Stars don green to promote year of festivities
Film stars Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan and Stephen Rea, writer Maeve Binchy and rugby captain Paul O'Connell are among a host of celebrities who will promote Ireland in a year-long festival called 'The Gathering 2013'.
Pitched as a "festival of festivals", the event will market the country to the world with a programme focusing on sport, heritage, music and the arts.
It hopes to attract an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland.
Speaking from the London St Patrick's Day parade, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said efforts in 2012 had led to invaluable promotion of the Irish brand across the world.
Failte Ireland said it was estimated that this year's St Patrick's Festival had generated up to €50m for the local economy.
The last full financial analysis that Failte Ireland undertook was in 2010 when the festival generated almost €45m.
"There has been great coverage in the global media and a message has gone out that Ireland is open for business," Mr Varadkar said.
"We have also sent an invitation to the world to come to Ireland next year.
"Government ministers have been promoting The Gathering around the world as part of the St Patrick's Day events and I have promoted it personally with the Irish diaspora in Britain," he added.
As part of the drive, a special booklet promoting the Irish cause was dispatched across the world, with ministers distributing them to business leaders, politicians and key members of the diaspora.
Personalised messages from some of the country's most successful exports are at the heart of the campaign.
"I'm an Irishman and proud of it, and I'm proud of the country," said Meath man Pierce Brosnan.
"I regularly go back home, and I'd invite everyone with a connection to Ireland to go back in 2013 and celebrate what it means to be Irish."
Liam Neeson, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, said: "Being Irish and a citizen of the world has made me truly appreciate Irish culture, music and history.
"Whether you're first or second-generation Irish, or even have no connection to Ireland, you should visit in 2013 for a unique experience."
A 'Council of Champions' is also being formulated with a number of as-yet-unspecified, high-profile figures due to take part in further planning.
This year's four-day St Patrick's Festival has benefited from huge international coverage.
"It's a sizeable platform in all key markets and agencies, not just for tourism but enterprise agencies too," said Susan Kirby, head of the festival.
"It's an open door to Ireland that I don't believe is open to other countries. One can say hand on heart (the media coverage) can't be bought.
"We had one television crew that syndicated to 25 channels coast-to-coast in America," she added.
Last year, it was estimated that the free media coverage of the Irish holiday would have cost Tourism Ireland around €5m to buy.
Once calculated for this year, that number was expected to be significantly higher, a spokeswoman said.
In Dublin yesterday, families and tourists were enjoying day three of the national holiday, with a variety of entertainment and events on offer around the capital.
"I think it's important. We looked at a bit of the parade on the television and what stands out is that it obviously attracts foreign tourists," said Francis Barrett, who was touring the Merrion Square festivities with his partner Carmel Clifford and children Oisin (5) and Sadhbh (3).
"The parade looked fantastic; everything they did was great," said Yvonne Malone, who was with her husband David and daughter Katie (four weeks) and twins Andrea and Liam (3).
"It was all over the world, it can only do good, can't it? It's getting bigger and bigger every year," she added.
Meanwhile, the Co Donegal town of Ardara set a new World Record yesterday when 229 people dressed as St Patrick paraded through the town.
The feat will now be submitted to the Guinness Book of Records for consideration.