Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive
A national project of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (The Gathering of Musicians of Ireland), Comhaltas Traditional Music serves to preserve, organize, and make available materials relating to Irish cultural traditions, including Irish music, song, dance, language, and history. This archive is a treasure trove of Irish traditional music, and it contains recordings and audiovisual recordings of master traditional musicians that could otherwise be easily lost to time. Along with the music, the Archive holds many fascinating photos, clippings, tunes, and documents related to Irish Culture. New indices and materials will continue to be added over time.
Traditional Irish music is heard all over the world today, but there was a time when it was at risk of slipping into obscurity. In 1951, some members of the Thomas Street (Dublin) Pipers’ Club went to Mullingar to meet with a group of traditional music enthusiasts from County Westmeath. This meeting marked the start of the revival of traditional Irish music with the inception of what is now called Comhaltas, and which has produced “the Archive” which has helped to create this great body of work, in tune with the pipers, fiddlers…spoon-players, all of those “Mad for Trad,” who make music wherever they go.
The second meeting, in February of the same year, produced a plan to organize a Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) to be held in Mullingar that May. Before the Fleadh, traditional Irish music was thought a bit lowbrow. The goal of the Fleadh was to promote traditional music and to arrest the decline in its popularity. The cream of traditional Irish musicians attending the Fleadh played a major role in furthering this aim, and within five years, the festival had become a grand National Festival with traditional dancers, singers, and musicians coming from all over Ireland and beyond.
Since that time, Comhaltas has become the foremost vehicle for the promotion and preservation of Irish traditional music. There are branches of Comhaltas all over Ireland, and in 15 countries on four continents. As Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, said, “Take Comhaltas out of the equation, turn back the clock and contemplate Ireland without Comhaltas and the sheer scale of what we owe you is revealed.”
To access the Archive, visit