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Riverdance, step aside for the Net

An online group observes St. Patrick's Day by launching Local Ireland New York, the first of a planned network of Irish sites.

Go ahead and get your Irish up--up on the Web, that is.

An online group called Local Irish today observed the St. Patrick's Day holiday by launching the first of its international affiliate Web sites, Local Ireland New York.

Seeking to repeat the success of online communities such as GeoCities and Tripod, Local Ireland plans to aggregate content from individuals while providing technical know-how and Web hosting.

But instead of letting users create their own individual sites, community members will submit material to the Local Ireland editorial team, which will post it.

"The idea is to enable content producers to create the content and leave the technical, back-end stuff to the Local Ireland organization," said Niall Swan, director of U.S. operations for Internet consultant and developer Nua. Local Ireland is a joint project between Nua and Telecom Eireann, Ireland's national telephone company.

The Dublin-based organization has its eye on the roughly 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish descent, according to Swan, who notes that 38 million of those people are in the United States.

Cities with Irish communities in line for Local Ireland sites include Boston, Chicago, Paris, Melbourne, and Munich.

Local Ireland currently is planning to earn revenue from advertising, but hopes one day to glean transaction charges once members set up shop selling Irish products.

Swan predicted that limiting the scope of the online community to the Irish would be its best advantage in the online space, citing such recent Irish phenomena as best-selling novelist Frank McCourt and Irish dance known as Riverdance.

"Ireland is undergoing a cultural renaissance," Swan said. "Ireland a very marketable brand."