Billy Keane

Seeing no one stuck.

There was a tradition when the first All Ireland  Fleadh came to Listowel back in 1970 “of seeing no one stuck.”

 In other words those who came without any prior planning as to where they would spend the night were taken in by the locals. Fed they were and found too. The people of the house gave up their beds and spent the night on a sofa or blanketed up on the floor. On man I know stayed in his brother’s hay shed. He spent the most of the weekend picking stray away hay from his hair and from on he became known as The Scarecrow.

The tradition came from Listowel Races and as more Fleadhanna came to our town most of you who came as lodgers left as friends. There were invites to weddings, sorry for your troubles at funerals, Christmas Cards, keeping in touch in general, and as ever, no one was stuck.

 We have heard confirmed reports too of romances and resulting marriages. Indeed Mickey Mac Connell , our adopted son and the maker of the finest of songs such as Only Our Rivers Run Free came to town for that first Fleadh back in 1969?, fell in love with Maura from The Small Square , and never really left.

We have a big square too. I was but a small boy, in the same class as Eoin Moriarty, Chairperson of our organising committee for this year’s Munster Fleadh. We were and still are friends.  We were reared free range, like the chickens and so we had the freedom to wander from seisiún to seisiún. From morning ‘til night.

The wonder of The Square, the joy and melody from the lilting and lively groups of musicians changed our lives forever and for the better.

We even have our own expression for taking in the sessions. And in this our vernacular beats the laws of physics and mathematics. We call the musical treat “going for a round of The Square.”

And we circled the square. Time and again. We were hooked then on the music of our own people.

So it is, we welcome all our visitors to Listowel.

It is our aim to make sure no one is stuck.

Months of planning have gone into this year’s Munster Fleadh. There have been passionate and intense debates as to how the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan should be run. And why?  Because we care and because we in Listowel are conscious of the tradition handed down to us by our ancestors. We must keep up the inherited values of looking after all of our visitors. And we will.

There’s a huge economic benefit too. Homes turn in to B and B’s. Every shop and pub will pay off bills and maybe put some money aside. There will be full employment for everyone who wants to work.

But most of all it’s about the love of our town. And to make sure not just that “no one is stuck”, but it is our goal every one of you will have the time of your lives.

I’m the small boy again in awe at the wonder of it all. There was The Cows Lawn as the locals call it and the tented village, the caravanserai, the campfires, more music and the sense that for these few days a small town in the Southwest was the cultural capital of all of Gaeldom.

Even back then we understood. Our little town was home to the finest native music festival anywhere in the world. The Fleadh is of the people and as such is organic and real.

There are two parts of any Fleadh: the formal and the informal. The competitions are intense and the standard is the very highest. Munster medals are hard won. All Irelands are really world championships.

Years of practice go in to the makings of a champion. Honours mean nothing unless there is a sense the honours are deserved and are the end of a process of learning, kicked  off and underpinned by the spark of creativity and genius.

We count the days and strangely wish away months of our lives such is our hurry to get to Fleadh time. It’s like the small child waiting for Santa.

So now as we walk around The Square, we meet fellow circumnavigators who tell us “it’s only 9 weeks and 2 days to the Fleadh.

The small boy in me can feel the excitement lifting up inside. Now that the Fleadh is here at last, we will go at it full belt to make sure you  our esteemed visitors will bring the finest of tunes and memories away with you from Listowel, the Tidiest Small Town in Ireland.

We promise you we will do our very best. This is our solemn pledge and our handed down duty. Don’t ever be stuck. Welcome to Listowel.

By Billy Keane