After the Gathering . . . What’s next?
Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar is seeking suggestions for new tourism initiatives. Some entrepreneurs believe living history should be the next big thing
“I don’t think one person mentioned the Gathering,” says Gail Mulcahy, of Moloney & Kelly travel consultants, who brings in the type of visitors who pay €10,000 for “land facilities” while visiting Ireland. “We don’t have an Eiffel Tower or a Colosseum, but the friendliness of the Irish is coming back after the Celtic Tiger,” she says.
“Our mojo is back,” says Eithna Horan, a B&B owner whose visitors tell her that meeting the friendly Irish is their highlight and that, thanks to the recession, more Irish people are in front-of-house roles at restaurants and hotels. An Irish welcome that will keep them coming back is simple, by her definition: “Good home-made food and reliable directions.”
To keep the buzz going in post-Gathering Ireland there must be long-term investment in historical places, says Kate Bell. She is trying to save Hazelwood House, which was designed in 1731 by Richard Cassels, the architect of Leinster House. It was loved by WB Yeats, and a small Gathering took place there this year.
Sinéad Burke is convinced that bringing history to life is the way forward. All the hotels and B&Bs in Co Meath are booked up this weekend, she says, for the event today, which she first imagined while walking with her children on the Hill of Tara.
“Mommy, it’s just a field,” they said as she tried to describe for them all the magnificence and drama of what once existed there. Now visitors from Canada, Germany and Russia will be arriving to experience the Tara High Kings Festival, where 13 putative descendants from around the world will be competing to be crowned High King in an “elite tournament”. Costumed re-enactors will mingle with visitors at 20 attractions on the hill, with not a chip van or ice-cream van in site.
Burke, a community worker who is also involved with Fingal Historical Society, is convinced that “being transported back in time” is what foreign visitors want, and she is already taking inquiries for next year.
On about.com, Bernd Biege warns visitors not to expect a mythological Ireland. Freckled red-haired colleens accompanied by Celtic warriors on tin whistles are not abundant, but this “saccharine Disneyfied Ireland” he describes is not what Burke and others who want to bring history alive intend to create. But she does want to give visitors just a little of what they want, by re-creating ancient Ireland, even if it’s for the weekend.
Judging by the success of re-enactments during the Gathering, living history might just be that difficult second album.
Fifteen ways to improve Irish tourism
“US visitors want the History Channel experience in Ireland through specific events to plan their trip around. To see a historical battle re-created on Tramore beach enriches the way you see Ireland. To meet members of the Power clan at Dunhill Castle makes it more than a building.”
Deirdre Woodbyrne, New Jersey
“More innovative tours. London’s 1960s gangster history is proving a hit with tourists, with the help of an actor from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Norwich is riding the popularity of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge film, Alpha
Papa, with a 90-minute guide to the East Anglian city. And Manchester has produced the Tour of Uninteresting Objects to look at: ‘the unregarded things that make a city’.”
Mark Hennessy, Irish Times London Editor