Ed and Margaret O’Connor, originally from Holyoke, Massachusetts and current residents of Husdon, MA, are already impressed by this approach. They visited Ireland once before and explored Ed’s Irish roots. This time, they are focusing on Margaret’s side of the family – the Egans of Gort.
“I’m related to the O’Connors, Houlihans, Barretts and O’Donoghues in West Kerry and when I went to the place where my great grandfather was baptized, I felt a sense of homecoming,” says Ed. “I’d like Margaret to feel that about this part of Ireland.”
Although she has just arrived at the castle, Margaret has already been introduced to a local man who now owns the land her family once farmed. “It means so much to be welcomed by a community,” she says. “It would be so different and so much more difficult if we were just walking around on our own.”
Ed, Margaret and the rest of the visitors have a packed schedule ahead of them for the rest of the week. There are history lectures telling of what Ireland once was. There are genealogy sessions. There are trips to the various parishes the visitors hail from. There are sightseeing tours and cultural excursions.
“We want to tell them all about this part of Ireland, what it once was and what it is today,” says Mike Feerick. “These people are not just anybody. They are our relatives. We are part of them and they are connected to us. Let’s explore the bonds that unite and define us.”
Although the week has only just begun, it’s clear it’s already a success. Mike already has more than 200 people signed up for next year’s “Week of Welcomes,” and plans are afoot to roll the project out on a nationwide basis, with the support of Fáilte Ireland, the country’s tourism body.
But Mike has plans to develop it even further. It’s not just going to be a week of events. There will be permanent teams in parishes all over the country that will be available to help people who want to learn more about their heritage.
“People will be there to welcome you when you arrive,” says Mike. “It’s all about building lifelong connections.”
He hopes these connections will play a central part in Ireland’s future. “I’d like to see a day when all state boards were obliged to have a member of the diaspora,” he says. “I’d like to see a time when Ireland didn’t just focus on the Irish on our island but on the Irish worldwide. I want to connect people and reunify us all. Parish by parish, townland by townland, we’re starting here.”
To find out more about the Week of Welcomes and Ireland Reaching Out, visit www.irelandxo.com