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U.S. Tourism Ireland chief Joe Byrne says goodbye and hello again to massive acclaim - Popular Carlow native led tourist figures to Ireland to historic heights

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Joe Byrne, former head of Tourism Ireland North America
Joe Byrne, former head of Tourism Ireland North America

Very few men or women get to attend two wakes in their honor, but Tourism Ireland New York CEO Joe Byrne is the exception.

Thirteen years ago he bid farewell to New York and was the center of a massive party from hundreds of friends in the Irish American community, who came to say goodbye to the outstanding public servant.

Joe left, but then America called him came back again and he drove Irish tourism numbers from the 400,000 mark to over one million, a landmark which will be surpassed this year.

But there is a real possibility of a third Irish wake for Byrne, as the Tourism Ireland honchos are not letting him retire but keeping him as a consultant instead. It is a shrewd move by Tourism Ireland chief Niall Gibbons who was present on the night.

Byrne himself warned in his “farewell” remarks that he would see everybody in 13 years or so and one should not bet against the hugely popular Carlow native.

As U.S. and Canada head of Tourism Ireland, Byrne ushered in the creation of an historical  tourism entity that encompassed Ireland north and south, no easy feat, which was part of the Good Friday agreement.

His work on pulling that off was acknowledged on the night, most notably by those from Northern Ireland who had worked for him and alongside him and saw how determined he was to include Northern Ireland in every travel promotion.

There was a “This is Your Life” moment early in the night when Byrne’s family from all over the world showed up much to his astonishment and surprise.

As the night went on the tributes flowed, and for once they were heartfelt and very much well-intended. It is doubtful Joe Byrne made a serious enemy during his career, or if he did the guy sure deserved it.

There was much debate over what is the best job in the world. Byrne reckons it is selling Ireland in America based in New York. As he said himself, he never worked a day in his life because he enjoyed the job so much

No one did it better, no one will continue to do it better. As his popular successor Alison Metcalfe reminded everyone, Joe Byrne was one of a kind, a unique salesman and decent human being who indelibly stamped his mark on the massive success of tourism to Ireland over the past 20 years from the U.S.

He and devoted wife Geraldine and extended family have everyone’s good wishes in the newest phase of their lives.

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