by Ed Forry
Irish government tourism officials are exuberant over the success of the Clan Gatherings promotion developed by the Tourism Ireland agency for the current year.
According to a Sept. 26 Associated Press report, “ “Ireland’s government says tourism to the Emerald Isle is rising and could reach a record high for American visitors, as many are coming especially for a year of clan-based parties. The figures from the Central Statistics Office found that the number of overseas tourists to Ireland reached 4.75 million in the first eight months of this year, 6.5 percent more than the equivalent period of 2012. Nearly half arrived in the June-August peak time.
The AP added, “American tourists recorded the biggest increases, with 807,000 arriving this year, including 438,000 in the summer months, a nearly 20 percent gain from 2012.”
The results are a triumph for Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar, and Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons, who have overseen the year-long effort to bring a new wave of visitors to the Emerald Isle. The promotion got underway on Labor Day weekend 2012, when the Notre Dame football team opened its season in Dublin with a win over the Naval Academy. Minister Varadkar visited Boston and other US cities just 12 months ago for an official launch of “The Gathering 2013 – Bring it Home.” Judging by the results so far, the efforts have paid off.
Last September, I visited with Niall Gibbons in the Tourism offices just off Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, and he explained the ideas behind the promotion, saying it was “the invitation, really from Ireland to the world, to visit Ireland in 2013, and it’s not just (for) the diaspora, although they form a very important part of it – there are 80 million people around the world that claim Irish heritage, 44 million in the United States alone. There’s over 6 million in Britain. There’s over 2½ million in Australia. So the Irish are very spread and the markets of the United States, Canada, Britain, and Australia are the four key markets for the gathering because that’s where most of the Irish diaspora are.”
Among the initiatives this year was an expanded St. Patrick’s Day parade in the capital city, responding to what he termed a “huge demand” from Americans wanting to join the parade. “It was always limited to a certain number of bands, but next year  you’re going to be able actually to walk in the parade in Dublin.” And sure enough, the March 17 parade was a huge hit, even featuring a contingent of Bostonians from the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, some of whose members marched in Dublin while others paraded in Galway.
Gibbons told me, “‘The Gathering’ is an all encompassing idea, and it is about doing what Ireland is really good at – people. That’s what the gathering is really about at the end of the day…. [All across] Ireland at the moment, people are being asked to come up with concepts of gatherings, where they could invite people home.” And all across the island, members of families great and small found their way back to their home counties, towns, and parishes for dozens of gatherings of the clans.
With just none months remaining, Tourism Ireland has launched a $25 million campaign to boost late-season travel, with the September-December seasons accounting for as much as 30 percent annual visits from overseas.
“Our autumn campaign aims to take advantage of late booking trends in our target markets,” Gibbons says. “Many people are opting for shorter holiday breaks and autumn is a good opportunity with many world-class festivals and events happening here.”