The founders of Westmeath Comhaltas have launched a ‘musical revolution’

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Descendants of the Ó Muimhneacháin family, accompanied by members of the Reynolds Academy of Dance, performed.

On a sunny Thursday evening last week, a memorial concert detailing the historic founding of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and its founding members took place in St. Paul’s Church.

Presenting music and dance performances, many of which are descended from the descendants of the original committee members, writer, actor and director, Diarmuid de Faoite took audiences back in time to 1951, at the Midland Hotel, where history was written.

A group from the Pipers Club on Thomas Street, Dublin traveled to Mullingar for a meeting with the Walderstown Pipers.

From this first meeting, chaired by Cáit Bean Uí Mhuimhneacháin, the organization that would become known as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann would grow.

The decision was made to hold an annual festival of Irish music, song and dance and invitations were extended to musicians from all over Ireland to attend the first Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar.

“Their dream was to pass on our music, our heritage and to ensure its sustainability and enhancement,” said Diarmuid de Faoite, MC. “This dream has come true, a beautiful tribute to the ambition of these founders 70 years ago.”

De Faoite said that there are now more than 400 Comhaltas branches worldwide, proof of the extraordinary success of this first meeting.

“Tonight, let’s sit down and pay tribute to those music makers, the founders, the volunteers, who have kept our music alive and captured the hearts of the world,” he said.

“They sprouted and nurtured what can only be described as one of the finest cultural organisms in the world today.”

The concert featured audiovisual clips of founding members such as Willie Reynolds and that first Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar.

A clip of Willie Reynolds playing uilleann pipes was covered by members of the house band, including Ciarán Gaynor on pipes, Niamh Glynn on flute, and sisters Fiona and Niamh Kelleghan on banjo and button accordion.

De Faoite then detailed the history of the founding members, including Willie Reynolds, Cáit and Eamonn Mhuineachain, and Ms Mullally.

Born in 1916 in Walderstown, Willie Reynolds comes from a family of musicians. Her father Jack played the accordion and her mother’s family were also musicians.

His own musical career began in 1924 when he learned to play the accordion from his father, before his interest later transferred to the melodeon, taught to him by his neighbor, Kate Kerrigan.

However, in 1938, aged 22, Willie attended a Feis at the Ranelagh Sports Grounds, where he noticed a competition on the Clár called Senior Uilleann Pipes. This immediately caught his eye and from there, history was written. He later described the experience:

“I felt a sting, it was like something was entering my bloodstream.”

Shortly after, Willie bought a set of practice Uilleann Pipes for the grand total of seven pounds, ten shillings.

In 1943 he founded the Walderstown Uilleann Pipers Club to promote the teaching and performance of traditional music throughout County Westmeath, and in doing so he arrested his decline at this time.

Willie Reynolds married Julie O’Dowd in 1950 and had 10 children. He holds teaching diplomas in bagpipes, flute and accordion. In 1951, at Mullingar, Willie was elected vice-chairman of this very first Comhaltas committee. “He gave his life to Irish music. His work preserving, promoting and teaching music for future generations will not be forgotten,” commented De Foite.

The Ó Muimhneacháins

Cáit and Éamonn Ó Muimhneacháin were unwavering in their commitment to language, music, culture, not only to their own family, but to everyone they came in contact with.

Cáit was the very first president and Éamonn a member of the first standing committee. Together they had seven children who were involved in Comhaltas from an early age.

Cáit led the music competitions of the first Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar, and under his guidance the language, music, song and dance were passed on to succeeding generations.

“It’s dedication and commitment that has helped spread and promote these musicians to this day,” said de Faoite.

Descendants of the Ó Muimhneacháin family, accompanied by members of the Reynolds Academy of Dance, performed.

Ms. Mullally

Mrs. Catherine Mullally, or ‘My Mullally’ as she was known, touched the lives of those she met through the many activities she engaged in and especially during the 43 years she was associated in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

“She loved Comhaltas and everything she stood for, and in return she was greatly admired and loved herself,” De Faoite said.

Born in 1907 in West Clare, Catherine Mullally, then McCarthy, was the only girl aged 11. Besides being a concertina, Catherine also had a beautiful soprano voice. In 1932, she opened a private school and her reputation as a teacher was second to none.

Cathy McCarthy married Phil Mullally of Mullingar in 1937, having first met him in a Fíor Céilí. Phil was secretary of the Feis Lár na hÉireann for 21 years and was also secretary of the first Fleadh in Mullingar.

They had four children, Philip, Mary, Angela and John and all four inherited their musical gifts.

Ms Mullally became Leinster secretary and never missed either the Westmeath County Fleadh or an All Ireland Fleadh.

During the winter of 1967, a new command to develop and expand the organization of the comhaltas branches, county councils and fleadhanna came into existence and secured the new comhaltas voyage, which was launched this year- the.

It was to be an exciting time for Ma Mullally as the following year she would become the first female President of Leinster Council and continued on the Ard Chomhairle for 21 years.

Ms Mullally passed on the message that any branch “worth the name” should set up structures and classes to teach music, song and dance to young people. “All of Ms Mullally’s efforts have been a mark of her dedication and determination,” Mr de Faoite said.

Special performances of the night came from the families of the founding members, the Reynolds, the Ó Muimhneacháin family, the Seerys, McElvaneys, Frank Gavigan and Hubert Magee, as well as famous All-Ireland champions The Pipers’ Club Céilí Band.

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