THE Minister for Tourism has thanked Irish international movie star Gabriel Byrne for his widely reported criticism of The Gathering initiative, which he says was publicity the country could not have paid for.
Speaking at The Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum in Co Limerick yesterday, Michael Ring thanked all the "famous personalities" who knocked the initiative, which he insists has been a success.
Last year actor Byrne, who previously served as a cultural ambassador for Ireland, said many who left for the US feel abandoned by the Government.
The Dublin native said Irish Americans are not receptive to being "shaken down for money".
"People are sick to death of being asked to help out in what they regard as a scam," he said.
However speaking yesterday, Minister Ring claimed the criticism helped attract world-wide publicity for The Gathering.
"I thank (famous personalities) for their support as well," he said. "Because even though they were giving out about The Gathering they gave us the kind of publicity we couldn't pay for . . . and that was Gabriel Byrne and I want to thank him for his support in relation to that."
The Minister for Tourism and Sport said he always adopted a "glass half full" approach to the initiative and said there has been an 18.5pc increase in tourism from North America this year.
Minister Ring was in Foynes to officially open the new maritime section of the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum.
The €1.5m addition to the museum has been part funded by Failte Ireland, and with assistance from Limerick City and County Council.
Some €4.5m has been invested in the museum in the past 25 years and it supports 16 jobs.
Around 40,000 visitors will have passed through the museum by the end of this season, according to director Margaret O'Shaughnessy.