The gasps of excitement and the hushed, lilting voices of the little Gaels of Gaelscoil Bun Crannacha brought rose to crescendo from the 192 strong school housed in the surroundings of the multi-purpose Buncrana Youth Club.
‘An sin é?’, some asked while others remarked,’go raibh sé níos airde ná bhí sé ar YouTube’, but the general feeling was a buzz of excitement among the staff and pupils of this lovely school. A week earlier almost to the moment they had learned of there being a visitor from far flung lands or indeed galaxies being on tour in the Inishowen Peninsula.
In this ‘Giant Leap’ for the school and indeed Tourism in Inishowen and Donegal, the famous Canadian astronaut who put Ireland on the map with the first-ever tweet from space ‘as Gaeilge’ last year had arrived. Tourism Ireland, who were behind the visit hope that Chris Hadfield will help put Ireland ‘on the map’ again – this time as a top destination for holidays in 2014 and beyond.
The organisation enlisted his help to showcase some of our top visitor attractions and as he mixed business with pleasure he would later visit the first key attraction on the Wild Atlantic Way, at Malin Head and marvel at its splendour and that of Donegal.
‘Tá Éirinn fíor-alainn, ach tá Dún na nGall speisialta’, he quipped as Gaeilge. He would also initiate busking and jamming sessions along with local musicians at the plush Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel where he rested during his time in Donegal in the company of his beautiful wife, Helene and daughter, Kristin who themselves are honorary Irish people with Kristin studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Chris also joined in with some of our best traditional musicians at the spiritual home of cell at Mc Grory’s in Culdaff with some of the peninsula’s top local talent.
The former International Space Station commander had a number of engagements in Dublin, including the Laya Healthcare Pendulum Summit and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. He and Helene spent several days as ‘tourists’ – visiting places like Croke Park and the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. In Northern Ireland, he visited Armagh, Cushendall and the Glens of Antrim, as well as Titanic Belfast.
Tourism Ireland will use this opportunity to create three short films of Hadfield’s five-day visit – featuring different themes like Gaelic games, our spectacular scenery and major visitor attractions. These films will then be shared by Tourism Ireland with its Facebook fans (almost 2 million) and Twitter followers (109,000+) around the world, shining a spotlight on some of the many great things to see and do on a holiday in Ireland; the films will also be shared with influential international travel and lifestyle media, through an extensive publicity and PR campaign. During his time here, Chris Hadfield was also be tweeting about what he has seen and experienced, hopefuly inspiring his more than one million followers to begin planning their own holiday to Ireland this year.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, said: “Having seen Ireland from space, it’s great to be able to give Chris Hadfield a closer look at what Ireland has to offer on the ground. His enthusiasm and energy make him a great ambassador for Irish tourism, and should help to persuade many more to come and see Ireland close-up in 2014. I’m really delighted he has agreed to help us out.”
Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland’s CEO, said: “We are delighted to welcome Chris Hadfield to Ireland. I would like to personally thank him for his tremendous generosity in agreeing to help us promote the island of Ireland around the world. Of course, he already began promoting Ireland last year, with the dramatic photos he tweeted from the International Space Station to his huge Twitter fanbase.
“Chris is an enormously popular, global figure and I am confident that our films of his visit to Ireland will be seen and shared by millions of potential holidaymakers around the world – inspiring them to come and sample the destination for themselves.”
This was echoed by the radiant Emma Gorman of Tourism Ireland at Gaelscoil Bun Crannacha, herself of Donegal ancestry who accompanied Chris on his visit and headed up the support team around him.
The real stars
But the real stars of this visit to Bun Crannacha were Chris’ muinteoirí for the day, four beautiful young ladies who patiently assisted his search for the ‘cúpla focail’. Indeed he had a ‘blas’ that is synonymous with the Donegal dialect on the end of this adventure. ‘Selfies’ and photo-requests were the order of the day, and that was just the teachers and local media!
The school put its best foot forward and the pride exuded by the Principal, Úna Ní Maoildeirg Uí Cheallaigh, and her staff as well as indeed by the Chairperson of their Board of Management, Colm Ó Tuathaillín was clear to be seen. Great things happen no doubt in the halls of this school everyday which was clear by the manner in which the children conducted themselves as well as the very capable, confident and competent line of questioning the pupils had for Commander Hadfield. However, this was one day which was ‘Out of this World’ and will live long in the memories of this lovely school and it’s community.
** Fionbar Ó Baoill will broadcast a special programme on Col. Chris Hadfield’s visit on Highland Radio in their ‘Greim Gasta’ slot on Tuesday, January 21st starting at 8.15 p.m.