By Claire Corrigan
All hands on deck at Clarkes
Clarke’s Bar is offers a comfortable bar, great food, a spacious outdoor seating area, a live music venue as well as a party or events venue. There’s something for everyone at Clarke’s!
“We take pride in giving our customers a place to meet and greet, to celebrate important milestones, to listen to some good music or to cheer on your favourite teams. Many happy memories have been made here.”
Clarke’s Bar opened in September 2002 and is owned and run by husband and wife, Ciaran and Carole Clarke and their family, and an excellent team of bar and waitstaff.
Ciaran said the Fleadh was a “very exciting time for the whole of Mullingar, for everyone involved. Publicans, retailers, people just setting up stalls for the week – it’s going to be a brilliant time for everyone.
“We have to make the most of it and make sure we get the people back next year too, if we get it again. That would be fantastic!”
He said that Fleadh has breathed new live into many businesses with business owners opting to spruce up their premises ahead of the festival that will attract 500,000 visitors. “It’s giving everyone a chance to upgrade their properties and their premises and a lot of work has been carried out.”
The bar was originally extended around 13 years ago to include a very spacious backroom and now they are extending the space even future, by 30m in total. “We are putting in extra bars too of course, for the Fleadh. We are just trying to ensure that the place is as safe as possible and of course it complies with all fire safety regulations which is extremely important.
“We have great friends helping us out and people all mucking in and helping.”
There is a strong tradition of traditional music at the bar with trad nights on every Wednesday and Friday night. “We will continue that after the Fleadh. We were actually at a tradfest in Ferbane recently and listening to a few groups that are coming to play here. We just found them excellent.”
He said with all the new space in the bar, it will be possible to have five seisuíns happening at the same time. “Each section will have its own bar.” He said that all pubs and retailers have a great chance to showcase what they have to offer.
“Everyone has the same chance and we’re very lucky that we have that bit of extra space here. It’s just a great chance for the town to get together and work together.
“We really have to present the town in the best way we can and show it in its best light. Mullingar is a great town and the first Fleadh ever was held here, so we hope that it will be a fantastic Fleadh this year and hopefully next year.”
Carole said that she felt the Fleadh is set to put Mullingar on the map. “Every business has suffered in the last couple of years and households have suffered too. People really want that feel-good factor back again.
“A celebration of music and arts will be fantastic, not just for the adults but for the younger children coming up because they’ve missed out so much in the last couple of years. It’s all about the music and that celebration of music and I think the positivity that it will bring to the town is going to be fantastic.
“It’s not all about the pubs, however it is fantastic for us as a business and all the musicians who have missed out in the last few years. We’ve had nothing but musicians banging on our door wanting to play because they are just mad to get back at it again.
“There is fantastic talent in the town and hopefully they’ll all be here to showcase the town in all its glory.”
She said the new extension will allow for customers to feel safe. “Covid is still around and there will be someone people who are more comfortable with being in an outside space rather than an inside space.”
Clarke’s offers hot street food and they will be bringing in another company to organise that and will be well stocked when it comes to staff too. “All our staff that have worked with us over the years have all come back to us and said they will do a night or two over the Fleadh.”
Ciaran said that there is space for musicians to unwind upstairs. “We have a restroom for musicians if they want to sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee or have a sandwich.”
Carole concluded: “We hope to be what people want during the Fleadh. It’s family-run and we are really just keeping it simple. We won’t have massive stages with massive bands or anything like that – it’s all about getting the smaller, more talented artists in and giving them a chance to show their wares.”
Mullingar is a great little town, says Smiddy’s legend
Smiddy’s Bar on Dominick Street is all ready for Fleadh 2022, proprietor Kieran Smith said when he spoke to Topic about his joy that the event is coming to the town.
“We are preparing for the Fleadh the best we can. Staff was the biggest hurdle but luckily we are covered now. The next thing is storage for all the kegs that will be needed. The logistics of it is probably the hardest part really. Once we have everything in place it will be just like a really busy night.”
The front window in Smiddy’s was replaced with a window that folds out onto the street which will allow staff to serve customers outside easily. “We will be serving out onto the street and putting a bar at the front there. It’s great also for heat for the rest of the year because it’s double-glazed,” he explained.
Smiddy’s will have traditional music playing throughout the day and in the evening. Luke Price will performing four days out of the ten. with Ross Corroon also performing during the festival from 11pm.
Luke Price from Ballynacargy grew up on a musical diet of sean nós and trad and soon found an interest in most forms of folk music, from American country music, Irish traditional music and so on and there’s a flavour of both throughout his music.
