Let's all be cruelly honest and admit that we have at least one relative we would break off contact with were it not for the blood bond and clan thing. That is the reality in Ireland anyway, and I bet it is the same over there.

In my own case there are three relatives I try to avoid at all costs and manage to do so very well, apart from the inevitable ritual clan gatherings for weddings and funerals and suchlike occasions. 

It is incredible to realize that in ancient times when the clan system ruled supreme and there were frequent disputes, typically over land, cattle or women, that all clan members were required to grab their swords and spring to the defense of ALL members of the clan.

Were that still the case we would be prepared to lay down our very lives for obnoxious cousin Johnny or know-all Uncle Cormac or Padraig who was never able to carry his drink and constantly started fights he was unable to finish. Or Minnie of the wicked tongue that could start rows in heaven itself.

The mind boggles today at the thought, and I know well that those characters almost certainly exist in your extended clan as well as in mine.  The Lord between us and all harm indeed. 

My brother Sean got himself into trouble with our family some years ago when he reported in The Irish Times that the MacConnells were bastard descendants of the O'Donnell chiefs of Donegal. We always knew that privately but hoped nobody else would discover the  foul truth.  Sean blew our cover and is paying for it to this day.

You have clan secrets and rattling skeletons in the clan cupboard too, I'm certain, but prefer to keep them there.

(Incidentally, just for any of you that cross swords with our esteemed editor and need ammunition, I know a thing or two about the ancient McGoldricks of Sligo that will never otherwise appear in the Irish Voice or Irish Central!)  

There has never been a national or international MacConnell clan gathering that I am aware of, and that is probably a good thing for all those bastard descendants of some randy old O'Donnell of Donegal.

Somehow, in my marrowbones, I know we would never ever have been a clan of any significance above in Ulster in any era. We would never have been organized enough or aggressive enough to represent any kind of threat to neighboring clans.

A harmless cracked kind of a crowd only interested in singing  and dancing and drinking and unsuccessfully chasing young women. Most of us would never have been too handy with a sword, I think, and probably would have been the first to run away from a battlefield.

I could be wrong on that score but I don't think so.  I know little about the history of my clan and, under the cruel circumstances of our history, do not wish to either.

In broad outline  and anecdotally, without any research, I believe the modern clan is divided into two septs or groups, that there is a Scottish dimension, and that the little letter "a" is highly significant.

By my reading we Macs are probably the original bastards from Donegal and the McConnells without the "a" in the middle probably have more Scottish and perhaps planter blood in their veins.

There is another difference which hurts me to confess. It would appear to be the reality that the McConnell flank of the clan is infinitely more prosperous and progressive than our side. 

I've met a good share of the clansmen through my lifetime. Usually the experience has been pleasant and informative.

There are far more Presbyterians and Protestants among the McConnells than in the ranks of the MacConnells, for example. Also, far less music and song but a helluva lot more of the common sense so valuable in this modern world.

The McConnells operate one of Ireland's best known advertising agencies, for example, and there are leading Protestant churchmen of the name. I've met one or two of them and it was a real and heartwarming experience. 

Since it is the year of The Gathering some of us might get together to organize a real clan gathering before this special year is over. For sure, if and when it happens, the nuts and bolts of the organizing will be handled by the McConnell flank, the most of the bastard MacConnells will arrive late for the event -- if at all -- and the McConnells will be abed long before we are because they will all have heavy business dealings at exactly 9:30 a.m. the  following morning. 

And it is certain too, beyond reasonable doubt, that there will be two or three clansmen present that the rest of us, from both wings of the clan, will try to avoid the whole evening. 

Maybe I will be one of those?