The Gathering in Westmeath got a little closer after the year-long celebration of Irishness was officially launched in the Atrium of the county buildings last week (January 31 ) by the national co-ordinator, Jim Miley.
In a gala event that that was opened by the precocious music talent of Ashley Tubridy and punctuated with a firework display over the glass roof, Jim Miley was joined by Ronan Foley, CEO of IBP Insurance; Paddy Dunning from the Festival of the Fires; Helen Dolan from the batchelor festival; and Sean Sheridan from the pan-European gaelic football tournament.
Alongside these three flagship events planned for the Lake County, there are already more than 90 other functions organised across the county covering everything from opera in Coolatore House to the good, the bad, and the ugly festival in Fore.
“This is heading for the magic 100 through the course of 2013,” said Mr Miley, whose office is overseeing in excess of 1,800 similar occasions nationwide.
“Us organisers just lit the fuse, but it is the people of Ireland that are igniting the fires around the country. People have now taken it to be their project,” he added.
IBP CEO Ronan Foley whose company is sponsoring The Gathering to the tune of €1 million called the progress so far as “unbelieveably impressive”.
He spoke of how the yearning of the latest generation of emmigrants is what’s helping to drive The Gathering, and compared it to being “like an Ireland match. It boosts the mood”.
Paddy Dunning of Grouse Lodge and impressario behind the Festival of Fires spoke of how he had “fallen in love with Westmeath, the people, and the topography. It has so much to offer”.
“Turn off those computers, those phones, and TVs and get out to celebrate this,” he exhorted the audience.
“We’re drawing people from the US, the UK, and the EU. The Gathering will create an economy that’s not there now,” he added before name-checking Marty Mulligan - organiser of the very successful four world records in a day just before Christmas - as an example to would-be event planners.
He said that this year the Festival of the Fires would not just be a one-day event, but would be spread over a number of weekends, and that he would release full details later this month.
Helen Dolan told the audience that she hoped to draw batchelors from each Irish centre across the world, similar to the Rose of Tralee, for the Joe Dolan Batchelor Festival over the August bank holiday.
She kept some of her powder dry, and is also planning a full launch later this month.
The third of the county’s flagship events will be the European championship of gaelic games, to be held in Athlone on October 18 and 19, for more than 30 teams and an estimated 500 participants, according to Sean Sheridan.