P.S oh and by the way Enda, tinkering about with allowances etc is not going to quell the anger… in fact it may do exactly the opposite. We know you are on the ropes on this one… it’s time for time out and a total rethink and redesign.
The world will wait some time to see his like again. Thank God for Madiba. May he rest in peace.
A placard at the recent protest march following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar read “How About This For A Gathering, Enda!”. Without wishing in any way to trivialise the outpouring of anger and sadness following this death in Galway, that placard highlighted perfectly what a gathering should be and what ‘THE Gathering” is not.
When the idea of this national push to attract visitors and particularly those with Irish heritage back to Ireland was first mooted I thought “brilliant… finally we have someone thinking creatively about solutions to our economic crisis.” I looked forward to seeing how the campaign would develop and what innovative elements Failte Ireland would put in place to make a trip ‘home’ worth doing in 2013. To coin that modern phrase which I hate… I was curious to see how they would ‘add value’ to a trip to the auld sod.
As marketing momentum built I took a look at The Gathering website as I was having difficulty in working out exactly what was going to be happening during 2013
A tour of the site made it clear that this was a kind of DIY deal. We, the people of Ireland, most of whom are at the pin of our collar making ends meet, are expected to invite long lost relatives to visit and lay on an event or entertainment as required.
Suddenly Fionnuala Flanagan’s guttural uttering of ‘The Gathering’ morphs into a young boy wonder marketing executive selling his brilliant idea to the board of Failte Ireland….
“You see, he says, “the beauty of this idea is that other than the marketing, developing a website etc., there is nothing to do. We just need to put the idea in people’s heads and hype it up a bit. Irish people love a good excuse for a party and so they’ll go ahead and organise whatever event they want – school reunions, family clan gatherings etc. We can then invite them to let us know what they are organising and we will list it on the website. It’s pure genius.”
Oh yes, Marketing Boy Wonder is right. The Gathering is genius alright. But, although I agree that we Irish love a party and a get together, I think that in our Post Celtic Tiger landscape Irish people also like to feel they are getting good value for money, don’t like to be patronised and have a very keen radar when we are being taken for a bit of a ride! And that holds true for the Irish Diaspora too, as articulated recently by the gorgeous poetic Gabriel Byrne (and yes, I am a woman of a certain age).
But to me there is something missing from The Gathering. Surely there should be a real hook, an offer of something more tangible than just “we are issuing an invitation, so come on over”. Why have we not offered perhaps a discount on hotel rates or into some of our national attractions or extra air miles if you are flying into Ireland and staying for more than a week? Maybe I am wrong but on closer inspection The Gathering seems, to me, like a half baked idea.
Last week I got my glossy ‘The Gathering’ (remember hear it a la Ms Flanagan) postcards so that I could invite all and sundry kind of long lost relative home for a visit next year. You know what… if I wanted to entertain guests in 2013 I would probably opt for taking a foreign student or two, who would require little entertaining and for whom I would get paid.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I love my country and think it really one of the best places in the world to visit. I think we have lots and lots to offer the tourist be they with or without Irish roots. And I think Failte Ireland has done a great job in promoting Ireland as a destination. But I am with whoever held up that banner at the Savita protest. A proper Gathering has to have a reason, has to have soul and meaning. For me, the only Gathering I am having does not require a postcard invitation. Like hopefully many, many other families in Ireland my only ‘Gathering’ will be when I welcome home my eldest daughter from Perth to spend Christmas with her family! If she spends money while she is here, great… but wouldn’t it be better if she, like thousands others, were here paying tax.. every week and not just for Christmas!
The Gathering, much like that bloody book 50 Shades of Grey is yet another example of the triumph of hype over substance!
What do you think?
I have a love hate relationship with Paddy’s Day for many reasons, not least of which is that I hanker after the simpler way in which we celebrated our national day when I was a child… but that could be just my age. I may be incubating my inner ‘grumpy old woman’.
