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?