DESPITE the United States being one of Ireland’s most important tourism markets, delivering more than one million tourists to Ireland in 2013, the majority of visitors here come from the east coast. The islands that make up the State of Hawaii are low on the Irish radar and, of course, vice versa.
Now however, one of Clare’s sons is at the helm of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and he hopes to see a stronger relationship between the two destinations despite the 7,000-mile distance between them.
“While we are oceans apart, I feel like there are more similarities than differences between Hawaii and Ireland, since we are both island communities. I feel like the world is like an island, where you have to learn how to depend and coexist in harmony with one another and with the environment. Everyone learns to pull together to survive economically and sustainably. There is also a strong sense of culture, heritage and tradition that is preserved and passed on to younger generations,” explained Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Tourism Authority. Mike was born and raised in Kahaluu, about half an hour north of Honolulu, but has strong ancestral links to Ireland.
“I’m sixth generation Clare ancestry. Both my father’s parents are from Clare County. My grandmother’s maiden name was Timmons. They came to America during the potato famine and moved to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma. My father moved from Oklahoma to Maui in 1930 as a teacher,” Mike outlined.
Mike has overseen consistent growth in tourism figures on the islands since he took over as CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority in 2009. Unfortunately though, “I have not come across too many Irish or specifically Clare people in my role at the Hawaii Tourism Authority.”
Mike believes it is possible to build tourist numbers in both directions in the future.
“I believe tourism and travel is more than just a business. It is about sharing our people, place and culture with the world and offering memorable experiences that leaves a visitor bigger and better than when they came. It is about sharing a sense of adventure and magic, the aloha spirit of our Hawaiian Islands, which connects the heart and mind and creates a sense of peace and a better sense of self,” he stated.
“As for developing travel from Ireland, we work with our global marketing contractor, Hawaii Tourism Europe (HTE) to promote travel to Hawaii. Our HTE offices are based in the UK and Germany, where the majority of our European travelers come from. We offer many unique travel experiences on each of the Hawaiian Islands for all visitors to enjoy,” he said, already courting potential tourists here.
The Irish Diaspora is a key sector in Irish tourism however in Hawaii, Mike acknowledges that awareness of Ireland, its attractions and culture is limited.
“The most recognizable Irish tradition in Hawaii would be the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. My father marched in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Waikiki. Every year, there is a huge St. Patrick’s Day celebration in downtown Honolulu on Oahu started by one of the more prominent Irish pubs in Hawaii, Murphy’s. There are a couple other Irish pubs including O’Toole’s, also in downtown Honolulu and Kelley O’Neil’s in Waikiki,” he explained.
Though he has never visited his ancestral home, he hopes to get here in the future and is on the lookout for lost relatives.
“I’ve never been to Ireland but have always longed to go there. I was always told about where our family came from. My father used to tell me bedtime stories about an Irish farmer named Pat Murphy, to put me to sleep. Although I am not aware of any family in Ireland, I would love to connect with my ancestors,” he said.
“I am proud of my Irish descent, because with that comes kindness, friendliness, warmth, a gentle but tough nature and an ability to persevere,” he concluded.