The heart of a volunteer is the heart of the Fleadh
There are somewhere in the region of 1,020 volunteers manning fences, leading teams, ushering crowds, directing traffic, handing out teas and coffees and doing whatever is humanly possible to ensure that the Fleadh Cheoil 2022 in Mullingar goes smoothly.
The figure is not far off the 1,200 originally sought by the Executive Committee back in 2019, when Mullingar’s bid for a homecoming of Irish traditional music and dance was accepted by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Among this vast number of purple-shirted helpers is Brian Crum, the former Fianna Fáil county councillor who has parked his regular job as a haulier for Fleadh week to help out.
“I did 12 to 8pm on Tuesday, 11am to 7pm yesterday, 10am to 5pm today and I’m in 9pm to 6.30pm tomorrow. The same, in and around, on Saturday as well, and then 8pm to midnight on Sunday night. That’s around 60 hours,” Brian told the Westmeath Examiner on Wednesday last.
“It’s great. I love meeting the people and having the craic with them anyway. This is right up my alley. It’s great for the town of Mullingar to have it, and when it’s in our back yard, why don’t we put our shoulders to the wheel and give it the good push that it needs to keep it here?
“When I saw the ad for volunteers, I jumped on it straight away. I’m a lucky person in that I work for myself. I’m self-employed, so I can come and go as I please. So I said to myself, ‘Look it, it’s in Mullingar, the home of the Fleadh. Why don’t I get behind it and give it everything that I can?”
“So that’s how it worked out. I signed up, filled out the form and said, ‘Yeah, I’m free to do whatever they want’. They took me at my word!”
Brian is a team leader for the Fleadh’s street ambassadors, he explains.
“What that entails is making sure that volunteer street ambassadors are happy, they’re where they should be, and that everything that needs to be done is getting done. There’s a lot of walking in it, so the steps have been well up over the last two days!” said the Bunbrosna native, who now lives in Multyfarnham.
“I’ve been talking to a few volunteers and they told me they’ve been hitting the 20,000 mark in steps, but I forgot to bring the FitBit with me, so I haven’t been keeping track of them unfortunately!”
He is astounded the quality of manpower available to the Fleadh Committee – over a thousand men and women from all walks of life and of all ages – and not just from the greater Mullingar area.
“There’s a great atmosphere. The volunteers are here by their own personal choice. ‘Volunteer’ means you don’t get paid for it. But the calibre of volunteers they have, who are doing it for free, is unbelievable. I never thought that Westmeath could do it,” Brian explained.
“But it’s not even Westmeath – people were landing into HQ today and they’re from all over the place. One man came in to me in Market Square today with a volunteer’s t-shirt on him and he’s from Dun Laoghaire.
“Everyone who loves the Fleadh loves helping out. And that’s what makes the Fleadh what it is.
“We have all ages. We even have a volunteer in HQ and I think she told me her age was nine. Start them young and you’ll always have them!”
Brian hopes that the Fleadh will return to Mullingar again in 2023 so he can get another chance to experience the camaraderie and the sights and sounds of the great festival.
“Please God it’ll be here next years and we’ll throw our shoulders to the wheel again,” he added.
“I know people are overwhelmed with work. But if you even come in and volunteer for the Fleadh for just two hours, the amount of people you’ll meet, and the good fun you’re going to have, will far outweigh every problem you’ll have in your head for that two hours.”
Julia Dalton, volunteers’ chairperson for the Fleadh Executive Committee, said that she is overjoyed at the response to the committee’s call for volunteers, and how those volunteers have helped to make the Fleadh such an outstanding success.
“Wherever help is needed, they are there – an army of maroon t-shirts!” Julia said. “We put a call-out for help for the Seisiún Mór na hÉigse at the Cathedral [on Wednesday], which was a massive undertaking, and within minutes you could see a maroon tsunami coming up Mary Street!”