Given that we are approaching the day of national celebration and the fact that some of my unease stems from disconnect or gap that exists between what is really is to be Irish and how the Irish are portrayed, last night as we sat having dinner we decided to explore this huge question. What does it mean to be Irish?
Taking part in the conversation was husband, who is English and the two youngest daughters aged 13 and 11. We came up with a list of what it really means to be Irish…. This is our family view and I present it for your consideration and entertainment.
Being Irish means you talk a lot… This is something that particularly affects our family but as we regularly compare Irish families we know with British families we know, we think that this is definitely an Irish trait. The gift of the gab is apparently more than just a tired cliché. We see this as a positive.
Being Irish means we are sweary… Yeah, this is fair enough. We are great at swearing and even break up words to stick a swear word in the middle – abso-bleedin-lutely. This is probably neither positive nor negative. But we are kind of proud of this dubious aspect of our Irishness too.
Being Irish means we do a lot of slagging…. This is probably one of the most useful Irish traits and one that often other nationalities don’t get. And the secret of good slagging is that nothing is sacred. Irreverent slagging – brilliant.
Being Irish means we need to know everything about everyone… Again we think it’s the height of bad manners not to be interested in other people. Some nationalities might see this as being nosey but we think it should be taken as a compliment if, when we meet you, we interview you too.
Being Irish means we are loud… Well, we feel there is no point in talking if no one can hear you.. So yeah, loud and proud of it too.
Being Irish means the tricolour… Now this was interesting. I asked my girls if they knew the significance of the Green, White and Orange in our national flag. Oh, they sure did. It is not quite the meaning I was taught but in this era of peace and tolerance perhaps it’s very appropriate. Here is the new meaning of the tricolour.
Green – is for the fields of Ireland
Orange – is for the red heads
White – is the colour of our skin.
Being Irish means drinking… We had a long debate about this one and in the end conceded that yep, Ireland has probably earned her reputation as drinkers although we do feel that the reputation is actually larger than our drinking. But we are proud of Irish pubs which are now found in almost every corner of the world.
Being Irish means ‘the craic’….. We think that only Irish people truly understand what having the craic is about. It’s fun, it’s slagging, it uproarious, and it’s the ultimate feel good. We think it’s one of the best things about being Irish.
Being Irish means we are very connected to our spirituality.. Not all of us of course but these are all generalisations. We think that (in general) Irish people are very spiritual. From the good Catholics and CofI’s to the pagans we think there is a high degree of believing we are part of a bigger picture in Ireland. We also have some wonderful ancient pagan monuments and of course we own Halloween. This is almost as good as the craic. We like this very much.
Being Irish means we are cool… I was so thrilled to hear my children (13 and 11) announce that being Irish meant we are cool. In these days of depression and recession, our children are still proud to be Irish… that’s just bloody great!
Being Irish means (like it or hate it) we have Paddy’s Day… For us the most interesting thing about Paddy’s Day is that it is so widely celebrated all over the world.
Being Irish is all about being a small country with a long reach…. we are all over the world once again.
So wherever you are, whether you are Irish or not can we wish you Happy St Patrick’s Day… curse away, have a jar, plenty of craic and then interview someone you don’t know very well!
With thanks to Roisin, Mia and Paul
On arrival at Aras an Uachtarain I was struck by Obama the Showman, as he yelled to the assembled media “Good morning, how are you all doing?” But perhaps he was just doing what many Americans do naturally – oozing confidence and informality.
His trip to Moneygall, which was one of those towns you sped through on your way between Dublin and Limerick and were never tempted to stop, was different. Here I thought he was most himself. Clearly relaxed and seemingly very taken with the fact that his third great grandfather (who rejoiced in the very unlikely Irish name of Falmouth) had come from this little town. He was in no hurry as he held babies, received hugs and shook what looked every hand in the town.
Then he adjourned to the pub in the usual piece of staged PR for Diageo. Like Clinton before him – he drank the Guinness, waving it towards the photographers and roaring Slainte! Then it was back to Dublin for his speech to the Irish. I was someone who stayed up into the small hours to watch him being elected in 2008. I am a big fan and so was tempted to go into the city to listen to this man who carries not only the hope of Americans but of the free world with him.
