A FESTIVAL dedicated to left-handed people and a record-breaking attempt for bearded men are among some of the quirkier events unveiled for The Gathering next year.
They are just two of the 1,700 events being staged across Ireland next year by local families, community groups and organisations to encourage overseas visitors to visit here.
Responding to claims that some of the events appear to be rebranded versions of ongoing festivals and events, Transport and Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar defended the initiative as a special once-off event.
"We have 1,500 gatherings now confirmed. A lot of them are new events but also a lot of them are older events as well, but they're being scaled up.
"We don't want to just create new events. We want all existing events and festivals to answer the call of The Gathering and I'm delighted they've done that," he said.
He was at a special launch reception for The Gathering 2013 at Dublin's Guinness Storehouse yesterday, joined by organisers of hundreds of other events.
Producer John McColgan has announced a successor to 'Riverdance' named 'Heartbeat of Home'. The show will open at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre next September and will tie in with The Gathering. There will also be a 'Riverdance' festival in the summer.
McColgan said: "We're opening the world premiere in Ireland and we've started working on it already and then we'll tour in the United States and around the world."
The production is co-written by Irish writer and playwright Joseph O'Connor in his first foray into musical theatre. It is composed by award-winning composer Brian Byrne and choreographed by David Bolger.
There will also be a series of major sporting and cultural events on the calendar, but it is the quirkier ideas that captured the imagination.
Bartle D'Arcy, general manager of Belvedere House Gardens, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, said he came up with the idea of inviting "lefties" from around the world. He wants them to converge on the town – its name in Irish means "town of the left-hand mill" – next August.
Although he is right-handed himself, he said that catering to the estimated 10pc of the population who are left-handed would be a unique marketing ploy to attract visitors.
Among the attractions for so-called southpaws would be specially designated hotel rooms kitted out with doorknobs, toilet handles, scissors and irons for left-handed people.
He believes it will be the world's first festival celebrating left-handedness.
John Martin Griffin, secretary of the Ballymoe Development Company in Co Galway, is also organising the "Town of the 1,000 Beards" event as part of The Gathering next year.
The two-day event will see at least 1,000 men with beards line the main street of the village to break the existing record in the Guinness Book of Records for what he promises to be "a bit of hairy fun".
It is hoped The Gathering will bring in an additional 325,000 visitors and revenues of €150m, Mr Varadkar said.