“Finally,” I remember thinking when I first heard of The Gathering Ireland.
“Finally they are asking us to come for a visit!”
What's the big deal? Well, let me tell you why I think The Gathering is important – for Americans and Irish today and for their relationship moving forward.
At its core, The Gathering is a tourism initiative, and it is a smart one.
And with a pool of over 70 million people worldwide claiming Irish heritage, why not invite them all to visit the land of their ancestors, to come home?
Americans count for nearly 34 million of the Diaspora, and for the first time Americans, many of whom have spent years tracing their family trees and listening to stories about their Irish immigrant heritage, are being welcomed home for a visit. That's a tough invitation to pass up.
I realize that Americans are the ones tracing their roots, but there are two sides to the story. My Irish immigrant great-grandfather was the emigrant son of an Irish family. The Gathering gives me hope that these people have not been forgotten by their Irish relatives. And if they have been forgotten, perhaps The Gathering will help for them to be rediscovered.
My McCormack relatives, in County Laois, are used to Americans coming home – we’ve been doing it for years.
It all started with Uncle Will, who couldn’t decide if he preferred America or Ireland and made regular Trans-Atlantic journeys from the 1890s to the 1920s. Then there was my first-generation American grandfather who went home for a summer visit in 1934, and now my own family makes visits Ireland often. Sprinkle in a few visits from other American cousins, and the Irish McCormacks are hosting gatherings on a regular basis.
Getting to know the Irish branch of my family tree has been a great experience - both enlightening and enjoyable. I learned more about Ireland and the Irish people after a few short days with my cousins than I had gathered in five previous visits to Ireland.
An invitation to Ireland, not just as tourists but as family and friends creates a new dynamic. This is how The Gathering will have the biggest impact on Americans and Irish who get involved.
The Gathering is an opportunity to bring Irish and Americans together by remembering a common bond, an Irish emigrant who left all that they knew, their home, and their family to begin a new branch of the family in America. I believe The Gathering will help dissolve some of the stereotypes and misconceptions which exist on both sides of the Atlantic.
A couple of months ago, postcards were distributed to all Irish households with instructions to send them off to relatives and friends abroad, welcoming them home for The Gathering. I am still waiting for my postcard from my own family, but I have been graciously invited to another Gathering this year…you might just find me in Bantry this June masquerading as a Sullivan-O’Leary descendant.
*** Aine McCormack lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Visit her blog: www.TheIrishInAmerica.com.
Andrew John and Mary Agnes Hannon McC wedding with Kate Hannon Mike McCormack