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The Shrine at Knock, County Mayo where the Irish American couple renewed their vows

Irish American couple renew their vows in their ancestral home as part of the Gathering

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The Shrine at Knock, County Mayo where the Irish American couple renewed their vows

The trip may have started out as a way to discover their roots, but it ended with a New York couple saying “I do” – for a second time – in a small village in Ireland.

As part of the ongoing extravaganza called “The Gathering: Ireland 2013,” Debbie and Francis “Mac” McFadden spent eight days recently experiencing the country Irish-Americans like them were being encouraged to “come home to visit.”

The hustle and bustle of Dublin.  The scenic countryside where tradition holds that St. Patrick fasted for 40 days atop Croagh Patrick Mountain.  The 15th century Bunratty Castle that played host to a medieval-style banquet complete with singing lords and ladies.

The husband and wife, together with 78 other relatives, and members of the East Islip, Long Island, division of the Ancient Hibernians Our Lady of Knock, a fraternal organization that’s long helped new Irish immigrants adjust to life in America, saw it all – and more.

“It really did feel like we were home,” says Mac, 57, who works for a local school district.  “Everyone we met, from the CIE Tour International guides to the Irish people, made us feel like we were family.”

The fourth day was the clincher.

At the Knock Shrine in the County Mayo village of Knock – world-renowned as the site where the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and John the Baptist are said to have appeared on Aug. 21, 1879 – Debbie and Mac reaffirmed the marriage vows they’d first made to each other 30 years ago on Long Island.

“It was an anniversary we’ll never forget,” says Debbie, a 52-year-old nurse.  “And both our parents and our daughter were there for it.”

The Gathering is though of in Ireland as “the people’s party,” with locals themselves intent on helping the huge Irish diaspora here in the U.S. soak up the best of the Emerald Isle’s culture, tradition and unique sense of fun.  Among the big events still to come this year are: Bloomsday in Bruff, a celebration of all things James Joyce; the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival; National Heritage Week; the Tramore Horseracing Festival; and the Cats Laughs Comedy Festival.

If You Go: The respected CIE Tours International has escorted millions of Americans to Ireland over the past 81 years, and offers many fully inclusive vacation options including exclusive motorcoach tour booked by the McFadden group.  For info, call 1-800-243-8687 or visit www.cietours.com/gathering.

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