THE GATHERING 2013 has begun, but it hasn’t been without its critics. Can you name an Irish project that doesn’t get a knocking? In fairness, most commentators have been positive and the small gathering behind Gabriel Byrne, has been just that – small.
What’s the idea of The Gathering? To me it’s a simple idea to try and attract more people to come to Ireland this year. The presumption is that a committee of highly trained professionals are behind it, maybe after months of ‘work-shopping’ the idea. Certainly the ordinary worker on the ground in tourism hasn’t the time to develop such grand concepts. Usually any ideas that come from Fáilte Ireland are looked on with a jaundiced eye by the hard working hospitality sector, but The Gathering has been taken differently. The simplicity of The Gathering appeals and crucially, puts projects back in the hands of locals on the ground.
Normally Fáilte Ireland is only obvious to the tourist sector by the inane ads that pop up on TV, with some equally inane tag line. The tag-line is to be the theme for that season. Who has decided the theme or, indeed, what the theme may be, is irrelevant to the tourist sector worker. Their job is to welcome the tourist, look after them and send them on their way. All, of course, in a positive fashion. Year in, year out.
The late Páidí Ó’Sé answered criticism of his appointment to the board of Fáilte Ireland by telling how he’d been selling milk to tourists in his mother’s shop since he was ten years old. He was right of course; that’s the essence of tourism work, greeting people and serving them, just as you would your next-door neighbour. The trained, servile, non-genuine manner is annoying and I prefer that service referred to by Páidí, learned over the years. Tourists travel to Ireland for the people and the beautiful scenery, not on the back of some marketing concept.
The thing that Fáilte Ireland tends to miss is that everyone in Ireland is involved in tourism. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. From the waiter in the five-star restaurant to the guy giving directions on the side of a country road, they’re all giving an impression of a real Ireland and that attracts people here, year after year. Tourism is the lifeblood of rural communities and provides good year-round employment in our cities. The sector generates a lot of money, without which a lot of small Irish towns would be dead on their feet.
It was said at the beginning of the recession by a lot of country people that “at least we didn’t have a factory to close down”. Meaning that a lot of locals weren’t employed in the one place and therefore throwing a lot of people onto the dole if that employer closed. Tourism was a major employer in some of those areas. This continues to be the way, despite four years of recession. Emigration has returned to rural areas to take the young people again. With The Gathering, maybe those who went in the latter half of the last century can return for a few weeks and, in the process, help the current generation. There wasn’t any help for that generation at the time, maybe this time round the events of The Gathering might lead to some of the current generation having a reason to stay.
The Irish people
The Gathering 2013 is putting the ball back in our court again, taking tourism away from the bureaucrats and returning it to the people on the ground (not too sure if that was the original idea of Fáilte Ireland – they could be doing themselves out of a job). All around, the country people are organising events off their own backs and they’re getting the numbers. There are numerous trad music events, The Collins Clan Reunion, The Dingle Walking Festival and lots, lots more. That’s just from a quick glance at the next couple of weeks.
What the mainstream media and some Irish personalities abroad forget, is that the ordinary people of Ireland love organising and hosting events. They love welcoming people to their towns and villages. They love ‘the craic’ these events generate and the friends they meet or make. Yes, money changes hands, but people aren’t being shaken down. People are having fun and Ireland, both rural and urban is benefiting. The ordinary people of Ireland are doing something directly for tourists, getting up off their arses and doing it for themselves.
For that alone, The Gathering should be encouraged not belittled and criticised.