The Gathering Ireland is a national initiative encouraging communities to come together and organise events, encouraging anyone with a connection to Ireland to come and visit.
It kicked off at the weekend with the Emerald Isle Classic match between Notre Dame and Navy, which brought thousands of American football fans to Dublin.
Across the country, local communities are swinging into action – including Inishowen, Co Donegal. Here John Collins explains what the area is doing to bring people home.
INISHOWEN WOULD SEEM like a close-knit peninsula community in North Donegal, but its social network is truly international.
When it came to planning Carndonagh Community School’s 40th annual reunion, The Gathering seemed like a great resource for us to tap into. We know we have over 10,000 past pupils, which might be hard to believe coming from a small community but our diaspora are present in over 80 countries around the world. It goes to show you how much and how far the Irish travel. We decided this would be a great excuse to send an open invite out to people to return home for a visit.
Inishowen is a community, but one of the stark issues that does affect us is emigration – it always has. It is such an attractive and beautiful part of the country but unfortunately due to the lack of jobs in the area or the lack of particular jobs, people have had to move on often leaving their relatives behind and start somewhere else.
The recession, I cannot lie, has affected our area. Many young people have had to leave to find work in the larger towns or abroad and that of course is to the detriment of the area. It is sad to see so many of the young people head off and leave the area.
It really can feel like the life is ebbing out of a place but we have a lot of positives to offer people visiting and that is what we are going to show those who come over to visit.
A lot to offer
The area has seen huge rejuvenation in the area over the years. It’s not only beautiful and scenic but we have a lot of amenities, just like any other town in the country.
The area has a lot to offer – that may surprise some people who are returning, but we are hoping that once people come home again they will warm to it. We are not as backward as we are made out nationally. Some of the past pupils or staff who return may not have been home in over 20 years, so we want to show all those that visit that although times and places have changed, our community remains the same. Yes, we are a small town but its people are great. You can’t fault the friendliness of the people here.
This reunion is all about showing our community in a positive light – to stop focusing on the recession and difficulties people face and look at what our area has produced: countless of talented people who are dotted all over the world.
This is a massive geographical area, but at one stage we all went to the same school. The reunion is open to all past pupils and staff and is going to be run over four days, with music, dinner and dancing.
The one difference in comparison to other years is the importance and usefulness of social media. Teacher Niall Havlin, set up a Facebook page to tell everyone about the event, which is taking place in August 2013.
After five days the page had 2000 friends, so we think we have a major event on our hands. We are asking any past pupils to root out any memorabilia or photos, as they seem to be very popular. The old class pictures that are up on Facebook are getting a lot of attention.
While this event, we hope, will have a positive effect on the economics of our town, it is really about the social aspect of it. It’s about old faces seeing each other again and we think that it will spur on positivity in the area.
What is important to us is that this reunion is about coming together as a community – and that is what I think The Gathering is all about. It is about reaching out to those that left last year, five years ago – or even 20 years ago – and welcome them back to where they came from.