DUBLIN - Ireland, its scenery, its music, its hospitality… who has never dreamed of having a couple of drops of Irish blood in their veins?
That’s the idea behind “The Gathering.” In 2013, Ireland is calling on “all the Flynns, O’Malleys and Schweitzenburgs to come back home (…) no matter when their families left.” The event will kick off on December 31 with a concert in Dublin. Eamon Gilmore, the country’s deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that "the Gathering is also open to all those who love or are interested in Ireland."
Five million euros were invested in the project, including 1.5 million for advertising campaigns abroad. About 325,000 extra visitors are expected and 180 million euros in profits. As a comparison, and in the absence of statistics on tourism, about 800,000 Americans and 300,000 Germans make the trip during good years. Barry Hargreaves, a Texas resident, has decided to go to Ireland for the first time this summer. "My mother was a Murphy and all my ancestors are Anglo-Saxons. The Gathering is a great opportunity to discover Ireland."
Ceili tournaments (the traditional Irish dance), music festivals, a new show by the creators of Riverdance written by Joseph O’Connor, or even a reunion of bearded men in Ballymoe, in Galway. There will be "thousands of ways to get in touch with your Irish roots. Organize a golf trip, a family reunion or a corporate event. Prepare to bring all the members of your clan to Ireland next year": that’s what Ireland’s Transport, Tourism and Sport Ministry is proposing.
Clans are traditional kinship groups organized by name and heritage that made up the country before the 17th century and that met up during “gatherings.” Among those clans were the O’Neills, warriors that protected their land. Though they lost their power when the British took control of the island, clans have become popular again in the past decades along with renewed interest for Gaelic and the country’s history.
In May, 400 members of the O’Neill clan will gather in Armagh County in Northern Ireland. "The trip is supported by local authorities in a region that has suffered from recent conflicts," says Eoin O’Neill, a professor and member of the executive committee of the O’Neill clan association. "Foreign O’Neills want to see historical sites, take DNA tests, learn about their genealogy. These gatherings are also a way of meeting interesting people. One of my daughters is called Maire O’Neill. Well I met a Maura O’Neill who is a professor at Berkeley and works with Hillary Clinton!"
“Shaking down” the diaspora
The advertising campaign has been strong in Ireland, in the press and on social media, but also in the U.S., where about 35 million Americans claim to have Irish roots. A few weeks ago, Gabriel Byrne, a famous actor and a former Irish cultural ambassador to the U.S. where he’s been living for years sparked a controversy by calling the project "a scam." "Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora in Ireland except to shake them down for a few quid," he said.
He isn’t the only one criticizing this call to return home while the country is still struggling with the fallout of the 2008 economic crisis. In October, the unemployment rate was close to 15% and tens of thousands of young graduates have already left the country in search of a job abroad.
Others say the project is too dependent on its volunteers and is just adding its name to existing events. They are also worried that it is serving up a cliché of Ireland. James O’Higgins Norman, a sociologist and the vice-president of Clans of Ireland, says The Gathering and its funding pushed clans to hold their gatherings in 2013 instead of 2012 or 2014. "But there are also those who wanted to create groups and wouldn’t have done it otherwise. We are working with some of them to make sure they give visitors an authentic representation of our heritage rather than third-rate gatherings with shamrocks and Leprechauns."
Despite the criticism, Leo Varadkar, the Irish minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said he wasn’t "ashamed" of promoting growth. According to Gian Gregori, in charge of Ireland Tourism for Switzerland "more than 2,000 gatherings are planned in 2013 and the numbers keep growing."
In The Irish Times, Una Mullaly wrote: "The Gathering is an alright idea. It seems simple enough; (…) Maybe, even maybe, it might make Irish people realize that we are an important nation with tens of millions of people who want to feel a sense of belonging to this screwed up island."
When the world gets closer, we help you see farther
A member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces writes his account of the new dynamic of targeting, and being targeted by, the invading Russian troops, as drones circle above and trenches get left behind.
KYIV — The current war in Ukraine is a game of hide-and-seek. Both sides are very well-stocked with artillery, enough to destroy the enemy along many kilometers. Swarms of drones fly through the air day and night, keeping a close eye on the earth's surface below. If they notice something interesting, it immediately becomes a target. Depending on the priority, they put it in line for destruction by artillery.
