In January 1951, representatives of the Thomas Street (Dublin) Pipers' Club went to Mullingar for a meeting with traditional music enthusiasts from County Westmeath. Two ideas which had already been mentioned amongst traditional musicians were discussed at this meeting; the first was the founding of an organisation to promote Irish traditional music while the second was the organising of a great annual festival of Irish traditional music, song and dance. A further meeting was held in February, and at this meeting it was decided that, in conjunction with Feis Lár na hÉireann (a Gaelic League Feis which had been held in Mullingar for many years), a Fleadh Cheoil would be organised in the town in May over the Whit weekend.
In the years before the Fleadh, although the ordinary people of Ireland loved traditional music, the thousands of traditional musicians in the country were largely unappreciated in popular social and intellectual circles. The aim of the Fleadh was to promote traditional music and to arrest the decline in its popularity. The cream of traditional Irish musicians attending the Fleadh played a major role in furthering this aim.
Fleadhanna Cheoil gave traditional musicians a platform where they could play to an appreciative audience and where traditional style was the criterion. That first Fleadh Cheoil in 1951 attracted only a few hundred patrons - a small but enthusiastic crowd. Within five years, however, this annual gathering had grown to become a great National Festival attended by thousands of traditional musicians, singers, and dancers from all parts of Ireland and overseas.
On October 14th, 1951, at Árus Ceannt, Thomas Street, Dublin, the first standing Committee of Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann was elected. At a meeting in St. Mary's Hall, Mullingar, on January 6th, 1952, the title of the organisation was changed from Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Branches of Comhaltas were formed all over Ireland, organising classes, concerts, and sessions at local level. Soon there were County and Provincial Fleadhanna, and later came the Fleadh Nua, the Tionól Ceoil, Seisiún, and the Scoil Éigse.
In the past 50 years, the Fleadh and Comhaltas have grown together. Irish exiles have played an active part, such that musicians from Liverpool, Birmingham, London, and New York often take their annual holidays to coincide with the Fleadh. Comhaltas now has more than 400 branches, established in every Irish County, in Britain, the US, Canada, and worldwide in places such as Japan, Hungary, Sardinia, and Australia.