Although much of what happens at St Patrick's is driven by a simple enjoyment of the music, the club also has a competitive side that comes out at the various fleadhs (pronounced 'flahs') that Comhaltas stages every year.
There are three levels of fleadhs: regional (Scottish), provincial (British) and ultimately, the All Ireland world championships. The fleadhs are progressive whereby competitors who are awarded 1st, 2nd or, on occasions, 3rd places at one competition qualify for the next level with the ultimate aim of securing a coveted title of All-Ireland Champion at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, the world championships.
The four Scottish CCE clubs also compete in the Feis Ghlaschú, the Glasgow Feis (pronounced 'fesh'), an annual competition which operates on similar lines to Comhaltas competitions but which is unaffiliated to it.
Types of competition
Competitions are in four age categories (Under 12, 12-15, 15-18 and Senior) and cover most traditional Irish instruments (fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, banjo, accordion, etc.). There are also competitions for singing, both in English and in Irish as well for dance groups. You can compete as a solo performer on a particular instrument or as duets and trios.
Ceílí bands and grúpaí ceoil
Band competitions are a very important part of all fleadhs and there are two main types: ceílí bands and grúpaí ceoil.
St Patrick's has both ceílí bands and grúpaí ceoil at various age groups and once members attain a certain level of musicianship in one or more instruments, they are able to audition for one or both. These represent St Patrick's in both fleadh competitions and in exhibition performances.
Comhaltas lays down quite specific rules for the makeup of each style of band and the type and way they have to play music in competition. So for example, a ceílí band can have between 5 and 10 members and has to play a competition set made up of three tunes (two reels plus one other from a different style). The grúpaí ceoil must have between 4 and 20 members and can play its own selection of tunes up to a combined running time of between 6 and 8 minutes. The types of instruments played by both groups are similar although grúpaí ceoil are not allowed to use pianos or drums.
One of the most obvious differences between ceílí bands and grúpaí ceoil is in the way they play in competition. Ceílí bands perform their set as three individual tunes with pauses between each whereas the grúpaí perform their set as a single continuous piece; given this, the choice of tunes, their arrangement, the instrumentation, and presentation of the music is much more challenging for the grúpaí competiton.
St Patrick's CCE Senior Grupai Ceoil performing in the Fleadh Cheoil na hAlbain 2014
St Patrick's CCE U15 Grupai Ceoil at the Fleadh Cheoil na hAlbain 2015