A great crowd gathered in Cable O' Learys, in Ballinskelligs, to hear that two Irish Americans, Ann Smith and Michele Maggi Miller, would be flown home to County Kerry to mark the season of events taking place for The Gathering. The cousins, both New Yorkers, won the competition to be flown back.

There was not a dry eye in the house when the winners’ story was read out. The winners are Ann Smith and Michele Maggi Miller from New York whose grandmothers left Ballinskelligs in the early 1900s with the hope of returning one day.

Mary and Helen both married Kerrymen and raised their families in New York. Mary’s ashes and Helen’s Celtic Cross were sent back to Ballinskelligs so that they both could be buried with their parents in The Glen cemetery, in South Kerry.

Ann and Michele Maggi say winning the competition fulfils a lifelong dream to visit the birthplace of their grandmothers.

The winners submitted a statement which was read out to the audience on the night. They wrote:

“Our grandmothers were Helen (born in 1906) and Mary(born in 1904) Casey, from Libes Ballinskelligs.

“Mary left Ireland in 1925 and Helen two years later for America hoping for a better life. Unfortunately, they were never able to return and never to see their family again.

“They both married Kerrymen and raised their families in New York. Life was not easy. While struggling to make ends meet in New York they also spent years sending home money to their family.

“In 1929 their family was evicted from their farm. All their belongings were removed from the house and put out on the yard. Creditors then allowed them to remain in the house as caretakers of the land.

“Tragedy struck again when Mary and Helen's dad (our great-grandfather) suffered serious injury from being gored by a bull. It was at this time that our grandmother's, Mary and Helen, began sending money home on a monthly basis to repay the debt and recover the land. After a number of years paying off the debt, Helen's husband became gravely ill and could not continue payments. Although Mary did continue with her payments the creditors would not accept payment without both. This happened in the early 1940's and their brother Mike was still living on the farm. Over time Mike Casey was able to have some of his own animals on the farm and was eventually able to stake his claim as the legal and only owner of the property due to a clause in the Irish law granting rights to him as a squatter after a certain period of time.

“At the time of his death in 1981 he willed the land to our grandmothers, Mary and Helen. Their lifelong dream was to return to Ireland but unfortunately that never happened. Helen died on January 21, 1993 and Mary on February 13, 2004, three months shy of her 100th birthday. Because neither of us have been able to travel to Ireland, Mary's ashes and Helen's Celtic Cross were sent back with extended family so that they both could be buried with their parents in The Glen cemetery in South Kerry.

“If given the opportunity to return to Ballinskelligs, we would be fulfilling our own lifelong dream, that of our parents and especially that of our grandmothers. We want to acknowledge these incredible women, see where they were born and lived and pass on this legacy to our children and to future Casey generations.”

The Gathering of the Clan’s events will take place in Kerry form March 23rd to April 1st. For more information visit www.gatheringoftheclansireland.com.