With the Celtic Tiger dead and gone and the economy in poor shape, Ireland could use a boost—and an ambitious tourism initiative currently underway might be just the ticket.
Tourism Ireland is inviting the world to come visit for The Gathering Ireland 2013, a yearlong celebration of all things Irish—from the people to the country’s unique culture and rich history, which goes back to 6,000 B.C.
A vast array of events are laid on for the shindig, and anyone who feels a connection is invited—particularly the 70 million people worldwide who are linked to the Ould Sod through their heritage.
The initiative is part of a global advertising campaign called Jump into Ireland launched last January to promote the country overseas. The goal is to lure an additional 325,000 visitors—104,000 from North America alone—to Ireland in 2013 in a bid to revive the country’s ailing economy.
“It’s a huge party, it goes all year round, and the actual venue is Ireland,” says Jayne Shackleford of Toronto-based Tourism Ireland -- Canada.
“And the hosts are the people, because it’s very much a grassroots, community initiative.”
The concept is based on personal invitations from the people of Ireland to their friends, family, and connections overseas.
One of the first big events of the year took place in Dublin the weekend of Jan. 20 with the European premiere of “Lincoln,” when actor Daniel Day-Lewis brought some of Hollywood’s finest—including director Steven Spielberg and Sally Field—to Dublin for his own gathering.
The event was attended by some 800 people, including Irish stars like Bono, The Edge, and Chris de Burgh.
In a Tourism Ireland press release, Day-Lewis, who was born in Ireland, grew up in England, and has a residence in Co. Wicklow, urged the diaspora to consider visiting in 2013.
It’s a huge party, it goes all year round, and the actual venue is Ireland.
— Jayne Shackleford, Tourism Ireland-Canada
“What better moment than this, for all those with Irish roots and connections throughout the world, to visit and revisit Ireland. By answering that whisper in the blood and returning to the source, they shall also be investing in the future of this uniquely magnificent country,” he said.
Two other famous Irish actors, Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, are ambassadors for the initiative. Brosnan called it a year to “celebrate what it is to be Irish.”
The People’s Parade
More than 2,500 locally organized gatherings are planned for villages, towns, and cities across the country, consisting of everything from clan gatherings and festivals to sporting and music events.
Some of the main events include the four-day St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, the Great Limerick Run, the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the Cork International Choral Festival, the European Athletics Team Championships, the Rose of Tralee Festival, the Morpeth Roll Exhibition Tour, the Gathering Cruise, and the famed Galway Races—to name just a few.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17, dubbed “The People’s Parade,” offers a unique opportunity for up to 8,000 visitors to march in the parade ahead of the main floats, then return to watch the parade from a reserved area.
“You can go onto the St Patrick’s Festival website and you can apply to walk in the St Patrick’s parade—it’s never been done before,” says Shackleford.
“It’s a two-and-a half kilometre route through Dublin’s famous streets, and there’ll be music and street performers,” she adds, noting that many Canadians and Americans have already been accepted to participate in the parade.
The famous Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, an event embracing all aspects of Irish cultural traditions, music, song, and dance, will be held in Londonderry this year—its first time in 60 years to cross the border into Northern Ireland.
More than 2,500 locally organized gatherings are planned for villages, towns, and cities across the country.
Through June and July, during the provincial finals of the Fleadh Cheoil competition, there will be Fleadh Summer Gatherings consisting of lectures, concerts, storytelling sessions, and recitals, all themed to reflect The Gathering. The Fleadh itself will take place Aug. 12-18.
The finals of the Tribal Oyster Shuck-Off competition will be held during the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, billed as the world’s longest-running international seafood festival.
In the lead-up to the festival, which takes place Sept. 27–29, Oyster shucking heats will be held in several North American cities, open only to people living overseas with the surnames of the 14 tribes of Galway: Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D’Arcy, Deane, Ffont, Ffrench, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martyn, Morris, and Skerrett.
There are an estimated one million people in the U.S. with the 14 surnames.
From Lefties to Redheads
Among the more offbeat, quirky gatherings is the five-day Left Hand Festival in Mullingar, which in Gaelic means “the town of the left hand mill.”
The event will feature left-handed hotel bedrooms, the Irish Left-Handed Golf competition and other sporting and music events, and will crown a Left Handed Champion of Ireland after a series of trials that include completing a left hand task at the mill wheel in Mullingar.
There’s also the Irish Redhead Convention in Cork, a TwinFest in Sligo, and the notorious Bog Snorkelling Championships in Monaghan, where the Irish team aims to break its Guinness world record from 2007.
“Obviously that’s all about the craic, and that really communicates the humour that the Irish people have,” says Shackleford, a native of Belfast. “Craic” is an Irish term for fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation.
Waterville, Co. Kerry, will host the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival, which showcases comedic work from contemporary filmmakers and offers workshops and other events, all in the spirit of Chaplin.
Although the famous comedian was born in London and did much of his work in America, he and his family often visited the seaside village of Waterville, where Chaplin liked to spend time at the Butler Arms Hotel, which today pays tribute to the film star with its Charlie Chaplin Lounge.
Director John Ford is another Hollywood legend with links to Ireland. The John Ford Ireland Film Symposium & Festival in Dublin June 6–9 will feature a range of events and delve into the work and themes of Ford’s films. Steven Spielberg and other leaders in the world of film are expected to attend.
In Cong, Co. Mayo, where Ford made “The Quiet Man,” a life-sized statue of Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, who both starred in the movie, will be erected. The village is also planning its own mini Walk of Fame, modelled on the Hollywood Boulevard version.
Clan gatherings, Other Events
Clan gatherings are big part of the year’s activities, with numerous get-togethers planned around the country by various families with surnames like Kelly, Stack, Mee, O’Reilly, Lawlor, MacKenna, Farrell, and O’Sullivan.
One in the works by the Gallagher clan for September in Donegal aims to break the Guinness world record for the biggest number of people with the same surname attending a clan gathering.
A “Canada Come Home” gathering will be held Sept. 13–15 on the Coolattin Estate in Co. Wicklow. The event, to be launched by Loyola Hearn, the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, charts the experience of over 6,000 people who left Coolattin for a new life in Canada during the Great Famine (1845–1852).
The Riverdance Gathering World Record takes place in Dublin July 21 when 1,000 participants will dance along the banks of the River Liffey in an attempt to break the previous record of 652 participants.
In keeping with the Irish tradition of story-telling, there’s the Sneem International Folklore & Storytelling Festival, which promotes the ancient art of storytelling for all ages with international performers as well as a gala concert, storytelling performances, workshops, lectures, tours, and walks.
“There’s something for everyone,” Shackleford says of the many and varied events.
“Really, 2013 is the year to go to Ireland. The welcome will be warmer, and you’re going to hit an event wherever you’re travelling. It’ll just be a brilliant year to be in Ireland.”
For more information, visit thegatheringireland.com
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