He has toured Europe and the US on a number of different musical projects.
Ross Corroon is also a very talented guitarist and singer and many believe he could be the next Mullingar singer to hit the big time.
One of the country’s longest running and most respected music venues is to the rear of Smiddy’s, The Stables, has seen the likes of Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, The Frames, the late Mic Christopher and Duke Special – just some of the fine acts who graced the stage over the years.
Kieran said that it was important to him that both young and old feel welcome. “It’s a family event and we want to see children coming in and enjoying the atmosphere as well, so it’s very important to us that it’s a family-friendly atmosphere.
“I think it’s a chance to showcase the town. The Fleadh will be on for a week but we will be here next year and the year after that and so on. Mullingar is such a great town and we want people to come back and visit when there isn’t anything on.
“We don’t want visitors to feel that they’ve been ripped off by the hotels and pubs. You don’t want people saying ‘the Fleadh was great but we were charged an arm and a leg for everything’.
“You want people to have a great time, great craic–whether they are from Cork, Clare, the UK or anywhere else. You want people saying it’s a great little town in the middle of Ireland with plenty to do and that they’ll come back again for a holiday next year.”
Kieran said the music that is on offer in Mullingar pubs is hard to beat. “Darren Flynn and Joe Murray were out supporting Lewis Capaldi in Malta over the weekend in front of thousands. We had Flynn here performing in the pub and obviously it’s his own talent that got him where he is, but you would like to think that we all had a little helping hand in his success.
“The Academic have also played with us too. It really is fabulous to see them all on a bigger stage and I think the pubs in Mullingar really do nurture that sort of the talent from the start and always give them that chance. The music in this town is absolutely phenomenal.”
Smiddy’s has always supported traditional music and their trad corner on Friday nights went down a storm with customers. “It was always open to all musicians, young and old – if a 10-year-old came in to play, they were more than welcome. It didn’t matter how big, small, old or young you were, you entitled to come in and show off your talent.”
Crossed Keys all ready for Fleadh
Ronan Walshe is the new owner of The Crossed Keys bar on Austin Friar Street, formerly knows as Finn’s. The establishment has a long and rich history as a traditional music bar and holds the record for the longest running trad night in the town.
The bar received a huge makeover ahead of its reopening in 2018 under new management and it continues to expand. “We did the first extension during Covid. We didn’t sit on our hands during the pandemic and decided to put the shoulder to the wheel and built this section here and the beer garden at the back,” Ronan explained, referring to the tastefully and cheerfully decorated outside area.
The latest addition is a cocktail bar to the rear of the building that will have a retractable roof – “so when the sun comes out, the top comes down”.
The crew is also currently putting the finishing touches to three guestrooms upstairs. “We will have 11 ready for the following year’s Fleadh, if Mullingar is chosen as the venue.
“I think the Fleadh is going to be massive for everyone, not just pubs and hotels,” he said.
Ronan said that after the bleakness of the pandemic, the Fleadh is a “massive boost to the town, to the local community and the county as a whole. It should be fantastic and so many visitors coming to our town is nothing to be sniffed at. I actually think there will be a lot more than that and people will be amazed at how many will turn up.”
“We will only be allowing traditional musicians to perform in the pub during the Fleadh, it’ll only be trad for that week.” he said.
With the weather starting to look up, Ronan said the Fleadh is a huge opportunity for the businesses around the town to ensure that visitors return to Mullingar. “Hopefully now we have the weather and we’ll have the ceol and the craic, as the fella said.
“I feel like the first year will be a learning curve for everyone and everyone will be far more capable next year in the sense that they will know what worked and know what didn’t work and know where they need to improve whether that is bar facilities or toilet facilities. It really should be a good old session for everyone.” He enthused.
He added that he felt that the homecoming of the Fleadh has already revitalised traditional music in the town with more seisiúns. “You can see it already how many places have trad sessions now. There are trad sessions going on in every pub. Finn’s had the longest running trad session in Mullingar.
“That used to take place on a Friday night and Joe Connaire and all the Comhaltas members would come in and play.”
Ronan said that securing staff is a big issue for all pubs, as is ensuring that there are enough toilet facilities for customers.
“I have eight portaloos and urinal systems coming for the Fleadh to ensure that it all goes well.”
Ronan wants to thank all the customers of The Crossed Keys. “Hopefully they will all come in and support us and the town will have a brilliant Fleadh and a great week and
everyone will enjoy themselves.”