|Irish Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar speaks at a Dublin Gathering event based on Riverdance in July.|
The genius of The Gathering
, it may turn out, is not that Americans and others came, but that self-pride in the home place mushroomed in Ireland.
At a time of maximum economic malaise, communities from Donegal
to Dingle began to draw on the authentic local history and tradition that is miles removed from the Disney version of Ireland so often peddled abroad.
It clearly made local people feel good about themselves, and was a lesson in self-help and organization that bodes well for the future.
It also allowed them to understand they are the keepers of the flame, as Tim O’Connor
, chairman of The Gathering, has stated. Without their active participation and watchful eye on local history this could all so easily disappear.
In a world consumed with a search for authenticity Ireland has it in spades in its marvelous local histories and traditions. Its own children must grow up to realize that.
Some of the great movements in Irish history such as the co-op movement grew from the same broad-based community roots as The Gathering to become a massive part of the Irish landscape.
The Irish Americans I spoke to and heard from lapped it up. It seemed authentic to them too, and the welcome they received at those events, where they tapped into the family tree, went down very well.
In a world grown more global and more corporate every passing year, to have these touchstones of family and community that millions of Americans yearn for is vitally important.
That is why The Gathering has been a success, like the Notre Dame game in Dublin last year which allowed tens of thousands of Irish Americans an occasion to travel back for and feel an intimate part of.
(This year The Gaelic Players Association are bringing two hurling teams to Notre Dame for an exhibition before a big Notre Dame football game, further extending the links between the two entities, Ireland and Notre Dame.)
So what should be the follow up to The Gathering? It seems simple -- a long-term project in every village and town to preserve local history, to reach out to exiled sons and daughters and to create occasions every two years or so where the twain shall meet.
Call it The Homecoming and extend it deliberately to every parish.
On the governmental level the intent should be to publicize and spread the word about such homecoming events and continue to try and drive more visitors through extended access such as flights from American Airlines and United Airlines achieved this summer, and new routes from Aer Lingus will next year.
Few Irish Americans will ever refuse an invitation to Ireland if it is couched in the opportunity to return to the soil where their forefathers left.
Being born in Ireland does not end the franchise of being Irish. We have sent too many millions abroad.
New definitions of Irishness have arisen, whether it is American Irish or Australian Irish or Irish in Britain.
The Gathering has shown us all a powerful new tool on how to reach out to them.