TradFest Temple Bar History

‘Trad Without Frontiers’…

It was a bold premise. To shift perceptions of, perhaps even redefine an art form so profoundly entangled in Irish culture and history might seem a tall order but what it is that makes traditional music traditional is a debate as old as music itself. TradFest Temple Bar has always balanced an innate respect for the canon, the sacred texts/songs of the tradition with a mission to showcase the very best new artists from home and abroad. By inviting some new, different sounds, perhaps even sounds from other places to the party maybe we could push the parameters of what is considered as ‘trad’. If this is the why of TradFest Temple Bar, then the how has always been to anchor the festival in Temple Bar at the tail end of January, a fallow period for performers and a welcome musical respite for audiences from the Winter’s dark. The how and the why haven’t changed since inception in 2005, and this niche, boutique festival has continued to grow up and out with every passing year.

Highlights have been myriad, such as Clannad reforming for the festival in 2011, The Kilfenora Céilí Band performing on top of U2s Clarence Hotel, The Dubliners celebrating their 50th anniversary at Christchurch Cathedral in 2012, just three months before Barney McKenna sadly passed, or Beoga undertaking a naked photo shoot. We’ve had both Shirley Collins and Judy Collins on the same bill and The Undertones introducing the idea of Radical Trad with their own upstart punk sound. Major new contemporary works have been commissioned and key historical moments marked, such as the 1916 Easter Rising, World War I and the Battle of Clontarf.

TradFest Temple Bar attendees dancing at the Smithwick's Sessions concerts as part of TradFest Temple Bar 2020
Billy Bragg performing in St Patrick's Cathedral as part of TradFest Temple Bar 2017

The number of international artists who have the made the January journey has grown over the years, including acts like Steeleye Span, Maria McKee, Billy Bragg, Fairport Convention, Donovan, The Levellers, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Kate Rusby, Eddi Reader, Big Country and Martha Wainwright. They have performed alongside genuine homegrown legends such as Paul Brady, Altan, The Fureys, Martin Hayes, Francis Black, Stockton’s Wing, Dervish and Sharon Shannon.

In addition to international and established acts TradFest Temple Bar has always championed a third way – spotlighting truly original artists such as Afro Celt Soundsystem, Lankum and Loah – acts that plough their own furrows and resist categorisation.

What makes TradFest Temple Bar so special, however, is the sense of continuity and the feeling of community. The event may have grown to accommodate new venues, street parades, craft fairs, open air concerts, children’s activities and art, but the essential spirit has remained undimmed. The recipe hasn’t changed. Audiences return year after year for the same reason as artists do – for the way it makes them feel. For the inclusiveness and the generosity of spirit. For the music that moves us. Maybe it was never about frontiers, but about horizons, and for Tradfest Temple Bar those just keep expanding…