"The what?", I hear you ask, if you're not from these climes...
"Cead mile failte." The traditional Irish greeting of a hundred thousand welcomes is being proffered by the Irish tourist board and government, as an initiative to tempt rich Americans and anyone lucky enough to have escaped the country, recently, or centuries ago, back for a holiday, to show off our cultural finesse, gloss over the economic meltdown and then turn them upside down, so the gold falls out the bottom of their pockets and plugs a hole in this sinking ship of a nation (is that enough mixed metaphors for you?!)
Gabriel Byrne referred to it as a "scam" and a "shakedown". And he'd be right. And it is shallow. It says, we want you if you have money, but not needs.
In reality this is not the year of the gathering, but a Leavetaking, or Scattering. Last year 238 left our shores. Everyday. From a country of only 4 million.
And it's not just European immigrants heading home now times are tougher. 53% leaving are native Irish. 87,100 of our population left in the 12 months to April 2012, according to the Central Statistics Office. They are expecting the same figures again for 2012-13.
This is the land of the hundred thousand goodbyes.
Phew, fewer kids to pay for, you can hear the government sigh. Fewer sick people to deal with. Fewer on the dole. Fewer people in need of services. Yes but less taxes, less diversity, fewer families together. This is a brain drain as our youngest and brightest leave these shores. And many young married couples who had studied abroad, intending to head home to start their families, stay away because of the lack of prospects.
I don't know of anyone coming to the Gathering. But I know of families leaving. Posting their house keys through their doors, because they can't sell, because they're in negative equity, and they can't pay their mortgages. Families who came over to work for companies which are now barely surviving. Who have taken two pay cuts in a year. Every family I know lives under the constant stress of their main wager earner losing their livelihood. Families going to Australia in their droves, leaving behind grandmas and parents and siblings.
We came home to Ireland 8 years ago. After years of living in the UK and travelling. It truly felt like a home coming. It was my dream come true to be finally living in the community of my birth, close to two sets of parents. But now I'm not so sure, almost everyday I wonder would the grass be greener elsewhere?
Welcome to the land of a hundred thousand broken dreams.