The Fleadh Cheoil (Festival of Music) is an Irish music competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ) or more commonly known as "Comhaltas" (pron: coal-tis).
There are various stages to the competition. In Ireland there are county and provincial competitions leading to the All-Ireland Fleadh. In Britain there are regional then national stages of qualification for the All-Ireland. North America has two regional qualifying Fleadh Cheoil. The Mid Atlantic Fleadh covers the US eastern seaboard, eastern Canada and the Maritimes. The Midwest Fleadh covers the rest of North America from Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta and Detroit to San Francisco.
Competitions are divided into the following age categories: under 12, 12-15, 15-18, and over 18 (senior).
The first national festival of Irish traditional music was held in Mullingar in 1951. At its inaugural meeting in September 1951, CCÉ came up with the title of Fleadh Cheoil, aiming to make this a great national festival of traditional music. The fleadh has been held in many different venues.
In the years that followed, the number of would-be competitors grew so large that qualifying stages had to be arranged at county and provincial level. Since then, Fleadh Nua (the new fleadh), Fleadh na Breataine (an All-Britain fleadh) and regional fleadhanna in Britain, and two major fleadhanna in the USA have also become annual CCÉ events.
From its beginning, the goal of the Fleadh Cheoil was to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competition. The Fleadh developed as a mainly competitive event, but it also included many concerts, céilíthe, parades, and sessions.
Today, nearly 50 years on, fleadhanna at each level provide a platform and a meeting place for the thousands of musicians (around 20,000 performers compete in fleadhanna each year), singers and dancers who carry on the tradition.
The 2008 festival was held in Tullamore, County Offaly and attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000 people making it Ireland's largest festival, music or otherwise.
According to CCÉ's official rules for 2005:
Solo competitions shall be held for the following instruments: fiddle; two-row accordion; concert flute; whistle; piano accordion; concertina; uilleann pipes; harp; mouth organ; banjo; mandolin - excluding banjo-mandolin; piano; old-style melodeon; bodhrán; war pipes; miscellaneous such as three and five row button accordion, piccolo, (chromatic) harmonica and other stringed instruments; céilí band drums; accompaniment - confined to piano, harp, guitar and bouzouki-type instruments; solo traditional singing in Irish and English; whistling; lilting; newly composed ballads and amhráin nua-cheaptha (newly composed songs in Irish).
Solo competitions for slow airs shall be held in all age groups for the following instruments: (a) fiddle; (b) concert flute; (c) whistle; (d) uilleann pipes.
There are also competitions for the following ensembles: duet, trio, ceilí band, instrumental group (grupaí cheoil), accordion band, pipe band, and miscellaneous ensemble.
The full rule set, which may change from year to year, is available from CCÉ web site in the Press Room section. Comhaltas has a constitution or "Bunreacht" in the Irish language.