Last year I was lucky to be involved as a Lead Facilitator for The Gathering at meetings held in Longford, Portlaoise, Tullamore and Birr. Far from being what actor Gabriel Byrne called an attempt “to shake them [Irish Americans] down for a few quid”, The Gathering meetings offered each county and community a canvas to build their own local events, to celebrate what was great about their region and their county. Failte Ireland provided a whole battery of supports to help communities make their events a success, but the communities owned the ideas.
It was inspiring to see local communities working together, generating brilliant ideas and projects to attract first time visitors, friends and relations to their area. Is that a shakedown? Not at all! And I say as someone who is not a direct employee of any organisations hosting The Gathering, nor am I an employee of Fáilte Ireland.
What I observed was a grassroots movement. The people coming to the meetings were asked to invite their own network of contacts from abroad to events such as The Town of 1,000 Beards, the Garda vs New York Police Department Boxing Tournament this October in Mayo or the Flightfest that Dubliners got to experience in September. This autumn alone will see 600 events taking place around the country.
Maybe Gabriel Byrne did The Gathering a favour though. The movement was developing at a steady but somewhat unexciting pace. It needed a bit more sizzle. Old blue eyes Gabriel gave the event the controversy it needed to get the media hopping!
Later I was involved as a mentor with some local communities running Gathering events. I saw those communities learn really important tourism marketing skills, such as how to use Facebook and Twitter to build awareness, how to use Tourism Ireland’s international network to create great PR stories and then how to professionally run an event.
Those community groups are not going to stop there. They will want to use the experience, goodwill and new network of visitors to run future events. Check out the attached video for yourself. The Gathering has proven itself not just to be a great idea, but a great movement!
You can view the video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/vNEw7p5DMUQ