Tag Archives: Tourism Ireland

The Ireland that fills my heart

With more than 11 million annual visitors kept home by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Ireland has released a short video to remind prospective travelers they “can still dream of future holidays and adventures.” The campaign, titled I will return: Fill your heart with Ireland,” arrives at the 20th anniversary of my first visit in May 2000.

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

At Dublin Airport, I handed my new Irish/E.U. passport to the customs agent, having obtained citizenship through foreign birth registration. He waved me into the country without question. Then, as I waited for my luggage, I thought I heard my name called on the public address system.

“That couldn’t be me,” I thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

I took a taxi to my bed and breakfast in Portmarnock. The room wasn’t ready, but the innkeeper secured my suitcase and I took a mid-morning walk on the nearby strand.

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

The voice at the other end of the line–and it was still a line–belonged to a woman in her 60s, a retired school teacher, the unmarried daughter of a North Kerry man. His brother was my mother’s father, who emigrated shortly before the Easter Rising.

My grandfather married a North Kerry women in Pittsburgh, where several of their siblings and other relations also lived. Because of these connections to Ireland, deepened by the citizenship through decent process, I shared my travel itinerary with my mother. She passed the details to her sister, who maintained regular contact with the woman on the phone, the one who had me paged at Dublin Airport. Her name was Eithne.

My plans to meet the Irish relations were unformed, something to be figured out during the trip, if any of them even cared to meet me. A holy trinity of Irish and Irish-American women assured those introductions. My plans changed within an hour of my arrival. Eithne insisted that I lodge with her.

The B&B host graciously released me from my booking. Eithne’s Jack Russell Terrier, named Beano, sniffed me suspiciously, but deigned that I enter the house on Griffith Avenue, Dublin, near Corpus Christi Catholic Church. I was very welcome in Ireland.

***

In the 50-second “I will return” video, edited from earlier campaigns, only a few people are seen among the verdant landscapes and historic sites; mostly from behind, all of them individually, none in groups. A few turn to the camera and motion as if to say “come over here,” suggesting an unseen companion outside the view and a metaphor of the “return to Ireland” dream theme of the promotional work. Like them, I have enjoyed solitary walks along Ireland’s “wandering lanes, and rugged cliffs, her fields laced with streams”, as the narrator intones. Conspicuous by its absence, however, are scenes of people-packed pubs and festivals. 

Over the last two months, relations and friends on both sides of the Irish border have shared their quarantine stories with me. Long term, I can’t imagine a socially-distanced Ireland. I want to be crowded around a Galway city busker, surrounded at an Abbey intermission, bumped into by other bookstore browsers, elbowed by relations around a kitchen table.

The “I will return” narrator is confident of being “welcomed in at every turn, into her kind embrace,” the pronoun a reference to Ireland at large. That welcome does not come from solitary exploration of unpopulated landscapes, lovely as they are. The Céad Míle Fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes, comes from the Irish people. 

Before she died in 2016, Eithne introduced me to dozens of relations. I have enjoyed spending time with them during nine more visits to Ireland, three with my wife, whom I had not yet met in 2000. I’ve added new friends and professional contacts on my own. And I’ve enjoyed random encounters with farmers and merchants, archivists and waitresses, and many others working in the island’s important tourism industry. 

Collectively, they are the Ireland that fills my heart. It is to them I will return, to once again hear my name called in welcome.

Catching up with modern Ireland: December

The most important story of (December) 2018 will likely be the most important story of (January) 2019: Brexit, and the impact on the Irish border. British Prime Minister Theresa May scratched the scheduled 11 December vote on her Brexit package when it became clear parliament would not accept the deal approved weeks earlier by the European Union. Now the vote is set for the week of 14 January, date to be determined.

  • In mid-December, the Irish government published a “sobering” contingency plan in case of a no-deal exit by Britain from the European Union, a move that officials say would hurt Ireland more than any other country in the bloc, The New York Times reported. A second story in the Times described how Brexit could disrupt trade and reinvigorate the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
  • “Ireland can lay credible claim to offer a haven from the populist plague that has infected so many other countries.”Chris Johns in The Irish Times.
  • Hopes for a new class of visa for Irish citizens were dashed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican. Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, had pushed the measure through the lower chamber in the waning days of the session, The Irish Times reported.
  • Tourism Ireland declared 2018 “the best year ever for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland,” with some 11.2 million visitors. Dublin Airport reported that it welcomed more than 30 million passengers for the first time in its 78-year history. I was happy to contribute to those numbers with visits in February and November, the first time I’ve traveled to Ireland more than once within one year.
  • Over 3,500 people were refused entry to Ireland at passport control in the last year, TheJournal.ie reported, including nearly 200 Americans. (Happily, as noted above, I wasn’t among them.)
  • The Irish Times‘ U.S. correspondent Suzanne Lynch profiled Scituate, Massachusetts, as “the most Irish town in America,” based on 2010 U.S. Census data. The Daily Mail reported the same story in 2011, as have other media. Lynch quoted Niall O’Dowd, editor of IrishCentral.com, who warned that Ireland is in danger of losing its diaspora in the coming decades. “You have to work at a diaspora. Diasporas can die.”
  • Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill legalizing abortion in Ireland, as approved by referendum earlier in year. The procedures are expected to become available in January.
  • The bestselling books in Ireland for 2018, according to The Irish Times.
  • 2018 deaths of Irish celebrities and other notables, per Legacy.com.

