This week it was the turn of Athlone to host ‘The Gathering Ireland 2013’ forum, Ireland’s biggest ever tourism initiative, consisting of a year-long programme of festivals and events throughout the nation.
An estimated 100 people turned up at the Sheraton on Wednesday to set the ball rolling.
Hosted by FAI president and owner of the Shamrock Lodge hotel, Mr Paddy McCaul, community activists, business folk, politicians, and interested parties gatherered to brainstorm and plan for Athlone and its environs, and how this region can add to The Gathering 2013, which was launched by the Taoiseach earlier this year.
Those gathered heard from Michelle Staunton of the national committee, on how the hope was to invite as many of the 70 million members of the Irish global family home for The Gathering next year.
Ms Staunton and her colleague, Deirdre Lewis, were hoping to visit up to 70 large population centres between June and November in order to promote, and then collate, the best, brightest, and quirkiest ideas with which to attract people to Ireland.
The initiative, which is supported by nearly every interest group imaginable, including the IFA, the VFI, the ICA, the GAA, councils, and Chambers, is hoping to offer some degree of kick-start to our economy through the promotion of our number one industry - tourism.
“We’re providing a platform for Ireland to contact people around the world, and we’re a national movement of committees and communities acting together. Reach out and invite people you know for something happening in your area. A ‘Gathering’ is basically two people meeting, where one of them is from abroad,” said Ms Staunton.
Each table came up with a list of ideas, which were then debated, and pared down, before the “top three deliverable ideas” went in front of the county steering committee, headed up by Maurice Stenson from the county council, before being included on the website www.thegatheringireland.com Ms Lewis gave some examples of the ideas that had jumped out at her already in her travels, including a gathering of Clares in Co Clare, and a ‘Fluich Salach’ festival in Mayo, inviting only people from arid places like Arizona.
She also mentioned a tandem initiative called ‘Reaching Out’, which she described as “reverse genealogy”.
“Genealogy is a big thing, and we’ve all seen the lonely Yank in the graveyard. Well, the idea here is that a local person interested in history and genealogy does the research in his or her area, and then invites people to the locality when you find out they have relatives there,” she explained, before adding that training in genealogical research would be provided for interested parties.
She also pointed out that personal ideas did not need formal, steering committee sanction, and told of how her family, spread to the four corners, was going to have a Gathering of its own to celebrate a sister’s 50th.
Further details can be got from www.thegatheringireland.com and from Maurice Stenson, Gathering co-ordinator, Westmeath County Council, County Buildings, Mullingar at (044 ) 9332136 or [email protected].