Gathering some Thoughts

The Gathering 2013. It annoyed me before I really knew what it was.

So what is it?

“The Gathering Ireland 2013 will be a spectacular, year-long celebration of all things Irish. Throughout 2013, Ireland will open its arms to hundreds of thousands of friends and family from all over the world, calling them home to gatherings in villages, towns and cities.” – Source

“…of all things Irish.” Such as young women throwing wellington boots I suppose…

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“The Gathering is the people’s party. It will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013. After that it is over to you.” – Source

It appears to be incorporating everything that already takes place during the year like St. Patrick’s Day (which is now a Festival in itself spanning five days) and such events as the International Autism Conference, or the 28th Aer Lingus Airline Tenpin Bowling Tournament. Hmmm….

Apparently there are roughly one million Irish-born people living abroad and there’s an Irish diaspora of around 70 million people around the globe. According to the organisers of the The Gathering (which presumably, apart from Government ministers are Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland), to the imaginary man you might meet abroad it all means:

“He’ll also have to be introduced to the notion that Tayto crisps are a culinary delicacy and that Father Ted is a work of genius. And, of course, he’ll need to be initiated into the art of amateur weather forecasting.”

Yeah, it’s just not my ‘cup of tea’ (another Irish institution that will probably have its own 3 day event in the future).

I know…enough of the Squinty Eyed cynicism, it’s just a bit of ‘craic, an equally cringe-worthy expression. But that just about sums it up. The ‘cringe’ part I mean.

I have no doubt there will be some exciting cultural events during the year, with our without The Gathering as many will be annual occurrences, shoehorned into the year long event and there are likely to be some new ones too. All this in between the usual booze-ridden festivities and the wellington boot throwing parish-pump days out. After that, the the rest is “over to you”.

Much like the household tax; it’s over to you to make it happen; to create, manage and register your event online. But how can I compare a newly introduced government tax to this national year of celebration? Surely one is to raise much needed funds for our crippled economy while the other is…Ah ok. Got it.

I’m with Gabriel Byrne on this one. Byrne, the Dublin born actor claimed that the ‘bridge between Ireland and its diaspora is broken’ and that Irish-Americans are ‘not receptive to being shaken down for money’.

He spoke on Irish radio recently and said that “People are sick to death of being asked to help out in what they regard as a scam.”

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While Byrne wished The Gathering the best of luck, he argued that links between the diaspora are broken, something he tried to remedy during his time as a cultural ambassador for Ireland.

“Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora [in Ireland] except to shake them down for a few quid.”

The above statement is largely true. Part of Byrne’s claim was that the Irish illegals were somewhat forgotten about by the Irish State. As were the Irish Navvies and those who emmigrated to the UK since during the 1950s, many of whom became homeless, suffering from alcoholism and mental illness. These poor men were often paid their wages in pub and bars, obliged to buy rounds or their foreman/boss a drink in return.

There are thousands of Irish in New York alone who are there illegally, undocumented but in long-term relationships, jobs etc. and cannot return home without the risk of being banned from returning to the States. This is a situation which has continued for decades but it currently being looked at by the US Administration.

One view might be that those immigrants entered the USA illegally, or at least over-stayed their visas, if they had one, so there might be little sympathy as a result. There is even an ongoing debate on the terminology of ‘illegals’, ‘undocumented’ ‘aliens’. It all stems from our ‘special’ or bilateral relationship with the States, a phrase that was bandied about by Tony Blair, the British Prime minister at the time of the Iraqi invasion. The ‘US special relationship’ with Israel is evident in the current news. Looks like we’re not as special as we thought and given the USA’s dominance in the world, it colours every nation’s relationship with them.

Cynicism is spreading with the recent death of Savita Halappanavar, which has led to viral images and comments with regard to The Gathering, a death which primarily arose from another ‘special relationship’ with the Catholic Church.

There is no doubt that if great numbers do visit Ireland in 2013 for The Gathering or not, the boost to the economy will be great, although it could be more like finding a really large water pump on the Titanic.

I might be slightly (very slightly) less cynical were it not for Arthur’s Day, another day of ‘craic’ and ‘heritage’ etc. Granted, Guinness (the drink, not ‘Arthur’) is a national icon but St. Patrick’s Day is more than enough when trying to wade through the mess it leaves in cities and towns around the country. Arthur’s Day is another marketing ploy and one which Steve Wall eloquently discredited in 2012, initially on his facebook page, highlighting the fact that no Irish bands headlined and one, if any, were featured on Arthur’s Day television broadcasts the year before.

As much as I like a tipple or three, we all know Ireland’s ‘special relationship’ with alcohol and the endemic problems we have with it.

Arthur’s Day and The Gathering 2013 are merely masquerades. Enjoy, drink aware, but most importantly, be aware.

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