President Michael D. Higgins, during a series of engagements in New York last week, spoke of the importance of yourism from the United States, and encouraged Irish Americans to travel to Ireland next year for “The Gathering,” a year long celebration of everything that is unique about Ireland and her people.
“The island of Ireland welcomed 7.3 million visitors last year, an increase of 6% on the year before. North America accounted for nearly one million of those visitors,” said Higgins in New York last week.
“Next year, in 2013, Ireland will host ‘The Gathering,’ a great bringing together of Irish people and friends of Ireland in a yearlong celebration of all that is best in Irish tradition and identity.  
“To all here I would like to say not only come dance with me in Ireland at the Gathering, but to stay on and come think with me in Ireland as together we make an Irishness of which we can be proud at home and abroad.”
Joe Byrne, executive vice president of Tourism Ireland in the U.S. and Canada said, “We are delighted to welcome President Higgins here to New York. To echo the president’s comments, we look forward to working with all of the great Irish American organizations of this city as we prepare for a very special year in 2013. The Gathering is a wonderful opportunity for us all to celebrate what it means to be Irish and what better place to do that on the island itself.”
County Kerry last week launched its Gathering program on Ellis Island with a luncheon and briefing hosted by Tourism Ireland and Kerry County Council. During 2013, community, cultural, sporting and tourism groups throughout Kerry will offer homecoming programs tailored to suit visitors’ needs. Family reunions, family history events, talks, tours, festivals and sporting events will all form part of the Kerry program. 
Families with Kerry names like O’Sullivan, O’Connor, O’Shea, O’Donoghue, O’Mahony, Fitzgerald and others will be celebrated, with individual weeks dedicated to them.
In Kerry there is a festival almost every week of the year and, during the summer months, several at one time.  Three of the landmark Kerry festivals, Listowel Writers Week, Killarney Summerfest and International Rose of Tralee, will feature special Gathering events, and the world famous gardens of Muckross House will be the venue for evening celebrations.  
Kerry has one of the most complete sets of genealogical records available for any county in Ireland. These include church births, deaths and marriage records, census returns, passenger lists, property and graveyard records, the vast majority of them indexed and available free-of-charge.
Local historians and genealogists can assist with detailed searches, and family history events will form part of local Gathering programs. Representatives of Kerry Tourism from Killarney, Listowel and Tralee as well as two Kerry genealogists form part of the team visiting New York. 
Mayor Jim Finucane said that visitors to Kerry in 2013 can expect a vacation to remember among family and friends. 
“There are over 40 million Americans with Irish ancestry, a good many of them from County Kerry.  Research has shown a desire for them to visit Ireland but only some actually make the booking.   We hope that the invitation to The Gathering will encourage them to make that booking,” he said.



Tourism Ireland Executive Vice President Joe Byrne and Irish President Michael D. Higgins in New York last week.James Higgins