The Irish approach to their diaspora is “old fashioned and condescending” and needs updating, Notre Dame Professor Kevin Whelan told a panel at the Galway Arts Festival today.

Professor Whelan is the director of the Notre Dame campus in Dublin and a noted historian. His remarks were quoted in The Irish Times.

He said it was utterly wrong to view Irish Americans as “plastic Paddys” who lacked knowledge about Ireland.

“In fact our knowledge of Irish America is equally limited. We are totally disinterested and incurious about their lives. We need to broaden our view and have a much more generous version of what an Irish identity might mean,” Prof Whelan said.

“Our address to the diaspora is insipid to say the least – old-fashioned, condescending and, in a way, we haven’t even started to engage with them on a proper level.”

Professor  Whelan said he supported The Gathering concept and strongly disagreed with actor Gabriel Byrne's description of it as an effort to “shake down” the diaspora “for a few quid.”

He said The Gathering met with a lot of negativity and hostility. “ Whatever it’s doing it’s inviting Irish Americans into a conversation about Ireland and they have responded,” he said.

Prof Whelan will chair a discussion entitled “Thicker than water”at the Galway Arts Festival.

The Gathering chairman Tim O’Connor, former Irish consul general in New York, and Prof Mícheál Ó Súilleabháín from the University of Limerick, will also speak at the festival.