Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann

In the early 1950s it was obvious to many people that Irish music, and our culture in general was growing weaker by the day. There was little regard for Irish music, song or dance. They were being swamped by a flood of foreign trash.

In 1951, a group of people realising the danger, came together at Feis Lar na hEireann, in Mullingar, and set up the organisation known today as Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. Among the early founders were Jim Deery, Paddy McElvaney, Theo Rowsome, Kathleen Harrington and Willie Reynolds.

They were people of vision, who set out to rescue our traditions from oblivion. Classes were set up, Fleanna Ceoil were organised, and in due course, all over the country hundreds of young people were playing our native music.

In 1958, the first Fleadh Cheoil in the County was held in Letterkenny. Gradually branches were formed in Ballyshannon, Dunfanaghy, Ardara/Glenties and Letterkenny. The first County Board was formed in Glenties in July 1959. Among those prominent in the very early days of Comhaltas in Donegal were Hugh McGovern and Paddy Tunnel, Letterkenny, and Dr Malachy McCloskey, Glenties. All three gentlemen are still hale and hearty and are still very actively involved with Comhaltas, music and singing.

In October 1959, a meeting was called for the Colgan Hall, Carndonagh. The meeting was called at the instigation of the late John Byrne of Malin, a native of Kilcar who had spent most of his teaching life in Aughaclay N.S.

Also present at this inaugral meeting was P.J (Joe) Gallagher N.T, Malin, Fr Art O'Reilly, Carndonagh Community School, Eileen Doherty, Carn, Josie Sweeny and Clement Sweeney, Ballyliffen.

A branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann was foundeed and was called Craobh Inis Eoghain, the first in the peninsula. P.J Gallagher was elected chaiman, John Byrne was secretary and Clement Sweeney was treasurer. In the early days sessions of music, song and dance were held in various centres around the peninsula - in the Illies Hall, Malin Head Hall, Moville, The Wee Hall in Culdaff, Malin Town, but the main location was in the Ballyliffin Hotel.

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From the beginning, the branch was well served with musicians. Some time earlier, Fr Desmond Mullan, who was curate in Clonmany, had brought together Seamus Grant (fiddle), Gortnahinson, Neil (Eoin) McGonigle (fiddle), Cloontagh, John McCarron (button accordian), Cleagh, Maeliosa Doherty (button accordian), Tirhoran, Ned Doherty (piano, accordian,bass fiddle), Clonmany, Jimmy Doherty (drums), Cleagh, Desmond Kavanagh (piano), Clonmany. Together they formed the Clonmany Ceili Band.

Most of the members of the band were available and played at all of our earlier sessions. Wherever the sessions went to, various local artistes contributed songs, recitations or dances to the programme. Chief among the singers contributing to the programmes were Mrs Sarah Jane O'Donnell, and her daughter Teresa Boyle. Their unlimited repertoire gave hours of pleasure to many thousands.

During the lean years when traditional music was in demand, the man who, above all others, kept Irish music alive in Inishowen was Pat Mulhern of Fallask, Buncrana. Pat was an outstanding musician who passed on his talent in great measure, to two very apt pupils - Dinny McLaughlin, and John McCracken. All three musicians took part in the early sessions of Craobh Inis Eoghain. In time, however, other branches sprang up in the peninsula, Craobh na hInse founded by Dinny Mc Laughlin, Craobh Buncrana, founded by John McCracken, Craobh Carn Domhnaigh, founded by Joe Phil McLaughlin.

The territory covered by Craobh Inis Eoghain has always been Clonmany, Malin and Culdaff.

In 1964, and again in 1968, the County Fleadh was hosted by the Inishowen branch in Malin. This was repeated in 1970 and 1971. Craobh Inis Eoghain has continued in existence since its founding in 1959.

The branch hosted the County Fleadh, again in 1979 and 1980, in Ballyliffin. This was repeated throughout the years, 1994, 1995, and 1996.

Tour of Ireland concerts were hosted by the branch in the Strand Hotel, Ballyliffen in 1997, and in St Mary's Hall Clonmany in the years 1998, 1999 and 2000. In 1984 our branch celebrated 25c years in existence with a gala dinner in the Strand Hotel, with Jim Mc Cauley, National president, as guest speaker.

During the last 50 years, the branch has supplied many officers to the County Board. Present secretary is Blathain Nic Suibhne, Ballyliffin.

With a good glass structure in the branch, many very competent musicians and singers have emerged. Many of these perform at our monthly sessions held in Curragh Teach Ceoil, Clougherna. Musicians at these functions will always include the young emerging musicians from the music classes. Senior musicians include Seamus Grant, Blaithin Nic Suibhne, Mary Doherty, Jimmy Cuddihy, Damhnait Nic Suibhne and visiting artistes.

There has always been a tradition of grupai ceoil (instrumental groups) from Craobh Inis Eoghain. With the Fleadh qualifying system, only the good groups will qualify for the Provincial Fleadh, and only excellent groups will qualify for the All Ireland Fleadh. During the last forty years, groups from our branch have frequently qualified for Provincial and All Ireland Fleanna or both. In groups from Craobh Inis Eoghain won top honours in the All Ireland Fleadh.

All in all, we in this branch can be happy that music, singing and dancing are being promoted diligently among the young in our branch area. They are being groomed to take their places with the thousands of other people, whose pride in our native music, song, dance and language, will stay with them through life.


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