Tommy Makem Festival of Song

19 December 2019

Keeper Of Tradition certificate | CRC NI

by Michael McGlade


When Peter Makem decided to run a music festival in South Armagh, he just knew it had to feature his uncle – internationally renowned folk musician Tommy Makem. The difficulty being, back then, he knew “little about funding.”

So he approached the Community Relations Council for support and received CR/CD funding.

That initial event, staged in 1999, would be to promote and celebrate song tradition, and included a major concert by Tommy and friends.

Since then, it grew into the Tommy Makem Festival of Song, a major annual event staged in Keady.

And out of this fledgling festival developed the Keepers of the Tradition, where certificates were presented to local singers for their lifelong contribution to song.

Emphasis had to be on the immense local contribution to song and music tradition,” Peter said. “Instead of an emphasis on bringing in outside performers, we should promote the richness in our midst.”

At each festival, up to five recipients are presented with a framed award: the Tommy Makem Scroll of Honour. Included is a specially written citation about their specific contribution, and it is intended to honour them with a place among the great song people of the ages.

The Keepers of Tradition formally honours singers, song collectors and song writers from here and abroad, from all traditions, for their outstanding contribution to the culture of their district and country,” Peter said.

Over the course of 20 years, 150 people have been honoured with The Keepers of Tradition.

We’re always on the lookout for forgotten poets and songwriters,” Peter explained, “to bring them out of obscurity, and place them on their proper pedestal.”

The award has always honoured local tradition, including, more recently in 2016, while the festival committee were researching an Orange band from Newtownhamilton, the choice discovery of a large batch of songs and poems written by local people from the Newtownhamilton, Altamackin, and Darkley area.

Peter believes there is a commonality to culture that should be celebrated.

Our overall approach is that this a celebration of what deeply unites,” Peter said. “That there is a natural base of cultural commonality that must be preserved. We wish to honour individuals for the manner in which they give self-worth to their community and to everybody through their art.”

The last festival was in 2017. Now a permeant exhibition has been set-up in the new TMAC Centre in Keady, promoting good relations all year round.

“The assistance and good will of the CRC was inspirational in the creation and development of our annual three-day festival.

We knew we had to make a wide impact, and this enabled us to develop the Keepers of the Tradition event to a very high degree.”

Peter Makem

Furthern Information

The Tommy Makem Festival of Song recieved CR/CD funding from the Community Relations Council. Learn more about our CR/CD funding stream.

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