Feis Ceoil

Feis Ceoil
Photo: feisceoil.ie
Feis Ceoil (Festival of Music) is an Irish music organization known for holding an annual classical music festival of the same name. The festival consists of concerts and competitions and aims to promote the advancement of the musical arts in Ireland.

Feis Ceoil was first organized in 1897 by organist, composer, arranger and music educator Dr. Annie Patterson and playwright and cultural activist Edward Martyn. Its main purpose was to stimulate musical studies in Ireland, to encourage local composers and performers, and to facilitate the revival of the Gaelic (Irish) language and culture. The festival featured competitions for composition and performance.

The inaugural edition of Feis Ceoil took place in Dublin. It was such a success that the Feis Ceoil Association was created to run the festival annually. It was decided to rotate the event between the cities of Dublin, Cork and Belfast. Feis Ceoil went to Belfast twice before making Dublin its permanent base. The festival has been held every year ever since. It was only canceled once during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth-disease in 2001. In 1916, the festival was postponed due to the Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, and took place in July instead of March.

Over the years, Feis Ceoil has grown to become one of the largest cultural events in Ireland. Its first edition featured 32 competitions (12 for composition, 6 for vocal ensemble, 14 for solo performance). In 2016, there were 185 competitions (7 for composition, 1 for conduction, and the rest for choirs, orchestras, ensembles and solo performance). Around 5,000 young singers and musicians come to Dublin every year to participate in competitions and showcase their talent to a wide audience of classical music connoisseurs.

According to the organizers, almost every Irish musician has performed at the festival at some point. For many of them, Feis Ceoil became their first platform. Notable past participants include celebrated tenor John McCormack, tenor Finbar Wright, violinist Cora Venus Lunny, broadcaster Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin (as a singer), and even renowned writer James Joyce (also as a singer).

There’s even a legend that John McCormack (who, by the way, encouraged James Joyce to participate) beat the writer in the festival’s Tenor Competition. Sadly, there is no documentary evidence of this. However, Joyce did participate in the 1904 Tenor Competition and won the Bronze Medal. It is said that he left the stage because he disagreed with the requirement that contenders had to some sight reading.

Feis Ceoil

Photo: Clare Keogh




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