The Trad Gathering, jointly commissioned in 2008 by the BBC Proms and Return to Camden Town Festival, brought together 60 of the most talented and accomplished young traditional Irish musicians from across London, St Alban's, Luton, Cambridge and further afield to work on a 15-minute piece arranged by internationally renowned traditional Irish musicians (from The London Lasses/ Artisan Row) Karen Ryan (fiddle) and Pete Quinn (piano). Rehearsals culminated in the performance of the piece in Kensington Gardens as part of BBC Proms Folk Day in July of that year, followed by a performance at the 10th Return to Camden Town Festival and a guest appearance at Music for Youth’s Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

In 2009, Return to Camden Town Festival commissioned the hugely respected Leitrim composer, Charlie Lennon to write a suite of music specifically for the group. Entitled ‘Recollections of Camden Town’ the suite contains tunes dedicated to some of the high profile musicians on the London Irish music scene in the 1950s and 60s. It was premiered at the 2009 Return to Camden Town Festival and was performed again at the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the Festival of Britain in the Royal Festival Hall in 2011.

After a 6 year break, The Trad Gathering reformed in 2017 to rehearse music from the repertoire of the highly regarded Leitrim fiddler, Bryan Rooney (recipient of the National Irish TV Award - TG4 Gradam Ceoil Musician of the Year), they went on to perform this on the Trafalgar Square stage as part of the Lord Mayor of London's St Patrick's Day Festival, at Kings Place supporting the legendary Altan at Bush Hall supporting Lúnasa, St Mary Magdalene’s (Paddington – Grand Junction) supporting Kilfenora Céilí Band and more.

Each year since then the project has highlighted a different high profile musician who has been long associated with the London Irish music scene. Members of the group learn about the musician’s background and musical activities, are exposed to aural sources of their music, learn tunes from their repertoire, going on to rehearse and perform some of their music in an arrangement suitable for the large group setting.

In recent years musicians whose music has been studied and performed by the group include: Bryan Rooney (Leitrim fiddler), The McCarthy Family (Co. Clare), Roger Sherlock (Sligo flautist) and Lucy Farr (East Galway fiddler). In 2021, The Trad Gathering are celebrating the music of the legendary Donegal fiddler, Danny Meehan.


Upcoming LIVE Traditional Irish Music Events In London


Return to London Town Festival

 Return to London Town Festival

Festival History for

In 1999 three like-minded souls came together to discuss an idea. All felt that, after the effects of ‘The Celtic Tiger’ bringing many pub and music venue owners back to Ireland, the once booming ‘trad scene’ was becoming quieter as a result.


The three, Karen Ryan (Irish musician, teacher and director of the Festival to this day), Geoff Holland (set dance teacher) and Jerry Kivlehan (then Director of the London Irish Centre) believed it was vital to provide a high profile platform for Irish music, song and dance, where people could come together and celebrate the tradition in the capital.


The mass emigrations in Ireland of the 1940s and 50s had brought a great many traditional musicians to the major cities in England – they settled and made their lives here and in their free time, played their music, sang their songs and danced.


This was far more than just entertainment. Keeping their art and culture alive was a vital part of maintaining their identity especially given that so many found themselves living in unfamiliar environments. During the 1950s, Irish music was almost entirely unknown to mainstream society (and certainly to the media) in England. Its promotion was solely by word of mouth among the Irish community.


London, and Camden Town in particular, was the birth place of the public house ‘session’. The session as we know it, where musicians, singers, dancers and listeners gather in a pub to play and enjoy traditional music, is actually a relatively recent development. The fact that a major Irish civil engineering and construction company had (and still has) its base in the neighbouring Kentish Town, drew Irish people to the area. Many were musicians; they would meet socially in local pubs when their work was done for the day and soon began to play music together.


