The Formation of Glens of Antrim CCE

by Kieran Dempsey

The Late Dan Laverty was well known for his love of traditional music. Up until his death, he had attended over 40 All Ireland Fleadhs. I had many a conversion with Dan about music, usually over a pint or maybe two! There was very little music in the area at that time, Dan used to say Cushendall would be a great place for a County Fleadh.

In the early 80’s, I joined the Ballycastle branch of Comhaltas. I remember attending a County meeting and they were looking for a venue to host the Co Fleadh, I suggested Cushendall only to be told that it could not be held there because there was no Comhaltas branch in the area. After some encouragement from the County Secretary Jennie McGrath, I talked to a few friends about forming a branch in Cushendall so in February 1986, a meeting was held in the late Mick Quinn’s front room, Mick became chairman of the first Glens branch of Comhaltas. Others present were Pat Clerkin, Alex Thompson and Paddy Burns (all deceased)  plus Kathleen Quinn, Charlie Quinn, Jimmy Mc Curry, Alex Emerson, myself and a few County Board officers.

Cushendall hosted two successful county Fleadhs in the first 2 years of their formation, a big achievement which laid the foundation for many success stories over the coming years. In 2000 the Branch changed its name to ‘Glens of Antrim’ Branch to reflect our growing membership coming from a wider area.

Over the years, there was an emphasis on community involvement rather than competition. Musical groups took part in numerous such as in 1999 when we had a group of young musicians and adult dancers performing at a Celtic festival in Emilia Romagna in Italy. A very successful video called ‘Glimpse of the Glens’, produced in 2000, not only provides entertainment but is an important archive on 100 years of history of music in the area.

Members have performed at festivals in Islay, Ghia and Jura, and have had a major input to the annual  ‘Heart of the  Glens Festival’. Members play at the Rathlin festival and have performed in Donegal, Armagh, and Waterford. In 2019 we took part in a St Patrick’s Day concert in Benalmádena in southern Spain.

The Branch has also taken part in many fund raising events including ‘Trad for Trocaire’. After the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, the branch raised almost £3000 which was used to purchase two fishing boats, the ‘Glens Man’ and the ‘Glens Girl’ which operate out of a coastal village in Sri Lanka!  It is an important message to instil in our young musicians that we use our talents to help others.

The Branch continues to grow, and remains very active. The ongoing struggle with Coronavirus has stopped sessions taking place, but the branch, like other organisations, has been active trying to find ways to keep going. A video called ‘Clanna Ag Teacht Le Cheile’ was produced showing how music is promoted through families. It has received very good reviews.

Dan Laverty, looking down from above, would be ‘purring’.

Kieran Dempsey