An air of vibrant national pride is certain to pervade within the heart of the local community as the Croi na hÉireann five day festival graces Athlone this week.
Culminating in the showpiece event, the St Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday, March 20, at 2pm, the return of the festival will certainly energise the spirits as a semblance of normality returns amid the formal easing of public health restrictions in recent times.
The theme for the St Patrick’s Day parade, the first to be hosted in Athlone since 2019, will focus on the centenary anniversary of the foundation of the State, with the Jadotville Tigers acting as Grand Marshalls for the occasion.
A large attendance is expected to grace the streets of Athlone as the parade progresses from west to east starting its journey on Magazine Road, but locals are expected to savour a myriad of events which have been diligently organised by the hard working Croi na hÉireann festival committee who have been earnestly preparing for this occasion.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser, Croi na hÉireann Festival committee chairperson, John Henson, noting the parade theme, appealed to members of the Athlone community to give of their support to the five day festival.
“As a nation we have just emerged from a sustained period of oppression from an outside force that was Covid-19 where our freedom of movement, freedom of assembly in large groups and for the most part a lack of freedom in our own decision making abilities was taken from us so there are remarkable similarities between what must have been the mood of the entire Irish Nation 100 years ago and what it is like now.
“Our committee is extremely happy with the manner in which the programme of events have now been formalised for this five day event for which there has been a positive response from the local community.
“The support received from local businesses is to be lauded and reflects the community spirit prevalent in our town.
“We have received a strong response from local sports and cultural organisations for our showpiece event, the St Patrick’s Day parade, which is an opportunity to showcase the best of youth and volunteer spirit and I would urge the Athlone community to unite and give of their support for an occasion not thought possible some six months ago.
“With such a schedule of events planned during our five day Festival there is no better place to be than Athlone this coming week,” Mr Henson enthused.
In his dual role as Croi na hÉireann Festival treasurer and Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr Frankie Keena, has encouraged the Athlone community to embrace the five day occasion laden with activities certain to appeal to all family members.
“The Croi na hÉireann Festival is now upon us and the prevalent hope from the volunteer committee, ably led by John Henson as chairman, is for members of the local community to come out and enjoy the five day occasion.
“This very energetic committee has organised a series of fun filled activities catering for all ages for the five day duration of the Festival to culminate with a major parade on Sunday afternoon.
“I wish to afford my due appreciation to all the various sporting, community, musical and business organisations who are kindly hosting numerous events.
“During the Festival organisation process the committee noticed that such groups were just so enthused to be involved in the programme of events planning as it gives them an opportunity to showcase the excellent work which they do through their public displays.
“I would wholly encourage the public to browse the packed Croi na hÉireann Festival schedule so as not to miss out on a particular event.
A major parade is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2pm where spectacular floats, marching bands and community entries will bring a range of colour, music and a ‘wow’ factor to the streets of Athlone.
“The parade also offers the Athlone community the opportunity to express their solidarity with Ukraine and I would encourage those who intend to attend our showpiece occasion on Sunday to wave the national flag of the east European country with that of our national flag,” Cllr Keena remarked.
The Cathaoirleach noted the importance of hosting numerous festivals in Athlone during the calendar year.
“It is vital that Athlone hosts a range of big festivals spread throughout the calendar year which will attract visitors to the town and its environs.
“This week we are delighted to witness visitors coming to Athlone from the US and Dublin for our Croi na Éireann festival. While this is so welcome, it is important to build on this further with the hopeful support of Destinations Athlone.
“All the relevant stakeholders need to recognise the significance and importance of such festivals to Athlone which will help boost the local economy.” Cllr Keena commented.
Cllr Keena also welcomed the financial support received from the local business community and Westmeath County Council to enable the five day Festival to proceed this year.