But having braved thousands in Dun Laoghaire for the Red Bull Flopfest the previous day, I’d had enough of crowds and so decided to watch from my sofa instead. As I listened I kept waiting to be uplifted. To hear something I could hold onto. To feel that my faith in this man was going to be rewarded with even just an insightful comment which would make it clear that he understood modern Ireland and our current situation. But instead what I got was a speech that seemed to me to have been cobbled together on the flight over, taking more than a little inspiration from both Kennedy and Clinton before him but without the context that both of these predecessors had. Kennedy was addressing a relatively newly independent Ireland and Clinton was marking the Peace Process.
Obama is a consummate communicator and a great performer. There is no doubt about that. But is he a statesman, a visionary, a great leader of our time? Not yet he ain’t. As I watched him on TV, I laughed and smiled and felt good. But within minutes of it ending, I was left feeling pretty unsatisfied. It was like eating a McDonald’s meal – tastes great but shortly afterwards you realize you are still hungry.
This was no visit, official or otherwise. This was a ‘dropping by’ on his way to bigger and more important business in Europe. His few hours in Ireland provided a bit of R&R for all concerned. And the opportunity to tell us we are a great little country who helped build America; a little island who has had its fair share of dark days but who always overcomes adversity. Had no one told him that only a few days beforehand, in her clipped and formal tones, Banrian Eilis a Do had signaled Ireland’s coming of age and along with our own President Mary McAleese set our faces most definitely to the future.
Grown up Ireland should expect far more from the President of the United States, than a photo opportunity with a bloody pint of Guinness and the same old speech telling us we are great. No, there was no vision of Ireland’s role on a world stage, no creativity of thinking, just same ole’, same ole’. Not good enough anymore. No siree. A definite case of could do a whole lot better!
Postscript: There was one highlight of the visit though and this is really for the benefit of my American readers.
Front loaded adjustments,
Blah Blah Blah,
It streams from my radio.
It jumps from the pages of my newspapers.
It scares me to death and yet it is meaningless.
Words, totally unconnected to my day to day existence.
But yet words that are part now of the soundtrack to our lives.
Before these words became common language, long, long ago, at the very beginning of this recession, my daughter Mia, then 8 years old asked me “Mom, where has all the money gone?” At the time I smiled at her innocent grasp of the new financial reality. “Yes, child” I answered her “wouldn’t it be great if the Government could just print some more money for us all.”
I was recounting this anecdote recently to a friend when I thought again of her question “where has all the money gone?” The question stayed with me all day. Yes, where indeed has all the money gone?
Our current financial meltdown was triggered in large part by the property developers. The men who paid hugely inflated prices for parcels of land on which they had ambitious and unimaginative plans to build houses and apartments. We all know what happened next. The property market collapsed. The land became almost worthless and the developers couldn’t pay back the huge loans they had borrowed from greedy and clueless bankers.
So, Mia innocently asked “where did all the money go?” Someone got paid the large sums borrowed from the banks, which we are now effectively paying back! Surely there is a case to be made for an investigation into those who were paid the hugely inflated prices for their land. I understand that this is how land and property speculation works. But it is morally right that this modest cohort of people, whose bank accounts now bulge with possibly millions of euro, should be allowed to hold onto it? Meanwhile our Government considers reducing the Old Age Pension, Children’s Allowance and other benefits, our young people emigrate in thousands and our economy collapses all around us. We in effect are paying for their financial windfall.
To go after this money, would take courage and determination. I know that it wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would go some way towards restoring a sense of fair play to the rest of us who profited only very modestly by comparison and then only by working hard during the Celtic Tiger’s roar. At the very least surely some kind of extra tax could be levied on the millions paid for what are now useless fields of dreams.
My daughter has a point – “where did all the money go”. We know where a lot of it went, and we seem happy to pay it back in order to protect some principle of a free market economy. I don’t think that Mia, now 10 years old, would consider that to be very fair. And neither do I.
