Ireland: Welcome to the gathering

By Diana Plater

Head to County Clare in Ireland for The Gathering 2013. Photo / Thinkstock
Head to County Clare in Ireland for The Gathering 2013. Photo / Thinkstock

Is your first or last name Clare, Claire, Clara or even Kiara?

Then you're welcome in County Clare in Ireland next year as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013, a year-long celebration of all things Irish.

Irish Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar says it's a "great opportunity or excuse to reconnect with people of Irish heritage all around the world or people who have an interest in Ireland''.

Varadkar is in Australia to promote the year, which will bring together hundreds of festivals and events that celebrate the best in Irish music, art, literature, dance, culture, heritage, sport, film and food.

Whatever the reason, there's a party just for you in Ireland next year, he says, as all over the country people are organising special events to invite people home, from very big festivals to small events to family reunions and corporate meetings.

And that includes around 50 planned clan gatherings, or huge family reunions.

The idea came up about 18 months ago as one way to overcome the financial crisis which followed years of what became known as the Celtic Tiger, when Ireland was finally doing well economically.

Varadkar says between a quarter and a third of the Australian population is said to have Irish heritage.

If you want to visit a clan gathering, the first step is to ask your relatives what your Irish connection is, of course found mainly through your surname.

The website thegatheringireland.com has information about all of these gatherings. And if you can't find one that fits, you can organise one yourself.

For example, there's a big Kelly gathering in County Tipperary in May.

The Kelly clan gathering is being held in Cashel from 17-19 May (so expect any rellies of Ned Kelly to turn up). Eminent professional genealogist Helen Kelly, who coined the term "goosebump trail'' to describe the feeling you get when you finally reach the home ground of your ancestors, will be sharing and tracing family histories there.

And the Crawfords of County Clare and their relations are planning a special get-together.

They're also looking at holding a walk from Scotland and Northern Ireland to West Clare.

The website says the surname Crawford is now relatively rare in Clare, but was once much more numerous, particularly in the west of the county. The name originated in Scotland, from where many members of the Crawford clan emigrated to Ulster and settled there during the 17th century.

Some of them later moved to Clare, where they were among the "Ultonians'' of the Mount Callan area recorded by John Lloyd in his tour of Clare in 1780.

Event co-organiser Mary Crawford says they also plan to launch a book on the history and genealogy of the Crawfords of County Clare.

"Clare being Clare, there will also be a strong social and cultural dimension, with traditional music, song and dance,'' she says.

Varadkar says if The Gathering is a success, it's something they could look at doing again.

"It's too big for every second or third year, maybe something we might do in 10 years.

"There's never a better time to visit Ireland.''

As well as the clan gatherings and big sporting events, including the Rugby League World Cup, Ireland v Australia on 9 November in Limerick, universities are putting on alumni events largely for international students who have studied there.

And it's easier than it once was to get around by car.

"One of the consequences of our boom in Ireland before the bust of course was that we built those motorways... and hotels,'' Varadkar says. "You can get from Dublin to Galway or Dublin to Cork in two hours now.''

''The Gathering is more than about tourism,'' the minister says. "It's a year-long celebration of Irish culture, Irish heritage, our music and food and sport.''

- AAP

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