Loughrea plays host to McNamara festival

 

It surely must be one of the biggest family reunions on record, as more than 300 members of the McNamara clan from Ganty in Co Galway, descended on Loughrea for a five-day reunion festival.

The event was organised by Tom McNamara and attracted family members from all corners of the world, with 180 visitors from eight countries.

The oldest living family member, Bridie Uniacke nee McNamara (88) performed the honours at the opening ceremony to kick start the festival of family history and celebrations.

Bringing such a broad family together has been a challenging but rewarding experience, Mr McNamara said. “We have spent 15 or 16 months planning this event and thanks to email and Facebook and all that kind of thing we have had an excellent response.”

The family has farmed in Ganty since 1878, with eight generations of McNamaras having lived there. A feast is planned as part of today’s celebrations as well as heritage tours of the area and Bunratty Castle which is, Mr McNamara said “the traditional home of the McNamaras”.

Mr McNamara is from a family of 14  from near Craughwell and is one of a set of triplets born in 1932. Large families are a familial trait as his brother Joe and his wife Joan had 13 childre. His sister Bridie and her husband Mike Uniacke also had 13 children.

Despite the challenges of contacting such a large family, Mr McNamara reckons it was a project well worth taking on. “I had a great army of helpers with nieces and nephews and cousins all coming on board to help out. It has been very easy and very enjoyable,” he said.

“But the initial contact with people is the important thing. All the contacts have been made and the frameworks are there. I am sure we will be meeting again, but maybe not at an event as big as this.”

Ms Uniacke said she was looking forward to meeting relatives she has been unable to visit for many years. “My young brother Jim is back from California. He is 50 years out there now and it is a good few years since I saw him. While I was visiting California nine years ago I had a heart attack and Jim came to see me then. But I didn’t see him since.”

While the concept of organising a family reunion has always been on the cards, it was energised by the Irish diaspora project Ireland Reaching Out, which is headed by Galway businessman Mike Feerick and supported by economist David McWilliams.