In the 1990s, the Irish economy was one of the greatest success stories in Europe. Dubbed “The Celtic Tiger,” the country transformed its largely agrarian economy into a modern, high-tech engine. However, massive lending from Irish banks, couple with a lack of oversight from the government, caused the Irish economy to crash in 2009. GDP fell 10 per cent, and unemployment levels rose from 4.2 per cent in 2007 to 14.6 in 2012.
During 2013, the Irish devised a plan to transfer cash from Western wallets into Irish coffers. They’ve created a large tourist movement called “The Gathering,” in which the 70 million people from all over the world who claim Irish descent are invited home. Some tourists are staying with families, although some prefer to stay in 5 star hotels Ireland has developed throughout the years.
The Gathering was launched by the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with the prime minister and deputy prime minister. The program, supported by Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland, promises to be the largest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland. While some Irish citizens and emigrants view The Gathering as a cynical ploy for tourism, others are calling scattered family members back home.
How People Are Celebrating
The Irish people are celebrating The Gathering with two types of events. First, the sponsors of The Gathering Ireland have created a number of festivals and events for 2013. Second, the Irish people are encouraged to host their own gatherings by inviting friends and family to visit or by extending invitations to Irish organizations overseas.
Irish resident Niamh Gallagher created a Guinness World Record in 2007 for hosting the largest gathering of people with the same surname in history. Gallagher intends to break the record in 2013 by staging another Gallagher clan gathering in County Donegal. She says the event is a great way to have fun while providing enjoyment to others. She also says that 2013 is just the beginning — a template for the future.
The Gathering Ireland sponsored an American football exhibition called The Emerald Isle Classic, in which Notre Dame and Navy played football in Dublin’s Aviva stadium. Other upcoming festivities include light-hearted events like the Left Hand Festival, a Samba Fest, the Irish Redhead Competition and a Freckle Counting Competition. More serious events include Listowel Writer’s Week, Belfast’s Titanic Museum and Bloomsday, the festival that celebrates the life of Irish author James Joyce by reliving the events of his massive novel set in the course of a day, “Ulysses.”
How to Create a Gathering
People who want to host gatherings can find inspiration on the official Gathering website. One idea comes from Irish actress and Broadway veteran Fionnula Flanagan, who visited Western Ireland in November 2012 as part of a series called “The Gathering: Homeward Bound.” Flanagan visited a ghost village that contained 12 abandoned cottages facing the Atlantic Ocean. In 1911, at least 59 people populated the set of cottages. Now, the cottages are empty thanks to massive emigrations.
Flanagan and Reaching Out Ireland are working to bring descendants from villages like these back to their ancestral homes. Irish families can create similar gatherings by setting up an account on The Gathering’s official webpage. They can also simply set up Facebook events or use government-supplied postcards to invite people home.
Bringing Scattered Families Back Together
Joe Creedon owns a hotel in Ichigeelah, a small village in County Cork. He has organised the O’Leary clan gathering, setting up events such as a lecture, traditional music performances and bus tours to explore the food of West Cork. Creedon says that many people reach middle age, and find themselves wanting to know more about where they came from and who their ancestors were. Some of the clan-gathering attendees, he says, come armed with computers and ready to do serious genealogy research. Others are content to stroll along the streets of the village and to visit the churchyards, walking in the places where their ancestors walked.
Cynics like actor Gabriel Byrne have called The Gathering “a scam to shake down the diaspora for a few quid.” However, for both those who will host and those who will attend, gatherings can reconnect generations of emigrant Irish with their heritage and with the families who stayed behind.
About the Author: Erin Quinn is not an O’Leary or a Gallagher, but she might attend their gatherings anyway. Until then, she plans to continue blogging about her beloved Ireland.