I don’t know if the fact that I saw President Kennedy from my mother’s arms explains my fascination with his story. I think most people, particularly us Irish, find the story of JFK compelling. It has it all – power, glamour, wealth, success, Hollywood legends, conspiracy and the ultimate tragedy of a life cut short. To this day and no doubt into the future, JFK is the President many leaders, particularly American Presidents aspire to. Clinton and Obama made no secret of their admiration for the 35th President of the United States and the Kennedy family’s endorsement of their campaigns, was a key element in both their elections to office.
What was it that made John Fitzgerald Kennedy so special? Watch old film of this attractive man, who was 43 when elected, and his charisma is still evident today. Charisma, no matter what your role in life is, is a very useful commodity. JFK had it in buckets. He was by all accounts very charming and had the ability to make people like him. His self deprecating sense of humour also won people over. He was a leader whose two most powerful tools were charm and charisma. Coupled, no doubt, with a sharp intellect and innate understanding that politics is all about people, combined to make him a very effective statesman.
He understood that to connect with people, be they your countrymen or not, was essential. He arrived in Dublin on that June evening in 1963, straight from Berlin where he had made his famous ‘Ich bein ein Berliner’speech. JFK knew how to connect with people alright.
But connecting alone is not enough. Kennedy also knew how to communicate very effectively his vision of the world. He used big broad brush strokes when painting that vision. Many years later, African American poet Maya Angelou said “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And when he came to visit us in Ireland, Kennedy made us feel good, good about ourselves and good about this country we live in. What a precious gift.
When he addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas on the 28th of June, he delivered one of his trademark, powerful orations. It was full of references to Ireland’s proud literary tradition, stressing our relatively new independence, and the role he saw for Ireland in working towards World Peace. Probably the best known passage from the speech that day was when he quoted George Bernard Shaw’s approach to life :”other peoples see things and say ‘Why?…. but I dream things that never were – and I say: Why not?”
Kennedy went on to say
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
These words, delivered directly here to us in Ireland, inspired our country almost 50 years ago. We listened and we believed. Why? Because they were delivered by a charismatic leader, who had a vision to communicate to us and who ultimately made us feel good about ourselves. To me, this is the very essence of leadership.
We should be grateful to Ryan Tubridy for putting the spotlight back on those momentous days of 1963. Because buried among the newsreel footage, the anecdotes and the sheer excitement, is Kennedy’s speech to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a speech that is as relevant today as it was on the day it was delivered. Almost half a century later, his words are still a wonderful gift to us. As we flounder from one financial crisis to the next, in a vacuum devoid of leadership and of vision, let us remember that the 35th President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy told us we possessed a remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination. And let us hope that he was right!
We had a busy schedule of things to do and we feel like we have been away for a month. It is like having an amazing dream and on waking, finding out that you were only asleep for ten minutes. But then again, many of us already know that time is elastic and not the straight line we perceive it as being!
I will refer you to Mia’s Room for a flavour of what we got up to. Mia can capture the spirit of our holiday much better than I. And if you visit – do leave her a comment. The excitement when she gets a comment on her blog is pure joy echoing through the house.
For me, suffice to say that I love America. We in Europe (and particularly in Ireland) could learn a thing or two about service from our neighbours on the other side of the ocean. And once again I have returned wondering how the Irish got the reputation of being the friendliest nation on earth. My experience of America has always been that they, in fact, are far worthier than us of this particular accolade.
And so from the sunshine and palm trees and fantasy of Hollywood, we return to Ireland which seems to be reluctantly moving into autumn. And one of the great things about travelling abroad is that it provides us with fresh eyes coming home. And as our flight sank through huge layers of grey cloud at Dublin Airport, we were greeted with the greenery and the autumnal colours of the fields of North Dublin. It’s great to get away. And it is also wonderful to arrive back home. Home, to the unbridled joy of Dylan and the more subtle welcome from the four moggies. Home to where we can feel complete, to where we belong and to where our hearts are. And home to begin to dream about where we might be able to travel to next.
What do you think? Do like returning home after holidays?