Bigger than The Stones: Oscars of Irish music coming to Belfast for first time

TG4's traditional Irish Music Awards, Gradam Ceoil – the Oscars of Irish trad – come to Belfast for the first time this year, the star-studded, televised event taking place at the Waterfront Hall next weekend. It's a major endorsement of the city and its music during what is a hugely exciting time for trad

Fiddle superstar Frankie Gavin will be presented with the Musician of the Year award at TG4's Gradam Ceoil in Belfast on February 4
Robert McMillen

SOMETIMES, you just have to dig deeper to come to an understanding of something, no matter what the subject is, be it a friend, a political idea or a work of art.

This is especially true of traditional Irish music. When people say it all sounds the same, they are missing out on the multitudinous elements that come together to make it what it is. You really need to look beyond the obvious, to exchange the commonplace with infinite possibilities to not only hear the sounds of the music but to get into the heart and soul of it.

Belfast and the rest of Ireland will get the chance to meet and hear and see people who do all the above in their performance of traditional music, song and dance during the Gradam TG4 awards ceremony next Sunday, February 4, with the event set to get the soul stirring for the next four years.

Of course, the artists being honoured this year have recast and played with the notion of what is “traditional” and that is why Irish music is at such an exciting place at the minute. (Am I right in thinking that “trad” is the word being used now for traditional music that has fallen very far from the tree?)

Anyway, Gradam TG4 Musician of the Year for 2018 is Frankie Gavin, who of course is most famous for being the fiddler player with De Danann.

It says something about trad music that Gavin has played on albums with people as diverse as The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello and Stéphane Grappelli.

If you think trad only does one thing, listen out for De Danann’s versions of The Beatles’ Hey Jude and a brilliant (and hilarious) version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, aptly renamed Hibernian Rhapsody.

Frankie is of course, delighted at getting the TG4 gong.

“Yes, I’m really thrilled to be getting this wonderful award for 2018,” he says. “It's a real boost at any time in anyone's life, and I'm so so pleased, and to be celebrating the event in Belfast for the first time for the Gradam Awards also makes it even sweeter. History in the making you might say.

And even for those who can’t make it to the Waterfront Hall, it will be a very interesting TV event, says Frankie.

“While I am playing with my old colleagues in De Dannan plus a solo piece with Carl Hession, and then I get the opportunity to launch my new band, The Provenance (pictured), I'm fierce excited about the entire affair!" says the Galway man.

Needless to say, Pádraic Ó Ciardha of TG4 sees the reunion of members of the original De Dannan as the most anticipated act of the evening.

“To traditional music followers, this reunion is bigger than The Rolling Stones,” he says.

Lisburn based World Champions, The Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band – recipients of the Special Award – will open the show with a special montage filmed in iconic locations around Belfast, ahead of a rousing live performance later in the night. Widely considered at the pinnacle of their game on a global scale, The FMM have brought Irish traditional music to audiences and peers across the world, and have set standards of excellence that others aspire to.

Another big draw at the awards will be Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, a woman who has spent most of her professional life as a musician, researching, renewing and recording the music of south Armagh and Louth.

"I see the award as a national acclamation for the work that I have done but ,” says Pádraigín. “I am also delighted that it reinforces Oriel [the name of the ancient kingdom that covered parts of modern-day Louth, Armagh and Monaghan] as one of the richest areas in Ireland for instrumental music and song in Irish.

“Belfast – a youthful and energetic city – continues to be a melting pot of the finest musicians from Ulster and afar; it is timely to have a major award celebration here for the next four years,” she says.

Here, here.

The other winners of Gradam TG4 are: Young Musician of the Year: Clare Friel with sisters. Presented by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from Altan: Lifetime Achievement Award: Patsy Hanly, presented by and featuring a guest performance with Matt Molloy of The Chieftains; Singer of the Year: Máire Ní Chéileachair, presented by Nell Ní Chróinín and Conchubhar Ó Luasa; Special Contribution Award: Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, presented by Stephen Rea (Pádragín will perform with guests, The Voice Squad); Musical Collaboration: Concert, created by Colin Dunne with Sinéad Rushe and Mel Mercier; and the Special Award goes to The Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, presented by leading uilleann piper, Robbie Hannan.

However, the awards event itself is just one part of a major effort to promote traditional music in Belfast and throughout Ulster and Maggie Breathnach, one of the movers behind the Imeall arts series on TG4, has been involved in a major community outreach programme that has involved a lot of student initiatives.

“Well, we had two students produce, direct and create two short films with the team in Belfast and we will also be bringing students into the Belfast Waterfront over the course of the weekend, to show them how live television works.

“Not only that, but we’ve been working with various venues on the fringe ‘trad trail’ events, which will take place right through from Friday to the Sunday evening, taking place at various venues across the city including the Linenhall Library, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, The Dirty Onion, An Droichead Arts Centre and many others.

Based on the experience of the city of Cork, where the awards have been made for the past four years, it is estimated that Gradam Ceoil will have a direct economic impact in the region of £350,000 over the weekend, in terms of visitor spend.

On top of that, TV coverage on TG4 and other channels will provide great opportunities to showcase Belfast as a city of music, arts and culture.

:: Tickets for TG4’s Gradam Ceoil Awards 2018, priced £25 (£22 for concessions) are available from or by phone on 028 9033 4455. The concert will be broadcast live on TG4 on Sunday February 4 from 9:30pm. To find out more and for details on the full line-up, visit or connect with Gradam Ceoil on Facebook, or Twitter, @GradamCeoil

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