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Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

20 February 2007
Tuesday, 10:43 AM

One doesn’t often have the opportunity to work on a project that strengthens his skills in multiple disciplines and helps him reevaluate his connection to his heritage. I have been fortunate to have just such an opportunity, and after months of hard work, that project is now available for public consumption.

In late August of last year, a handful of Happy Cogs flew out to Dublin to meet with some of the cheerful folks who run Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a government-funded non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of traditional Irish music and culture. They needed a new web site, and we were going to give them one. We expected our trip to Dublin to be fun, and we knew we’d have a lot of hard work to do, but I don’t think any of us realized how much the two would intertwine.

Our Comhaltas days were filled with typical client meetings: discussions of ideas to be communicated, logistics, design, technology, sheduling, etc, all of which was of course important and valuable. But it was in the evenings that we learned the most about Comhaltas’s mission. The stage performances and pub sessions; the stories, songs, and dances; the tireless passion these people have for their own national history and culture. Even if it wasn’t a community with such open arms, it still would have been infectious, and we were all drawn in immediately.

The emotional connection brought a freshened intensity to our duty to do this project right, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Comhaltas is a very large and broad organization, and the kind of site it needed introduced all sorts of unique, practical challenges. It needed to be bilingual. It needed to house a massive music archive that could accommodate a variety of media types. It needed to make information about its myriad events and all of its 400+ branches easily accessible. It needed a straightforward ease of use that would appeal to a global community comprised of four generations. And all of this stuff needed to culminate in a visual design which communicated that Comhaltas is an organization that values tradition highly, but still stands firmly in the modern world.

I was ultimately responsible for the bulk of the information architecture and design of the site. Getting my head around the breadth of Comhaltas and figuring out the best way to address its needs was simultaneously intimidating and intriguing. Luckily, I was not alone. Breandán Knowlton, Projects Officer for Comhaltas, gave me one of the best experiences collaborating with a client that I could ever hope to have. The guy is a walking encyclopedia, capable of intelligent commentary on almost any subject you can think of. As a former software engineer and current believer in web standards, he was the perfect liaison; his was the most informed and helpfully verbose feedback I’ve ever encountered, and our working relationship was one of mutual deference.

Of course, there were plenty of other people who brought their own brand of ingenuity to the site, particularly Dan Mall on the front end (don’t miss his writeup of the experience) and Mark Huot on the back end. But since Breandán isn’t quite the self-promotion whore the rest of us are, and he was unquestionably the most important piece of the puzzle, it simply wouldn’t have been right not to highlight his invaluable contribution.

For more information, I encourage you to check out the project’s case study on the Happy Cog site. Otherwise, I’ll let the product speak for itself.

It’s funny; I don’t often go into this kind of detail about professional work on my personal site, outside of the Portfolio section. But this has been a very special project for me, on both personal and professional levels. It has allowed me to reconnect to my roots, and it’s enabled me to give other people a chance to do the same.

Filed under: Art/Design, Music, Travel

Comments Closed (20)

1. Colin Devroe says…  |  20 February 2007 / 1:42 PM

Nice job. I particularly like the Location page (for its use of maps) and the Events page (since the Calendar is actually used properly).

Nicely done.

2. Dan Croak says…  |  20 February 2007 / 1:56 PM

What, no shamrocks? ;)

Beautiful site... I listened to jig and found the Boston branch very easily. I really like how the glossary links are handled, too.

3. Carl says…  |  20 February 2007 / 3:55 PM

Great job, Rob -- Congratulations!

4. William Doyle says…  |  20 February 2007 / 4:35 PM


I am not a frequent web commenter, but after seeing the work that you did for Comhaltas, I just wanted to say that I think you did a great job. The design is beautiful and I particularly appreciate that you took a fresh approach, deviating from what one might consider a traditional "gaelic" look. Anyways, congratulations on a job well executed.

5. jody says…  |  20 February 2007 / 5:07 PM

Woo woo - Go Irish! Nice work Rob!

6. Don Crowley says…  |  20 February 2007 / 6:04 PM

Robert, I'm jealous you got got the job ;-) But you sure did a great job.

7. Pierce says…  |  21 February 2007 / 7:39 AM

Nice work Rob. Really nice. The sad truth is that there probably isn't a web-design firm in the whole of Ireland with the chops to take on something like this and deliver anything close to an accessible, clean, and above all distinctively Irish-looking result. Really commendable stuff, all involved.

Great translation work as well. Our government institutions could take a few pointers.

8. Rob Weychert says…  |  21 February 2007 / 9:10 AM

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Colin and Dan, you actually zeroed in on two of the site’s features I’m most proud of: the functionality of the Locations page, and the look and function of the Glossary links throughout the site.

Pierce, I’m actually surprised you’re the first here to mention the irony of an American company being hired to create such an Irish site. I’m even more surprised that most of the other people who have mentioned it didn't think it was a big deal. It’s a relief, because we felt kind of guilty about it, despite the fact that I think it allowed us a more objective approach to the project.

9. Pierce says…  |  21 February 2007 / 9:25 AM

While there's a growing number of progressive companies and individuals in Ireland, we are still somewhat behind many other countries in our approach to the web. For a site like this with international reach you should go where the talent is...

Comhaltas seem lucky to have Breandán.

10. Breandán says…  |  21 February 2007 / 1:39 PM

Pierce, I certainly considered several Irish firms when I was thinking about the project (knowing that I had to walk into Leinster House to defend my choice!) but these guys were just the best at building what I wanted to build.

A lot of Ireland has really bought into the Microsoft.NET framework for the web, which is fine, but it means that most of the bids I got were for completely custom .NET CMS development. This approach just seemed risky to me, and when the Cogs (who I already respected) came back with their proposal, it just seemed like the right idea at the right time.

11. Michael says…  |  21 February 2007 / 2:53 PM

What I really like about this design is that you have given Comahaltas some great bones for what seems to be many different types on content. Great job.

12. bearskinrug says…  |  23 February 2007 / 6:01 AM

Wow - fantastic job on this, Rob! The site is pretty damn tight; the colors, the hierarchy, the layout... pat yourself on the back!

13. Des Traynor says…  |  25 February 2007 / 5:36 PM

Great work,
Awesome to see such a cool website for an Irish organisation.

By the way you've left some filler content on this page...
This Page.


14. Des Traynor says…  |  27 February 2007 / 11:07 AM
Thats the page I meant

15. Rob Weychert says…  |  27 February 2007 / 11:09 AM

Nice catch, Des. Thanks!

16. Breandán says…  |  27 February 2007 / 11:22 AM

Thanks for that - those have been fixed!

17. Shane says…  |  09 March 2007 / 4:41 AM

Comhghairdeas libh go léir / well done all - especially to Breandán. You've set the bar high for us to follow.

18. Max Khokhlov says…  |  14 March 2007 / 2:49 AM

Hello, Rob. Congrats on a great project you were lucky to work on. However, there are some quirks left. Right now the Photography page ( has “{static_page_name}” as its title, and the rest of the page is empty. Will be waiting for a fix. Take care!

19. Breandán says…  |  14 March 2007 / 1:22 PM

Max, where's that link? The correct link is to, which works fine.

20. Breandán says…  |  14 March 2007 / 1:27 PM

Nevermind - found it. Typo!

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