ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - Anne.gildea@mailonsun­day.ie

Imust quickly men­tion the best name ever for a chip­per, which we saw re­cently: The Cod Fa­ther. If you can top that, alert me. The ‘we’ there refers to The Nualas, the chip­per fa­mil­iar­ity has to do with be­ing on the road, and at the time of writ­ing I’m just back from Cork. As we drove to Dublin, sun belt­ing, stun­ning vis­tas of moun­tain and shim­mer­ing green fields open­ing up along the mo­tor­way, this very orig­i­nal thought kept oc­cur­ring to me: God, Ire­land is beau­ti­ful.

We were play­ing Cork’s Every­man Palace, a mag­nif­i­cent Vic­to­rian theatre with or­nate mould­ings, red plush, a war­ren of cor­ri­dors back­stage, and an odd fea­ture — four boxes po­si­tioned, two ei­ther side, at the front of the stage. If they were in use, the pun­ters seated there would lit­er­ally be be­side you, on stage, as you per­formed... the equiv­a­lent of a telly ‘close-up’, you could say, in the days be­fore telly. Orig­i­nally opened as The Cork Palace of Va­ri­eties in 1879, its boards have been well trod­den by the likes of Char­lie Chap­lin and Lau­rel and Hardy. I love it: you feel con­ti­nu­ity with a grand old tra­di­tion of graft­ing song-and-gag en­ter­tain­ers. Long may the Every­man thrive — it’s a gem.

Mean­while: The Gath­er­ing, the pro­posal gen­er­ated by the Global Ir­ish Eco­nomic Forum last year. I said at the time the no­tion sounded like a spir­i­tual event to me, a get-to­gether for peo­ple to tune in with each other and the earth. My friend Michelle thought it more redo­lent of 1960s films like The Wicker Man. To her The Gath­er­ing sounded oc­cult-ish and sin­is­ter. Ei­ther way, I fig­ured it might be a no­tion blath­ered about but com­ing to nought even­tu­ally. But no! It’s just of­fi­cially been ‘launched’, the web­site is live, The Gath­er­ing is go. So what is it? Ac­cord­ing to the site, ‘The Gath­er­ing Ire­land 2013 is about the peo­ple of Ire­land throw­ing open our arms and invit­ing any­one with a con­nec­tion to our coun­try to come and visit.’ A bit vague? The ex­pla­na­tion con­tin­ues, ‘By re­con­nect­ing with our global com­mu­nity, it will be like com­plet­ing an elec­tri­cal cir­cuit. En­ergy will flow and our com­mu­nity will light up and sparkle with its own vi­tal­ity.’ Got that? A sort of at­tempt at hu­man fire­works, is it? Maybe this bit clears it up: ‘We hope you’ll reach out to your in­ter­na­tional net­works, far-flung groups of friends and col­leagues, or even peo­ple you’re con­nected to but haven’t met yet, and in­vite them to Ire­land for a fun-filled year of cel­e­bra­tion.’ There’s plenty of such bumf on the site, but in essence it’s all mar­ket­ing speak for: ‘Hey you, get peo­ple to come here; we need the dosh.’ We’re told: ‘You can ex­pect Gath­er­ings as di­verse as in­ti­mate fam­ily re­unions and groups of surfers con­ven­ing for sur­faris up the west coast. The in­di­vid­u­al­ity of these Gath­er­ings is limited only by imag­i­na­tion.’

Fam­ily re­unions! Surfers con­ven­ing in gangs! Limited only by the imag­i­na­tion! Pluck­ing it off the top of your head, weren’t you, who­ever wrote that? Just in case your imag­i­na­tion is limited, there are 10 gath­er­ing sug­ges­tions, such as trac­ing your roots, fam­ily meet­ings, class re­unions, hobby group get-to­geth­ers, and my favourite: ‘re­verse ge­neal­ogy’: ba­si­cally, if you can’t bring the di­as­pora back to their roots, bring the roots to the di­as­pora. The idea is that you get parishes to trace their émi­gré de­scen­dents, get in touch with them, tell them they’re Ir­ish and sug­gest it’s high time they came ‘home’.

‘Run­ning in tan­dem with this amaz­ing ar­ray of Gath­er­ings is an eclec­tic line-up of fes­ti­vals and events,’ the site boasts. A line-up in­clud­ing the Gal­way Arts Fes­ti­val, Wex­ford Opera, Writ­ers’ Week Lis­towel, the Dublin Horse Show... Read­ing through it I found my­self think­ing, ‘Hang on, this is a bunch of stuff that would be hap­pen­ing any­way!’ RTÉ News re­ported that the pro­duc­ers of River­dance will be do­ing a new show, Heart­beat Of Home, ‘about em­i­gra­tion and home­land, peo­ple leav­ing the home place to triumph in a new world’. Well, that’s one way of tack­ling the new wave of em­i­gra­tion — hey, let’s put on a show! ( No such thing when my own folks left Ire­land in the 1950s: No Blacks, No Ir­ish, No Dogs: The Mu­si­cal?). They en­vis­age it as a whole new River­dance — I guess they hope to be swim­ming in cash with it. Again.

The Gath­er­ing is ‘a chance to come home’, the web­site trum­pets. But for those who’ve had to leave, what gen­uinely of­fers a chance to come home is not the prospect of a horde of fire-eaters and jug­glers in some sort of fes­ti­val con­cept, but em­ploy­ment. At the very least ‘the chance to come home’ is hav­ing the price of the plane ticket and the spare cash to cover a break in this very ex­pen­sive home­land. I’m just un­com­fort­able with the loose­ness of the whole idea. Read­ing the web­site (the­gath­eringire­land.com) there seems to me a lack of au­then­tic­ity about it all, and a sense of ex­ploit­ing that most emo­tive thing, peo­ple’s sense of iden­tity, for eco­nomic gain.

Am I be­ing too cyn­i­cal? Well, per­haps, when you con­sider RTÉ News’s re­port that the event could in­ject €170m into the econ­omy and cre­ate 3,000 jobs. Roll on 2013, re­verse up those ge­nealo­gies, gather home the di­as­pora! At least we know when they get here they’ll not be dis­ap­pointed by the land it­self, or the warmth of an Ir­ish wel­come.

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