established in 1951, to promote the wealth of Irish traditional muscians
and arrest the decline
of traditional music
In tandem with the Fleadh Cheoil this objective was largely achieved, with the social standing of musicians increased, and the general acceptance of Irish traditional music as an adjunct of Irish culture in the "new Ireland".
Unfortunately, in recent years, the aims of Comhaltas have become clouded in the personal foibles of individual organisers. There is a distinct over-emphasis on instrumental music, often leaving traditional singing by the way-side. Instrumental music, more often than not, involves playing of only the fastest tunes, played faster than many of the orginal Comhaltas members would have thought reasonable or possible. Competition is encouraged, until in many cases it is the be-all and end-all of some Comhaltas branches, such that concepts like individual style or pursuing music for it's own ends are ignored. This concentration on competition leads to formulaic teaching by repetition, resulting in all of the competitors sounding exactly the same. Finally, there is an effort afoot by some of the organisers to define what is traditional, which usually falls within only the narrowest of margins.
In 1999 the Irish senate asked one of their number to write a special report on the state of Irish traditional music with a view to fixing a scheme for it's funding. The man they asked was one Labhrás Ó Murchú, chairman of Comhaltas Ceolteoirí Éireann. The report that he wrote, aside from being obviously cut -and-pasted from several issues of Comhaltas' magazine Treoir, and containing many gramatical errors, was a description of Comhaltas only, the only other group mentioned being Brú Ború, a music and dance collective run by the senator's wife.
The report ( which was only four pages long) completely ignored the many independant music and song groups and festivals up and down the country, and if it had been acted upon, would have precluded funding for their often expensive endeavors.
While the organisational mores of Comhaltas leave something to be desired, there are individuals within the organisation who are intent on promoting a more holistic and inclusive approach to Irish tradtional music. If their ideas of personal freedom of musical expression are to take hold then the ideas they expound must be taken up by more and more members, so that de Valera's quaint idea of "maidens dancing at the crossroads" can be left behind and a more sophisticated Comhaltas can lead musicians into the 21st century.