Therefore, the only effective way to survive is to hide, or at least somehow prove to the drones your non-priority status — and avoid moving to the front of the 'queue of death.'
In general, the nature of this queue is a particular thing. It may seem to be a god, but is instead a simple artillery captain's decision of when to have lunch, and when to fire on the house where several enemy soldiers are staying. It's just a handful of ordinary people (observers, artillerymen) deciding how long their enemies will live depending on their own schedule or the weather, the availability of ammunition or if they're feeling tired.
People who may have become targets sometimes have the luck to escape death a bit longer simply because other, more important targets appeared in the meantime. “Tonight, we are working on the armored vehicles hidden in the landing," one artillery operator said recently, "we'll let those at the checkpoint live until tomorrow.”
Everyone is hiding. The infantry is hiding — it is the easiest thing for them to do. Soldiers are sitting in houses, in the forest belts and forests trying in every possible way to hide the signs of their existence.
The idea of a war with trenches and the movement of large columns is outdated. That is not to say the Russians aren't moving in large columns, but they're doing it less and less — as the tragic consequences of it has regularly appeared in viral videos online.
There are always some exceptions to all the hiding.
Trenches usually stay empty until the brief, right moment. If possible, communication tunnels are dug to reach the trenches, so that the infantry can dash into them when the enemy has gotten too close to the places they've been hiding. But besides that, no one will just sit in the trench and wait.
Of course, there are always some exceptions to all the hiding. You'll see a soldier sitting and cooking on a fire in a local farmer's yard. Others even do exercises outdoors.
But this is not Chechnya or Syria. Such behavior by Russian troops is sooner or later punished. The sky is filled with the watchful electronic eyes of our growing fleet of drones.
View of a drone during the anti-drone rifle testing in Kyiv.Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/ZUMA
Ukraine hidden weapons
The other thing that is regularly hidden is the equipment. First of all, armored vehicles. Plus there are guns, tanks, combat vehicles, all these are exquisite delicacies for artillery. The armored vehicles hide in rural locations under a layer of branches, and in the city, they are disguised as piles of garbage or hidden in the corners of yards so that the house covers them from shelling.
It is not easy to hide armored vehicles. The earth remembers everything: traces remain on the soil, on the asphalt. Their principle is the same as the infantry’s: to go to a position prepared for fire, shoot several times and move to another place without waiting for a shell to fly there.
Of course, the aircraft are also hiding. This month Russian helicopters could only be heard. They fire a swarm of unguided missiles from behind the hill and turn back before those reach and hit the target. This is blind shooting, dangerous only because someone may not hear the helicopter and not hide.
It seems that their helicopters that acted differently have already been taken out by the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces.
The artillery is also hiding. For example, our self-propelled guns take a few shots and run away, because Russian artillery starts firing at them, and after a few minutes ours starts firing at them again. And so on...
Rarely do tanks come out and shoot at each other. I have seen this, or rather heard it, but this was a result of the exceptional recklessness of tank commanders as a special part of humanity.
Trucks are the hardest to hide, large in length and height, the ultimate disposable products of war.
Loss of artillery fire
It was not always like that. Confident in the superiority of their artillery and aircraft, the Russians positioned themselves in fields visible for many kilometers. It was as if they were at a military exercise somewhere in the Rostov region of their own country.
There was time to order them to change tactics.
They suffered losses from our artillery fire, called helicopters to evacuate the wounded, which the Ukrainians shot down too. And so, it happened again and again, until somewhere in the distant headquarters, there was time to order them to change tactics. To hide.
Some 90% of our losses are from artillery fire. The Russians probably have a lower rate in relative terms (although, perhaps, higher in absolute terms), because the Ukrainian infantry competes with the Ukrainian artillery for the heads of occupiers.
Our advantage in light anti-tank weapons includes “Skifs” (anti-tank guided missiles), Javelins and NLAWs, so the Russians are also destroyed in the line of sight. But in general, although the fighting is fierce, it may be months before soldiers see the enemy with their own eyes .
*The author is an active member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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