Gathering kicks off in Dublin
The year-long Gathering got under way this evening with a torchlight procession through Dublin city centre.
A colourful phalanx of jugglers, giant inflatable lanterns, stilt walkers and tandem riders, all supplied by the Donegal-based creative arts group LUXe, led more than 2,000 lantern bearers through the streets of Dublin. Children also carried balloons during the parade.
All those with lanterns had registered for the parade and each carried the names of the bearer. Among them was New Orleans native Sarah Wellman (25), who is in Dublin for New Year's Eve with friend Ashley Veade.
“Who wouldn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve in Dublin?” she said. She confessed to hearing nothing about The Gathering, but was delighted with her first visit to Dublin.
“It’s been awesome,” she said, “we’re about to leave but we are already talking about coming back”.
This evening will see a fireworks display in St Stephen’s Green followed by a New Year’s Eve concert in College Green headlined by Imelda May and Bell X1.
Fáilte Ireland director of market development John Concannon defended the €20 cost for the concert.
He said mounting such a public event was an “enormous cost”. Some 40 per cent of tickets for the event have been sold to overseas visitors. “It is well ahead of what we thought it would be,” he said.
The Gathering, which has been modelled on a Scottish homecoming event four years ago, will last until December 31st next year.
Though it has its critics - most notably the actor Gabriel Byrne, who described it as a “scam” - The Gathering has already been deemed a success given the response from local communities.
Some 2,500 events were registered by Christmas week - some 700 more than had registered by the time of the official launch last month.
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said he was sure the sceptics would be confounded when The Gathering got under way.
“Its a bit like the Olympics. You need to see it to believe it. The atmosphere will catch on. The whole thing has really moved on in the last month and a half."
The Gathering has been set a goal of inviting 350,000 people, or 5 per cent extra visitors to Ireland, who otherwise would not have come.