Caroline Kennedy, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and 
Jean Kennedy Smith at the JFK remembrance in Wexford on Saturday.

DUBLIN -- What is striking about driving around Ireland this summer is the impact that The Gathering has had on the island.

Every small town I drove through on a recent visit seemed to have a large poster outside of town advertising their Gathering get-together.

Outside the tiny hamlet of Julianstown in Meath, it was their roots seminar for descendants whose clan members had left the area.

In Monaghan it was “Local Connections to the Battle of the Little Big Horn” which sounded fascinating.

The Gathering has been an important lesson in self-help for many communities, especially smaller one outside Dublin.

Given Ireland’s dire economic state, it was a refreshing opportunity for so many grassroots organizations to show what they could do with their local history.

With The Gathering now widely seen as a huge success, perhaps it is time to extend it in some form into the future.

It also gives locals an opportunity to discuss some positive steps rather than dwell in the negative.

There is a need for every town and village to acknowledge real local lore and history, and to act on it.
So many have done so this year that it has transformed Irish tourism, where authorities are now looking at a very special 2013.

It is widely expected that the number of American visitors will crack the one million mark for the first time – a real achievement.

Last weekend when I was in Ireland, 10,000 showed up in New Ross, Co. Wexford in showery, blustery weather for the Kennedy clan gathering.

There was massive coverage in all the national newspapers and a feel good moment for a nation as it remembered America’s most iconic figure of the 20th century and his local connections.

It was one of the major gatherings of the year, and there was hardly a dry eye when JFK’s sister Jean, still standing tall at 85, arrived to light the eternal flame.

The Irish are learning that if you build it they will come -- not a hokey sentimental version of history, but a very real one.

Our sister publication Irish America has its Hall of Fame in New Ross, and it was wonderful to see how many visitors it drew over the weekend.

The weather has been cooperating with the warmest summer in some time which has really helped. As everyone knows, planning outdoor events in Ireland is a roll of the dice no matter if it is the height of summer.

But there are few places more magical on a long, hot summer evening where darkness only falls when midnight nears and spirits are high.

There is always a match or a festival or some event to go to, and the people themselves seem energized by the foreigners who flock to their shore.

The Gathering has focused all that attention and created many new events surrounding it.

Even events that were to be staged anyway have received a boost in attendance numbers and financial backing.

It is as if Ireland has cast aside its penitent robes after the shock of the bad times and found a new suit that fits the upbeat mood perfectly.

Sure there will be problems ahead, and winter’s dark days will draw in again, but the summer of 2013 will rightly be remembered as when The Gathering called countless Irish home.