Chat with Norah Casey…from Ireland of the Welcomes
Failte Ireland’s much-loved publication “Ireland of the Welcomes” has changed hands. Its new owner, Harmonia, produces a range of lifestyle titles that fill magazine racks throughout Ireland, but many long-time readers ask, “What does this mean for the magazine?”
At the center of it all stands Harmonia owner and CEO Norah Casey. The Dublin-born entrepreneur, took a moment to chat with us about “Ireland of the Welcomes” and offered her thoughts on Irish travel and culture.
First off, what is Harmonia? How did the company get its name?
Harmonia is Ireland’s largest magazine publisher (check out www.harmonia.ie for our full stable of titles). We publish some well-known and enduring titles in Ireland such as “Irish Tatler,” “Woman’s Way,” “Food&Wine Magazine,” “Auto Ireland,” “Eat Out,” “Garden Designs” and of course now “Ireland of the Welcomes.”
We have a web site called iVenus.com – aimed at women of course. When I was trying to find a name for the company a number of years ago, I came across the story of Venus who had a daughter called Harmonia from an illicit affair with Mars – I really liked the concept of harmony in a publishing company.
Harmonia is in the process of taking over “Ireland of the Welcomes.” What attracted you to this endeavour?
We took over “Ireland of the Welcomes” last month but our first issue is July/August, which goes to press in a few weeks. I love the title, and having spent many years publishing “The Irish Post” in London, I have long harboured a desire to work with the Irish Diaspora again and to create strong communities of people of Irish origin in various countries of the world.
We already celebrate what’s best in Ireland whether it be food, design or the arts so it’s great to have a much wider audience to connect with. I am also really excited about developing a magazine that has such a great history and read by so many people around the world.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in taking on this project?
Building and networking readers is the biggest challenge – given that there are 80 million people across the globe that claim Irish roots, we have plenty of room for growth! Taking on “Ireland of the Welcomes” is a great challenge and we hope to create great editorial and photographic content and opportunities to hear from our current readers about their needs and expectations.
Can we expect any changes or new features?
It is inevitable that there will be changes – enhancing rather than radical change. We loved the format and content – it’s one of the things that attracted us to the title. We’ve appointed a great new editor – Sean Carberry. He is a former journalist with “The Irish Times,” “The New York Times,” RTE (our radio and television station) and he worked in New York for the Irish Tourist Board for some time – he’s perfect for the job and has lots of great feature plans.
In our first issue Sean has interviewed author Maeve Binchy; we also have a great new (beginners) Irish language section with Daithi o’Shea – voted Ireland’s sexiest man for two years running (and of course a native Irish speaker). We also have some shorter guides to various cities and counties and some great genealogy. Irish Times journalist Martin Doyle has written a feature on the Aran Islands – and there is plenty more…
How would you describe the “Ireland of the Welcomes” audience? What special attributes do your staff possess that make them well-suited for producing “Ireland of the Welcomes?”
I am passionate about Irish communities abroad, I still Chair the St Patrick’s Day Festival in London, and I am on the board of the South African one. I spent more years away from Ireland than I did here, and I have a strong connection to people who retain their Irishness through the generations. I think Sean is going to be a great editor – he’s an experienced journalist and spent seven years with the Irish tourist board, so he has a strong sense of the audience. We have a great sales manager who we have just appointed Romy Carroll and the Creative Director David Gibbons is a very experienced concept and creative designer. We employ over 50 people and use a panel of freelance photographers and journalists who we have personally selected to work on our magazines. I think the magazines speak for the company – they are all beautifully designed with high quality editorial.
Are there plans to continue or expand the publication’s Internet presence?
Yes – its top of our list. We are currently migrating the site onto our own server space and we hope very quickly to offer digital editions of “Ireland of the Welcomes” and the ability to pay for subscriptions online. It’s a work in progress as we are just in the soft launch phase of our web site iVenus.com, but we will have it ready pretty quickly.
Any more hints regarding topics we can expect to find in upcoming issues of “Ireland of the Welcomes?”
I have given a few details of the features for the next issue above and we have some famous Irish names who have agreed to do interviews in forthcoming issues. We have some wonderful historical and genealogy articles, and we really want to hear from readers about their own experiences of Ireland.
When you’re away from Ireland, what do you miss most?
My family and friends if they’re not with me, and of course, I never miss the Irish weather or work!
What is your favourite “hidden” Irish getaway?
I hate revealing these things because then they don’t stay hidden! I love using Derrybawn House in Wicklow (www.derrybawnhouse.com) for great weekends with friends and family. Monart is one of our best spas (and what’s even better you don’t mingle with conference goers or wedding parties – its perfect for couples who want to get away – www.monart.ie). I adore The K Club (www.kclub.com) it has a great restaurant and a wonderful spa – of course most people go for the golf as it has the amazing Ryder Cup course.
Who is your favourite figure from Irish history?
Countess Markievicz (or Constance Gore-Booth to use her given name). She was an incredible woman and a real force in Irish politics – born well ahead of her time.
Do you have any favourite Irish traditions?
We always celebrate St Patrick’s Day in both London and Dublin – one year I managed to go to New York. Irish cooking (especially our new trend towards artisan producers) forms a big part of our life.
Do you have any suggestions for unique souvenir ideas from Ireland?
I think art is one of the best things you can bring back or buy from Ireland – its wonderful to have something on the wall which reminds you of your time away. I love books of course and would always encourage people to buy Irish books and to keep our literary tradition alive. But the best souvenir is always what you retain most in your mind – learn an Irish song, rediscover Irish poetry and trace your family and its origins – these are things which are irreplaceable.
Do you have any special tips for experiencing some authentic Irish culture while visiting?
The great thing about Ireland is that wherever you go you will experience culture, traditions and that wonderful sense of Irishness that is often indefinable. I think that the people are still amazing here – when I came back home one of the great benefits was being among people who were open and friendly again. You’ll find that Ireland is a vibrant country mixing old and new comfortably – I adore Dublin – my hometown – but the best of Ireland is often in the remotest corners. While Kerry and Galway have a lot to commend them as beautiful counties try to visit the relatively under populated counties of Leitrim, Donegal and Mayo where the scenery is wild and the people especially welcoming.
The US dollar is weak right now, any money-saving suggestions for our US readers who might be visiting in the upcoming months?
In coming issues we will be featuring some unusual places to stay, the best castles to stay are in the next issue. We will also look at country houses and the best B&B and cottages. You don’t have to do five star to experience the best of Ireland – often staying in family homes is a great way to get to know people. I don’t think the exchange rate problems are long term, and hopefully we will see improvement in coming months. Whatever your budget there will be something to suit you here.
What Internet resources do you recommend for visitors to learn more about Ireland’s culture and history?
Obviously I would like readers to log to www.irelandofthewelcomes.com (please be patient as the site is being relocated). There are so many Irish geology web sites I hesitate to recommend one but Ireland’s national archive is a good place to start – www.nationalarchives.ie/genealogy. You’re currently on a very good starting point – www.irishfireside.com.
How can our readers and listeners contact “Ireland of the Welcomes” with suggestions and feedback?
Full contact details will be published in every issue but any suggestions or comments in the meantime to myself is fine – firstname.lastname@example.org.