Westmeath has played, and continues to play, an important role in the world of traditional Irish music.
Last year marked the centenary of the birth of the famous piper, Willie Reynolds, one of the founder members of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann, who was a native of Walderstown, Athlone. The late Kieran Kelly (button accordion ) and Larry Benson (fiddle ) were both All Ireland title holders. Paul Brock, one of Ireland’s foremost accordion players who tours widely with the Brock Maguire Band and has held multiple junior and senior titles, is a native of Athlone.
In more recent times, the late Austin Berry and his pupil Ruari O Leochain were champions on the mouth-organ and Ellen Costello, Audrey Murphy, and Niamh Brett have all distinguished themselves at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann.
It was at a meeting in Mullingar in January 1951 between members of a Dublin Pipers Club and traditional musicians from Westmeath that two important decisions were made. One was the foundation of an organisation to promote Irish traditional music and the other was to organise, on an annual basis, a major festival to celebrate Irish music, song, and dance. The first Fleadh Cheoil was held in Mullingar. Initially the organisation was called Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann but at a meeting, again held in Mullingar, in January 1952 the name was changed to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the rest, as they say, is history.
In recent years Athlone Public Library has celebrated the traditional musical heritage of the town by hosting the very successful “Seisiun sa Leabharlann” during the month of March.
This year on the afternoon of Friday, March 10, once again silence in the library will go out the window and they will hold a very special traditional session to mark both Seachtain na Gaeilge and St Patrick’s Day. The session will be led by Tony Dunne and his friends and will feature a guest appearance by the very talented Costello Sisters (Catherine, Grace, and Maeve ) – the session will begin at 3pm. All are welcome.