John Geoghegan, president of Mullingar Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Noel McIntyre.

‘Mullingar’s finest moment delivered by Mullingar’s finest people,' says chamber president

The week of the fleadh kicked off for me on the Friday before it when myself and Willie Penrose and Joe Connaire went for breakfast in Frayne’s Café on Mount Street. Over the course of an hour the lads regaled me with tales of the election process and all the work that went into winning the fleadh in in the first instance.

This did not sound simple. A lot of groundwork had to be done. One of the shrewdest political operators of his generation, Willie left no stone unturned in making sure Mullingar got it and coupled with Joe’s incredible musical track record and credentials, this formidable team were going to deliver and, thankfully, they got the fleadh for Mullingar and it was all systems go.

We discussed the scale of the upcoming event [500,000+ visitors], the 1,020 volunteers required, the schedule, the numbers of musicians and events, the competitions and, last of all, the budget and fundraising and what we could do to assist where we could.

On Sunday July 31, I was fortunate enough to be invited up on the stage of the North Midlands Credit Union Gig Rig in Blackhall to view the official opening ceremony of the fleadh addressed by none other than the first citizen of Ireland, President Michael D Higgins and Labhrás Ó Murchú, director general of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as well as Bishop Tom Deenihan and others.

As we prepared for the event to commence, the Blackhall carpark was around 10 per cent full and just before the main gig at 12.30pm the entire car park was absolutely packed with people, all assembled peacefully to see and hear the event accompanied by an excellent group of musicians on the stage.

It was incredible to see such a gathering in the middle of our town and to listen to the speech from the President and Labhrás Ó Murchú that covered what the fleadh and Irish music means to Irish culture locally and worldwide, as well as what this event means to Mullingar and its homecoming to the home of the first fleadh in 1951 and 1963.

Looking out across the crowd this was, in my view, Mullingar’s finest moment delivered by Mullingar's finest people. It really was a sight to behold and one I will never forget for the rest of my life.

On Tuesday August 2, I was invited as part of a group of speakers to address the Ceannródaithe Awards Gala Dinner in the Bloomfield House Hotel where Sarah Ghriallais, Helena Rowsome, Pádraig Sinnott, Mick Foster and Noel Battle were presented with awards for their lifelong contributions to Irish music.

In my few words as president of Mullingar Chamber I made it clear that Mullingar Chamber is delighted to support the fleadh and will continue to do so and that, with €30m-€50m of economic output to the town in eight days this is 30%-50% of GDP in the town in a little over a week, an outstanding event and one that we should all support.

As the week proceeded I was thrilled to walk the streets and frequent a number of bars and music sessions to absorb the incredible atmosphere that is the fleadh.

The sheer scale of the event was particularly evident on Saturday August 6 when the town swelled in numbers that had never seen before, all peacefully enjoying the atmosphere of this incredible event.

I was particularly impressed with the efficiency of the bar operators in dealing with unprecedented numbers, and even more so by the prevalence of reasonable pricing that was clear in the vast majority of premises with a pint of Guinness pitched at €6 or so and, in some cases as low as €5, brilliant to see value for money and fair business practice like this in action.

As the week drew to a close I met with Niall Breslin and his partner Louize Carroll for a coffee. Niall was working on content with TG4 at the Fair Green where they delivered an outstanding tribute to Ashling Murphy on Saturday night. Niall was, as I was, totally taken aback by the sheer scale and success of this event. It is truly incredible and needs to be experienced first-hand to believe it.

Mullingar Chamber was delighted to support this event in any way we could but the biggest way we could was to allocate our brilliant office manager Aisling Coleman to the organising committee on a part time basis. During this time, Aisling has proven to be a brilliant operator and has played a key role in delivering this event.

On a personal note, the highlight of the week for me was getting permission from the organisers to send a small band to Auburn Village on Friday evening to play for our neighbour Eamon Dunne, who is ill with Motor Neuron Disease. It was beautiful to see the music brought all the way to a person’s home to lift the spirits.

I would like to thank the organising committee led by Willie Penrose and Joe Connaire, Declan Leonard, Johnny Penrose, Colette Glynn, Pauline Hussey, Linda Price, Aisling Coleman and others as well as Paul McCool and Pat Kavanagh in WCC, the 1,020 volunteers, the outstanding work of An Garda Siochana and all the others who made this event happen. This is probably the very biggest and very best thing ever to come to the town.

It has been a week to remember that I will personally treasure forever.

John Geoghegan is the president of Mullingar Chamber of Commerce.