Back for the gathering: homecoming tales
Five emigrants who have returned to Ireland this year for the Gathering share their experiences
The last time I was home, my nieces and nephews were all babies, but now they are grown up and some have babies of their own. It is sad to see so many young people out of work. My sister’s husband used to drive a tourist coach, so he took me to Blarney Castle, and to the Guinness brewery. The Guinness was lovely. The weather was terribly cold.
I went to visit the place where I was born, a very old mansion where my father was a caretaker and we lived in a little flat. The young family who own it now asked me what I remembered about the place, and I was able to tell them where the old well was, which is now covered up, and where the orchard was. I could clearly remember, even though I was only six when we left.
I couldn’t believe the change in the countryside, all the trees I used to know so well were gone. I was disappointed to see all these new housing developments unfinished and locked up. That was sad.
I had a very good time. I plan to come back to Ireland again in two years’ time, and bring some Australian friends with me. We are going to plan it properly, and do some travelling around.
Cathy O’Leary (24) has lived in London for 12 months. She works in Kent as a paediatric speech and language therapist, and returned to Co Cork in May for the Courtmacsherry Lifeboat event.
When my mother and aunts became involved in organising a local event for the Gathering, I knew I wanted to be there. From humble beginnings came a major local history exhibition and weekend to commemorate the town’s lifeboat service.
No email, letter, phone call or Skype home could pass without mention of what Mum had found in the archives and who had confirmed they were coming.
I was even sent my own Gathering T-shirt and dispatched to the national archives in London, where I feverishly researched the Royal Irish Constabulary and Irish Coastguard history of the town.
Surprises are always best. With that in mind, I played the “work is too busy to come home” card while secretly booking fights.
Their shocked reaction and hugs were followed by my mother parading me down the main street, telling anyone who would listen that I had just turned up on her doorstep.
The Gathering reminded me of why I love Ireland. That weekend, in a small town touched by emigration and unemployment, people showed it will take more than a recession to keep them down. The smiling crowds of familiar and forgotten faces alike showed that we are a warm, welcoming and hospitable nation.
Villagers did their part by painting, cleaning and scrubbing to ensure their houses were up to scratch, and hours were spent rummaging in attics to find old pictures and memories to display in their windows. Community spirit and pride live on in Ireland.
The Gathering also reminded me why home will always be home, no matter how long I stay away.