Tourism push gathers support

Gabriel Byrne and Michael O’Leary may not be fans, but the number of projects signing up for a major tourism initiative next year is gathering speed.

The Gathering 2013, an open invitation to the rest of the world to visit here during a year-long celebration of all things Irish, has been reinforced with the confirmation of more than 1,700 festivals and events.

A range of events to coincide with [url=http://www.thegatheringireland.com/]The Gathering were announced yesterday and estimated to attract an extra 80,000 overseas visitors next year.

Overall, the organisers of The Gathering have set a target of an additional 325,000 visitors, which will boost tourism revenue by €150m.

One of the initiatives will be staged in Ballymoe, Co Galway, which will host “The Town of 1,000 Beards”, an attempt to break the Guinness world record for the most number of men with facial hair in any one place in June.

The festival’s organiser, John Griffin, said there would be a range of competitions for different beards as part of the festival, which is expected to attract about 400 overseas visitors.

Asked what type of woman would be interested in attending such a event, John replied: “A giggly one”.

Another major event is the “Meet to Compete” Gathering, which will see 25 international sports tournaments including basketball, baseball, cricket, and soccer staged at five locations in south Dublin over the next 12 months. Its organisers hope to attract about 18,000 foreign tourists.

Left-handers will have their own celebration in Mullingar in August as the Co Westmeath town seeks to become the left-handed capital of the world.

The Gathering will officially kick off on Dec 31 with a New Year’s Celebration in Dublin featuring a torch-lit procession and concert starring Imelda May and Bell X1.

Responding to recent criticism of The Gathering, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said people were entitled to their opinion but stressed that the promotion had received overwhelming positive feedback internationally.

Mr Varadkar admitted that a lot of events were already due to be staged regardless of The Gathering, but he said many were “scaling up” their plans to add a special appeal.

For example, the Rose of Tralee is inviting all former contestants from around the world back to Co Kerry to mark the event. Junior tourism minister Michael Ring joked that people couldn’t be forced to visit Ireland but he said the targets were highly achievable.

Among those attending yesterday’s launch were RTÉ’s Pat Kenny and Kathryn Thomas, sports stars Ruby Walsh and Alan Quinlan, and Riverdance producer John McColgan.

The Irish dance spectacular will be the focus of a special celebration of traditional Irish dancing to be staged in Dublin next year, which will feature a world record performance of Riverdance along the River Liffey.

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