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Royal Canal Brings Floating Visitors To New Siege of Mullingar At Fleadh Cheoil

21st July 2022
The forthcoming Siege of Mullingar will again be entirely friendly
The forthcoming Siege of Mullingar will again be entirely friendly

Back in pre-pandemic times, when the annual eight-day-long Fleadh Cheoil immersed Tullamore in music and festivities for three years in a row, the Offaly branch of the Inland Waterways Association organised the successful Float to the Fleadh cruise from each end of the Grand Canal, with the fleet meeting for festival time at Tullamore Harbour.

With life gradually returning to normal, it’s the turn of Mullingar on the Royal Canal to host the all-involving 2022 Fleadh (it’s from July 31st to August 7th) and the Royal Canal Branch of the IWAI to run the Float to the Fleadh.

The two Midland canal towns make for a fascinating comparison, for although the Grand Canal runs straight by on the north side of Tullamore with an offshoot to the harbour, when the Royal Canal was being constructed later some bright spark at Dublin Castle seems to have reckoned that it could also serve as a defensive town moat. Thus three-quarters of Mullingar is enclosed within a large loop of the Royal Canal, and ironically the railway – which was the undoing of any commercial success the Royal Canal might have hoped for – closes off the gap at the south.

Somebody seems to have had the idea of giving the Royal Canal extra value as a potential town moat when they routed it round MullingarSomebody seems to have had the idea of giving the Royal Canal extra value as a potential town moat when they routed it round Mullingar

As it happens, there was never a military Siege of Mullingar to test these arrangements. But there is a poem and song by John Montague called The Siege of Mullingar, which is about the week-long Bacchanalia which developed when the first Fleadh Cheoil to be staged in Mullingar was held there in 1963.

It sounds like just the job for sailors – whether of the sea or inland waterways persuasion – looking for an entertaining run ashore. But meanwhile, we’ll let Denis M Baker, the Chair of the Royal Canal Branch of the IWAI, gives us the official version of the fleet movements towards Mullingar that are already well under way:

Float to the Fleadh - Mullingar 2022

“The IWAI (Inland Waterways Association of Ireland) through its Royal Canal branch will be hosting a Float to the Fleadh event for the duration of the Fleadh Cheoil from 31st July to 7th August. The IWAI have previously hosted this event, as our Offaly branch ran it very successfully in Tullamore when the Fleadh was there for three years.

This event gives our members throughout the 32 counties the opportunity of bringing their boats to the Fleadh. Mullingar Harbour on the Royal Canal is the venue and will see the usually tranquil harbour come alive with colour and atmosphere as up to forty large boats will fill the harbour. Although this is essentially a members event, it should be a fabulous spectacle, and we welcome members of the public to come down to see the boats and say hello.

The IWAI is in the midst of a decade-long “Big Cruise” programme to remind river and sea users of the attractions of canal cruisingThe IWAI is in the midst of a decade-long “Big Cruise” programme to remind river and sea users of the attractions of canal cruising

Float to the Fleadh is the flagship event this year for the 2020s BC. The 2020s BC (Big Cruise) is a programme of events created by the canals branches of IWAI to increase boat traffic on the Royal and Grand canals and the Barrow Navigation. We have been working with Waterways Ireland to improve conditions for boating on these waterways. By creating an events schedule early each year, we can promote a variety of options for canal cruising through the year. We will be building upon the 2020s BC throughout the remaining decade, to help raise the awareness of the enjoyment that a boat tourism experience along our canal network can offer.

One of the advantages of canal cruising deep in the countryside is that the brief wait for a lock to open gives pause to appreciate the easy-going paceOne of the advantages of canal cruising deep in the countryside is that the brief wait for a lock to open gives pause to appreciate the easy-going pace

Ireland’s Hidden Heartland have supported us in this endeavour and it will be exciting to see what develops from the very positive interest being shown so far. Though the Royal Canal Greenway is still in its infancy it has been an enormous success, and events like Float to the Fleadh bring life back to the waterway in a way that can only serve to further enhance the spectacle for Greenway users.

We welcome all interest from the community, and love to interact with the users of the Royal Canal Greenway as we travel along the canal in boats. Walkers and cyclists alike are always fascinated to see a boat on the canal or travelling through a lock, we answer their questions as they look on in amazement. Its not unusual to be asked “Where have you come from?", “Where are you going and how long does it take?”. People often tell us they have never seen a boat moving on the Royal, “Well they definitely do travel on the Royal Canal - and you’re going to see a lot more boats in the future” We tell them.

Mullingar bound. The hospitable port of Abbeyshrule on the Royal Canal makes for an entertaining overnight stop for a typically-varied flotilla on its way to Mullingar.Mullingar bound. The hospitable port of Abbeyshrule on the Royal Canal makes for an entertaining overnight stop for a typically-varied flotilla on its way to Mullingar.

Logistically this is a big event, the largest number of cruisers and barges at one boat rally on this waterway since the restoration and reopening of the Royal Canal in 2010. Movements of boats each weekend through July have been coordinated with Waterways Ireland who has facilitated and helped the boats in their moves towards Mullingar. This is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the potential of canal boat tourism to more Shannon-based boaters and to Midlands tourism bodies. As it was in the past, boats and the towpath are still inextricably linked to the benefit of both.”

Published in Inland Waterways
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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