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In early March 2019 Mullingar was named as the host town for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2020. The event is the world’s largest annual celebration of Irish music, language, song and dance. It attracts in the region of 500,000 visitors to the host town every year. The announcement was received with excitement and jubilation by Comhaltas people and lovers of traditional culture in Co. Westmeath.

The event is organised by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and will be hosted in Mullingar in conjunction with the local Fleadh Executive Committee and Westmeath County Council.

Joe Connaire, chairperson of Westmeath Comhaltas and of the Fleadh Committee, thanked the members of the Ard Comhairle for putting their trust in Mullingar to host this magnificent event, saying “We are deeply honoured and humbled by the ringing endorsement we have received from the Ard Comhairle of Comhaltas, both in the town of Mullingar and in the members of our voluntary bid committee who have put in a huge amount of work to get us to this day. We are bringing the Fleadh back to its roots, back to where it all began, and back to where our great organisation was founded. Is ceart é a rá go bhfuil an Comhairle Chondae fíor-riachtanach mar comhghuaillí chun Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann a eagrú í gceart”.

The Fleadh Committee are now working hard to produce the biggest and best Fleadh ever, with a number of their core aims being their intention to:

  • To organise Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Mullingar on traditional lines, being true to the aims of those who founded Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in the town in 1951.
  • To create a legacy for the organisation at all levels, especially at branch level, in its continued promotion of Traditional Irish Music, Song and Dance, harnessing our spirit of volunteerism and community engagement.
  • To organise The Accessible Fleadh, with a focus on accessibility both in the physical sense, being geographically accessible from all parts of the country and convenience of venues within the compact town, and also in the sense of the Fleadh being inclusive, welcoming and engaging for rank and file members of the organisation, and the wider public alike.

This Mullingar Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2020 has been named ‘The Homecoming’ because of the enormous Comhaltas history of the county town of Westmeath.  Without a doubt, one of the most significant musical/cultural events to take place in Westmeath was the founding of Comhaltas in Mullingar in 1951. Westmeath people were front and central to this development and continued to be so. The first Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held in Mullingar in 1951, and in 1953 Athlone was the host town. These were small events but by 1963. when Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann returned to Mullingar, the scene was transformed, and the gathering was huge. This event was controversial, true, but it has to be said that any event which brings such notable musicians as Barney McKenna, Finbarr Furey, Bobby Gardiner, Joe Burke and Martin Burns to play in free-for-all street sessions must be getting some things right, not to talk of the superb music heard in competitions from the Liverpool Ceili Band, Seamus Connolly, Paddy Carty et al.

From 1963 onwards, many towns have successfully hosted Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, some on numerous occasions, and have grown the Fleadh to what it is today, one of Europe’s foremost cultural festivals.

One area on which we are focusing some attention this year is street entertainment. As a committee, we are making a genuine effort to create the right environments to nurture the occurrence of impromptu, unpaid and unamplified traditional Irish music sessions throughout the town. Since Fleadhanna were first organised, the informal street session has been a huge attraction, and indeed emphasises the unique nature of the Fleadhanna. In recent years, the Fleadh, by its very nature of drawing big crowds, has also attracted a wide variety of street entertainment. We believe that Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is an occasion where the playing of traditional Irish music should take precedence over other forms of street entertainment.

To create the ideal environment to nurture organic traditional street sessions, we would like to make the main thoroughfares of the town available to musicians playing traditional music and intend to have seating available to facilitate same. We believe that every traditional musician, young and old, should have the opportunity to join in street sessions, and experience the joy and exhilaration that sharing of musicianship brings. This, we hope, will allow friends to meet and share tunes in the unique setting of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann – traditional music played on the street for pleasure, not for reward.

All other forms of street entertainment will be welcomed to perform at specific locations established throughout the town, but not on the main thoroughfares. Our beautiful central Town Park, will be reserved for all forms of street entertainment, to include dance troupes, magicians, comedians, street performers, and for any traditional musicians who would like to busk. We envisage creating a festival type atmosphere in the Town Park, complete with food stalls and other attractions to encourage a family-friendly atmosphere and to entertain the flow of pedestrians moving between competitions venues.

We are considering numerous ways of cultivating street sessions, and we’re starting with you, the member. If everyone works together on this, through communication and information, we can make this a reality. Please pass this message to members anxious to partake in street sessions, and we can allocate different musicians to various locations. We will strive to create a bustling, noisy, thoroughfare of streets, where the entertainment on offer highlights the unique nature of Fleadhanna – lively, up-lifting traditional music, played by young and old, side by side, played in every nook and cranny of the town’s streets, in order to bring the spirit of the Fleadh back to its traditional roots.