Joe Connaire, Colette Glynn Linda Price and Willie Penrose in the Fleadh office.

'Exhilarated' Penrose says teamwork key to fleadh success

The 2023 fleadh left Willie Penrose “exhilarated” – but a second cause for exhilaration was the fact that he became a grandfather for the first time during the week, when daughter Aisling and her husband Brendan Noone welcomed baby Caoimhe into the world.

Willie, vice-chair of the Fleadh Executive Committee, was on a high as the fleadh ended, describing it as a resounding success – but a success that could not have been achieved without enormous effort.

“It’s the culmination of seven years of hard work and a culmination of a huge input and effort by the chairpersons of the committees and sub-committees,” said Willie on Monday.

The effort was phenomenal: one mind-boggling statistic is the fact that there were 96 meetings of the committee held between September and the start of the fleadh.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘we’: it was a collective collaborative effort and everybody went beyond the call of duty,” said Willie.

“We had 1250 volunteers under the chairmanship of Julia Dalton – and what’s key to it is that it is a voluntary effort: all the chairpersons are voluntary; all the chairpersons of the subcommittee are voluntary; the members are all voluntary. And that’s what makes Comhaltas such a great success, such a huge organisation. That’s why there’s 440 branches. That’s why it’s in 21 countries in the world.

“It’s all about enjoyment and promotion of the music, the culture, the heritage, the language. That’s the bedrock.”

While there might be a sense of anti-climax now that Mullingar’s two years as host town for the fleadh are behind it, Willie says that on the other hand, many will be happy to get their lives back again.

Looking to the future, it would not be unrealistic for Mullingar to aim to host the fleadh again, Willie believes.

“It probably would necessitate a new committee, a vibrant committee – but you must have ambition.”


Raising the €1.7m it cost to run the fleadh was no easy task, and Willie said the fleadh committee was grateful to Westmeath County Council for its support and for the €400,000 in grant aid that it provided. He was especially anxious to thank the council’s outdoor staff, who were on duty from 4.30am daily to keep the town looking its best, complemented by the Tidy Towns members and the fleadh volunteer ambassadors.

Willie headed up the fundraising committee, and he praised warmly Declan Leonard and his own daughter Niamh Penrose for their dedication, as well as Cllrs Johnnie Penrose and Tom Farrell, Mary Farrell and Kevin Oakes for their work in selling the draw tickets.

His warmest thanks were reserved for FEC secretary, Colette Glynn: “She is a phenomenon,” he declared, stating that if there were a Westmeath Person of the Year award, she would be a worthy winner.