Margaret Daly, Padraig Keena, Bernie Boland and Colette Glynn at the night out for fleadh volunteers in The Greville Arms Hotel on the Monday after the fleadh.

'We on the FEC are sincerely grateful to all of you'

By Padraic Keena, Fleadh Executive Committee

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2022 and 2023 were fantastic celebrations of traditional Irish music, culture, song and dance. At the heart of the fleadh are the competitions, which are the all-Ireland finals of the traditional music world.

The competitions attract the best of traditional performers, and are among the reasons so many excellent musicians are in the one place at the one time.

Competitions are held in all solo traditional instruments, duets, trios, 20-piece groups, 10-piece céilí bands, four-hand and eight-hand céilí and set-dancing, solo sean-nós dancing, marching bands, Irish and English singing, Cómhrá Gaeilge and Irish and English storytelling. Competitors take part in four age categories from U12 to over- 18, (and over-35 in set-dancing).

This year a total of 4,565 competitors from all over Ireland and all over the world took part in 177 competitions, in 25 competition venues at 16 premises throughout Mullingar, over three days.

A schedule of competitions of that size had never been seen before in Mullingar, and it required a massive community and voluntary effort. Almost every available large indoor space in the town was utilised to cater for the competitors and the many spectators, ranging in size from 1,000+ seater venues down to 80-seater venues, depending on the competitions.

Given that scale, it would be impossible to acknowledge in writing all those people who contributed to their success – however, some people deserve special mention and I will attempt to acknowledge them here.

First of all, I would like to thank the boards of management, principals, teaching staff and especially the caretakers of the nine schools available to us, namely: Presentation Senior NS, Loreto College, Holy Family NS, St Finian’s College, Gaelscoil an Mhuilinn, Educate Together NS, St Colman’s NS, Coláiste Mhuire and Gaelscoil an Choillín.

We would like to thank Bishop Deenihan and Fr Phil Gaffney for the use of the Cathedral of Christ the King for the Senior Céilí Band Competition, and for opening the doors of all parish premises for various fleadh events.

We thank the committees of Mullingar Town Band and Mullingar Harriers for the use of their premises, the management and staff of Mullingar Arts Centre and the Mullingar Park Hotel; Reverend Daniel Reyes Martin for the use of Mullingar Presbyterian Church, and Westmeath GAA for the use of TEG Cusack Park. We also thank the management and staff of Áras an Mhuilinn, which was used as a competition venue in 2022.

Without competition venues there is no fleadh, so, to each one of you, we extend our deepest gratitude.

The quality of venues at our disposal and their easy access from the town centre were some of the many reasons why Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was such a success.

In each of the venues, the Fleadh Executive Committee (FEC) appointed voluntary ‘venue managers, who were our representatives on the ground at each venue. Those people were the points of contact for the venue owners, ensured competitions ran safely, and took charge of a large team of volunteers, including door stewards, admissions, and programme sales.

They were on duty all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the main fleadh weekend and prepared each venue during the preceding week, giving their time and efforts in a voluntary capacity to ensure the smooth running of the competitions.

Venue managers over the two years of the fleadh in Mullingar were: Pat Keating (Cathedral), Ann Mulligan (Presentation NS), Patrick Weafer (Loreto College), Eileen Alford and Helena Heduan (Holy Family NS), Karen Nestor (Arts Centre and Áras an Mhuilinn), Margaret Daly (Mullingar Harriers), Irene Keenan and Siobhán Gillivan (St Finian’s College), Bob Keating (Gaelscoil an Mhuilinn), Dónal Ó Buachalla (Presbyterian Church), Inez Kenny (Gaelscoil an Choillín), Kim Magee (Bandhall), Bernie Winters and Helen Lynam (Educate Together NS), Kevin McLoughlin (St Colman’s NS), Rose Higgins and Imelda Finerty (Coláiste Mhuire), Marguerite Buckley, Martin Eighan (2023) and Mary Healy (2022) (Mullingar Park Hotel), Una Bourke (TEG Cusack Park).

We on the FEC are sincerely grateful to all of you and your teams. The venue owners placed their trust in us, and we in turn placed our trust in you. We thank you for taking on the role of venue manager with an understanding of the responsibility it entailed, with good humour and a pleasant, business-like attitude. You were a pleasure to work with and made this mammoth task all the easier.

Sincere thanks to all of the volunteers who helped out in any way at the competitions. Volunteers are the bedrock of any fleadh and the calibre of volunteers at this one was second to none. Your contribution to the fleadh competitions was immense. Many of our volunteers are members of Comhaltas branches throughout County Westmeath and so had a great understanding of how fleadh competitions are run.

The FEC received so many positive comments about the competition venues, how welcoming and hospitable everyone was, how well run the competitions were, and how everywhere was kept ship-shape. This is thanks to you the venue managers and your teams of volunteers.

A number of other people deserve our special thanks:

Sinéad McGovern in the Diocesan Office for her assistance with the insurance indemnifications and licences.

My colleagues on the FEC who assisted in the task, in particular Joe Connaire and Willie Penrose for their assistance with venues; Niamh Penrose and her team Anne Penrose and Jacqui O’Meara for providing floats, wristbands, card machines to all venues;

Pauline Hussey for her work on indemnifications and signage;

Linda Price for her work on coordinating the additional chairs needed for some of the venues, and to the local clubs and community centres who provided those chairs, and those who delivered and collected them from the venues.

Colette Glynn for her work on catering (David Smyth), supplies, indemnifications, and many other items.

In particular, Julia Dalton for her work on scheduling and training of the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who helped at all 16 venues over the competition weekend.

Michael Brennan (Sligo), who assisted with the initial assessment of suitability of each venue, and then the timetabling of the competitions. Without Michael’s guidance and insight from start to finish, this job would have been impossible.

Patrick Weafer and Eileen Alford, who visited the schools in the run-up to both fleadhanna.

Siobhán Ní Chonaráin (Comhaltas), who assisted with the parish licences.

The members of Lakeside Wheelers who cycled around the town collecting results and ferrying them to the Fleadh Office over the competition weekend.

Pat Fox, Declan Leonard, Cllr Tom Farrell and all those members of GAA clubs (including The Downs, Ballynacargy, Clonkill) who helped with parking at St Finian’s College and Loreto College over the competition weekend.

Our colleagues in Comhaltas who ran the competitions at the venues.

We used a small number of contractors, namely Monaghan Piano Centre (hire of eight pianos), Ground Protection Ireland (floor protection in the Loreto College gym), Nolan Sound (amplification), Vortexion Ltd, Midland Sacks and Covers, Arthur Stones and PO Keenan Ltd (stages), Canore (cleaning supplies), each of whom were a pleasure to deal with and provided professional and competitive services.

Adrian Jackson of Safety Solutions (event controller), who assisted with the venue manager training, and who undertook safety audits of all venues.

Joe Cassidy, Colum McDaid and the management and staff of Westmeath Fire Service for their co-operation on the fire safety of all venues.

Anne-Marie Corroon and colleagues in Westmeath County Council for directional signs, barriers, and other logistical items.

My work colleagues in Malachi Cullen Consulting Engineers Ltd for allowing me the time and space to work on this project when it required input during work hours.

And my wife Helena, and my children, Gráinne, Méabh, Conan and Fionn, who lived with fleadh bids and preparations for five years, and provided support and encouragement all the way.

– Padraic Keena was chair of the Competition Venues Sub-Committee for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2022 and 2023