A Brief History of
The Headford-Kilcoona Comhaltas Branch

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The Headford branch of CCÉ was formed in Autumn 1969. The late Colm O’Callaghan from Tuam and Tom Keane from Carragh were eager to start a branch in Headford. I had just won the All-Ireland Ladies Irish Singing a few months earlier and so I also was interested in being involved. Tom Keane was Chairman, I was Secretary, Fintan O’Malley Treasurer and other members included Paddy Costello, along with the late Madeleine Collins, Matt Keane, Brian Dunleavy & Colm O’Callaghan.

Then the County Board asked us to host the 1970 County Fleadh. This was a huge undertaking for such a new branch.

It took place on the 27th & 28th June. Decades later the event itself and the lead up to it have become a sort of hazy memory! We held the competitions in the local schools, the Angler’s Rest Hotel and The Courthouse at the opposite end of the town – that was a long run for some competitors under time pressure! It was a very successful Fleadh and realised a large profit of £114-11-6, that’s 11 shillings and 6 pence for those who are too young to remember! At that time a 2 inch double column ad in the newspaper cost a mere £2, Ballroom floor wax for the Céilí was 6 shillings and Insurance was £8.

Over the next few years, we had many additional active members join the branch; among them were Matt Cunningham, Brid Toher, Rita Harkin, Mary Bohan, Joan Timlin, Ann Mullins, Martin Murphy, Betty Burke, the late Rita & Sarah Keane, Teresa Keville, Frank Collins, Kevin Hayes, Micheál Walsh and many more. We went on to host another County Fleadh in 1978 & the Connacht Fleadh in 1980; thankfully these were also very successful. All the pubs, there were 14 or 15 at the time, held sessions and we also had lots of street entertainment which was helped by brilliant weather.

Our branch has been very active over the years. In the 1980s we entered the Pléaracha Competition and on one occasion were All-Ireland Runners-up in Ennis. This was thanks to the talent and hard work of all the members listed above along with a young Seán Keane and our ½ set the late Winnie & Jimmy Moran and Maureen & Richard Joyce. We have also had numerous County, Provincial & All-Ireland champions and medal holders over the years. In 1983, our Kilcoona Set Dancers brought home the All- Ireland title dancing the Glencorrib Set in Clones! A highlight in the memories of the branch.

For the past 35 years we have Matt Cunningham teaching in Headford and the surrounding areas. Music is a huge part of Headford life and Irish music has gone from strength to strength over the years. A testament to this is the huge number of families involved. Seeing the children and grandchildren of past members keeping the tradition alive makes the hard work behind the scenes worthwhile. We also have the ongoing Thursday night seisiún for the children run by Matt and his daughter Ita in Kilcoona Social Centre and from that we stage a charity concert every March. It is a lovely family evening and the young musicians are so proud when they help raise money for our chosen charities. We also have an end-of-year Feis in June to showcase the best of the tunes learned throughout the year!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those people and the many, many more unsung heroes who have kept our branch alive since 1969. Yes, you need music, song and dance but no branch is successful without a hard working Committee.

On this note I personally want to thank our present Committee. They are a most dedicated and hard working group of happy, helpful people. It is such a pleasure working with them. Thank you!

Tá súil agam gur bhain sibh taitneamh as an giota staire seo. Bainigí sult as an bhFleadh agus go maire ceol i bhfad.

Mairéad Uí Fhlanagáin

Take a Moment to
Check out some Images and Documents from the Fleadhanna of the 1970’s in Headford

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      • The Friary of Ross Margie McNamara


        Ross Errilly is situated in the parish of Killursa, about 1.5km north-west of Headford. It was a Franciscan friary and was founded in 1351 AD. A local legend tells that the friary’s foundation came about because of the Great Plague which swept across Europe in the middle of the 14th century. In 1348 the Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy McHugh, himself a Franciscan, saw a vision in which he was told that the plague would stop if he built a monastery for the “Poor Friars”. He was directed to go to Cordarra, near Headford, where he would receive a sign as to where he should build it. The following day, on his arrival at Cordarra with two other friars, three swans rose up before them, each with a bunch of flax seed (ros, in Irish) in its bill, and flew westward a little distance before landing close to the bank of the Black River. The Archbishop and the two friars hurried to the spot to find that the swans had disappeared but that there were three bunches of flax growing and in full blossom although it was only the month of February. They took this to be the sign which had been promised. The foundation of the monastery was marked out and the building took three years to complete. In Irish it is sometimes called Ros Thrí Eala – the flax seed of the three swans.

        It is a matter of pride that the famed Monastery of Donegal, home of the Four Masters, was colonised from Ross in 1494 at the repeated request of Nuala, wife of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, chieftain of Tír Chonaill.

        In the centuries which followed there were many additions made to the building. In 1498 it was enlarged and beautified by the charitable generosity of McWilliam Gaynard of nearby Cargin Castle. There were many years of peaceful work at the friary until 1538 and the Suppression of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. The friars were scattered, many of them slain and the friary had a chequered history after this. In 1596 it housed a large garrison of English soldiers. In 1656 the soldiers of Cromwell arrived to destroy the monastery. Fortunately, the friars had been warned of the raid and had escaped before the army arrived. Furious at finding it deserted the soldiers ransacked the entire place. Suspecting that treasures might have been hidden in tombs they broke them open and dragged out coffins, emptying them and leaving the remains of the dead piled up in a heap. They overturned the altars, smashed the cross and sacred images and left the friary a ruin.

        Several times over the years the friars fled only to return again. However, they left for the last time in 1753, never to return. They resided for a time at Friars’ Island in the Black River and later at Kilroe on the Mayo side of the river. They still celebrated Sunday masses in Ross until 1804 when the roof beams began to give way. With the passing years the plasterwork and timbers of the unoccupied friary had greatly decayed and many parts of the roof had fallen in. In 1866 Oliver J. Burke had the friary somewhat cleared up – lofts were put up in the tower, windows were unpacked, some doors were closed up and others opened, cattle were excluded completely, breaches were filled up, broken altars and arches were repaired, floors were cleared of nettles, thistles and rubbish and the walks were made smooth and passable.

        Today Ross Errilly stands in ruin, solitary and desolate, beside the Black River, still showing some of the glory it had for four hundred years.   

        Is cúis áthais dom comhghairdeachas a dhéanamh le Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Áth Cinn, ar an ócáid speisialta seo. Is onóir mhór dár mbaile mór í Fleadh Chontae na Gaillimhe 2019 a léiriú anseo. Go n-éirí an t-ádh le gach éinne.     

        Mairéad Bean Mhic Conmara.