Notre Dame fans arrive in Ireland among thousands enjoying what Ireland has to offer

First of all let me say that Tourism Ireland and The Gatheringis a sponsor in several of our publications but I am trying to be as objective as possible about Gabriel Byrne’s recent comments calling The Gathering a scam.

I don’t believe that it is a scam but I do believe Gabriel has it right in several other comments he made about how the concept of the Diaspora is treated in Ireland.

Let me deal with The Gatheringconcept first. I know the people who came up with the concept originally, men like John Concannon of Irish Tourism and Tim O’Connor former Consul General in New York, and their advocacy for the importance of the Irish abroad is both far seeing and genuine.

I saw it working in the Notre Dame game in Dublin and the Tip O’Neill clan gathering in Buncrana, Donegal, both of which I attended in September.

Twenty-five thousand Notre Dame fans traveled to Ireland and got an overwhelming welcome from Irish people throughout the island. Sure, there may have been cynics about the whole enterprise, but the genuine welcome went very deep with the Notre Dame fans.

The Tip O’Neill gathering which I spoke at was more what the nuts and bolts of The Gathering is about. The former speaker of the house traced his ancestral roots to Donegal and the extended O’Neillfamily came in en masse, about 80 in all.

The locals joined in for a weekend that was poignant, fun and deeply meaningful for the O’Neills.

Read more: Actor Gabriel Byrne slams The Gathering as ‘a scam‘ aimed at gullible Americans

It was precisely the kind of targeted event, drawing on a local connection across the country, that The Gathering is intended to be.

Last year we at Irish America Magazine hosted our first Hall of Fame event in Wexford, right on the Quayside where Patrick Kennedy set off for America in Famine times. Our main honoree was Don Keough, former president of Coca Cola, whose great grandfather made the same trip from that exact spot.

To walk that quay with him, to visit the famine ship replica, was a deeply spiritual moment for him and the locals could not have been more welcoming and more informative about his ancestor’s journey.

That is whatThe Gathering promises to be to me, a series of events across the island of Ireland where locals draw on the genuine local historical record and reach out to their separated brethren across the Atlantic or indeed in England or elsewhere.

Where Byrne is correct is in his criticism of what happened to the cultural outreach from Ireland. Culture Ireland set up an extensive cultural program of Irish events across the United States.

Byrne served as cultural ambassador for two years and did his damnedest to expand the cultural footprint of Ireland over here.

Then the Irish government abruptly pulled the funding, ending the experiment long before it should have.

Byrne is also right that the return to roots of so manyIrish Americans is a deeply spiritual journey and that there are some misguided Irish who scoff at the whole business.

They display an incredible ignorance of the ties that bind across the centuries for two countries that are inextricably woven together through emigration.

But I don’t think those folks who sneer make up the majority, no more than some gombeen politicians who see the Diaspora through dollar signs and little else do.

The Gathering is a step in the right direction in my book, not a scam, but an opportunity.