The perfect encore to the fifth annual Belfast TradFest would be bringing the All-Ireland Fleá to the city in 2026.
That's the view of TradFest founder Dónal O'Connor who was speaking yesterday on the Titanic slipway where an outdoors céilí was in full swing.
“The Fleá attracts a million people and is not just Ireland's biggest festival but is also a global event," he said (in Irish). "The biggest event ever previously held in Belfast was the Tall Ships which was brought out 500,000 people but the Fleá would be a serious step up."
@mcgoldrickflute @johnmccusker and John Doyle lifting the roof off @belfastEmpire last night in sold out @BelfastTradF concert, with our finest compare @LynetteFay 🎶🎶👌#belfast #tradfest pic.twitter.com/2PmztkLjXD— Maranna Sweeney (@MarannaMcC) July 28, 2023
Belfast City Council has been co-ordinating the city's bid for the All-Ireland Fleá which takes place next month in Mullingar in the midlands before moving to Wexford for 2024 and 2025.
And if the city is successful in its audacious bid to bring the All-Ireland Fleá to Belfast for the first time, Dónal has his sights set on a Guinness Book of Records entry. "We plan to put 10,000 people here on the slipways, in the shadow of Titanic Belfast, to take part in the biggest céilí ever. Cork holds the record for hosting an 8,000-dancer-strong Siege of Ennis held at different venues across the city. But we could go one step further by not only beating Cork in terms of numbers but having everyone here on the very spot where the Titanic was built."
You never know who will pop out of their office in Ulster University to join in on the fun at TradFest. pic.twitter.com/LIlrUN23es— Belfast TradFest (@BelfastTradF) July 27, 2023
Despite a squeeze on funding, the 2023 TradFest has featured a dizzying number of events across the city including 62 McConnell's Whisky séisiúin, a music school for 545 learners at Ulster University, 14 sold-out concerts and a smorgasbord of talks and discussions featuring some of Ireland's greatest musicians. Attendees came from as far away as Japan and Australia to hear the greats of the trad scene or practice their musical skills with accomplished teachers.
"We were hit by a double funding blow when Tourism NI pulled all their funding and then the Arts Council had its budget slashed," explains Dónal. "Sadly, the Arts Council receives less funding today than it did 25 years ago. My plea to the government would be to provide adequate funding to the Arts Council so that it can fund our programme and our ambition for Belfast. We rely on 300 fantastic volunteers to put on our entire programme but to really grow we need to have a bigger budget."
Providing more funding for TradFest would elevate Belfast's reputation globally, says O'Connor. "We founded this festival to spotlight the special soundscape of Belfast, forged form the flute and the fife, from the bodhrán and the Lambeg. Nowhere else can match the unique traditional music offering of Belfast and our mission is to share our riches with the world.
Some amazing craic in @kellyscellars tonight for the Belfast Tradfest which is running from 23rd to 30th July. Check them out. The absolute talent that is on offer is incredible. I was blown away tonight. pic.twitter.com/m3wmgwRodV— Oliver McGovern (@Olliemac) July 27, 2023
The Titanic Slipway céilí was sponsored by Belfast Maritime Trust.