The Andersonstown Traditional & Contemporary Music School

   The Andersonstown Traditional & Contemporary Music School (A.T.C.M.S.) was established In October of 1991 by several members of the local community. These included musicians looking for a place where they could teach others to play Irish traditional instruments and repertoire. An important founding musician was Sean McGuire, a world renowned fiddle player who wished to find an outlet to pass on his skills in Irish traditional music. The school was also formed by other members of the community who themselves were not musicians, but who believed that the development of such an institution would be socially beneficial to the community as a whole.
At first the school had humble beginnings. Classes were held in a small back room of a local Gaelic athletics club called 'Sarsfield's'. As the school began to increase in numbers it moved to 'Opel's', a club on the Suffolk Road in West Belfast. Gradually, as the benefits of the school became more well-known throughout the local community, it began to grow steadily in numbers. In 1994 the school was granted charitable status and this helped to improve teaching facilities, while also encouraging the number of pupils and tutors to increase. This steady increase in numbers forced the school to find larger facilities, and the school moved from venue to venue, each one increasing in size. They moved to Horn drive community centre in West Belfast, and then on to St. Agnes' youth club, also in West Belfast. Eventually though, even these facilities were insufficient as the premises were too small to accommodate the increasing numbers of pupils and tutors. Its current venue is without a doubt the most suitable yet. Presently classes take place in The Christian Brother's Secondary School, on the Glen Road in West Belfast. These larger premises allow the Andersonstown Traditional & Contemporary Music School to facilitate approximately 250 pupils as well as the 26 voluntary tutors. In order to meet the growing demand for pupil places in the school, the school has been consistently working towards the development of their own independent premises which will serve as a centre of music and study for the pupils and the tutors of the school.

Classes currently take place on a Tuesday evening in the school classrooms and last from 6.30 p.m. until 8.30 p.m.

A smaller section of the school has been created in North Belfast. Classes are held on a Wednesday night in the "Survivors of Trauma" premises in this area of the city. At present the classes are much like the original school was in the beginning, but the school is steadfastly growing in numbers.

As well as the 250 pupils in the school, the school involves and accesses over 5000 individuals annually in the form of project participants and audiences. The school is open to pupils of all ages and classes are available for a wide variety of traditional instruments at various different levels of skill, from absolute beginners to a more advanced level. The pupils age from approximately 5 to 5o. The pupils themselves are also of various different ages. Ciara O'Neill, an accordion tutor for example is aged 12, while Sean McGuire, a fiddle tutor is aged 74. Some of the tutors such as Gemma Gorman (fiddle tutor) and Rohan Young (bodhran tutor) are past pupils of the school themselves.

The school is a nonprofit organisation and a registered charity (no. XR33007). The tutors at the school work voluntary and receive only out-of-pocket expenses. In return for their voluntary commitment to the school, they have the opportunity to not only pass on their skills in Irish traditional music, but also to improve these existing skills. It gives the younger tutors an experience of teaching, which they may perhaps like to take up professionally at a later stage.



This photograph shows some wooden flute pupils at the school.

The school employs one full-time co-ordinator - Thomas ("Maxi") McIlroy, and two administrative development workers - Marion Kerr and Brian Burns. Marion Kerr is also a tin-whistle tutor at the school. The school has office premises at 39 Glen Road, Belfast, where the co-ordinator and development workers take care of the day to day running of the school and deal with administration. As well as this the school has a management committee who are elected annually. The management takes responsibility for decision making and ensures that all activities and plan are implemented successfully.

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