With thousands of Irish Americans making the pilgrimage to Dublin this weekend for the Notre Dame game, and the upcoming, year-long "Homecoming" Ireland is hosting in 2013, it is clear the Irish Diaspora feel a sense of belonging to the country and a connection to their heritage.

But can the Irish public feel the same sense of connection to their long lost cousins and welcome them “home?”

An article in the Sunday Independent this weekend examined Irish American's love for Ireland and why the country itself should embrace the Diaspora.

The author of the piece, Elaine Byrne, writes of a conversation she had with John P Tynan, head of the TynanGroup, a "state-of-the-art healthcare" delivery service, while on a bus to the American Embassy last week after a meeting with the Notre Dame Ireland Advisory Council.

Byrne asks Tynan "Why are you here, John?" She writes:

"He explained how Martin Naughton of Glen Dimplex and Don Keough of Coca-Cola had transformed Notre Dame's relationship with Ireland. Since 1998, more than 2,000 students from this top-ranked American university have studied or interned here because of the Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. As a member of the Ireland Council, he was proud to be a part of this, he said.

"'But why are you really here?' she asked him . John, she reported,  went all quiet for a while.

"'It's not difficult to come home,' he smiled. He became very animated and talked enthusiastically about his family emigrating from Cork in the 1860s and used the word "heritage" over and over again.

Byrne reported that Notre Dame was John's way back to Ireland. Even though he was third-generation Irish-American, his deep sense of belonging was absolutely central to his identity. 'But what do Irish people think of us, the Diaspora?' he inquired."

Byrne believes Tynan's question is about the "sense of a changing Diaspora" -- saying that Ireland's relationship with the Diaspora has always been one-sided, with the Irish public's engagement "at a remove."

However, many Irish Americans experienced a different attitude from the Irish public with the recent the Notre Dame v Navy game. When the teams last played in Ireland in 1996, many felt they were just "visiting" the country.  This time around, many felt they were "coming home."

Byrne says "That subtle difference has occurred because of the concerted efforts over the last year by the Irish business, academic and sporting community to make this weekend happen."

However, she says that there is "cautious pessimism" about the government's strategies to "incorporate the Diaspora into Irish life" citing the mixed reaction in Ireland of the Dept of Foreign Affairs initiative to issue "certificates of Irish heritage."

The Gathering, a "year-long celebration of all things Irish" will invite the 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish ancestry to "come home." She says some of those involved in the project are privately apprehensive that the Irish public will not embrace the venture to the same extent as the Diaspora. But she says "coming home matters.”