Find out what Athens and Mullingar have in common below.

Take time to think and you’ll see the link

Hands up all of you who know what Mullingar and Athens have in common? I thought so… and please don’t feel bad for not knowing the answer – because I didn’t know until I thought about it and worked it out for myself.

What have cowboys and showband musicians got in common? (No, that is not the answer I was looking for – from that ‘blue-rinse’ lady up on the gallery!)

Where to begin… let us start by having a look at Athens.

Athens is the home of the Olympic Games Movement. The ancient games were held in Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. That inspired the idea of the modern Olympics, now the greatest sporting event on the planet. The first Olympics of the modern age were held in Athens in 1896. Since then, the games take place every four years – except when wars or pandemic get in the way. Around 200 countries take part, so just about every nation is represented.

This year’s games will be held in Paris; and already, the jockeying, canvassing, politicising, and perhaps bribery, are in full throttle from countries vying with each other to host the games in future years. ‘Olympic Villages’ will be built at enormous expense and with breath-taking waste.

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics and did a superb job. All agreed that there was something special about ‘the Olympics coming home’. Why then, instead of inviting corruption and extravagant waste of money and energy, because of shifting countries every four years, can not Athens, with its ancient arena, be given the Olympic Games permanently?

The first Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held in Mullingar in 1951. (Now you can guess where this is heading!) Mullingar is the ideal location for the fleadh. Centrally located and steeped in the culture of Irish traditional music, there is an undeniable case to be made for the fleadh ‘coming home’ permanently.

The 2022 Fleadh Cheoil was said to be the best ever, because of the fact that Mullingar more than rose to the occasion. The only one that surpassed ’22 for atmosphere, organisation, ‘just the right size of town’, and the ‘coming home’ feeling was the following year; the 2023 fleadh was nationally acclaimed as being ‘the best ever’. Mullingar needs to be made the permanent home of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

And that is what Mullingar and Athens have in common!

The Irish ‘Showband Era’ stretched from the late 1950s until the mid-1970s. Few of today’s younger generation can have any idea of the change that came about in Ireland with the coming of the showbands and the dance halls. It was our teenage revolution! It changed everything; it gave the young generation an identity for the first time.

With it came a freedom, a confidence, and an independence of thought. It is no exaggeration to say that the showbands changed Ireland – and not only its musical tastes.

It was the golden age of musical expression in Ireland and there is no doubt but that it was from that era that the creative musical genius of the following 50 years was born. Not only did the showbands change the leisure scene in Ireland, but the top bands were in high demand for the dancehalls that sprung up to cater for the demand in England.

Like the showbands in Ireland, the legacy of the American cowboy and the lore of the Old West lives on in American culture. (Of course you can’t see any link… yet!) It wasn’t just in America, but cowboy films were the staple diet of ‘going to the pictures’ back in the day.

Unlike the showband stars (the top ones were earning five times the average weekly wage), the cowboy was poorly paid, making only around $30 a month – and he only got paid after the cattle were sold. Those young men became tough and resilient and grew with the mantra of survival of the fittest. The cowboy exemplifies the best ideals of being an American: wit, adventurousness, courage and wholesome goodness.

So, what do cowboys and showbands have in common, you may be wondering… Well, the most extraordinary common denominator is that both the showband era and the cowboy era were only around for less than 20 years (in the case of the showbands) and for scarcely 30 years in the case of the cowboys. The impact that both had on the culture of their respective countries after operating for such a short timespan makes this an exceptional piece of history.

Their story lives on.

Don’t Forget

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.