses, accommodation providers and retailers will be reaping the benefits of having hundreds of thousands of music lovers and festival goers in the city centre. The All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann continues to be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city and its people to a worldwide audience and I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone involved in making this such a positive experience for everyone involved.”