Achill International Harp Festival 25th-28th October 2019 – A truly international Affair

Posted in Connect on October 22, 2019.

Achill and its people have connections the world over, but perhaps the least expected was the one created by the Achill International Harp Festival between Ireland and South America.

When the festival began in 2016 the aim was to shine a light on Ireland’s national emblem. Top Irish harpers were invited to perform in Achill. However, it was also important to the committee to position the music of the Irish harp in the context of world music. South America boasts some of the most exciting harpers and harp music in the world and so, the small committee of the Achill International Harp Festival had to make the impossible happen and get these bands to Achill Island! Many of these musicians had never travelled to Ireland before much less to a tiny island off the West Coast.

Over the last three years AIHF audiences and students have had the privilege to hear and learn music from Ismael Ledesma, Paraguay and Diego Laverde Rojas, Colombia. Last year, Eduard Jimenez came with his band ‘Compasses’ from Venezuela and captured the hearts of the Achill people performing in schools, concerts, workshops and the late-night festival club. They joined in the dancing at a wild and lively ceilí finale where they had no shortage of dance partners.

Achill International Harp Festival’s reputation has spread throughout the musical community in South America and this year the committee are delighted to be welcoming a group of young Colombians from the Casa Lúdica de San José del Guaviare.  This visit is part of an Intercultural Exchange Program organised by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Ministry works with young children in the most marginalized communities of Colombia. By providing safe spaces that guarantee the positive development of young people through educational, sports and cultural programs they promote sport and culture as tools to build reconciliation, inclusion, peaceful coexistence and intercultural dialogue among children and adolescents who are often affected by violence. Over the festival weekend these talented young musicians will take part in harp workshops, learn some sean-nós dance steps, meet children from local schools and delight concert audiences by performing music and dance from their own traditional culture.

Topping the bill this year and showing the young ones how it’s done will be the five-piece band Tlen Huicani of Mexico. Their music will take audiences on a Mexican musical journey through time and place. Legendary musicians in their own country, they have been honoured for over forty years of service to the music industry. Their presence alone at the festival has created enormous excitement and visitors will be arriving from all over Europe for the opportunity to hear Tlen Huicani’s explosive sound.

Not to be outdone, legendary Irish, Scottish and Welsh musicians will do Europe proud.  They will be performing nightly in concerts followed by the late-night festival club where anything could happen! Impromptu musical collaborations in the relaxed club setting have proved to be festival highlights for both musicians and audiences alike. Festival days will be filled with recitals, masterclasses, dance and song workshops, talks, walks, exhibitions, archives and much more.

Of course, central to the festival are the harp workshops. Tutors for 2019 are Catriona McKay of Scotland, Ben Creighton Griffiths of Wales and Alberto De La Rosa of Mexico, who will join Irish tutors Kathleen Loughnane, Elaine Hogan, Síle Denvir, Úna Ní Fhlannagáin and Laoise Kelly to teach harp students of all ages and abilities. Other stellar artists of the international folk scene performing at the festival include Liam Ó Maonlaí in his lesser known role as a harper, Ross Ainslie, an exciting young piper from Scotland who will join Irish uilleann piper and composer Diarmaid Moynihan.  Award winning singer Nell Ní Chróinín will join the festival straight from the hugely successful Music Network Tour with supergroup Tara Breen, Josephine Marsh and Laoise Kelly.

The festival organisers are very aware that the harpers often come to Achill with their families and they are keen to provide a wonderful festival experience for them too. Non-harping musical family members can attend mixed instrument workshops. For the non-musical there are guided nature walks  to give a real appreciation of the amazing Achill landscape. Dancers will be kept busy with the dance workshops for all ages and levels given by Liam Scanlon and Edwina Guckian. Nobody will have an excuse to sit out the dancing at the Sunday night ceilí. The more adventurous, might attempt the four day harp making workshop, the only one of its kind in Ireland. Participants will make and take home their very own 26 string Achill harp. The very youngest festival goers and their families will be enchanted by fun filled participatory events with Nico Brown and Martin Brunsden, aka ‘Nico & Martin’. They will have a chance to hear and play musical instruments both strange and familiar, hear songs and stories and quite possibly meet some pirates!!

Achill welcomes music lovers from all over the world to the island this October bank holiday weekend.  With over 35 events there is something to suit all ages and all interests. For further details check out


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