Whether it’s surfing off the Blasket Islands, revisiting the ballroom of romance or celebrating that red mane of hair, the Gathering has something for everyone
Denis John Kane, a surfboard maker, left, from San Diego, California, with his first cousin, Andrew Jacob, oyster fisherman and painter, from Cape Cod,who are the Great Great Grandsons of Padraig O’Hogán, The King of The Blaskets, who left the Great Blasket Island in 1905. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan
A 1956 performance of Robin Hood (two girls in this photograph are part of a pantomine reunion: see following picture).
Jean Winston (left) and friend Eileen McGarvey both panto stalwarts photographed at Ramelton Town Hall in Co Donegal. They were both in a 1956 performance of Robin Hood (see previous photo, in which Jean is fourth from left and Eileen seventh from left). Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Padraig and Eilish McGivney (ballroom dancers) pictured at Greville Arms Hotel, Granard, Co Longford the launch of the Gathering reunion of ballroom dancers. Photograph: Barry Cronin
The Blaskets Gathering
Dún Chaoin, Dingle Peninsula
There’s a treacherous stretch of the Atlantic that flows between the mainland and the Great Blasket island. Lives have been lost and journeys ended but it’s a place where magic happens too.
Sixty years after the evacuation of the Blasket Islands – and the week of the Blaskets and West Kerry Gathering – two surfers, great-great-grandsons of Pádraig Ó Catháin, the King of the Blaskets, are chasing waves in this most famous of Irish waters – and chasing them in turn is a US documentary crew, itself infused with the DNA of the island.
The two surfers, Dennis “DK” Kane (25) and Andrew Jacob (33), are cousins who met for the first time at the Kerry Gathering event. Kane runs a surf board company in California. Jacob is a commercial fisherman who lives and surfs in New England.
Their grandfathers were brothers but they had been separated by their lives on either side of America. Brought together for the documentary, they met for the first time in Dingle. It was an awkward introduction, all caught on camera but the boys hit it off and the spark that the producers were depending on took hold.
Getting to the Blaskets was the goal. They had both tried and failed in the past. They took turns when they got there: the first to land, the first to enter the king’s house, the first to catch a wave, the first to cliff dive into the Atlantic. “It was like a Blasket baptism,” explains Andy, laughing. “The sun came out when we arrived. A group of donkeys came down to meet us. Seals splashed in the surf. We felt like we’d come home.”
And it is this homecoming The Crest is trying to capture and in turn is everything the Gathering is trying to achieve. GQ
Read full story on irishtimes.com/theblaskets
Strokestown, Co Roscommon
July 19th to 28th
One of the Gathering’s most poignant returns takes place in Strokestown, Co Roscommon in July, when the descendants of an Irish Famine boy are welcomed home 167 years after his family had to emigrate.
Daniel Tighe was 12 when his family was forced to leave Ireland in July 1847. After his father’s death, Daniel’s mother, Mary Kelly, left the country with her five children in a desperate attempt to save her family from starvation and extinction.
She boarded a Famine ship for Quebec. However, she and three of her five children died on the journey. Only Daniel and his sister Catherine (9) survived. When Canadian farmer Francois Coulombe was looking for a boy to help on his farm outside Quebec, he chose Daniel. Catherine became hysterical and clung on to her brother’s leg, sobbing. The Coulombes said, “We’ll take them both.” And they did. Daniel’s descendants still live on the farm today.
At the Strokestown Gathering Celebration, Daniel’s great-grandson Richard Tye will be the first member of the Tighe family to set foot in his hometown since the Famine. He says it will be an emotional return: “When I was young, my dad Leo did not talk much about my great-grandparents’ ordeal. Later on, however, he wanted us to know more to pass along the story.
“He said the image that Daniel would never forget was that of corpses being thrown overboard before coming into Grosse Ile.”
John O’Driscoll of Strokestown Park House says, “It’s symbolic that the Tighe family are coming back and being entertained in the main reception room of the house. When their ancestors left, would they have been welcomed into the drawing room of the big house? No, they probably wouldn’t even have got in the gate.”YG
Keash, Co Sligo
Saturday, August 24th
“We want people gathering from all over the world on the double,” says Patrick Ward, who won a competition for €5,000 worth of funding to hold a Gathering event. His winning idea was to reunite Irish twins who are living in different countries. The entrants had to explain their reasons for wanting to be brought home to see their twin. Five winners will be chosen from the entries, which so far have come in from Australia and America.
Ward is a twin himself and first organised a twins event three years ago to raise money for the Meningitis Trust. He and his twin brother are in the pub trade and the festival takes place on the grounds of Ward’s pub, The Fox’s Den in Keash, Co Sligo. Highlights of the twins gathering will include Twins Got Talent, a Twins Quiz and a three-legged race which, naturally, can only be entered by twins. RI
More at twinfest.ie
Sunday, August 4th
Sligo man Hubert Kearney came up with the idea for the Benbulben Speaks Gathering event when organisers hope that exactly 2,013 people will have registered to come along on a six kilometre round-trip walk from meeting points at Drumcliff and Rathcormac. The walk will take them to the foot of Ben Bulben.
“As we are walking to the foot of the mountain, the bells in the churches of Drumcliff, Rathcormac and Lissadell will all be ringing and there will be drummers on the mountain answering them back,” explains Kearney.
So far, several hundred people have signed up for the walk, which is being advertised in walking clubs in Ireland and Britain. Once they get there, the 2,013 people will be directed to stand in specific places, so that they spell out certain words and symbols.
