Gaelacadamh in Conamara

On Thursday evening I attended the annual concert of Gaelacadamh in Conamara. When I mentioned, in the latest editorial, organisations that have overtaken Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in terms of dynamism I was thinking of music schools such as this.

Gaelacadamh, founded in 1978, now teaches several hundred children traditional music and dance at centres throughout Conamara, and all through Irish. Connemara has always been noticeably strong in sean-nós singing, accordion playing and dancing, but instrumental music sessions have always seemed relatively rare, apart from in An Spidéal, which has for all sorts of reasons become an exception – being at a crossroads between the Galway and Moycullen roads, and the fact of a welcoming pub, Tí­ Hughes.

However, there is surely a massive surge in instrumental playing coming in the next decade – particularly fiddle – if even a tenth of these young Gaelacadamh musicians stay with it. The standard of teacher now locally available is one key to its success – Éilis Lennon, Mary Bergin, Noel Hill, Tommy Keane, Liz Kane and many others.

But what is particularly noticeable is is the ratio of children learning to the actual population. Every third child seems to be learning some sort of music or dance. It can be the case when a child is learning music –  or at least it was when I was learning many years ago in Bray – that he or she is the only person in their class doing so, or perhaps one of three or four in an entire school.

The fact that the children in Gaelacadamh see several other children from their class and their school learning at the same time naturally increases the possibility of them sticking at it. Keeping a child’s interest in lessons and practice long enough for it to somehow ‘click’ in the child’s imagination is, as every musician knows, the first big milestone.

The annual concert marks the end of lessons for the year and the summer break. Unfortunately, the next day, my son misunderstood when I said fiddle was finished, and figured he’d never have to practice or play again. The summer was stretched out in front of him as an endless run of soccer and beach. When I landed the truth on him he took it well enough. Somewhere in his mind was the thought, I’m sure, that he won’t be the only one having to do it.

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