Tourism Ireland sponsored Association of Irish and Celtic Festivals
Speech17 August 2019
A chairde, friends, as Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora, and as a musician and lover of Irish culture, I’m delighted to be back at the world-famous Milwaukee Irish Fest. I feel doubly privileged to be here this year as we showcase my own home county of Galway.
This is my second visit to Milwaukee Irish Fest – indeed Milwaukee was my first overseas visit following my appointment as Minister for the Diaspora in 2017 and it impacted greatly as I assumed my brief. The festival is a very tangible example of the strength of our diaspora, the interest and engagement with Irish culture, and the warmth that people feel for our global island.
However, I am also conscious that Milwaukee is one of many outstanding celebrations of Irish culture held across the US each year.
I know that these wonderful festivals don’t happen without an incredible amount of work, by phenomenally dedicated people. Many of whom volunteer their time and talents.
Yet, despite all the work, and sleepless nights, and stresses that such festivals must involve, you all look incredibly well! Happy and energetic!! Give yourselves a massive bualadh bos/ round of applause.
As Minister for the Diaspora, I was delighted to attend your conference here in Milwaukee last October.
If memory serves me correctly, you were all wearing Hawaiain shirts! It was a great opportunity to hear about the work you do, the opportunities and the challenges.
It was particularly timely as this year the Department is working on a new Diaspora Policy looking at how we engage with our diaspora in a changing world. I am joined by my colleague Geoffrey Keating of our Irish Abroad Unit who will be leading on our new Diaspora policy, so seek him out and share your views!
The Demographics of our diaspora is of course changing. The migration patterns of past generations are not the same. How we communicate with each other in this age of social media has changed completely in the last decade and will continue to evolve I expect in the years to come.
Despite all of these changes, and the challenges and opportunities that they create, one thing is abundantly clear to me having served as Minister for the Diaspora over the past 2 years. Our Culture is the glue that binds. It brings together people who have an Irish background but it also brings together people with no Irish background, but who like our music and dance. It crosses generations. It evolves.
Events such as your festivals, as well as providing a livelihood to our artists, also help them to grow and evolve as artists. Collaborations happen. Traditions are preserved, old traditions are rediscovered, new traditions are created, the dial moves.
Your events as well as having a positive impact on the economy and the societies of your own towns and regions, also have a considerable impact on the Irish economy principally through igniting interest in would be visitors to Ireland.
2018 was a record year for Tourism to Ireland with over 11 million visitors generating over 6 billion Euro for the Irish economy, and is the biggest single sector for employment in the country.
2019 looks set to be a record year again for visitors from North America with over 2 million visitors expected. It has never been easy to get there with Flights from a number of Gateway cities across the US. A big shout out our friends from the Twin cities, who now have the latest direct flight from Ireland in the Midwest.
I congratulate our wonderful colleagues and hosts Tourism Ireland for the phenomenal success they continue to have in this important market.
However, I know they won’t mind me saying that the success is not their alone. They do not have a monopoly on marketing Ireland.
What better marketing for Ireland than your Irish Festivals which take place the length and breadth of this country. Sparking interest, generating good will, and persuading people to go check Ireland out for themselves after getting a taster at a festival.
But it is not just about marketing Ireland for economic reasons, you also highlight the best of our values. Volunteerism, commitment to the Arts and having fun. You are all true Ambassadors for Ireland and for America and I salute you.
There’s no better way to celebrate and promote those qualities than through the festivals you all organise. There’s no better way to convince someone who had always thought to visit Ireland that now is the right time to do so.
But, collectively, your festivals offer up to a million people in the US each year a chance to experience a little bit of Ireland.
So on behalf of the Irish Government and Tourism Ireland, let me say go raibh mile mile maith agaibh, a thousand thousand thank to you for all that you do in terms of promoting, preserving and facilitating the evolution of Irish culture and for all that you do for your communities in the United States and for communities across Ireland.