A group of people in the Killucan, Raharney and Rathwire areas came together over the last few weeks to explore the idea of a new Comhaltas branch there. Some of the group visited Áras an Mhuilinn to get a taste of a real trad seisiún, and they expect to have the sound of traditional music ringing in north east Westmeath in time for the 2023 fleadh. At Áras an Mhuilinn were (from left) Des Briody, Camillus Glynn (an cathaoirleach, An Áras), Shay O’Callaghan and Domhnall Ó Buachalla.

Fleadh ’22 legacy is new interest in trad music and singing

A new song to commemorate Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2022, the Homecoming, has been penned by traditional music maestro Dick Stokes and put to the tune of the popular Irish air, The Limerick Rake. Another legacy of Fleadh 2022 is the upsurge in people joining local branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and attending classes.

“I write songs occasionally, when there is something worth writing about, and the fleadh was such a success and so enjoyable I felt I should write about it,” Dick told the Westmeath Examiner.

His song refers to a number of musicians who had died since the previous fleadh, including Joe Burke and Paddy Maloney, and he mentioned Aisling Murphy, the Tullamore teacher who was tragically murdered while out for a run just over a year ago.

Dick is hopeful that someone will feel his song is worth singing: “That would be the biggest reward for me,” and that, “in years to come, we will look back and say we were there”.

As the county prepares for a bigger and better fleadh this year, there is evidence that interest in traditional music, song and dance has spiked in the area.

Last year’s fleadh was “unbelievable” and hopefully we will have good weather again this year to make it as big a success, Dick said. Even some fleadh veterans were “blown away” by the success of the Homecoming Fleadh in Mullingar and some of the upper echelons of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann said it was “the best fleadh ever”, he reported.

Dick feels that fleadh 2022 banished the ghosts of the last Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann held in Mullingar in 1963, memories of which still haunted older patrons. The place wasn’t ready in 1963 and there were some undesirable aspects, he said, but after last year that is all forgotten.

“I talked to people from all over the country and they had nothing but good to say about last year’s Mullingar fleadh,” said Dick. He added that he had been to many fleadhanna down the years and “you wouldn’t be happy on the streets at night”.

“In Mullingar, everyone commented on how safe they felt, even people who were only there to soak up the vibes,” he said.

It is normal for interest in traditional music, song and dance to spike in an area after a fleadh, and that has been the case in Westmeath.

Dick reports a 30% to 40% increase in attendance at traditional classes in the Castletown Geoghegan branch of CCÉ – of which he is a member.

Other branches, such as Ballynacargy and Ballymore as well as some of the smaller branches, have seen a surge in membership and numbers at classes and it is reported that moves are afoot to set up a new branch in the Killucan Raharney area.

“Fingers crossed, that will happen and we will have an eighth branch in the county,” Dick said. He said that is one of the aims of the fleadh, to leave a legacy to the town and county.

He thanked the Westmeath Examiner for its coverage of the fleadh, saying it was done really well and captured the atmosphere.

Song to commemorate the Homing Fleadh, 2022

Now Robbie McMahon, that bard of renown

Wrote a song ‘bout the fleadh back in famed Ennis town

Well friends now draw near and a tale I’ll set down

Of the fleadh that was called the Homecoming.

T’was in twenty sixteen that the plan was laid down

For the fleadh to come back home to Mullingar town

Joe Connaire was the leader and his team rallied round

To bring the fleadh back to its birthplace.

But six years they went by ere the dream it came true

With the best-ever fleadh in the year twenty-two

After Covid and lockdowns and all kinds of blues

The people came out in their thousands.

The streets they were thronged and the music rang clear

With boxes and fiddles and great jigs and reels

They banished misfortunes of two Covid years

And they played till the lark in the morning

They came upon buses and cars bikes and trains.

And some even came on a private airplane.

But the gardaí were waiting – their trip was in vain

And they missed out on all of the hooley

From all over Ireland and Scotland and Spain

From the US, Australia and troubled Ukraine

From the world’s farthest corners the multitudes came

To be at the fleadh, the Homecoming.

The finest musicians and singers we saw

In competitions and sessions and concerts and all

And in the Cathedral the crowd were enthralled

With the great ceili band competition

The sun it shone down and the weather was great

And the streets they were crowded from early till late

No need for umbrellas or wellies or coats

Just slap on the old Factor 50

But since we last gathered I must now record

That some of our finest were called to the Lord

Great Tony McMahon and Chris Droney too

Joe Burke and the Chieftain Maloney

Will we e’er see another like Arty McGlynn

Or Mac Mathúna, brave Seamus that great man of song

And young Aisling Murphy, too soon she was gone

All these were recalled at the sessions

Well now it’s all over, the crowds are all gone

But the memories will linger and live with us long

Of Mullingar town and its half-million throng

Who came to the fleadh, the Homecoming

So well done to Joe and his hardworking crew

Colette, Willie and Enda, to name but a few

The year that’s ahead will bring challenges new

As they work on the second Homecoming

• Dick Stokes (August 12, 2022)