Shoulders needed at the Fleadh wheel

Shoulders needed at the Fleadh wheel

Some 500,000 visitors over the course of a week. Seven hundred events, and 6,000 competitors. Between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers required. An estimated running cost of between €1.2 million and €1.5 million, with €150,000 apiece to be sourced from two flagship sponsors. An expected boon of €50 million for the local economy.

These were the headline figures, as the Mullingar Fleadh Executive Commitee (FEC) held the first of what’s expected to be a host of public information meetings in the run-up to Mullingar’s staging of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in August 2020.

Despite the sweltering evening outside, the guts of 150 people gathered in the Greville Arms Hotel on Thursday night last – encouragingly, many of them from local businesses – to hear a series of speakers give briefings on the most pressing issues pertaining to Fleadh 2020 at this stage.

Declan Connolly, chairman of the FEC’s accommodation sub-committee, and Willie Penrose TD, who is leading the charge on the sponsorship front, spoke to the audience, as did Pádraic Kierans, a Drogheda-based businessman who is deputy director of the Louth town’s Fleadh offerings for 2018 and 2019.

Mr Kierans said that his appearance on Thursday night was Drogheda’s “initiating the passing on of the baton” to Mullingar. He give a brief run-down of his town’s experiences in securing and running the Fleadh for two years.

He said that there was initial skepticism that the Fleadh would work in Drogheda, a town which – unlike Mullingar – was not regarded as being a heartland of traditional music.

“A certain amount of people will tell you that it’s not going to work,” he said. “But it will of course work, when it’s planned correctly, once everyone’s on board and once the community is behind it.

“This takes money, manpower, volunteers, and generosity from the community.”

As a result of getting “buy-in”, Mr Kierans added, the Drogheda Fleadh for 2018 was the biggest ever Fleadh. Huge numbers of day visitors came from Dublin on commuter trains, with Irish Rail putting extra trains on to accommodate Fleadh-goers.

Considering that Mullingar is just over an hour from Dublin, this news will have done much to whet the appetite of local businesses.

Deputy Willie Penrose said that there is such a vibrancy about Mullingar’s projected hosting of the Fleadh, that there is a benign concern that it may exceed the markers set down by Drogheda.

“The 500,000 number may be surpassed,” he said. “At least 25 percent of the visitors are expected to be from overseas.”

Deputy Penrose said that two major sponsors will be sought, as was successfully secured for the Fleadh in Ennis in 2016. Gold, silver and starter supporters’ packages will be available at a cost of €5,000, €2,500 and €950 respectively, and the Ballynacargy man urged businesses to get behind the fundraising drive.

“If we only make a certain amount, we’ll only be spending what we have,” he said. “We won’t be going off on any wild goose chases.

“Money will be used wisely and prudently, and any extra money made will be used to alleviate the burden for 2021 – which, very importantly, is the 70th anniversary of Comhaltas’s founding in Mullingar, and which will bring people to this town from across the world.”

He added that ‘Fleadh TV’, which attracts 750,000 viewers to TG4 on each night of the Fleadh, will bathe Mullingar, its surrounds and its businesses in ample spotlight, while Mullingar’s Fleadh will also be publicised extensively on RTÉ, and on social media.

Meanwhile, Declan Connolly gave a briefing on the massive accommodation needs expected.

He said that a third of all Fleadh visitors are expected to seek living quarters within 30 miles of the town, meaning that there will be a roll-on effect for other towns and villages in Offaly, Meath, Longford as well as Westmeath.

“There’s a long standing tradition of people staying in other people’s houses for the duration of the Fleadh, and it’s a lovely way for people to be involved,” said Declan.

Householders who wish to put up their homes, or room within their homes, as accommodation can do by registering their interest at www.mullingarfleadhaccommodation.ie.

To ensure suitability, all properties will be inspected by Fleadh officials at a cost of €12.50 per room, but a multiple of this will be made back by householders. One-bed accommodation in Drogheda, for example, commanded a fee of €500 for the week.

Westmeath Community Development CEO Frank Murtagh also spoke at Thursday night’s meeting, with his organisation tasked with building a database of volunteers for the Fleadh.

Mr Murtagh said that an army of volunteers will be sought to get involved in a multiplicity of activities, including stewarding, street clean-ups, PR/social media and much more.

WCD has circulated an expression of interest form for all those hoping to get involved, which is available on the Mullingar Fleadh 2020 Facebook page.

“This is the biggest cultural event that any committee can bring to a town. It’s nearly twice the size of the Ploughing Championships,” said FEC chairman Joe Connaire.

Expressing his delight at the numbers who attended on Thursday night, he asked each person to tell two of their friends to ensure that the attendance doubles or triples at the next meeting, which is expected to take place in five or six weeks time.

Regrettably, Joe had to remind those in attendance of a fact that should be obvious to everyone.

“Every one of our committee is a volunteer. We are doing this for the good of Irish traditional music and culture within our town, within our province, within the country, and worldwide. We will have people from as far afield as Japan and Australia coming here next year.

“It’s all free time we’re giving. So be under no illusion that anyone who’s on the committee is ‘getting anything’. They’re getting absolutely nothing, only the honour of bringing Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann to Mullingar. Is everyone totally in agreement with that? Because I am spelling that out here for you all.”

Joe thanked Westmeath County Council, the Gardaí, the local media and the wider committee for their support to date for both the bid and executive committees, and again urged people to get involved over the next 13 months.

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