Creativity was never more vibrant in Ireland. I'm not foolish enough to say that business is not difficult but somehow that challenge seems to have awoken in people a desire to create, to design, to paint, to knit, to sew, to make, to cook, to do something different, to make their ideas stand out from the crowd.
People who, 10 years ago, might have sat bored to tears behind a desk for most of their working lives are making and baking from one end of the country to the other as never before.
It has always been in the spirit of the Irish to rise to a challenge and for us to be artistic and inventive; some of us didn't have the courage when we were young to break out of the routine of safe jobs with a pension for life but that thinking is all gone. People recognise now that they have to create their own future. Bill Gates is investing in Ireland, and he thinks we are on the up.
Today sees the kick-off of our largest international trade fair 'Showcase' in the RDS. It is now in its 38th year and attracts buyers from 26 countries. This year there are more exhibitors than ever -- some 435 of them. This year too is the first time there will be a Specialty Food Hall. Over 5,700 people are employed in Ireland by the entrepreneurial small and medium-sized businesses that rely on Showcase to reach international customers. Showcase estimates trade orders in excess of €20m at this year's event; playing a major part in the craft sector's contribution to the Irish economy of almost €500m annually. The Crafts Council of Ireland is the main driver behind Showcase and it is promoted internationally by Enterprise Ireland.
Anne Tarrant, originally from Tralee, Co Kerry, has been in the US since 1987 and is executive director of the North American Celtic Trade Association, which represents 200 member shops in the USA and Canada. American buyers have been attending Showcase since the beginning but she has been accompanying NACTA buyers on their visit here since 1999.
Anne says the fact of the matter is that "you can sit at your desk nowadays and order but professional retailers know that Showcase is a must-attend show to find new products and emerging crafts people and artists. It is vital for shops to have new products and Showcase is a critical part of their annual buying".
Buying patterns have changed, she says, as people do not carry as much inventory as heretofore but manufacturers also have changed to facilitate this and can fulfill orders quickly. "At Showcase we also present our Supplier of the Year Award for outstanding suppliers and products to the North American market."
This is Trade Only, but to give you a flavour of the creative spirit that is going on in our little country, let me introduce you to some of the businesses showcasing this year. You can check out their websites and see where products are available.
Yvonne Twomey studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France. She describes perfume as "a pleasure, a mystical expression of love and happiness, a moment of mesmerising passion".
Her black packaging is sophisticated, stunning and her ideas are on the nose with Diosco; Irish Disco, Eriu: Goddess of Ireland, and Samhradh; Irish Summer. Think combinations of Turkish Rose Essence, peach, cloves, Vetiver from Haiti.
Mary Varilly launched her beautiful rosary beads at the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.