Trad will be the sound of the city as BELFAST TRADFEST adds more events to their festival programme

Belfast TradFest 2024

Belfast TradFest 2024: The World’s finest traditional musicians flock to Belfast for the fastest-growing festival of traditional music in Ireland, featuring over 370 events in the City.

Belfast TradFest, Northern Ireland’s premier traditional music, song, and dance festival, is back for its much-anticipated 6th annual edition. Running from July 21st to 28th, this year’s festival promises an exhilarating week of concerts, masterclasses, sessions and summer school events, bringing together some of the finest talents in the world of traditional arts.

The Dunville’s Irish Whiskey Session Trail features over 70 sessions in seventeen of Belfast’s oldest and best-loved pubs, including Madden’s Bar, The Garrick, Kelly’s Cellars, The Deer’s Head, The John Hewitt, The Sunflower, The Duke of York, and Hatfield House and many more.

All sessions are free admission, run for 2 hours and are ‘Céilí House’ style Listening Sessions. For the first hour of each session the master musicians set the scene for the session then invite the ‘room’ to join in. These sessions offer the aspiring musician an opportunity to listen to and observe music played by musicians of the highest calibre. This style of session reflects the céilí house traditions of the previous century, where aspiring musicians and listeners would gather at the home of a local master musician. The master would ‘hold court’ and oversee an evening of entertainment, which would start with a skilful performance, followed by an invitation to join in.

Belfast TradFest is delighted to partner with Dunville’s Irish Whiskey to produce a bespoke bottling of only 300 bottles of Special Dunville’s 1808 Belfast TradFest 2024 Series Irish Whiskey at 46%, with a customised Belfast TradFest 2024 label and a ‘Bourbon & Virgin American Oak Cask Finish’. Available to purchase online from July 21st at Available to sample at Session Trail bars and to purchase and collect in person at Madden’s Bar, The Garrick Bar & Friend At Hand Irish Whiskey Shop, Hill St. Belfast.

Full Festival Club Line-Up
For those looking to extend their festival experience into the night, the Festival Club at the The John Hewitt Bar & The Deer’s Head offers the perfect setting. Each evening, these vibrant spaces will host the very best of entertainment where festival-goers & artists can mingle and dance the night away. The lively atmosphere of the Festival Club embodies the spirit of camaraderie and spontaneity that is central to traditional music and will feature acts such as; SuperCéilí, Huartan, Piaras Ó Lorcáin, Alan Burke, Poka, Jack Warnock, Úna McGlinchey, Ruairí Howell, Oisín Bradley & Rory McEvoy, Jordan Lively Band, McGarrity – McPherson, Luke Savage band and The Big Mad Horn Céilí Band.

Afternoon Events.
The packed programme also includes 54 afternoon events such as CD launch with Conor Caldwell & Ryan Molloy, Paddy Tunney book launch with the Tunney Family, talks with the likes of Tara Howley, Martin Dowling, Mark Wilson, George McAdam, Joanie Madden, Eilís Lavelle, lectures, seminars, dance workshops with Diane Cannon & Mary McGuiggan, film screening with Zoë Conway, demonstrations & discussions, reed making workshop with Aaron O’Hagan, family Céilís, taster sessions and much, much more.

As part of the opening weekend of Belfast TradFest, everyone is invited to take part in the TITANIC CÉILÍ. A free, one day outdoor family event on Sun 21st July 1-5pm, celebrating traditional music, song, and dance at the Titanic Slipways on Belfast’s Maritime Mile.

Last year’s event attracted 6,000 revellers and the music stage will feature All-Ireland champions The Blackwater Céilí Band, Rosie Stewart, Jack Warnock, Belfast Wren Boys Cleamairí Feirste, Ards CCÉ, Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band and Glengormley School of Traditional Music. The event, in association with Maritime Belfast, includes an outdoor Céilí, with sets such as The Waves of Tory and Siege of Ennis, called by dance master Ronán Eastwood for all ages to experience. The fun doesn’t stop there with Bodhrán circles, children’s maritime art workshops, face painters and a live four-hour traditional music session on the deck of the SS Nomadic also taking place.

The Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music in partnership with Ulster University is the hub around which the festival is built. Young and ‘not so young’ come to Belfast to learn from a line-up of the most sought-after traditional musicians from across the globe, for a 5-day long programme of masterclasses and series of talks, workshops, demonstrations, instrument clinics and film screenings. This year’s line-up of tutors features no less than seven previous TG4 Gradam Ceoil Award recipients and amongst the list of world class talent will be Ceoltóir na Bliaina Derek Hickey, Tyrone’s Ryan Molloy, legends such as Mary Bergin & Mick O’Brien, acclaimed Belfast composer and musician Neil Martin, Co. Kerry’s Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, banjo maestro Cathal Hayden, Tara Breen of The Chieftains, Cross Border Orchestra Bagpiper Grahame Harris, Sean Nós dancing dynamo Mary McGuiggan & Belfast’s very own set dancing master Ronán Eastwood. The Summer School is designed not only to hone technical skills but also to immerse attendees in the cultural and historical context of the music.

Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Ulster University Provost, said, “We are thrilled to be collaborating again this year with Belfast TradFest by hosting their Summer School in Belfast. This partnership exemplifies the university’s commitment to fostering cultural enrichment and educational excellence. Welcoming hundreds of TradFest participants each year into our university spaces reinforces the vital role that music and arts have in connecting and inspiring the wider community. We look forward to a summer filled with the sounds of traditional music and the creative exchange that Belfast TradFest brings to Ulster and to the city.”

A Rich Tradition of Excellence
Having firmly established itself as a cornerstone of the cultural calendar since the first edition in 2017 and drawing enthusiasts from across the globe, the festival’s mission is to celebrate and preserve the rich heritage of traditional Irish & Scottish music, while fostering new talent and creating a vibrant platform for artists to share their craft. It also prides itself on its cross cultural and cross traditions ethos bringing people from all backgrounds and all ages together to celebrate, engage with and enjoy traditional music. This year’s lineup is a testament to this commitment, featuring an array of internationally acclaimed musicians, singers, and dancers, alongside emerging local artists.

Star-Studded Performances

The festival’s opening concert will set the tone for a week of spectacular performances. Headlining the concert is the legendary Clannad songstress Moya Brennan with her five-piece band. Known for their soulful renditions and masterful musicianship, they will be joined in the iconic Empire Music Hall by the dynamic duo of Zoe Conway & John McIntyre, whose innovative approach to traditional music has garnered them worldwide acclaim.

For 40 years, American all-female group Cherish the Ladies have won the hearts of audiences around the world, with their rousing blend of traditional music, captivating vocals, and propulsive step dancing. They have played from the White House to the Olympics, recorded 18 critically acclaimed albums and an Emmy award winning PBS television program, “An Irish Homecoming”. They will play the Mandela Hall for their Belfast TradFest debut.

Trans-Atlantic supergroup Lúnasa, described by MOJO as “The new gods of Irish music” will play their biggest Belfast show to date, in the Empire Music Hall. Featuring Cillian Vallely of the famous Armagh uilleann piping dynasty, the group also features Cookstown bass player Trevor Hutchinson who has played with The Waterboys & Sharon Shannon alongside Kevin Crawford, Seán Smyth and Ed Boydof Flook.

West Kerry songbirds Pauline Scanlon & Éilís Kennedy aka Lumiere return to Belfast with their brand of distinctly feminine sounds, where voice is the primary instrument and Ireland as motherland is re-imagined.

Appearing for their debut performance at the festival are Cathal Hayden’s Bow Brothers, featuring some of the finest fiddlers on the planet, whilst also on the bill at The Empire Music Hall will be the legendary triumvirate of musical maestros Mary Dillon, Neil Martin & Dónal O’Connor. Featuring the voice of Déanta and older sister to Cara Dillon, this new trio promises to breathe new life into timeless Ulster songs and tunes, marrying Mary’s evocative vocals with the expressive interplay of fiddle, cello, harmonium & uilleann pipes.

Described as a musical genius, Seamie O’Dowd is rooted deeply in the traditional music of Sligo but has also played in many genres of acoustic and electric music. He plays the Sunflower Folk Club for what will be a rare solo show.

County Tyrone singer Niall Hanna and Beoga’s Damian McKee are performing and releasing their upcoming solo albums for the very first time at Belfast TradFest this July in the Black Box.

With their debut album reaching #1 in the World Music Charts, Jiggy have gained a worldwide audience and are now in high demand at festivals across Europe. Mixing and melding Irish traditional music, world rhythms and cutting-edge dance grooves they will bring an electrifying energy to Mandela Hall alongside the brilliant trio of Tara Breen, Pádraig Rynne, and Jim Murray.

Making their debut Irish performance at Belfast TradFest, BIIRD are a brand new 11-piece, all female, superstar collective made up of some of Ireland’s best traditional musicians and singers. Their members have won multiple All-Ireland titles, toured the world performing on shows such as Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, The Late Late Show & Electric Picnic, to name a few. Sharing the stage also at the Mandela Hall will be West Kerry sensation Pólca 4 who will excite revellers to dance the night away and surely raise the roof at the festival’s closing concert.

The Bunting Collection housed in Queen’s University Belfast, perhaps the most significant collection of ancient Irish airs extant, was collected at the Belfast Harpers festival on Donegall St. in 1792 by St. Anne’s Cathedral organist Edward Bunting. The annual Belfast TradFest ‘Belfast Harp Festival’ concert will this year celebrate Bunting with a very special concert in the Crescent Arts Centre featuring Monaghan harper Eilís Lavelle, Co. Clare’s Aisling Lyons, Tin Whistle legend Mary Bergin and RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Singer of the year Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, amongst others.

A special show entitled “Ceol na nGael / Wild music of the Gael” will showcase some of the most exciting performers of traditional music today in Áras Mhic Reachtain. Hosted by RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards nominee Diane Cannon, the concert will also feature TG4 Gradam Ceoil Musician of the Year Derek Hickey and Composer of the year Ryan Molloy, County Monaghan Banjo player and member of The Blackwater Céilí Band George McAdam, outstanding exponent of the Co. Clare concertina style Lorraine Ní Bhriain and master uilleann piper Mick O’Brien from Dublin.

