Back for the gathering: homecoming tales
Five emigrants who have returned to Ireland this year for the Gathering share their experiences
Áine Doyle at a Gathering event in her native Newbawn, Co Wexford
Cathy O’Leary with her mother Mary in Courtmacsherry, Co Cork
John Deane with friends and family at home in Carrig, Co Tipperrary
A group from London’s Irish Elderly Advice Network at Cassidy’s Hotel, Parnell Square after arriving in Dublin for the Gathering
Margaret Mackay moved to Texas in 1987 after she was made redundant from Bank of Ireland. She now lives in Pennsylvania. She visited Dublin for four days in March with her son Garrett (13).
We were so interested in this Gathering idea of bringing everyone back home, we went back in March just before Paddy’s Day to spend four days in Dublin as tourists. I try to go back to Ireland every year or two for a visit, but we wouldn’t know the centre of Dublin that well.
Arriving into Dublin Airport was breathtaking; it was gorgeous the way they had the whole place done up with all the balloons and the welcome signs. There was a really vibrant feeling with everyone getting off the plane to come home, being met by people waiting at the gate for them.
At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking about the young people who might be leaving from the departure gates, just like we did in the ’80s. Most will probably never return to live.
We went to places like Kilmainham Gaol, which was totally fascinating. We couldn’t get over how cosmopolitain the city had become, with all the new buildings and the Luas. I was also struck by the number of older people around too. They seemed to considerably outnumber younger people, maybe because a lot of them have left.
We didn’t come back for any specific Gathering event, but still felt we were part of it. Particularly with the economy the way it is, we wanted to do our little bit to bring some money into the country. I’m following it all on Facebook and some of the events look really fantastic. This year is a great time to visit Ireland. We’re planning to come back again in the fall for six days and stay in a cottage.
I found it particularly hard to leave this time, I don’t know why.
John O’Farrell (74) emigrated to England in 1958. He visited Dublin on a four-day trip with London’s Irish Elderly Advice Network (IEAN) in March. He was accompanied by 31 other older people from rural Ireland who had left for Britain in the 1950s and 60s without having had the opportunity to see Dublin landmarks.
I had been reading about the Gathering in the Irish newspapers here in London, and thought it was a wonderful idea. Sally Mulready (IEAN director) told us at a meeting that she was taking people over to Ireland as part of it, and I decided to go.
We went to Áras an Uachtaráin and met the President, and to the Dáil to meet Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. We had a wreath-laying ceremony out in Dún Laoghaire for the Irish emigrants who haven’t returned, and had dinner at the yacht club there. We had a wonderful evening of music at Comhaltas Ceoltóirí too.
I am from Co Cork and wouldn’t have known Dublin when I was young. On visits I would have flown into Shannon and gone straight to Cork. It was the first time I had ever been to some of these places, like the GPO, so it was great to see them. I would never have thought of going to these places otherwise.
Some of the people on this trip had never been back to Ireland since they left Ireland 40 or 50 years ago. It made a hell of a difference to them. Everybody enjoyed it. All the venues we went to were fantastic and we were really well looked after and made to feel really welcome. It was a great experience. It meant everything to me.