Gathering momentum: forget the shakedown, here's the breakdown
“Our call to action is to tell people to come home because there’s an opportunity for them to have a good time and reconnect with family and friends, or to visit if they have never been here before. The economic benefits are ultimately what results from that.”
More than 2,500 “gatherings” have been pledged on the event’s website so far, ranging from small family reunions to large charity fundraisers, such as the Irish Redhead Convention, or corporate conferences, such as the Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland gathering of executives, entrepreneurs and investors in Cork later this month.
More events are being added to the list every week. While about one-third are existing annual festivals, such as the Temple Bar Trad Fest or Cork Jazz Festival, which have added a “Gathering strand” to attract more visitors, the remainder have been specially conceived for the Gathering.
Sporting events are likely to hold particular appeal for younger emigrants, who may have recently played for some of the many local GAA, rugby and soccer teams hosting gatherings.
Brian Elliott, who is organising a reunion for Terenure College Rugby Football Club, is hoping many of the younger players who have emigrated in search of work in recent times will come back to meet their former team members, as well as older club members who played for teams as far back as the 1960s.
Hundreds of younger emigrants who now play for GAA teams abroad are expected to return to take part in the three international football, ladies football and camogie tournaments in Croke Park in July, and the international hurling tournament, which will take place in Galway in September.
Other recent emigrants have been prompted by the Gathering idea to organise school, college or friend reunions of their own. Cairin Conway is a communications adviser for the Cancer Council in Victoria and has been living in Melbourne for five years. She has invited friends and family from all over the world to join her to celebrate her 30th birthday in Dublin in March.
“Often, trips home are a bit of a whirlwind and it’s hard to find time to see everyone,” she says. “But having a gathering means I will catch up with friends I might not otherwise get to see. Now something special is planned, friends who live abroad [in the UK, Belgium and New York] will also be coming home to join.”
Áine Ní Bhreasail, a 25-year-old climate change PhD student who has lived in the UK since 2009, will be travelling back to Galway in June for a family reunion organised by a cousin of her father’s, Neasa Lawless, who now lives in Dubai.
Inspired by the launch of the Gathering initiative last year, Lawless set up a Facebook group to reach out to family members who have scattered to Cambridge, Essex, Boston and Seattle to see if they would be interested in taking part.
Since then, relatives from all over the world have been posting photos and videos on the page, and about 70 have confirmed they will be travelling to Carraroe, Co Galway for the family “gathering” in June.
“I’m looking forward to catching up with my close cousins as well as meet ones I would never have met before,” says Ní Bhreasail. “I’m particularly looking forward to meeting my childhood penpal from Seattle, who I haven’t seen for 10 years. I come home regularly, about every three months, but it’ll be different this time.”