President Michael D Higgins has officially opened Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

The event, which returns after a two-year absence due to the pandemic, is expected to attract half a million visitors to the town over the coming week.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was founded in Mullingar in 1951 and the town hosted the inaugural Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann that year.

When the festival began more than 70 years ago, it was against the backdrop of a decline in popularity of traditional Irish music.

Just a few hundred people attended in the early years, but it is now the world's largest annual celebration of Irish music, language, song and dance.

This year's event is called 'The Homecoming'.

"There's huge anticipation in Mullingar that it’s returning to the home of where Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was formed in 1951," said Joe Connaire, chairman of the Fleadh organising committee.

Preparation for the event has been ongoing for several years, with a huge number of volunteers working to ensure the Fleadh’s success in Mullingar.

"The volunteer committee has been working on this for six years now, when you think of when we first came together," said Mr Connaire.

"We’ve a great team and we’re looking forward to it now," he added.

It is also a massive boost for the local economy with all hotels and B&Bs booked out. Competitors and spectators will be arriving in the town this week from far and wide.

"The town looks amazing. A lot of people have put their shoulder to the wheel and we’re looking forward to welcoming people from all over Ireland and the world here over the next week," Mr Connaire added.

The last Fleadh Cheoil was held in Drogheda, Co Louth in 2019, with previous festivals taking place in Sligo, Tullamore, Ennis, Cavan, and many other towns around Ireland since 1951.

A traffic management plan is in place and car parks have been set up around Mullingar. Diversions will be in place throughout the week.

TG4 will broadcast live from Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann from Friday 5 August to Sunday 7 August each night from 9.30pm until 11pm.

The series will also be available to view live worldwide on the TG4 Player.