Ring of Kerry. Tourism Ireland image.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

I made my second trip of the year to Ireland in November. As in February, the weather was delightfully mild and mostly dry. As in America, more and more people seemed transfixed by their smart phones. In the West of Ireland, I noticed more wind turbines sprouting from fields and hilltops to supply electrical power to keep those phones charged. At several churches, Mass attendance remained thin, especially at the massive Galway Cathedral. (Below and bottom of the post.)

Here’s the monthly roundup for November:

      • “Successive Irish Governments have abandoned rural Ireland. Their vision is of a prosperous elite, big cities and a trickle down of wealth. A trickle that runs dry before it reaches rural Ireland,” Sinn Féin  President Mary Lou McDonald said. … “Rural Ireland isn’t dying. … The situation is far from perfect, but in contrast to the grim days when rural Ireland raised its sons and daughters for the boat, these days a mix of foreign and indigenous industrial employers has penetrated deep into provincial Ireland with high-quality, interesting and engaging, jobs,” Donal O’Donovan wrote in the Irish Independent.
      • Medical devices now make up almost 10 percent of all Irish exports. The Republic is second only to Germany as the largest European exporter of such equipment, The Irish Times reported. Most of the firms are clustered around Galway.
      • “Lessons from Northern Ireland for Americans who see political opponents as the enemy,op-ed in The Hill.
      • Ireland is moving to reinstate birthright citizenship, bucking the trend in other Western countries to tighten restrictions on immigration, The New York Times reported.
      • Tourism Ireland announced it will increase 2019 spending by €10 million, to €45 million, and will launch its first new global advertising campaign in seven years to help attract more overseas visitors to the island of Ireland. The “Fill your Heart with Ireland” campaign will launch during December in the United States, Britain, France and Germany, then roll out more than 20 other markets in the new year. The promotional boost is driven in part by concerns about Brexit.
      • “Is Ireland Really A Startup Nation?”, column in Forbes.
      • The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating the 9 November spotting by several commercial airline pilots of an unidentified flying object over the Republic. Some have speculated the fast-moving lights were probably meteorites entering Earth at a low angle. 

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

I’ve spent January producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Thanks for the great reader response. Before the next post, I want to catch up with the month’s developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

Tourism poster of Innisfallen, Killarney, in County Kerry, from the 1920s.

Irish tourism on record pace, including best ever July

Tourism to Ireland increased nearly 13 percent from January through July, compared to the same seven months in 2015, figures released 2 September show.

“Today’s figures indicate that this was the best ever month of July for Irish tourism, with more than 1 million arrivals recorded,” Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said in a release. The organization said it is preparing to launch an “extensive autumn campaign aimed at boosting late-season travel to Ireland.”

The announcement coincided with the release of travel data from the Republic’s Central Statistics Office, which combines the U.S. and Canada as areas of visitor residence. For May-July this year, 635,600 North Americans traveled to Ireland, compared to 561,200 the same three months of last year, and 488,100 the same period of 2014.

I very much enjoyed being part of this year’s total with my July visit.

A Dublin building bloom in July 2016. The city was very crowded with visitors, including myself.

A Dublin building blooms in July 2016. The city was crowded with visitors, including myself.

Dublin gets double exposure in NYT

The New York Times has published two complimentary travel-style pieces about Dublin in less than a month.

The newspaper spotlighted the capital in its “36 hours in … ” feature Nov. 12. The story began:

Dublin’s been through tumultuous change in recent decades, from the Celtic Tiger years, when BMWs were de rigueur, to the post-crash depression, when the cacophony of incessant building suddenly went silent. Today, signs of economic recovery are emerging, but it’s a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer. The city is finding a new way to exist — neither ostentatious with wealth nor bowed down under debt.

The Times published a second story, “Christmas in Dublin: Good Cheer and Great Deals, on Dec. 9. Writer Ratha Tep praised “a newly energized city rich not only with jovial cheer, but also an abundance of artisan offerings and a creative, literary spirit. Better yet, much of it can been enjoyed frugally, all in the city’s compact, eminently walkable center.”