The first ‘Return to Camden Town Festival’ ran from Sunday 24 to Sunday 31 October 1999. Timed to coincide with the autumn half-term and based at the then newly-refurbished London Irish Centre on Camden Square, it was an immediate hit. The format was as it was last year – a week of concerts, céilís, instrumental and singing workshops (teaching and encouraging interest in Irish music, especially among younger people, was and remains a key focus), sessions and album launches. Perhaps most important, it enabled, as it has continued to this day, those who love Irish music to meet, play together and celebrate the finest traditional musicians, singers and dancers, both living and passed. Since 1999, Return to Camden Town has spawned numerous new musical collaborations, ignited and strengthened friendships within the immediate community and more widely, and helped to encourage and educate a whole generation of new exponents of the tradition.

It’s interesting to read the programme for that first Festival. Several legendary musicians, who visited us again in our 20th year, appeared on the bill. Fiddle player Bryan Rooney launched his now-classic album, The Godfather at Return to Camden Town 1999. He joined us last year with his great friend and musical colleague, John Carty. Tin whistle virtuoso Mary Bergin performed and gave a workshop, as did the great accordionist Mairtín O’Connor. 


Since 1999, an astonishing number of the great Irish traditional musicians have performed at Return to Camden Town. The Festival has grown to become an important annual focus for the Irish community in London – a strong community which continues to grow as young Irish emigrants land on new shores. It has been the catalyst for bringing Irish music to many new and mainstream venues and events in the capital.


One highlight from the first 20 years of London’s annual Festival of traditional Irish music, song and dance was the first stage performance of three legendary Donegal fiddlers: Danny Meehan, James Byrne (RIP) and Tommy Peoples (RIP), organised at the request of Danny himself. A number of young Donegal musicians were so drawn to the event that they travelled from Donegal to London (via the ferry) on the day of the event, enjoyed the concert and late night session afterwards and headed straight back to Donegal without any sleep!


Other musicians and singers featured at the Festival have included Paddy Keenan, Mary Bergin, Matt Molloy, John Carty, Cara Dillon, Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomnhaill, The Mulcahy Family and Liz Carroll.  Bands featured over the years have included Altan, Danú, Dervish, Tulla Céilí Band, Patrick Street, At the Racket, Kilfenora Céilí Band, Lúnasa, Buttons and Bows, Moving Cloud, De Dannan, The Bonny Men, Cherish the Ladies, Caladh Nua, The London Lasses and so many more…


Irish Music and Dance in London (IMDL) exists to promote traditional Irish arts in London, to serve and bring together the London Irish community through its high quality events, education, local outreach activities, social networking (online and face to face), to provide regular dissemination of Irish arts information and active encouragement of Irish people in London to be informed about and participate in events such that it nurtures an active, strong and caring community away from home. The organisation also aims to promote the positive identity of the Irish in multicultural London by including traditional Irish arts on mainstream platforms and by acting as a consultant to other arts organisations and aspiring promoters of Irish arts around the country.

This organisation draws on the skills and experience of the Director, IMDL’s Organising Group and the 50-plus team of volunteers who have successfully planned, promoted and delivered London’s internationally renowned annual Festival ‘Return to London Town’ (previously Return to Camden Town) and fringe events for over 20 Years.

IMDL hosts events year round: London's annual Festival of traditional Irish music, song and dance was founded in 1999 and continues to be hosted successfully each October. A new regular Concert/ Event series has been launched in recent years, increasingly presenting events in accessible and high-profile venues. IMDL collates listings for and promotes regular music sessions, concerts, céilís and other Irish music and dance events in London.

IMDL founded their youth project ‘The Trad Gathering’ in 2008, bringing together large numbers of musicians between the ages of 12 and 25 from across London, to learn, rehearse and perform music from the repertoires of past masters of traditional Irish music on the London scene.

The organisation continues to initiate new outreach events, working with and advising local promoters in order to reach the Irish and showcase our culture to the wider multicultural community in new parts of London and further afield.

IMDL currently manages an extensive email newsletter containing regular information about Irish music events in London.

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