Musicians from Westmeath and other midland branches of Comhaltas performed at the launch event outside Mullingar Arts Centre on Friday evening.

Main sponsor already looking to next year

Most of the speakers at the formal launch of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2022 last week referenced the historical link between Mullingar and Comhaltas, but one man is already looking to the future.

Tom Allen, manager of North Midlands Credit Union, the main sponsor of the event, said: “I don’t know if they’re going again next year, but if they are, and if they’re up for it, we’re up for it!”

Mr Allen was one of a number of speakers who addressed a good size crowd outside the arts centre in the kind of weather that the Fleadh Cheoil will hopefully be blessed with in August.

The Fleadh Executive Committee (FEC), led by chairperson Joe Connaire, hosted the event and musicians from the local various branches provided the entertainment.

Mr Allen said the North Midlands Credit Union is “delighted to be involved with the fleadh”.

“Six years the committee are working on it, and I remember running into Joe and Willie Penrose in the Park Hotel in the early stages – they told me what their plans were, and then they told me the kind of money they needed, and I said ‘you’re mad!’

“But in the years that followed, attending meetings and seeing the work they were doing, bit by bit they put it all together and when they came to the credit union looking for a major sponsor, we were delighted to support the committee and all the other volunteers working to make this fleadh a success.

“The credit union is a community organisation, the same as the committee running the fleadh – we’re on the go since 1960, Comhaltas started here in 1951, so we’re a few years younger, but we’re growing stronger and we’ve developed and expanded; we give a huge amount of money to the community through sponsorship of all kinds of organisations, last year about 300 organisations received help from the credit union fund, and when this committee came to us, we knew this was something bigger and it needed our support, and we were glad to give it.

“Then Covid came and we thought we were off the hook, our money was safe! But they kept going and now the fleadh is coming. I don’t know if they’re going again next year, but if they are, and if they’re up for it, we’re up for it!”

At the start of the launch event, Joe Connaire, said: “Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is returning to the town where Comhaltas was founded in 1951, and it’s an honour and a privilege for us as an FEC to have it. It’s a great Comhaltas event. Comhaltas is in our blood, in our culture, traditional Irish music, song and dance are in the character of every Irish person, and we are delighted to be part of that and are honoured to have Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann returning between 31st of July and the 8th of August.

“The title of our fleadh is the Homecoming – everyone is going to come home to Mullingar for the eight or 10 days.”

Joe paid particular thanks to the two local ministers, Robert Troy and Peter Burke, to Bishop Tom Deenihan, to Rev Canon Graham, to Aisling Coleman at Mullingar Chamber, and “to all our sponsors that have helped us to date – without them, we couldn’t hold this event”.

“To our main sponsor, North Midlands Credit Union, it’s a privilege to have you on board, and you got on board at a very early stage, so to Tom and all the staff, we sincerely thank you for that.” Joe said that without the support of Westmeath County Council, the event would not take place. “We have a great team in the council supporting us in the FEC and I want to sincerely thank everyone involved.”

He paid tribute to the musicians and said: “Without fail, when you’re asked to come to an event, be it big or small, you turn up in large numbers, and being a musician myself, I really appreciate what you’re asked to do, so give yourselves a big bualadh bos.”

Joe welcomed members of the CCÉ ardchomhairle to Mullingar and looked forward to working with them till the event concludes on August 8. “We’re delighted to have had your support; this has been a long process but we’re on the home straight, so I appreciate all your help.” Concluding, he thanked those present for turning up on a sunny evening when there are so many other things to do in the area, and gave a plug to sales of tickets and the fundraising car draw.

Cllr Frankie Keena, cathaoirleach, Westmeath County Council, opened his remarks by praising the musicians at the launch, said it would be fantastic to see Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann back in Mullingar, and he commended the vision of the people 71 years ago who founded Comhaltas.

“As cathaoirleach, I wish to say the council is delighted to support, and is proud to be associated with, Westmeath Comhaltas Ceoltóirí in hosting Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann here in Mullingar. I’m particularly pleased that the fleadh is coming back to Mullingar, given the enormous Comhaltas history associated with the town, and the tag for this year’s fleadh is The Homecoming, a reference to this very fact.”

Given the scale of the event, Cllr Keena acknowledged “with sincere thanks all those who have been working in a voluntary capacity in organising this year’s fleadh, and in particular Joe Connaire and the other members of the Fleadh Executive Committee”.

“I also acknowledge with gratitude the work carried out to date by the management and staff of Westmeath County Council, which is managed by David Jones, director of services, and in particular, a special thanks to Anne Marie Corroon, Fleadh Cheoil coordinator, and Pauline Hussey, who have been working full-time in association with the local fleadh committee since last September.”

He said that all the elected members of the council welcomed the fleadh, and were unanimous in their decision to allocate “a substantial grant at budget time”.

The economic benefits of the fleadh to the host area were highlighted by Paddy Mathews from Fáilte Ireland, who he said are “delighted to be associated with the event”. He said the fleadh would increase footfall, help recovery in the tourism industry, and showcase what Mullingar and Westmeath have to offer.