The positive media coverage is good for business. Tourism Ireland projects 7.74 million visitors will come to Ireland in 2015, surpassing the previous record year of 2007 (my story from my visit that year) and a 6 percent gain on the expected total for this year.

O'Connell Street Bridge.

O’Connell Street Bridge.

 

Northern Ireland striding forward

Northern Ireland has made great strides since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and institution of the Northern Ireland Executive in 2007. But the six counties of northeast Ireland still have much work to do when it comes to cross-community relations, economic development and tourism.

That was the view of three panelists at Irish Network DC‘s 18 Feb. forum: “Northern Ireland: 7 years since the re-introduction of devolution; triumphs and challenges.” Here are some highlights from each panalist:

Left to right:

Left to right: Metcalfe, Houston, Haughian. Image from Irish Network DC Tweet.

Norman Houston, Washington, D.C.-based Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau:

  • Northern Ireland “has changed dramatically” since devolved government began in 2007. It is “safe and productive,” Houston said, “but we are not out of the woods.” The contentious issues of flags, parades and the past remain unresolved. Efforts by Dr. Richard Haass to agree a path forward to resolve these problems fell short at the end of December.
  • First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were critical in landing the fantasy series “Game of Thrones” for Northern Ireland. The power-sharing politicians met with HBO executives in Los Angeles shortly after new outbreaks of violence back home. “They swung the thing,” Houston said.
  • A “Yes” vote in Scotland’s referendum on independence could accelerate talk of such a vote in Northern Ireland. But Houston, working for elected officials with disparate views on such a step, diplomatically declined further comment.
  • “Significant portions” of the population have not benefited in the post-Good Friday Northern Ireland, especially those who lack education. Mistrust lingers between the Catholic and Protestant communities, but glimmers of hope. In the last six months there have been experiments with daytime openings in the gates of the so-called “peace walls” that divided sectarian neighborhoods. “These are small changes in a difficult situation,” Houston said.
  • “There are very few coalition governments that work like a well-oiled engine,” he said. Stormont does better than most. He slyly noted the dysfunction here in Washington.
  • It’s crucial to “keep Northern Ireland on the radar” of the U.S. government. “We’ve been lucky for the support we’ve had in the past. We’ve gotten a lot of good PR, maybe more than we deserve.”

Alison Metcalfe, New York-based head of Tourism Ireland/North America:

  • About 20 percent of the 1 million U.S. travelers to the island of Ireland visit Northern Ireland. The goal of the tourism group is to make Northern Ireland a “must see” part of their itinerary. “We want Americans to spend three or four of their 10 days [on the island] in Northern Ireland.”
  • The organization is trying to coax more airlines to fly direct to Belfast. (Only United offers such service from Newark.) Flights to Dublin “are still a great opportunity,” Metcalfe said, adding visitors should “turn left (north) on their arrival in the Republic’s capital city.
  • Tourism Ireland has to create “compelling reasons” to visit like last year’s Gathering in the Republic. Travelers age 25 to 35 are being targeted exclusively through social media.

Andrea Haughian, New York-based Vice President of Business Development at Invest Northern Ireland:

  • Northern Ireland offers a well-educated and young workforce. Sixty percent of the population are under 40.
  • The G-8 Summit in Fermanagh last June and investment conference in October helped raise the profile of Northern Ireland. “But very few people automatically think of Northern Ireland for their offshore needs,” Haughian said.
  • She said Northern Ireland wants to “harmonize” more with the Republic on economic development issues such as corporate tax rates. But the referendum in Scotland could have a big impact because of how it effects the U.K. economy and grants to N.I.

Visitors to Ireland increased during 1st Q of 2013

Travel to Ireland was up 7.4 percent during the first quarter of 2013 compared to the previous year, the country’s Central Statistics Office has reported. Visitors from North America spiked nearly 17 percent during the period compared to 2012.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the agency:

…mounted its biggest ever St Patrick’s promotion with over 70 iconic landmarks across the world turning green to mark St Patrick’s Day. This year, The Gathering Ireland 2013 and Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 present tremendous opportunities for us to shine a spotlight on the island of Ireland around the world.

Officials also said that having Easter fall at the end of March instead of in April helped to swell first quarter visitors. The second and third quarters are typically attract the most visitors to the island.

Tourism is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, contributing almost 4 percent of GNP and providing employment for over 200,000 people, Tourism Ireland said.

Meanwhile, perhaps reflecting the still sluggish national economy, the number of Irish residents traveling outside the country dropped by 2.1 percent compared to the same three-month period in 2012.