History of Milltown-Listry CCÉ

by Owen O’Shea

There has always been a strong and vibrant traditional music culture in the mid-Kerry area. Milltown and its hinterland have produced its fair share of wonderful musicians, from the Hanafin Brothers of Callinafercy at the beginning of the twentieth century, to Tom O’Connor, who was the All-Ireland Senior Flute Champion in 1999, and many more. It was perhaps no accident then that Milltown-Listry has been home to one of the most active and innovative Comhaltas branches in the county over the years.

They say that some of the best ideas in Ireland emerge over a few pints in a pub late at night, but they can also bubble to the surface in conversation after Sunday Mass. And so it was some time in the autumn of 1996 that a chat on the street in Milltown after Sunday Mass led to the formation of the Milltown-Listry Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. One of its founders was the late Denis Courtney who went on to make such an impression on the branch and on Comhaltas in the county in later years.

The Milltown-Listry Branch had its inaugural meeting on 10 December 1996. Its founding chairman was the late Owen Moloney, a native of Thurles, and a fine musician in his own right, who was cajoled into the position of chairman with the support of his wife, Eileen, also a musician. Owen later described the night when a few Comhaltas members turned up at his door to invite him to become branch chairman – Owen thought it was a lynch mob to send him back to his native Tipperary!

Another Tipperary man, Liam Troy, whose uncle, Paddy Troy, was treasurer of the Munster Council of CCÉ, came on board as treasurer along with his fine singing voice – and spoons! Owen O’Shea was the first secretary and other committee members in those early days included Dan Cronin, Denis Courtney, Bernard Cronin, Thomas O’Sullivan, Ken and Mary O’Neill, Tim and Margaret Wrenn and many more besides.

The branch didn’t sit on its hands for too long and in 1998 was awarded the running of the County Fleadh Cheoil for the first time. Milltown had hosted the Fleadh in 1989 and 1993 but under the Listry CCÉ umbrella but this was the first Fleadh with a full parish spread. The 1998 Fleadh was a huge success, the centrepiece of which was an open-air performance by Stockton’s Wing, who return to Milltown this weekend almost twenty years to the day.

Three more County Fleadhs followed along with the Munster Fleadh Cheoil in 2002 – no small undertaking for a small rural branch. As remains the case, Milltown’s central location in the county along with top-quality venues and centres for competitions and concerts have made it an ideal location for such events.

The branch also ran a local festival, Féile Cnoc an Oileáin, for several years, which was set up in memory of brothers William and Michael Hanafin who left their native Callinafercy in the late 1800s and emigrated to Boston where they became famous musicians.

Always looking to innovate and try new things, in 2006, the branch took on its most ambitious project to date – the World Bodhrán Championships, an international festival which attracted and united bodhrán players from all over the globe. The event captured the imagination and during its five-year run staged performances by the biggest names in Irish music, including The Chieftains, Beoga, Donal Lunny, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Rónán Ó Snodaigh, Goitse, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, Mel Mercier and many more. Some of the biggest names in bodhrán playing and Irish music generally developed their careers in Milltown, like the first ever junior champion, Colm Phelan, who now plays with Goitse, and Aimee Farrell-Courtney, who was champion in 2010.

While running high-profile festivals and events over the years, Milltown-Listry CCÉ never lost sight of one of the main objectives of the organisation – the teaching and nurturing of Irish music in our young people. Over the years, the branch has hosted music, singing and dancing classes to ensure our musical heritage continues to have a voice in the future. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.

In recent years, the rapid growth in the population in Milltown has been reflected in new faces our committee and it always to good to see new members bringing new ideas and energy to any committee.

Twenty years after it hosted its first Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí, the Milltown-Listry branch of Comhaltas continues to celebrate and nurture our traditional music and culture. It acknowledges the ongoing support – financial and otherwise – of the local community and local businesses. 

The future looks bright for Milltown-Listry CCÉ. Go n-eirí an bothar linn!