Chairman Joe Connaire

Fleadh team vow to fight on as 2021 is cancelled

Mullingar has lost the chance to host the All Ireland Fleadh for a second time. The announcement was made on Friday last, when it was revealed that the event will be replaced by a virtual celebration called FleadhFest.

The decision was taken in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but now doubt hangs over whether Mullingar will be automatically awarded the event for a third time once the threat to health has passed.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner following the announcement, chairperson of the Fleadh Executive Committee in Mullingar, Joe Connaire we “want what we signed up for”.

“We want the main event. We owe it to too many people – we owe it to the people of Mullingar.

“We’re not walking away from this, that’s what we signed up for, and we paid a lot of money for it.”

But Mr Connaire said there were no guarantees that Mullingar will be awarded the Fleadh again.

“At the meeting on Thursday night it was discussed but there’s no definites. We have a signed memorandum of understanding with the Comhaltas head office, Westmeath County Council and the FEC. We paid our money, so we deserve the big day.”

He said Westmeath Comhaltas had only two options open to them. “We have our money paid to Comhaltas head office – €95,000 for year one, and we will be outlining that money should either be kept in their possession to guarantee us the next fully fledged fleadh, or else, scenario number two is to give us back our money, we’ll pay back our sponsors and we’ll reapply whenever Covid has disappeared.

“I would argue the point that Mullingar should be guaranteed the next two fleadhs when it’s physically possible to run the big event. And I’m very strong on that point, as is our committee.

We have put thousands and thousands of hours and miles in it, all voluntary. It’s the biggest cultural event that can come to any town and we are not walking away from this.”

On whether the decision to cancel Fleadh 2021, Mr Connaire was adamant they had “called it right”. “How can you run an event when you can’t talk to big sponsors, when you can’t have meetings. This isn’t something that happens overnight.

“We’re looking at another six-week lockdown that will bring us up to the end of November, then you’re into Christmas. You need 12-18 months to organise a fleadh for any town. It is such a monster, between competition venues, sponsorship, health and safety, stage hire, security...

“This is too big of an event to be hit and miss with, and we’ve called it because Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic.

“It’s disappointing, especially on the 70th anniversary of Comhaltas, but you have to think of people’s health.

“The numbers are rising in every town without any events happening, so what would it be like with an event coming to town with a few hundred thousand – we wouldn’t get the go-ahead from the government in first place.

“At the end of the day, you have to stay positive. Mullingar won the vote in Leinster, we beat the other four towns by a country mile and we have great support countrywide from Comhaltas members and the majority of them feel for us.

“It is a huge loss, it’s a huge loss to the town, and to the economy of Westmeath but we’re not going away, we’re determined to bring this back.”