President Michael D Higgins has described officially opening Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, which was last staged in 2019, as a “privilege”.
The return of the Fleadh, being held this year in Mullingar, was eagerly awaited by traditional music fans, as the last one was held in Drogheda before the pandemic.
“On behalf of myself and my wife, Sabina, I am delighted, and it is a great privilege to be here again as we launch the All-Ireland Fleadh 2022,” President Higgins said.
He described the Fleadh as “one of Europe’s foremost cultural festivals” and referenced the struggles of festivals over the last couple of years, due to Covid-19.
“Having had to hold virtual events for the past two years owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, we appreciate all the more putting the great experiences of our Irishness without borders that the Fleadh represents i lár an aonaigh.
“The arts and culture sector has been impacted so severely as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As we regain the opportunity to engage in and relish many of the vital social and cultural aspects of our lives, let us take time to consider the importance of artists, musicians and cultural practitioners to our lives as a source of enrichment, and a celebration of shared citizenship.”
The President spoke for 20 minutes before being whisked away by a large security detail to attend the All-Ireland senior ladies football final between Meath and Kerry n Croke Park at 4pm.
President Higgins declined to speak to waiting reporters about his wife’s recent comments regarding the war in Ukraine.
Chairman of the Fleadh Committee Joe Connaire said it was “surreal” and a “relief” to finally see his and his team’s years of preparations finally come together – after two years of cancellations in Mullingar, since the town’s hosting bid was accepted in 2019.
Speaking after the official opening, Minister of State Peter Burke said the cultural importance of the Fleadh could not be understated.
“It’s great to have it here as Comhaltas was founded in Mullingar in 1951. It means so much for our culture, identity and language. We’re all very excited,” he said.
“The Fleadh Cheoil is a real treasure of culture and I hope all the local vendors and musicians can enjoy the fruits of it over the next few weeks.
This year’s Fleadh, dubbed ‘The Homecoming,’ will take place from July 31st to August 7th and 500,000 people are expected to attend over its duration.