Saturday, 26 January 2013

Message is Not Getting Across

Published in The Irish World newspaper  19/01/13

The stroke of midnight in Dublin on December 31st not only heralded the start of a new year but also the beginning of the government backed initiative “The Gathering 2013.”

Nearly a month in and The Gathering is still somewhat clouded in confusion for many of the diaspora in London.

Irish tourism organization (ITIC) say 6.5 million visitors visited Ireland last year but Ireland’s tourism market of England, Scotland and Wales were down 4 per cent.

The Gathering is a Government-backed, year-long festival in which members of the Irish diaspora and anyone with an interest in Ireland are encouraged to visit the country during 2013.

As well as holding new events the Gathering will sponsor hundreds of pre-existing festivals and events throughout the year. Already more than 2,500 “gatherings” have been pledged on the events website.

The initial core budget from the government was €5 million but they now hope to attract an extra 325,000 visitors and generate €200 million in tourism revenue.


People living in Britain are key to Ireland’s hope of any economic improvement this year as Britain remains Ireland’s prime source for tourism.


However many Irish citizens living in London who had travelled home for Christmas are unsure as to what it is all about.


The Irish World asked some of London’s Irish community how they felt and the results seems to suggest that promotion for the Gathering is leaving a bit to be desired.


David Hanly,27, From Athlone living in West London- “I only heard about the Gathering when I was home for Christmas and even then I didn't hear much, there should be more done to advertise it outside of Ireland. Paddy's day would be a prime opportunity.”


Fiona Hedderman ,25, Dublin - "A lot of the stuff that’s on seems like rubbish you wouldn't go to if you lived here so expecting people to come from other countries is mental.";)


Marcus Culloty, 29, From Cork Living in West London,: I think for the Irish we don't really need an excuse to go home. We go home as often as we can. I obviously know that it's a year long 'come home' campaign but I couldn't tell you one event that's happening.

“I don't know who they are targeting exactly. Surely the richest new untapped market is the second and third generation Irish. So TV ads should be running in the UK showing those people where their grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed their childhood with a slogan about 'The Gathering. There's never been a better time to discover your Irish roots'.


Brian Meggs, 26, From Dublin living in North London:” I literally only heard about "the Gathering" from my Mum at Christmas, and when she told me about it, I thought she was trying to get me to join a cult. I love going home every time I do, and I will of course be going home during 2013. But I always want to come back to London - this is my new life now and no cheesy anti-brain drain campaign that seems to be only broadcast back home is going to make me change my mind.”


From the outset The Gathering was met with scepticism, with even well-known figures such as Gabriel Byrne slamming the year-long event by claiming it was a “scam.”


However criticism such as this has been strongly defended by Damon Blake  of The Gathering, who said, ”It’s a tourism initiative to have those who are or love the Irish return here in 2013, an initiative that is not being dictated by a governing body, merely enabled and supported by it. Like any group exercise, the outcome and results of it will be determined by the desire and input of the people involved.”


Speaking to assistant manager of the Irish Cultural centre in Hammersmith, Kelly O’Conner, it appeared that many who visit the centre are excited and eager to get involved in the event.


“It is being discussed somewhat. I think every Irish person is aware of it. Whether they understand the full workings of it I wouldn’t like to comment on that but they are certainly aware of it which is the first step.”


“They understand it to varying degrees. We have a huge diversity of people who are very interested and people are definitely trying to find out more about it.”


When asked about their promotion of the initiative Ms. O’Conner said “We have bunting up with the gathering details as well as flyers and leaflets. We certainly try to do our best here to make it as clear as possible but it has been a bit of challenge to communicate the clarity of it for people to understand.”


We have a lot of people here who are recent graduates who have just moved to London and are really excited that they can bring their new friends back to Ireland for a gathering- they get that it’s a good opportunity.”


“We also get our fair share of people who will say that is just a waste of money but I think with a bit more open mindedness people are a bit more positive about it.”


For those who do understand the concept of The Gathering it does seem that they are feeling positive about what it means for them and their native country.



Lorna,25, From Clare living in South London: “Despite the negative publicity the Gathering has been getting, I think it is a great excuse to meet up with friends and family and there seems to be some good events planned. They have done something similar in Scotland for the past few years and it has been really successful.”


Tess McGuane, 26, from Clare living in North London: “I have heard a bit too much about it , the family are planning a Gathering of a life time with even a few same family weddings if all goes to plan :).We heard about it late last year. It seems such an American idea but we are really looking forward to it. It does seem that the family members outside of Ireland are a little more excited then the ones at home but that is natural.”



The Gathering has the potential to provide Ireland with that much needed boost it has been calling out for these past few years but if promotion of the festival itself does not improve and reach those it is most targeted towards then the event will unfortunately fall victim to the sceptic’s predictions.


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