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Saturday 20 September 2014

Web Summit techies get a taste of our beautiful country on Achill

Published 03/11/2013 | 02:00

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FLYING HIGH: Eoghan Turley, from Howth, Dublin, kite-surfing on Achill Island, Co Mayo. Photo: Gerry Mooney
CYCLE OF LIFE: Aaron Gerschenberg of SVB Capital

THE room, a warm sanctuary in the heart of the windy west on Saturday night, was packed with CEOs and web entrepeneurs – men who have million of dollars and venture capitalists eyeing-up this country for a big financial play.

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And they sat in silence and awe, hanging on to the words of one gentle old man for whom the internet and silicon technology are and will remain a foreign country

Local musician John 'twin' McNamara, 78 years old but young at heart, has spent his entire life on the island of Achill.

"At the heart of Ireland, it is all about music and poetry and the arts. This song I'm about to sing is as Gaeilge but you listen to the birds every day and you don't have to understand them to enjoy it," he said before easing into the melodic tones of Amhran na Smear. The CEOs closed their eyes and, for a few moments, were spellbound.

It was a world away from the big-stage production of Dublin's Web Summit, where they rang out the stock exchange bell in front of the world's media and Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrived to trumpets and fanfare in a state-of-the-art Tesla electric car.

On Achill, mobile phone reception was sometimes sporadic and wi-fi hotspots were relatively hard to find – but they were having too much fun to notice as the techies headed into the west.

Fresh oysters and salmon- hauled in from the Atlantic were served as a rack of Irish mountain lamb turned on a spit out the back.

The venue was the Pure Magic Lodge and the week-end 'out West' – a brainchild of Pubble founder Philip McNamara and backed by the IDA – was to encourage a group from the Dublin Web Summit to close their laptops for a few days and network, while letting their spirits roam free.

A spectacular electric storm illuminated the big sky as rollers broke onto a sandy shore.

They listened to harpist Laoise Kelly play jigs and reels. She spoke about fairy rings and told them stories from ancient folklore.

The haunting wail of uileann pipes fascinated the grads from MIT, who had never heard the wondrous tones of the elbow pipes.

Tablets and iPhones peppered the table as Irish trad players from Scoil Acla played the accordion, fiddle, bodhran and flute.

The next morning the group were up early to take part in a 40-mile biking trek around the island and go kite surfing on the local lake.

Even world-champion kite surfer and male pin-up Youri Zoon had come down for the fun, much to the delight of some female tourists.

Aaron Gershenberg, Managing Partner of SVB Capital, put the importance of the event in context: "We have a five-year goal of $100m (€75m) investment in Ireland. We have lent $22m and will exceed our goal of $100m.

"We have 45 Silicon Valley Bank clients who have operations in Ireland.

"Wherever you are doing business, an important part of relationship-building is to appreciate the people and the culture and to immerse yourself as much as you can in it."

This was no official Gathering, the locals wore their love and knowledge of Ireland lightly. Even world-renowned Irish sculptor Liam Kelly sat quietly among the group.

The locals talked about their island life.

"It's dark and hard in the winter but there's nowhere on earth you would see more beautiful, more vivid colours of a rainbow. Some days you almost feel you could walk right to the end of it," said one.

As one kite surfer and techie kid, Veronika Martinakova, explained: "Embrace the future, but don't lose sight of why people from all over the world love it here."

Sunday Independent

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