Balloons over Birr for the 50th Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championships last year. This year’s event is in Tullamore from September 23 to 29.

Up, up and away in Tullamore!

Over 20 balloons from Ireland, the UK and the USA are set to take part in the upcoming Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championships in Tullamore in less than two weeks' time.

Frank Meldon from the Irish Ballooning Association said that they have probably reached the limit for entrants at this point.

The association is looking forward to using three sites around Tullamore that were recently announced for the prestigious Hot Air Ballooning Championships. Mr Meldon said he was “very excited” about the inclusion of Tullamore Town Park as it is very central to the town and “accessible to people living in the vicinity.”

He said that the second site of the recent Tullamore Show at Butterfield Estate is used to dealing with traffic and that “everyone's very familiar with it” from going to Tullamore Show.

Mr Meldon highlighted that the The Irish Ballooning Association has been given access to Ballard Hill, which is associated with Charleville Castle. Ballard Hill is next to Ballard Roundabout.

The decision as to where the launch sites will be chosen will only be confirmed on the day or the evening before morning flights, taking account of ground conditions and wind direction, he added.

“If we got an ideal week of weather, I would think we would do two or three flights from the town park in the evening time and again, perhaps, the morning flights might fly out of Ballard or the Tullamore showgrounds, but that's not finalised.”

Weather permitting, the first flights are expected take place on the evening of Saturday, September 23, and further flights morning and evening for the duration of the event.

The Dublin native stressed that this event “doesn't happen without the help and support of the community”.

The association has received funding from Offaly County Council and Tullamore Credit Union. The Charleville Castle Heritage Trust is also giving the event use of the grounds within the castle for a briefing room, along with a safe location for parking for trailers.

Mr Meldon said: “We're going to be using one of their fantastic rooms on the first floor as a briefing room for the pilots.”

“That's a very useful facility because finding enough space around the town to do that was proving to be a problem.”

Mr Meldon said that he was “really grateful” to the Heritage Trust for also providing a site for refuelling balloons and described the venue as a “magnificent castle” and backdrop to the event.

He also thanked Calor Oil for providing a good rate on fuel and for being “very flexible” in providing an engineer to supervise and operate the machinery.

He said that Westland, a gardening and horticulture company, contributed by helping the group with some printing for the Spotter’s Guide, which provides an overview of the event and the history of ballooning.

Once the event is about seven or eight days away, organisers may be able to confirm what days are most likely for flights to take place.

The Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championships take place in Tullamore from Saturday, September 23 to Friday, September 29.

Mr Meldon, who has been involved with the Irish Ballooning Association for 30 years, added: “We've been running this every year successfully for over 50 years now so it's a unique event."

Tickets are not required for any of the launch sites. An area will be made available for members of the public to park at the Butterfield Estate, where balloons can be viewed from in and around the farm site. The public are asked to park in the designated parking area only.

In Tullamore Town Park, there will be an area close to the new band stand cordoned off for the launch site, and the balloons can then be witnessed from in or around the vicinity of the park.