Mayo is leading the charge when it comes to the Gathering Ireland 2013 with 268 gatherings highlighted in an action packed calendar of events launched by Mayo County Council last Monday afternoon.
For a small county population wise, we account for the third highest number of gathering events and festivals in the country to date, behind Dublin and Cork.
Galway is hot on our heels and Kerry and Clare aren’t too far behind but at the end of the day it’s not about rankings, it’s about the welcome we show to the visitors who come to these gatherings and the memories they take home.
Despite some negative media comment about this tourism initiative it’s heartening to see how the ordinary decent people of this country have embraced it.
After all we are the nation of a thousand welcomes and people are eager to ensure that that reputation is copperfastened in 2013.
Too much has been said about Ireland losing its hospitality during the boom years and now we are being presented with a golden opportunity to put that myth to bed.
And it looks like the newly appointed president of Castlebar Chamber Oliver Kelleher will see his wish come true that Castlebar be named the capital of the Gathering. Well that might be a small stretch but with the county town hosting a flagship event, in conjunction with Killala, the eyes of the nation and the world will surely be glued to the re-enactment of the landing of the French at Kilcummin Pier and the subsequent Races of Castlebar down Staball Hill.
There are two more flagship events in Mayo, the Mayo North Welcome Home Gathering from August 1 to 9 and the Féile Granuaile in Westport from May 24 to 28.
But they are only three events out of 268 currently registered with Mayo County Council. And many more are still in the planning stages.
As Padraig Philbin, Mayo’s Gathering co-ordinator, pointed out, a gathering can be as little as two people and it’s probably the smaller gatherings that will be the most successful.
This year is definitely gearing up to be full of special memories. It will be a time when the communities that make up this unique country work towards a united goal. We have no influence over the repayment of bailout funds to the EU. Most of us are struggling to understand the implications of the liquidation of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IRBC ), formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank, and just what deal the Government has struck with the European Central Bank.
But by embracing the Gathering and sending out that all important invitation, this is our way of playing a small but not insignificant part in Ireland’s resurrection.
And the invitation is crucial. We can organise all the festivals and parties we like but if we don’t get bodies on planes and boats and back home to celebrate with us then we will have missed the point.
The Mayo Gathering calendar of events is available to view on www.thegatheringireland.com and you don’t have to be involved in organising an event to take part and get excited by its potential. But now is the right time to become acquainted with what’s scheduled over the coming months in your area in particular and to start planning with family and friends abroad a reunion at one of these events.
The Gathering Ireland 2013 is something everyone should be a part of. And even if you were sceptical about the initiative and its motives to start with there is no shame in changing your mind. Gabriel Byrne did and admitted that his description of the Gathering as a “scam” and a “shakedown” were too harsh and he regretted the reaction his remarks attracted.
This is our opportunity to love our country and shout loud about why it’s so great.