Belfast TradFest (Saturday 23 July – Sunday 30 July) is set to mark its fifth edition milestone with an ambitious programme of music. The pinnacle of world-class traditional music concerts, energetic pub sessions, and Ireland’s fastest growing summer school of traditional music, will take place across Belfast UNESCO City of Music this July – and everyone is welcome.
Funded by Belfast City Council, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Tourism NI and in partnership with Ulster University, Belfast TradFest is now internationally recognised as a world-class event. Since 2017 it has grown to over 200 events across multiple stages and venues, attracting an annual audience of over 15,000 from all over the world. It acknowledges NI’s cultural diversity and brings people together in a shared celebration of traditional music from these islands.
The Belfast TradFest Summer School of Traditional Music is the hub around which the festival is built. Musicians of all ages come to Belfast to learn from the very best in the business in a five-day intensive programme of summer school events.
This year’s line-up of tutors features no less than eight TG4 Gradam Ceoil Award recipients. Amongst the list of world-class talent will be Tyrone’s Ryan Molloy, acclaimed composer and musician Neil Martin, Co. Kerry’s Niamh Ní Charra, banjo maestro Angelina Carberry, Sean Nós dancing dynamo Edwina Guckian and Belfast’s very own set dancing master Ronán Eastwood.
The ambitious festival programme includes:
- Trans-Atlantic supergroup and RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards Group of the year The Olllam, for what will be their biggest Irish show to date, in the recently refurbished Mandela Hall. Featuring Belfast’s very own John McSherry an Uilleann piping legend who has founded groups such as Lúnasa, At First Light and Ulaid, the band also features Vulfpeck’s Bass dynamo Joe Dart and US producer to the stars Tyler Duncan.
- International festival favourites Four Men and a Dog will play Belfast TradFest for the first time, as they celebrate almost 35 years on the road, having emerged in 1990 during the Belfast Folk Festival.
- Former Dé Dannan accordion wizard Máirtín Ó’Connor will bring his acclaimed band back to Belfast for what promises to be an eye watering display of virtuosity in the Empire Music Hall, featuring Tyrone fiddle legend Cathal Hayden and Sligo’s chanteur extraordinaire Seamie O’Dowd.
- At the Empire Music Hall, appearing for their debut performance at the festival are four part female vocal harmony group Landless who feature Belfast’s own Meabh Meir. Also, legendary triumvirate of musical magpies Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle and John McCusker. These masters of the tradition have shared stages and recording studios with everyone from Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler to Paul Weller, Joan Baez and Linda Thompson.
- Scottish singing sensation Kathleen MacInnes brings highly acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass to Belfast to share the bill with award winning Highlands Indie Folk band Elephant Sessions, who will excite revellers to dance the night away and surely raise the roof, at the festival’s closing concert in Mandela Hall.
- In partnership with Belfast Pride, The Black Box will host one of the festival’s annual highlights The Pride Céilí. This spectacle of dance, colour, excitement, fun and inclusivity has to be seen to be believed. It’s one of four céilís hosted by world renowned Belfast Céilí dance caller Ronán Eastwood during the festival.
- At Belfast’s famed music and beer house The John Hewitt, much loved local trio Music in the Glen, featuring astounding flautist Brendan Mulholland, will share the bill with exciting young singer and composer Róis from Fermanagh, currently making her own indelible mark on the music scene.
- In association with An Droichead, “Na Máistrí / Masters Of Traditional Music” will feature the cream of traditional music talent, presented by Neil Martin.
- Front woman of Cherish the Ladies and American Irish legend of traditional music Joanie Madden will bring her vivacious brand of musicianship to local audiences at the Strand Arts Centre as part of ‘With Fife & Drum’ concert in partnership with Eastside Arts Festival. This concert celebrates Scottish and Irish traditions and will also feature Belfast’s own Desi Wilkinson, the world’s greatest tin whistle player, Mary Bergin, Field Marshall Montgomery’s Scott Wallace, six-time world pipe band championship winner Gareth McLees and Scottish Smallpipe legend Fin Moore.
- Legendary Belfast virtuoso fiddler Seán Maguire will once again be celebrated in the Duncairn Arts Centre with an annual fiddle concert in association with the Seán Maguire Music Society. This promises to be a spectacle of virtuoso fiddling by the likes of Bríd Harper, fresh from recording with Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, Scotland’s John McCusker, Siobhán Peoples of the famous Donegal fiddling dynasty, current TG4 Gradam Ceoil Ceoltóir Óg na Bliana Méabh Smyth from Armagh, and many more. Also on the bill are legendary County Antrim singer Len Graham and tenor banjo player Gerry ‘Banjo O’Connor.
Also look out for:
- A special show entitled “Ceol na nGael / Wild music of the Gael” showcasing some of today’s most exciting traditional music performers in Áras Mhic Reachtain. Hosted by current RTÉ Radio 1 Folk singer of the year Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, the concert will also feature Joan Baez’s musical director and founder member of Solas John Doyle, alongside RTÉ Radio 1 Emerging Folk Artists of the year Cathal Ó Curráin, outstanding exponent of the Co. Clare concertina style Lorraine Ní Bhriain and master Uilleann piper David Power from Waterford.
- The Bunting Collection, housed in Queen’s University Belfast, is perhaps the most significant existing collection of ancient Irish airs, collected at the Belfast Harpers’ Festival on Donegall Street in 1792 by St Anne’s Cathedral organist Edward Bunting. This year’s annual Belfast TradFest Harp festival concert will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Edward Bunting’s birthday, with a very special event in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, featuring Mayo harping legend Laoise Kelly, Monaghan Uilleann piper Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn and Sligo accordion wizard Daithí Gormley, amongst others.
- McConnell’s Irish Whisky session trail can also be enjoyed (Sunday 23 – Sunday 30 July) – taking in some of Belfast’s most iconic traditional city centre pubs. All sessions are free admission and last two hours.
Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Tina Black said:
“Belfast TradFest is of a jaw-droppingly high standard. For one week each July, it brings our beautiful city alive with traditional music and dance and celebrates our undeniable talent in these artforms. Belfast City Council is so proud to support this festival programme. Belfast TradFest not only makes traditional music and dance accessible to new audiences, it nurtures and inspires new and upcoming talent, attracts international visitors and it animates our spaces in a really joyous, authentic way. It’s the true embodiment of our status as a UNESCO City of Music. I wish everyone involved the very best of luck.”
Dónal O’Connor, Belfast TradFest Artistic Director, commented:
“Our fifth edition is a hugely significant occasion for Belfast TradFest, especially considering the pandemic years and the challenges posed by recent cuts to arts funding. We will, of course, be paying homage to the musicians, bands and artists who have contributed, supported and inspired the festival over the years, but importantly this is also a moment to look to the future. Belfast TradFest is showcasing some of the best music these islands have to offer. Established and emerging musicians come here to create and perform and audiences are attracted to enjoy the cultural exponents of our city at first hand. Sharing our music and our arts is a vital part of our human existence, connecting us and enriching lives, and we cherish that. We are so excited to bring this full programme of events to the people of Belfast and to invite many new visitors to our city from all over the world.”
For the full 2023 programme, visit www.belfasttraditionalmusic.com