Cllr Frankie Keena, Treasurer of Croí na hÉireann Festival, John Henson, Chairperson, with Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne handing over the staff to Tanya Cannon who will be this year’s parade Grand Marshal, Deirdre Berry PRO and Mayor Vinny McCormack.

Athlone’s Croí na hÉireann Festival gets underway

The five-day Croí na hÉireann festival to mark St Patrick's weekend in Athlone officially is underway this week and will feature a jam-packed programme of events right throughout the weekend, culminating with a spectacular St Patrick's Parade on Sunday next, March 19, beginning at 2pm.

Athlone will be a riot of colour throughout the Croí na hÉireann festival, and the jam-packed festival programme promises everything from a vintage car rally in St Peter's Square on Saturday, which will be preceded by a water safety display on the same day at Athlone Boat Club hosted by RNLI and the local Sub-Aqua Club.

Among the other events taking place on Saturday as part of the five-day festival is a hurling and camogie showcase hosted by Southern Gaels called 'Caman Everybody' which takes place at Pairc Chiarain between 4pm and 5pm, while Lough Ree Anglers Federation will host a competition throughout the day on Saturday as well.

One of the highlights of this year's Festival will be a Puppet Show showcasing the talents of a multicultural cast under the musical and dance direction of talented Ukrainian mother and daughter, Tetiana and Anastasiia Donchenko, who have set up a not-for-profit music and dance school in Athlone since they were forced to flee their home in Ukraine after the Russian invasion last year.

The multicultural puppet show, which is the first event of its kind to be staged in Athlone, will take place on Saturday, March 18, in St Mary's Hall Community Centre on Northgate Street, with events taking place between 12 noon and 3pm.

The programme for St Patrick's Day itself, Friday, March 17, gets underway with the eagerly-anticipated 'Big Breakfast' in Ballinahown from 9am to 12.30pm which is always a wonderful community get-together with many participants donning fancy dress for the occasion. St Patrick himself might even pay a visit!

Fitness enthusiasts are also catered for as part of Croí na hÉireann with Athlone Regional Sports Centre playing host to a '5k on Paddy's Day' event at 10am on St Patrick's Day. Entertainment under the canopy on Church Street is a big feature of this year's festival and will take on Friday, Saturday and Sunday during daylight hours. Among the musical acts taking part are Dollar Daly on Friday from 2pm to 4pm, followed by Na Bádóirí from 4pm to 6pm; Michael Woods & Sandra Clarke from 11.30 to 1pm on Saturday, followed by the Jack Bo Band at 1.30pm, and St. Patrick's Day will see poetry under the canopy at 12 noon, Aidan Higgins at 1.30pm and the River Street Brass Band from 3.30pm to 5pm.

The Grand Parade on St Patrick's Day gets underway at 2pm with local woman Tanya Cannon being given the huge honour of acting as Grand Marshal for the 2023 parade.

The theme chosen for the 2023 festival is 'Mná Na hÉireann', a celebration and recognition of the incredible contribution made by the women of Ireland to the very fabric of our society in homes, communities, towns and businesses.

Commenting on Tanya's selection as Grand Marshal, chairperson John Henson said she "personifies the qualities that we looked for" when making the selection.

"Tanya is a successful businesswoman and author who has faced and overcome adversity in her life and has grown into a positive and inspirational woman and epitomises all of the traits that go into the makeup of 'Mná na hÉireann' ."

Tanya established A1 Cleaning Maintenance and Services limited in March 2007, and is celebrating 16 years in business this year. She has over 30 years' experience in the industry and prides herself on offering competitive rates together with a highly dependable service.

Over that time, Tanya has also provided support and sponsorship to sporting teams and various charities throughout the town of Athlone, as well as providing physical support through her company for various charities and people have come to realise that help from Tanya is just a phone call away.

Tanya recently sponsored the Athlone Town Ladies Soccer team who won the inaugural Presidents Cup.

“I actually can't believe it, it's a huge honour for me as a local girl from the town, especially as the theme is Mná ana hÉireann," a delighted Tanya said of her selection to lead Athlone's St Patrick's Day parade.

Deirdre Berry, Manager of Esker House, said she was delighted that Tanya had been selected because as the manager of the local refuge for women , she is acutely aware of the great help and support provided by Tanya behind the scenes that the general public would not even be aware of.

Treasurer Cllr Frankie Keena said he was delighted with the selection of Tanya for this role which recognises her enormous contribution to the local community.

"We are just thrilled and proud to have her on board. It is a recognition that she so richly deserves," he added.

Also taking part in the Grand Parade in Athlone will be Operation Transformation leader, Marie Clear, who won the hearts of the nation during the latest series of the RTE wellness show and was described on social media as being “inspirational” and with a lovely warm personality.

Treasurer of the thlone Croi na hEireann Festival Group, Cllr Frankie Keena, said he had the pleasure of meeting Marie recently at the Athlone Regional Sports Centre where she took the lead in a walk with the Athlone IWA and St. Hildas group around the park.

“Her motivational skills in encouraging people to keep active is fantastic and I fully commend her on her love to help people” he said.

Cllr Keena has encouraged everyone to “get behind Marie and give her a warm welcome to Athlone” and has said he would like to see local people walking in the parade with Marie to give her support and also to help spread the message of “the importance of keeping active for one’s own health.”