Thursday, October 7, 2010

History and Myth as Economic Development

I returned recently from my class in Ireland with Regis University students. One of the many areas of Irish culture we study is how the Irish appreciate good stories and myths. And the Irish have turned history and myth into a very prosperous tourist industry. Myth as tourist attraction is particularly evident at Blarney Castle. Every year I stand in amazement as I watch my students line up to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. The myth and history reports that an ancient king who lived around Blarney Castle had a terrible problem, he had a slight speech hesitation, he stumbled when he spoke, he fumbled with his cloak when he gave speeches to his people. He feared giving a speech more than going to war. The Blarney attraction brings in millions in economic development, stone, wool sweaters, restaurants and the like.

One rainy day, which seems like every day in Ireland, the king came upon a whithered crone sitting near the gates of the castle. The soft rain was washing down down upon her wrinkled face. The king took pity on the old woman and gaver her his cloak to cover her from the rain and chill.

She thanked him, I beleive his name was McCarthy, and she wished to reward him for his kindness. She told him to go up to the top of the Blarney castle and kiss this particular stone below one of the overhangs of the castle. If he did so, she told him, he would be cured of his speech hesitation, his speech stumbling and fumbling and his fear of giving a speech. If he kissed the stone, he would be granted the gift of "eloquentia perfects" perfect eloquence.

The king did so and miraculously received the power of perfect eloquence.

So now thousand upon thousands of visitors line up at the castle in hopes they will be able to overcome their fear of giving speeches. Did you know that the fear of giving a speech is ranked as the number one fear by a vast majority of people who are asked People pay good money for this mythological service. I don't think we have anything to compare with the Blarney story which is several hundred years old.

I guess the closest we in Colorado come to such history and myth as tourism compared to Blarney are places like the Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde. Local history attracts many hundreds of visitors to a lesser degree Buffalo Bill's grave and Leadville and Central City. And the holy water at Mother Cabrini's Shrine near Golden has been reported to help cure physical and mental ailments. These old and some ancient sites have lots of mystery and mythology surrounding them to appeal to enough of our human foibles to encourage us to want to visit such places. Tragedy can be a source of visitor interest: consider Sand Creek and Ludlow massacres here in our state. Bothe sites are remote and off the beaten path. It takes special efforts to find these sites. Though I fear our civic memory has diminished the tragic in our history as well. Only one of my students on the Regis Ireland trip could tell me the year JFK was assassinated.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that we should not discount myth, history and legend as sources of potential economic tourism. We must continue to think outside the box if we are to recover from the fiscal crisis which engulfs us. Otherwise we can kiss recovery "goodbye," like the thousands kissing the Blarney stone in hopes of perfect eloquence.

In as pirit of full disclosure I must report that I have never kissed the Blarney Stone. I am afraid it might recharge and fall from its lofty place on the top of the castle roof.

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