An awards event often called the Oscars of traditional music – TG4’s Gradam Ceoil – is to be held in Belfast until 2021, it has been confirmed.
The announcement was made as the city hosted the awards and concert for the first time in its 21-year history.
Sunday night’s ceremony was staged at the Waterfront Hall and was attended by Irish President Michael D Higgins.
Participants included Matt Molloy of The Chieftains, members of Altan and De Dannan and the actor Stephen Rea.
The Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band was among the award-winners, and its members performed at the Gradam Ceoil for the first time.
The band’s pipe-major, Richard Parkes, said their presence sent out an important message about the breadth of traditional music.
“We’re the first pipe band to have received an award like this and it’s great respect from the traditional music community,” he said.
“A lot of the tunes that we play are traditional tunes – either traditional Irish or traditional Scottish.
“We’re all very pleased and very honoured to receive this award.”
The County Armagh-based singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin received a special contribution award, presented by Stephen Rea.
She also performed two songs during the ceremony and said it was significant that it was being held in Northern Ireland for the first time.
“The awards are the pinnacle for a lot of musicians,” she said.
“I think for too long the north has been forgotten in the story of traditional music.
“The Troubles had something to do with that but traditional music has been such a unifying force between two sides of the divide in the north.
“I’m not even sure in traditional music there’s any divide at all.
“The tradition is a common tradition among Catholics and Protestants – for want of better terms. The same tunes are played and the same songs in English are played.
“So, to celebrate that tradition that kept going through those hard times, it’s wonderful to have this in Belfast.”
‘Time to grow’
The director general for TG4, Alan Esslemont, was in the Waterfront Hall to oversee the live broadcast of the ceremony on the channel.
“We call these the Oscars of traditional music with very good reason,” he said.
“Over the 21 years, it’s really grown. In the same way that the Irish language used to be quite backward-looking, maybe traditional music seemed to have an old-fashioned cache.
“It’s now the thing that lots of young people do, both in Ireland and Scotland. This is the right time to come to Belfast.”
“We’ve never really been invited but we sat with the city council and Northern Ireland Screen and we think this is the right time to come north.
“Being here for four years gives us time to grow into Belfast but also to grow with Belfast and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Among the other award winners at Sunday night’s ceremony were Frankie Gavin, who was named musician of the year, and Clare Friel who was named young musician of the year.