It has been a busy and diverse week leading up to the St. Patrick’s weekend. I took a couple of days off college to attend a development workshop held by Failte Ireland, who are basically the Irish Tourist board. Within my role as the secretary of the local Community Council over the years I have been involved in more than my fair share of tourist development initiatives and I was a little sceptical over going to yet another. As a remote community tourism is a crucial part of life on the Mizen as the industry provides much needed employment and most of my extended family are involved in one way or another providing services to our visitors and such is the way of life here most of us have to turn our hand to more than one job and I often act as a guide to visitors.
So with all this in mind I travelled to Bantry for the workshop and immersed myself into the world of target marketing and tourist type identification. This was lead by Carole Favre who was described as an international tourism experience development expert, she appears to be just that and a passionate, energetic French lady who took us along the path towards creating a more dynamic tourist experience for our many visitors. I found the first day a little dry as I have heard so much about tourism trends and marketing strategies to write a book, a large book or maybe an animated power-point presentation, with glossy covers, snappy quotes and loads of mnemonics, flow and flip charts flapping and now we are being introduced to profile avatars for virtual tourists!
However this was a workshop that brought together interested people from all 3 of the peninsulas and apart from what I would think of as the gimmicks which did provide a more interesting experience, the day was very enjoyable, well organised, very informative (for those who have not been to events of this nature) and a great opportunity to network with people living under similar circumstances further afield.
The second day was more practical based knowledge, once the theory was in place we could move on to applying it to our own needs. I could not help smile that some of the day was spent teaching the Irish to tell stories! I am a bit wary of “trends” as they often change and then you are lead into the world of following trends rather than following your tried, trusted and traditional methods and one of the charms of living where we do is that things do change but not so fast as to lose the character, soul and unique identity, change is eventually absorbed and given a distinctive West Cork twist. Many of those who come to West Cork discover our slow road leads to a greater appreciation of life and time can actually slow down without the need for all that busy time saving technology. I think trying to package our way of life is akin to herding eels.
Somehow I had got the wrong memo as I had thought the workshop was going to be about developing local crafts and I had brought along some examples of my work. I did show Carole some samples just after lunch and she was surprised, as many are, that I am a stitcher and I think it would be fair to say she was bowled over by one of my pieces, my memory skirt. This is a dress that started out as a practice piece all those years ago when I first started learning to embroider from my mum and evolved over the years into a signature work. It illustrates many of the major events of my life including my first job, the birth of my children and many of the places I have visited on my life journey. It is hard to describe but Carole managed to slip into it, which is quite an achievement as it has a very narrow waist and wore it for the rest of the day.
If the two days were intended to inspire those who attended to develop new tourist experiences then for me it did exactly that and gave me the boost I needed to bring together many of the ideas I have been churning over into a practical strategy and I will look with interest at what this inspires in the others who attended.
The next day I was back at college, it wasn’t a work day but an open day for the college and I had agreed to help my Tutor Michael introduce prospective students into the world of horticulture at the college. I was quite happy to do this as one I enjoy meeting people and two it is easy for me to be positive about my experience at the college and I would encourage anyone to follow their interest and learn more about their chosen subject. The horticulture course has taught me a lot not just about horticulture but about myself and thankfully most of what I have learned has empowered me.
In the world of weird coincidences that West Cork thrives on, I met Brendan who was looking into trying out horticulture and after we got talking I discovered that he was a member of the Durrus Men’s Shed, 4 of their members had been on the Tourist Workshop over the previous 2 days and he was here looking into doing horticulture as they were thinking of investing in a polytunnel so they could grow flowers for their Tidy Towns Group. Just as a reminder that’s what I am doing, using the community polytunnels to grow plants for our Tidy Towns Group, a small world!
I gave another presentation to a group of about a dozen Youth Reach students. To me Youth Reach is a service provided for those who don’t fit comfortably into the state education system, square pegs in round holes. As a bit of a square peg myself I was pleased to have the opportunity to try and encourage other square pegs to engage and maybe take on a new learning experience. I was delighted when after my 5 -10minute talk one of the teaches complimented me on my presentation and told me I had a natural vocation as a teacher and he couldn’t believe I was just a student. It is small compliments like that which gives me such a boost and maybe all those years of coaching table tennis have taught me more than how to hit a small plastic ball.
With the college having an open day I took the chance to have a chat with some of the Art students and looked at their work. I always fancied going to Art College but life got in the way and as a youngster I think I was put off art by my teacher and I was more focused on making money and having a career. These days creativity is such an important part of my life and seeing all the different techniques you can learn has got me thinking, maybe after finishing horticulture I may go back to college to do art as well. I am really enjoying the learning experience and being surrounded by those who are open to learning new skills, maybe this old dog could even learn a few more new tricks.
Keep it green and I hope you have happy St. Patrick’s Day, slán.