KEITH Wood’s qualities as a leader on the rugby field for Ireland and the Lions are legendary and there are no half measures in anything he does.
Now a BBC TV rugby analyst, Wood this week led a 40-strong team to London as his native Clare becomes the first county in Ireland to harness the good will of its UK diaspora in promoting tourism.
The team championed the resurgence of the West of Ireland’s economy at a London to Clare event in the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington on Tuesday.
It’s been suggested that this event could generate €1 million and 2,000 tourists to coincide with The Gathering homecoming initiative in 2013 and backed by the Government.
Killaloe man Wood acknowledged the importance of strengthening the ties with fellow Clare people in London and the UK, particularly in a time of national and global crisis. He also extended his appreciation for the generosity they have shown in effectively becoming tourism ambassadors for the county.
“It’s time to think outside the box,” he said, “and time for us in Clare to lead the way and take responsibility for creating a county that is spirited, creative and productive not just for us but for the generations of the future.”
Buoyed by the energy of the Global Irish Forum and the desire to restore Ireland’s economic reputation, the trail-blazing Clare team engaged with 250 influential members of its community in London and the UK to tap into their talent, expertise and willingness to serve the interests of the county and the country in cash-strapped times.
The London visit coincides with an attempt to name the Cliffs of Moher as one of the 7 Wonders of the Nature.
The Cliffs is competing with 28 other special worldwide locations in an international online competition. The Clare gathering in London stood firm in support of the Cliff’s bid for success as the clock counts down to 11.11am this Friday when the final decision is made and over a billion votes cast from all over the world.
Mayor of Clare Pat Hayes, a brother of the internationally renowned traditional fiddle player, Martin Hayes, endorsed the event as one of the most innovative yet practical actions the county has ever taken. He said he came to London specifically to say to the Clare diaspora and tour operators that the county is open for business and open to new ideas for delivering UK tourists to one of the most spectacular physical and cultural landscapes in the country.
“We have a county of outstanding beauty, unrivalled tradition of music and superb quality food. Turn down any narrow road in the countryside and you will find artists and artisan products of the highest world standards,” he said.
Among the product providers who travelled from Clare was Birgitta Curtin from The Burren Smokehouse in Lisdoonvarna, who offered the same delicacies at the London to Clare evening that were provided to Queen Elizabeth at the State dinner in Dublin Castle earlier this year.
Artist Michael Hanrahan, whose painting of Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural visit to Ireland is part of her personal art collection that hangs in Buckingham Palace, was also present.
Joining the team of county emissaries were representatives from genealogical and attraction providers, accommodation and activity providers, local authorities and tourism agencies
The event was chaired by former television presenter Ciana Campbell, representing Ennis Book Club Festival.
Joe Russell, chairman of Clare Tourism Forum, which inspired the event, stressed the significance of the county’s assets and its ease of access from London.
“Shannon International Airport and indeed the Cliffs of Moher are just a hop away,” he said. “With three flights each day from Heathrow and further flights from Stansted, Gatwick, Bermingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh, Clare is no more than an hour away and costs a little as €36 if you plan in advance. Shannon Airport on our doorstep is an invaluable strength that we simply cannot ignore and must maximise,” he said.
“If 200 people attending the UK event could send 10 people to Clare who would spend €500 each, it is not at all an impossible task to deliver this target.
“The London to Clare evening was an excellent promotional initiative for Clare to raise the profile of the county in London and build closer links with its London diaspora. I would like to commend all of the work and the collaborative approach that has gone into making this event happen,” said John Concannon, director of marketing development, Fáilte Ireland.