First stop was the ‘Big Apple’ and we hosted a ‘Donegal Gathering’ event for the Diaspora and some travel agents. Current New York Donegal Person of the Year, Joe Donagher, kindly offered the use of his function room in the famous ‘Rattle n Hum’ Irish pub. Interestingly, Joe’s last job before he headed to make a new life in the US was laying the foundations for Harvey’s Point thirty years ago! We did presentations of the Donegal section of the Wild Atlantic Way. It was quite emotional to watch the reaction of people when they saw images and videos of their beloved home county on the screen. Eyes glistened and smiles beamed as the evening progressed. Business cards were exchanged with tour operators who were delighted to learn more about the iconic attractions of Donegal and the ‘Wild Atlantic Welcome’ of its people. While in New York, we had the pleasure of meeting the great singer / songwriter, Tara O’ Grady who had stayed in Harvey’s Point a few weeks ago, while on tour in Ireland. We enjoyed Tara’s music session in the Refinery Hotel. It was a proud moment to see the Empire State Building donned in green, white and gold during our visit. This follows our delight at the Donegal Gathering event last year, which was lit up in Times Square!
Early next morning, we took a flight to Chicago and made our way to prepare for the next event. This elegant venue was called The Gage, owned by Senator Billy Lawless and his son. We extend our thanks to them for their generous hospitality. There was a large turnout from the travel trade and media. Marie Mc Keown from Tourism Ireland was of great assistance in making the event such a great success. A Galway man, Billy has a great affection for Donegal. He sat with us later and told fascinating stories of his life, and of his dedication to supporting the Undocumented Irish in the US.
MILWAUKEE IRISH FEST
This was my sixth trip to Milwaukee and it was certainly the best ever! Milwaukee Irish Fest is deemed to be the ‘mother’ of all Irish Fests. It attracts over 130,000 people each year, all of whom have a love of Ireland and many of whom use the event to plan their vacation to the Emerald Isle. There is music, song and dance in a sea of green. Donegal Tourism secured a prominent booth in the Destinations Area, where the crowds flocked to our stand for a chat and to pick up brochures. It was encouraging to meet so many people who have a desire to visit Donegal in the near future. The weekend culminated in what is called ‘The Scattering’, whereby everyone gathered to celebrate the conclusion of Irish Fest. It was such a moving experience to see almost fifty musicians on the stage and the crowd joining in, singing beautiful Irish ballads that touched the hearts of all.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRIP
While the pace of the week was intense and often exhausting, such as standing for hours ‘melting’ in the blazing sun, luggage being lost and damaged, lugging heavy suitcases from airport to airport, – nothing compared to the spirit of fun and friendship that Barney, Sarah, Sheila and myself shared during our time together. We worked hard and it was worth it. We had so many funny moments and we laughed so much. Somehow we gate crashed an Irish American wedding which was being held in our hotel on our last evening. Now that was an experience! We were delighted to meet the legendary Gerry Rabbit, owner of Highland Radio, who was bestowed the honour of ‘Chieftain’ for his many years in support of Irish Fest. Another Galway man with a fondness for Donegal! Minister for the Diaspora, Ciaran Canon was also in attendance, and he impressed many with his musical talents when he joined a band on the stage. Whomever we met, wherever we met them, we missed no opportunity to share our passion for and pride in Donegal – the county that has it all!
The seed is now planted. We just have to nourish it and watch it grow. Looking forward to a bright future for tourism in Donegal.