Derry Eyes the International Stage

After the heady heights of the Fleadh, Cara Dillon believes Cultúrlann's new eight-day Irish music festival will cement the city's place on the map

Pictured: Fiddlers, Odhrán Ó Maoláin, Josie Nugent and Eadaoin Carlin

A feast of traditional and folk music awaits as the Maiden City welcomes the week-long Derry International Irish Music Festival, centred around An Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and surrounding venues between January 31 and February 7.

This is a brand new event for Derry which, along with the Fleadh Cheoil in 2013, further promotes the city as a major venue for international events. The very best in traditional and contemporary Irish music including an all-star line-up of the biggest names in folk, country and Americana will be on show with internationally renowned musicians like Scottish fiddler Aly Bain, American resonator guitarist Jerry Douglas and Dungiven’s own esteemed songstress Cara Dillon, as well as many of the events free like workshops, photographic exhibitions and much more.

Principally funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Bank of Ireland with support from An Droichead and Ulster University, the programme showcases a vast array of performers, from young prodigies to international torch-bearers – most notably the bill-topping Transatlantic Sessions, which docks at the Millennium Forum on February 5.

Based on the award-winning BBC/RTE series, the annual package tour – in its first Irish date in six years – features a rotating line-up of special guests anchored around fiddle maestro Aly Bain and dobro legend Jerry Douglas.

The gig will see Bain and Douglas play a number of their own songs before being joined by an impressive backing ensemble, including singer Karen Matheson, LA-based duo the Milk Carton Kids, Cara Dillon and others including Phil Cunningham, John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, John McCusker, Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh for an indulgent and eclectic get-together.


Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain

Noting the Milk Carton Kids in particular as 'one to look out for', festival patron Dillon shares enthusiasm for the pedigree of acts right across the festival. 'I’m delighted to be involved in this event, and what makes it so exciting is the outstanding line-up of traditional musicians taking part from Ireland, America, Scotland, and elsewhere,' she says.

'There's loads going on. Musicians like All Ireland fiddle champion Niall Murphy from Newry, Flook guitarist Ed Boyd, amazing multi-instrumentalist Luke Daniels (a regular in Cara’s band), who has worked on soundtracks for Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit, the list goes on'.

There will be something for everyone as bands like Flook take to the stage at the Glassworks on Saturday, February 6, while earlier that day their renowned flautist Brian Finnegan takes an advanced flute workshop at An tAcadamh Ceoil.

Those with a taste for quality cuisine as well as music should drop into An Croí on February 4 for Food and Folklore, where award-winning chef Emmett McCourt will present a taster menu of Irish dishes to a backdrop of folk songs and performances by esteemed folk singers like Mary Dillon and Kathleen Mac Innes among others.

There is a particular emphasis on getting young people involved in music sessions and opportunities galore for amateur musicians and trad wannabes to join in the multitude of available workshops and quality sessions at all levels of abilities dotted around the city. Across vocals, bodhrán, harp, tin whistle, traditional and Breton dancing, all will be catered for whether young or old, from beginners to advanced.

Or why not get along to the 'come and try' event at An tAcadamh Ceoil on February 6, which offers people the chance to have a go at a range of instruments, maybe a few notes on the pipes, or pluck a few strings on the harp.


The Fleadh Cheoil left a historic mark on Derry in 2013 (Image by Lorcan Doherty)

A particular wealth of workshops is on offer for fiddlers too, in addition to the climactic 100 Fiddles at 55° North concert on February 7, in which an orchestra of Irish and Scottish youth groups and special guests herald the opening of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin’s new traditional music academy with an original opus by Belfast composer Neil Martin. Those wanting to get a taste for the Gaelic tongue can sign up for intensive language courses in Irish and Scots Gaelic

Dillon herself loves the melodies in the language and is no stranger to Irish, having sung ‘'Mo Ghile Mear' at the Ryder Cup opening ceremony in 2006 at the K Club. With the success of recent events like the Fleadh in 2013 and last year's landmark Halloween celebrations she believes Derry to be 'firmly on the map now' and has little doubt over whether the city has the infrastructure to handle large scale events like this.

'Derry can cope with crowds,' she says. 'It’s a wonderful place, with about 30,000 visiting the city at Halloween and the Fleadh with music and other acts centered around Guildhall Square and people out and about on the streets and in restaurants and bars.

'At the All Ireland Fleadh a couple of years ago, everybody joined in from both sides, and with the City of Culture, the city is gaining a positive reputation as a centre for international music.'

Indeed, the Fleadh was such a success that there are movements afoot to bring it back to Derry. But with what's in store from January 31 - February 7, it may not be such a pressing matter. In fact, for one week the city might forget it was ever there.

For further information on the Derry International Irish Music Festival and ticket booking visit