WHAT IS IT ABOUT IRELAND? – The Gathering, 2013

Michael’s Bar, and Michael himself. County Kerry.

Tourism Ireland fed me a fine lunch yesterday; tender meat drenched in Jameson whiskey, with spinach and spuds. I don’t have to repay them by saying nice things about the Irish but, bejesus, somehow I just feel like doing so.

I’ve spent some miserable, cold, hungry days and nights in their country, and enjoyed every minute of them.

The luncheon event was a pleasant plug to Sydney travel agents and writers, promoting 2013 as the Irish Year of The Gathering.

Oscar Wilde – one of Dublin’s finest.

The old country is struggling economically (the default position, unfortunately, for Ireland) but travelling there is more popular than ever.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s the ‘third cheapest place in Europe’ we were told. ‘What are numbers 1 and 2?’ I immediately thought.

The financial troubles of the eurozone make it particularly attractive for Australians; 150,000 of us are expected to visit Ireland during 2013.

It gives me a warm inner glow to feel that I’m helping in time of need. Or is it the Jameson providing the warm glow?

But it’s not just about the value for money. It’s cheaper to stay at home, after all.

The angle of The Gathering is that all those with Irish heritage, an Irish connection or an interest in some aspect of Irish life are invited to gather in Ireland in 2013 for a festive celebration.

Irish music afficionados will flock to Donegal for the Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival in August.

Derry (or ‘Londonderry’ if you live on the other side of the river) will be UK City of Culture all year long.

Rugby League fans should gather in Limerick to see Australia wallop Ireland in their World Cup pool game in November.

My favourite promotion was the one announced by County Clare. Someone had the bright idea of organising a Gathering of everybody called ‘Clare’. When it was pointed out that this could possibly limit the pool of potential visitors, they opened it up to people called ‘Claire’ and ‘Clara’. Bobs are welcome too now, and so are Richards. What was that Clare Gathering all about – remind me again?

Maybe other Irish counties could try Gatherings by Name. County Kerry could probably get a quorum, but County Fermanagh may struggle for numbers.

The Aran Islands proudly announced that they have 1200 residents and attract 250,000 tourists each year. I pictured a crowd of 208 people craning their necks to watch someone knitting a sweater.

The truth is that nobody needs an excuse to visit Ireland at any time. Visitors don’t go there for the special events; they go for the culture, the history, the landscape and, above all, for the Irish people.

The village of Dingle, painted up for tourism purposes.

It’s all slightly romanticised of course. Every Irish tourist brochure shows a music session with fiddles and bodhrans in a cosy Irish pub. Never mind that there are probably far more Irish fans of Justin Bieber than of Matt Molloy.

The charming Irish fishing villages are still there, but most of the charming Irish fisherman are now running whale-watching trips or driving tourist minivans. Spectacular windswept landscape will have buses pulled up at every vantage point these days.

There is still a little peace and quiet and rustic charm to be found. Dundrum and the Mourne Mountains.

Despite this, I love the scenery, the pubs, the arts, the literature and the cheerful, friendly, humorous misery of the Irish people.

And you have to love the sound of their voices, even the ones that are unintelligible.

I’ve been practising a few new fiddle tunes, polishing up the walking boots, and I hope to gather there next year.

Even if it requires changing my name to Clare.

Have you been to Ireland? What took you there? Would you go back? Does a promotion like The Gathering make any difference to your plans?

For more on Irish travel, accommodation and events during 2013, see www.discoverireland.com/au.

21 Comments

Filed under Ireland

21 responses to “WHAT IS IT ABOUT IRELAND? – The Gathering, 2013

  1. Oooh, Ireland! I would go back in a heartbeat, if I could afford it, Richard! We went in 2008 for three glorious weeks, loved every single moment, and came back with lots of cherished memories. We particularly enjoyed exploring Northern Ireland, which we found to be less ‘touristified’ than the Republic. You are soo lucky that you can visit next year.

  2. Caroline

    I was there during The Troubles too. I landed in Dublin (via ferry) and saw a nice bust of a James Whiteside in Trinity College. Then I hitched up to Belfast with a few friends. That city was rather oppressive. Next day we plunged into the country seeking someone’s old Uncle Paddy. Paddy lived in a house with his dogs, no power or running water. The locals were delightful – I think – they were mostly unintelligible. It was a memorable week. Oh, and it didn’t rain once.

  3. I have never visited Eire but I have been to the north and can recommend Belfast whole heartedly. Giant’s causeway is a must-visit place!

    • I’ve only had a couple of nights in Belfast. Great music in the pub and the rest I kind of forgot.

      Yes the Giant’s Causeway is on the bucket list. I haven’t been there, but any recommendation from you moves it up a rung or two.

  4. Angela Highstead

    “Oh Richard-memories”. Dublin, Killarney, Cork, Skibbreen, Baltimore and Cape Clear in 1977-just a backpack and me. Husband, kids, mortgage in the interim. 2005 Wexford, Killarney, Tralee, Connor Pass, Dingle, Blasket Islands, Lauragh, Healy Pass, Adrigole, Beara Peninsula, Kinsale………..and in trusty hire car everything that came between. With a maiden name like Casey who couldn’t love Ireland. Booked and paid for France and Italy 2013 just this morning and then returned home to your blog. Now I greedily want Ireland too.
    Love your blogs.

    Angela

    • Well done in getting to Cape Clear, Angela. That is off the beaten track, and very wild and beautiful.

      And Blasket Islands too – did you row your own currach across there? ;) Unfortunately the weather was too bad on the one day last year that I could have visited.

  5. I loved Ireland! I spent three weeks traveling around this amazing country. I saw Dublin, Belfast, Innishmore (spelling), Galway, Kilkenny and so much more! I can’t wait to return. Ireland remains one of my favourite countries in the world!

  6. Well written Richard :-)
    Haven’t been, but planning on going sometime soon. Sad about the romanticising, but that is the case with most destinations these days! Tour coaches mar landscapes in the remotest of places.

    • Well, a bit of scratching the surface of Ireland and you can find some great music sessions without anyone singing Danny Boy. And if you are prepared to walk a bit you can get away from the tourist coaches too.

  7. I haven’t had the pleasure of traveling through Ireland but it is definitely on the wish list of destinations.

  8. Angela Highstead

    Three days on Cape Clear in ’77 was where I had the most magical experience of all in Ireland. I wrote a story back then, will have to send to send it to you sometime. Can this reply box take a story?
    I have a nature where I can feel the ghosts of times long past. Bored my husband and youngest son brainless in 2005 when I wanted to just sit, ponder and feel. Next time I will go on my own!

  9. Nat

    I can’t wait to go. It’s one of the top destinations on my list. And after reading your article & comments, I want to go even more!

  10. Kathy

    I was wondering, won’t the crowds of The Gathering change, maybe ruin a trip to Ireland in 2013? We have been planning a trip for almost 2 years, and now see this Gathering.
    Is this the first time of this type of event?

    • I doubt the crowds would be a problem, Kathy. It’s a event over the whole country for a whole year, incorporating lots of little festivals. If you really want to have the place to yourself, try avoiding the busiest tourist months (July-August), though even then the whole country won’t be crowded.

      It may be the first time they’ve used this angle, but Tourism Ireland is always working to promote their wonderful country. I for one am very happy to be promoted to!

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