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The History Of Sligo Town Branch Comhaltas

The Town of Sligo branch of Comhaltas was established originally in 1958. The branch held regular sessions in Old Kelly’s Hotel in Bridge Street, and among the regular attenders were; Jimmy Higgins, Joe O’Callaghan. Noel Strange and Manus O Donnell would drive up from Longford while John Joe Gordon would travel down from Kiltyclogher in Co. Leitrim. It is of interest to note that Comhairle Connachta was only established in 1960.

Activities waned in the late 1960’s but the branch was restablished in February 1975. Among those instrumental in the re-formation were Carmel Gunning, Joe O Dowd, Martin Enright, Declan Bree, Carmel Mc Manus, Din Mannion, Catherine McConville, Paul Jennings, Jim Meehan, Anton O'Hanlon, Joyce Enright and others.The branch hosted a weekly session every Tuesday night in the Sligo United Trades Club until about 1990. The folk group Pumpkinhead arrived from the USA around this time and together with such famous musicians as; Thom Moore, Rick Epping, Andy Irvine, along with well known local musicians Joe O Dowd, Tommy Collis, Josie McDermott, Verona Ryan, Carmel Gunning, Maurice Lennon, Loretta Reid and Brian Taheny, the sessions became legendary. Another great character who performed weekly was piper Larry O Dowd who enthralled audiences with his renditions of marches and set dances on the Irish War Pipes.

In the 1980’s such was the success and popularity of the branch that a second weekly session was organised in The Strand House, in nearby Strandhill. By 1986 the branch was so strong that it hosted Fleadh Cheoil Connacht in Sligo town. Sadly in August 1987 founder member Joe O Dowd died suddenly.

Shortly after his death a meeting was held to discuss the provision of a memorial to his memory. After several suggestions Vince Hearns proposed that the greatest memorial that could be provided would be to bring Fleadh Cheoil na h-Éireann to Sligo town.

As part of the overall plan to gain the necessary organisational experience, the branch hosted Fleadh na nGael and used it as a vehicle to revive the Fiddler of Dooney Competition, which was first run in 1965. This was accomplished with great success in 1988. The title in 1988, was won by the Donegal fiddle player Brid Harper. The branch eventually hosted three innovative and absolutely memorable All Ireland Fleadhs in 1989,1990 and 1991. Activities of the branch declined in the following decade with only occasional sessions in Sligo Town. The branch organised the 2005 and the 2006 county Sligo County Fleadheanna in Strandhill, both of which were a great success.