Legendary Belfast virtuoso fiddler Seán Maguire will be celebrated in The MAC with an annual fiddle concert in association with the Seán Maguire Music Society. This promises to be a spectacle of virtuoso fiddling by the likes of Tyrone legend Cathal Hayden of Four men & a Dog fame, Dundalk’s Zoe Conway, current TG4 Gradam Ceoil Composer of the Year Ryan Molloy, Tara Breen of The Chieftains, Lúnasa fiddler Seán Smyth, Belfast’s Conor Caldwell, current Fiddler of London River McGann and Seán Maguire pupil Johnny Murphy with some of his own fiddle students.

In association with Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, “Na Máistrí / Masters of Traditional Music” will feature the cream of traditional music talent, presented by Belfast composer and musician Neil Martin. Also on the bill will be Tyrone singer Dàibhidh Stìubhard, County Clare’s Tara Howley & Pádraig Rynne, member of Trans-Atlantic supergroup Cherish the Ladies Mirella Murray, world champion bodhrán player Aimée Farrell Courtney & Donegal guitarist John McIntyre formerly of Rock outfit The Revs.

Belfast TradFest prides itself on its cross cultural and cross traditions ethos and this year it will once again celebrate this work. ‘With Pipe & Drum’ concert in the Titanic Hotel Drawing Rooms in East Belfast will feature frontwoman of Cherish the Ladies and American-Irish legend of traditional music Joanie Madden, alongside the very best of Scottish & Irish traditions. Friends of Campbell College Pipe Band will be led by Belfast Highland piper Grahame Harris, also on the bill; County Down snare drummer and BBC presenter Mark Wilson, Mick McAuley a member of Irish-American ensemble Solas, Belfast’s own Gary Hastings, Mary Bergin who is considered to be the world’s greatest tin whistle player, World Champion Bodhrán player Aimée Farrell Courtney, Glengormley School of Traditional Music and Scottish Smallpipe legend Fin Moore. The concert will he hosted by Belfast TradFest vice chair, piper Andy McGregor.

In partnership with Belfast Pride, The Black Box will host one of the annual highlights of the festival Pride Céilí. This spectacle of dance, colour, excitement, fun and inclusivity that must be seen to be believed, is just one of the five Céilís that take place during the festival, hosted by world renowned Belfast Céilí dance caller Ronán Eastwood.

As part of this programme the Belfast TradFest Invitational Solo Highland Piping Competition will take place in the Deer’s Head, Belfast on Sunday, July 23 at 4pm. Five of Ireland’s top pipers compete to be crowned winner of the Belfast TradFest Solo Highland Piping Competition. Each piper will perform a 6-8 minute medley selection of their choice showcasing their unique playing styles. Competitors include; Alastair Donaghy, Alan MacPherson, Scott Wallace, Reece Doherty & Alan Glenholmes.

Belfast TradFest

Supporting the Arts & The Economy
Belfast TradFest is proud to contribute to the local economy and the arts sector. The festival’s success is made possible through generous support of the funders and sponsors including Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Dunville’s Irish Whiskey, Cathedral Quarter Belfast BID, Belfast One BID, RTÉ Supporting the Arts, Maritime Belfast, Comhaltas, and IMRO, as well as volunteers and the dedicated efforts of the team and board of trustees. This year, the festival is partnering with several local businesses and cultural organizations to ensure a broad and impactful reach.

Aine Kearney, Director of Events at Tourism NI, said: “Tourism Northern Ireland welcomes the launch of the Belfast TradFest which will take place in Belfast later this summer.

“It is fantastic to see how the festival has grown in scale and international appeal over the last number of years. With a programme packed full of music and cultural experiences, co-created by internationally acclaimed and local artists, the event demonstrates the Giant Spirit we have on offer.

“In 2021, Belfast was awarded UNESCO City of Music status, only the third UK city to receive the accolade. The organisers of the Belfast TradFest seek to promote Belfast UNESCO City of Music as a traditional music capital of Ireland.

“Music is a key part of our intangible heritage and has proven to be a strong motivator for visitors.

“Belfast TradFest is an example of our mission to support the development of authentic tourism experiences which bring our unique heritage to life in an invigorating and responsible way.”

Belfast TradFest 2024 invites everyone to celebrate traditional music, song, and dance. Whether you are a seasoned musician, a casual listener, or someone looking to experience Belfast’s vibrant culture, the festival offers something for everyone. Tickets for all events are now available on the festival’s official website.

Summer School accommodation is available to students and their families. The accommodation is a two-minute walk from Ulster University, where classes take place. Sign up now for fantastic accommodation offers of £349 per person for 7 nights in Belfast city centre.

For more information on Belfast TradFest 2024, including the full programme and ticket details, visit


Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as hosting interviews for the weekly XS Noize Podcast.Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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