An Tóstal is a festival that was organised around the concept of The Gathering. When it started 60 years ago, and the idea was to extend our tourist season and attract overseas visitors to our shores. Much the same idea as The Gathering 2013.
In 1953 post-war Europe, the dollar was the only currency that counted, and all European countries needed dollars to buy necessary goods. There was a European-wide US programme to promote visits to Europe by American tourists.
The idea was dreamed up by Pan American Airlines and their interest was firstly in generating business, but also in getting landing rights in Dublin. They actually wanted to turn Dublin into a European hub, but the Irish government were determined to protect Shannon as the only trans-Atlantic airport.
The proposal pitched to Sean Lemass used the name An Tostal – with the strap line ‘Ireland at home’. The concept was to welcome back Irish emigrants and their descendants and to attract them through a diverse programme of events.
They wanted sporting and cultural activities; they also proposed a beauty pageant to find the next Maureen O’ Sullivan – after The Quiet Man. This did not happen at the time but the long-term genesis is the Rose of Tralee
They also suggested setting up a register in the National Museum where the Irish diaspora (not a term they used) could register births.
The programme was also seen as spreading the tourist activity beyond the peak months of the summer – so it was launched on Easter Sunday, 1953. Feedback suggested too early in the season so they moved it back to June.
The programme included horse racing; boxing, traditional music events, GAA and lots lots more – all around the country.
An Tostal failed to attract many US tourists. Trans-Atlantic flights were very expensive; marketing in US may not have been great; were Irish-Americans sufficiently wealthy at this time to afford such visits? Irish hotels etc outside Dublin were very primitive, very few rooms with bath or shower.
But the consensus was that it did build community activity, and may have resulted in the spread of B and Bs of a decent standard.
Long-term survivors were Cork Film Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival, Tidy Towns and indirectly the Rose of Tralee.
When the national movement faded, Drumshanbo continued to run An Tostal and it still operates annually there today. More details available on antostalfestival.ie
Prof Mary Daly of UCD came in to tell us about An Tostal.