Kearney doesn’t want to give the surprise away, but he does reveal that there will be lines from some of Yeats’s most famous poems involved, including the words, “Tread softly”, from Had I the Heavens Embroidered Cloths. There will be aerial pictures of the event, which he hopes will be seen around the world. RB
The Gathering Cruise
The Irish coast Dublin to Dingle
July 17th to August 1st
One of the many gatherings that will take place on the water is the Gathering Cruise, a meeting of 100 yachts that will sail the east and south coastlines. The flotilla will sail from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, southwards to Kerry, starting on July 17th, meeting for a festival party in Kinsale, Co Cork, on July 24th and finishing in Dingle, Co Kerry, on August 1st.
Yachts can join in anywhere along the way. Competitive sailing has enjoyed a high profile in Ireland in recent years and the cruise is designed to create awareness of the beautiful maritime coastline that Ireland has, with unspoilt harbours and welcomes of coastal villages and towns – all ideal grounds for sailing and cruising.
The organising bodies have invited yachts from clubs around the world, and expect a good attendance of Irish sailing diaspora from the UK in particular, with about 600 crew taking part.
International racing sailor Damian Foxall is ambassador of the event. “This is an incredible opportunity for sailing enthusiasts of all levels to get involved in a really exciting sailing spectacle,” he says. “Sailing with a flotilla like this, being part of the Gathering and having all the experiences that go with that – the welcome and farewell gatherings and the regattas along the way, promise to make this a once in a lifetime experience.” YG
Old Granada Ballroom
Granard, Co Longford
July 5th to 7th
Those who swooned and swayed to the music – and maybe their fellow dancers – in the Granada Ballroom in the 1950s, 60s and 70s can take a trip down memory lane at the Ballroom’s reunion next month.
The ballroom was a pivot on the midlands social scene for 30 years. One of the event organisers, Paul Flood, says people came from throughout the region for the dances. “There was people coming 40 or 50 miles and a lot of them coming on pushbikes. If you were a young lassie and you met a man with a pushbike, you got a crossbar home,” he says.
Big showbands and stars who played there include Larry Cunningham And The Mighty Avons, Big Tom And The Mainliners and Joe Dolan. The ballroom is now gone but the reunion dances will be held in a marquee, just as the first dances were, with music by Chuck And June, Jimmy Buckley, Paper Planes, Audio Pilots and Jenna Dale Hayes and the Champions.
Flood says there are lots of stories about the ballroom, such as that of James and Eileen Curran, who met there. He was from Leitrim and she was from Westmeath. They emigrated separately to the USA after they met, but bumped into each other again in a ballroom in Boston and subsequently married. Flood hopes they’ll make it over – there are also people coming from England and America who want to experience the ballroom for themselves because their parents first met there. YG
Spanish Connection Cork
July 29th to August 1st
A group of Spanish travellers, led by historian Oskar Hernanz, plans to retrace the steps of their Spanish ancestors in Ireland in the 17th century. Hernanz, whose wife Una Bennett is from Cork, became interested in the history between Ireland and Spain during visits to Ireland.
The group will follow their ancestors and also the story of Irish exiles that left for Spain. “I want to trace the steps of the Spanish soldiers when they came to Ireland before the Battle of Kinsale. There were a lot of Spanish in different places in Cork,” says Hernanz
Among those signed up for the trip are native Spaniards and Irish people living in Spain. They will start in Cork and visit locations connected to the Battle of Kinsale, such as Charles Fort, the Spanish garrison during the battle. They will visit Skibbereen, Spanish Island in Baltimore Bay, Bantry and locations of interest along the way.
Hernanz will present his paper to the Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society about Philip O’Sullivan, who was born on Dursey Island, west Cork about 1590. He led the famous retreat to Leitrim and was then exiled to Spain.
“Our goal is to bring the historical past with the present cultural and gastronomy of Ireland,” he says. The event is supported by Tourism Ireland’s Madrid office and the people of Skibbereen. YG
Gathering For Redheads
Crosshaven, Co Cork
August 23rd to 25th
Redheads are rare, even though sometimes the impression given abroad is that Ireland is crammed with red-haired people. There’s a special Gathering for redheads, natural redheads only, the organisers are insisting. The event is also a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society.
Alan Hayes from Dublin is the current King of the Redheads. He was appointed at last year’s convention “to represent redheads everywhere”. Mind you, as he says himself, “some people say my head is upside down. I have a roaring red beard of about three inches, but not much hair on my head.”
There is also a Queen of the Redheads, a woman who goes by the name of Maureen Rua. Hayes, who is married to a redhead, and has a red-haired daughter, says: “For the last year, I’ve been able to say to people that there are two queens in my life, one that I live with, and one that I don’t.”
Apart from choosing this year’s King and Queen Redhead, there will be a “carrot-throwing competition”; a cook-off using only red and orange ingredients; and competitions seeking, among other things, the longest red hair, furthest travelled redhead, most freckles per square inch, best red dog, and curliest redhead.RB
Ramelton, Co Donegal
The Ramelton Pantomime has put on 50 productions since 1956 and this homecoming event will welcome back people who were involved in the pantomime over the six decades.
Local woman Jean Winston has been involved in all of the productions, starting out as a fairy girl age six in Robin Hood, moving on to play lead roles and later in production. She has great memories of the shows through the years, where local children played fairies in each production.
“In 1956 there was only small number of children in the fairy scene. As the number of children increased, we had a fairy ferry – a minibus to go around the houses to collect them and bring them,” she says. “It’s a wee town and everyone gets involved. Once we get them we don’t let them go.”
The reunion night will take place in Ramelton Town Hall where they’ll also launch a commemorative book about the panto, with old photos, newspaper reviews and programmes.YG
For more information on these events or other events for The Gathering, see