With the setting up of the festival, the workshop element was regarded as a core component. From 2007 to 2020 the Féile has provided 131 separate music, singing, language and dancing workshops. These classes have been subsidised to keep the fees low so that as many students as possible can access this high quality tuition. We have also promoted adult learning in the Féile workshops and this led directly to a weekly adult learner’s music class and which has spawned an adult learners’ slow session group called ‘Reel Slow’.
In addition to the master classes, the Féile Patrick Byrne features a ‘fun trad’ workshop. This was piloted successfully in 2014 and is specifically aimed at ‘under 12s’ who might not be technically proficient in traditional music. Participants learn simple tunes which can be played in counterpoint. This facilitates light hearted battles of the bands or ‘trad-offs’ as well as other fun musical games as part of the workshops. The hope is to foster a sense of enjoyment in music making among young learners.
Beginning in 2015, we have highlighted the repertoire and style of County Monaghan and the wider Oriel region, i.e. South Armagh, North Louth, East Cavan and North East Meath. Seán Mc Elwain was asked to provide performances and classes in Monaghan music of the late 19th and early 20th century. From this collaboration we completed the production of an archival video of Seán’s lecture and recital on the Monaghan Piping Tradition.
We have also incorporated this music into our weekly classes and in the music we have taught to music students from our twinned of Carhaix in Brittany, France. It also featured in the 1916 centenary CD we produced and in performances for the South Monaghan Arts Network.
Gerry O’Connor was commissioned to take on this local repertoire performance and teaching role at the 2017 Féile Patrick Byrne. His focus has been on the Luke Donnellan collection of music from this area. Gerry’s involvement since 2017 has built on Seán’s work and broadened the appreciation and knowledge of the regional repertoire among local musicians.
The Féile Patrick Byrne has been central in the revival of sean nós dancing in the locality. Once common in the area where it was sometimes known as the Mazolka, sean nós or old style solo dancing died out in Co. Monaghan in the late 1950’s. By holding sean nós dance workshops we were able to develop sufficient interest to organise a weekly class for both adults and young people.
This is now well established and dancers from the class have now competed at the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil and at the Oireachtas. Another achievement has been the revival of an old sean nós step peculiar to the county, the ‘Monaghan Jump’. This is now a core part of the curriculum of the weekly sean nós dancing classes.