For Mary McGettigan, the lovely town of Donegal is stitched deep in her heart and soul and working to make it an even better place is a true labour of love. Picture: Thomas Gallagher
The ancient Irish had two wonderful sayings that a proud Donegal Town woman certainly encapsulates ahead of the town’s hugely successful Food Festival this weekend.
Those sayings were ‘mortas cine’ and ‘mortas duchais’, pride in your people and pride in your native place.
They also said that ‘ni neart go cur le cheile’ - there is no strength until unity- and the force of nature that is Mary McGettigan, nee Brennan also ticks those boxes.
These days she is busy putting the finishing touches to one of the most successful food festivals in the country.
For the super-efficient Mary and her husband Ernan have certainly played a huge role in putting the town she loves so well on the food map.
For modest Mary, the lovely town of Donegal is stitched deep in her heart and soul and working to make to make it an even better place is a true labour of love.
But it was in her blood as her late father Tony Brennan was involved in community life in the town for many years and was one of the founder members of the Family Resource Centre in Donegal Town.
“So I grew up with that and he was always involved in other community organizations, so it was always in the background.
“I just had an interest in it from my dad who passed away seven years ago, and he was the biggest influence on my life.
So, her involvement grew naturally as she joined the local Chamber of Commerce about 20 years ago and is a member of a myriad number of local organizations - determined to make Donegal Town even more special.
For many years she has also been heavily involved in several community groups in the area and has worked hard to attract a wide range of exhibitors from all over Ireland and the UK including many artisan producers to the famous food festival.
Her common-sense can- do attitude has forged good personal relationships with celebrity and local chefs and continues to build on those valuable relationships.
In 2013 she was selected as one of eight food ambassadors from all over the country and Mary is also a member of County Donegal Tourism Sectoral Forum Group and an associate member of Donegal Tourism group and through her Director’s role in Donegal Town Community Chamber CLG, the town was selected twice as part of the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town Awards.
When the Democrat caught up with her, she was busy making the final preparations for the big weekend which will feature giants of the Irish food industry like Neven Maguire, Kevin Dundon, Gary O’Hanlon, Catherine Fulvio and many more.
So, where did Mary and her husband Ernan get the great ideal to put Donegal on the food tourism map?
“Some years ago, we were in Dublin and visited a “Taste of Dublin” and when you walk into the Iveagh Gardens from the street you are walking into those lovely gardens, with pagodas and drink and it was amazing and just like a dream.
“At that stage they were having four to five thousand people going through there per day and we decided that if we could replicate something like that in Donegal Town, it would be just amazing.
"WE ALWAYS HAD A VISION"
“That is how it started, and we never thought we would get to where we are now, but we always had a vision that we wanted to make Donegal a major food festival - the town and the county.
“We wanted to be up there with the top ten and be comparable to Dublin, West Cork and all of the bigger festivals”.
She added: “We started off with about 30 exhibitor stands and around 1000 people and we ended up last year with around 126 exhibitors and we had in excess of 20,000 visitors over the weekend.
“Even though it is all voluntary we run it like a business, and it costs about E175,000 to run it this year.
“We get around €14,000-€15,000 in sponsorship and the rest comes from our exhibitors, so we have to sell the event.
“Everything we get is ploughed back into the next Festival.
“The big thing is that the exhibitors and the public are well looked after.
“They love coming to Donegal and they get a great welcome here and we have big marquees also”.
So the super-efficient Mary is understandably very proud of her native town.
“Last year we were second in Ulster for the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town Awards and this year we were one of the three towns in the county selected for the Pride of Place Awards.
“Last week we were in the Top Ten for the foodie destinations in Ireland and the results are out on Wednesday”.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO MARY?
So what does Donegal Town mean to Mary?
“It is home and somewhere that I am really proud to be from and it is about the people who really work well together and everything we do is a collaboration-business, community, council, Fáilte Ireland, all the agencies work in harmony.
“Everyone is involved and that is what makes a good town.
“And volunteers drive so much in this town”.
But then so does one Mary McGettigan- ‘Ni neart go cur le cheile’…indeed!