The Gathering - Homecoming events merit development

The Gathering, which was designed to attract people from abroad to this country this year, has been a phenomenal success.

For an initial government investment of €12m it is estimated to have generated €170m in revenue by attracting a record number of tourists to Ireland during 2013.

In the first 10 months of the year there were an extra 414,000 visitors, with included a doubling of the number of visitors from the key US market. Ipsos MRBI, the independent research group, concluded that between 250,000 and 275,000 of the overseas visitors travelled to Ireland specifically because of The Gathering, or related events.

The number greatly exceeded the expectations of the organisers, who felt the whole thing was enhanced by the manner in which local communities entered into the spirit of The Gathering. Organisers had hoped to generate 20 or 30 events per county. That would have resulted in fewer than 1,000 events nationwide, but more than 5,000 were eventually organised.

Ipsos MRBI concluded that about 71% of people felt The Gathering helped to bring local communities together. Although it was a resounding success, there are questions about how this can be built upon in future.

The Gathering’s project organiser suggests it should only be replicated every five years, because if it were repeated every year, it would diminish in impact. There can be no doubt that it would not be possible to double the figures every year, but there is no reason that the concept could not be developed annually at local level.

Puck Fair, Galway Races, Lisdoonvarna festival, and the Rose of Tralee all provide emigrants from those localities with a focal point to return and meet not only locals, but old friends who left for other countries. This can evolve into a tradition within extended families.

The community events that were successful this year should be encouraged to continue and expand, because they have already shown potential.

Gabriel Byrne’s complaint that The Gathering was planned as a “shakedown” probably helped in the long run, because it highlighted the dangers of allowing it to develop into a rip-off.

During the Celtic Tiger era the perception was allowed to grow in some quarters that it was fair game to rip off tourists. Greedy people almost killed the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs. Providing value for money is essential for sustainable tourism. Ultimately the rip-off merchants were not just fleecing the tourists, they were swindling Irish society as well.

In the past decade we have witnessed massive emigration. The cream of a generation has gone, but they must not be forgotten. Many will inevitably settle abroad, and it is important that we maintain our association with them by showing that we appreciate them.

Local homecoming elements of The Gathering, which enticed our emigrants to return on holidays, should be developed into something perennial.


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