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March 14, 2013

Gathering for Dinner

By Chris Boyle

Sea urchin at Thornton's, Dublin

Sea urchin at Thornton’s, Dublin

Ireland is an island home to 5.5 million people, however there are some 70 million diaspora worldwide, including 44 million in the U.S.

Last year Ireland attracted 1 million travelers from North America, and The Gathering was conceived with the idea of getting more to come back and visit. According to outgoing Tourism Ireland North America Executive Vice President Joe Byrne, there are some 3,120 special events from small towns to big cities designed to “make everyone feel welcome”. In other words, Byrne would like you to come visit even if you just feel a little bit Irish.

The full year program has its own dedicated website ( and events span music, dance, theater, sport, outdoors, personal heritage, special interest, literature, film, arts, education, family and even corporate meetings. So if you’re the boss and you’re Irish or feel Irish, The Gathering is an excuse, cough, an opportunity to hold your annual company meeting in Ireland.

One integral element of the year-long promotion that probably would have caused snickers 20 or 30 years ago is cuisine. And while Dublin’s six Michelin star restaurants may not compare with Paris, it is only one behind Milan and tied with Stockholm.

In fact eating well has become a popular reason to visit Ireland with Wikipedia listing 37 “famous Irish chefs.”

In advance of St. Patrick’s Day, Tourism Ireland and Kerrygold brought celebrity Chef Catherine Fulvo (Italian surname by marriage) to New York to impress the media with her culinary skills and gift of the gab. With multiple cookbooks to her name, regular television appearances in Ireland and Britain, and 2013 European Entrepreneur of the Year, the mother of two whipped up a warming lunch of spinach and bacon greets carrot and thyme soup with the effect of creating the colors of the Irish flag. Lamb loin chops with hazelnut herb crust, rosemary & red currant sauce, Ballyknocken green mash and purple sprouting broccoli was filling enough that yours truly skipped the apple and mango crumble for desert.

Fulvo operates a four-room bed and breakfast, Ballyknocken House and also operates an award-winning Farm & Cookery School set on her family’s 300-acre farm – home to some 500 sheep. While she joked, “You know it’s summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer,” Ireland’s tourism is serious business and its chefs and culinary offerings in fact have become a good reason to visit.

Underscoring that the Irish don’t particularly need an outsider’s confirmation to be proud of their offerings, Oliver Dunne, whose Bon Appetit restaurant has been honored by Michelin since 2008 recently said he was thinking about sending his star back to France. Either way, a good meal is more than ever a good reason to gather in Ireland I suppose.

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