Mother and daughter, Cliona Baker and Laura Magee in Mullingar harbour

Float to the Fleadh arrives in Mullingar harbour

On board the Shedra, a 30ft cruiser, is Laura Magee, mum Cliona Baker and good friend Rhona McNamara.

They are part of Float to the Fleadh, a flotilla of three barges and six cruisers who have been navigating their way along the Royal Canal from the Shannon to Mullingar.

In Mullingar harbour, they will join other boats who have made their way from Dublin, all to enjoy the festivities of the Fleadh Cheoil.

I joined the Shedra at Ballinea on Friday morning, where self-proclaimed ‘new boaters’, Laura and Cliona, who purchased and restored the Shedra just over a year ago, say it’s a lovely way to travel.

Cliona Baker on board the Shedra

“This trip’s special. The Royal Canal reopened in 2001, and this is the biggest flotilla that’s been on it since then. The lock keepers have all said that this is the most amount of boats they’ve put through in a day. It’s a bit of a spectacle,” begins Laura, Float to the Fleadh committee member.

Float to the Fleadh began during the 2008 Tullamore fleadh, but this is its maiden voyage on the Royal Canal.

“This is a really special trip along the Royal Canal. There’s people here from all across the 32 counties, and there’s even people who’ve come from Norway and the UK,” continues Laura.

“For the Royal Canal it’s really important because we want people to know that it’s fully navigable. There’s plenty of action on the Grand Canal, but the Royal runs right into Dublin as well.

Laura Magee takes a well-earned break on route to Mullingar

“We’ll be moored in Mullingar harbour, and all the boats will be rafted together, so people are crossing each other’s boats - it helps people get to know one another."

A whole host of events has been arranged for the boaters by the committee, including a walk and talk with historian Ruth Illingworth to the Famine Graveyard, and tour of Mullingar town, a trip to Mullingar Sailing Club and an outing to Belvedere House and Gardens.

Each evening the boaters will be free to enjoy the Fleadh festivities, and there’s is also a healthy batch of musicians on board the various vessels.

Mullingar harbour with the Float to the Fleadh flotilla

“We have trumpet players, accordionists, mandolins, ukuleles and singers,” says Laura.

“Laura and I play ukulele,” adds mum Cliona. “My father was a fantastic musician, and it has carried on through me and my siblings and most of the grandchildren.”

Also on board for the trip was Mullingar’s Rhona McNamara, a teacher in St Finian’s College.

“I very proudly hail from Mullingar, so when I heard that Laura was floating into Mullingar and was going to be moored up for the week, I was like ‘I’m jumping on board!

Enda Kavanagh, Rhona McNamara and Regina Healy, who were part of the welcoming party in Mullingar.

“The fleadh coming to Mullingar is terrific for the town, there is so much buzz around the place and that’s lovely to see.

“And this is just one of the many ways to enjoy it!”

Float to the Fleadh will be docked at Mullingar habour over the coming week and everyone is welcome to pop by and say hello.

Westmeath Examiner journalist, Olga Aughey with Cliona Baker on the Royal Canal