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.