Taoiseach (Irish Leader) Leo Varadkar has officially opened Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Mullingar.
The Fleadh kicked off at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday and will run until Sunday, August 13, with more than 500,000 people expected to visit Mullingar over the week.
Attending the opening ceremony, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the Fleadh as a "brilliant celebration of Ireland’s deep connection to music and dance, Irish language and community".
"People have traveled here from across Ireland and further afield, with many others tuning in online around the world," Varadkar said at the opening ceremony on Sunday.
Varadkar thanked the Fleadh Executive Committee and the volunteers who make the Fleadh possible and said the event would help nurture and preserve "Irish culture and its legacy".
Varadkar also paid tribute to Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor at the opening ceremony. O'Connor was found dead in her London home last month at the age of 56.
"Her loss makes this Fleadh bittersweet, a happy occasion but with a tinge of sadness."
Organized by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the Fleadh is returning to Mullingar for the second consecutive year after a hugely successful celebration of Irish music and dance last August.
Mullingar hosted the first-ever Fleadh Cheoil in 1951 at a time when interest in traditional Irish music was in steep decline. Just a few hundred people attended the Fleadh when it was launched in the 1950s, but it has now grown into the most important celebration of traditional Irish music and regularly draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
View this post on Instagram
Organizers of this year's event say that Mullingar is "buzzing" ahead of the week of festivities, adding that they expect this year's Fleadh to be "be better than last year".
Joe Connaire, Chairman of the Fleadh organizing committee, told RTÉ that there would be plenty of free events over the course of the week.
"This is an event for young and old. There’s a special focus on overseas this year and there’s plenty of free entertainment," Connaire told RTÉ News.
More than 1,200 volunteers are taking part in the organizing of the Fleadh this year.
Meanwhile, the Mullingar Chamber of Commerce estimates that the Fleadh is worth roughly €50 million to the local economy.
Allyson English, President of the Mullingar Chamber of Commerce, said last year's Fleadh "put Mullingar on the map", stating that visitors came back to visit the town over the winter because of what they saw at the Fleadh last August.
She added that the "buzz" that the Fleadh creates in Mullingar will endure long after the Fleadh is over.
Organizers are expecting a 10-15% increase in visitors compared to last year's Fleadh and English believes that Mullingar is "putting its best foot forward".
RTÉ and TG4 will both be providing live coverage of the Fleadh throughout the week, showcasing the best that Irish music and dance has to offer.