Friday 14 October 2011

Reaching out and gathering up the world's Irish

It's been a week for friendly and inviting waves to the Irish diaspora. First came proposals for what's been billed as the 'biggest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland'. The Gathering, as it's been named, will be a year-long programme of events, festivals and fun designed to bring an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland in 2013.

Proposed by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadker TD, The Gathering is intended to boost the tourism industry, create jobs and inject millions of euros into the economy. It will focus on a series of flagship festivals throughout the year, along with special interest spin-off events, and a community-led programme. It will showcase Irish arts, sports, food, learning, genealogy and family heritage, science and hospitality.

While The Gathering aims to stimulate interest and appeal and extends a general invitation, a separate project is taking a more direct-to-the-diaspora approach.

The Ireland Reaching Out (IRO) initiative aims to trace descendents of Irish emigrants and invite them to visit their ancestral homelands.

Piloted last summer in east Galway, this genealogy-in-reverse process saw 30 visitors from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia respond to invitations from local people for a 'week of welcomes' that started with a reception at Cloghan Castle in Kitchreest, co Galway, and included a tour of the region, a dedicated family history day, a real Irish wedding and a hurling match.

Following the success of the pilot, an extended IRO project was launched on Wednesday. Some 25 parishes across the country attended the event to find out how the initiative can be implemented and tailored locally. At least 10 have committed to running such a project in 2012. Next year's target is for several hundred people to enjoy a week of welcomes.

"Sending out details of a a person's Irish ancestry had an 'enormously persuasive power' in enticing them to Ireland," said Mike Feerick, the Galway-based, American-born entrepreneur who started ROI. He added that training was very important for volunteers both in how to look after guests and how to access genealogical records.

Third into this diaspora-focussed week was a new social network website, It's live, and showing some promise with an eclectic collection of stories and videos already gathered or submitted. If you've got something deep and meaningful (or just plain playful) to say about Irishness, or just want to add something curious or interesting into the world's view of Ireland and its people, you'll want to see how this site develops.