Actor and former Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne has severely criticised The Gathering, calling it a scam and accusing Ireland of using the diaspora solely to boost tourism numbers. Eddie Barrett disagrees. He writes:
GABRIEL BYRNE HAS it all wrong. I am actually quite astounded by the reception of negativity that The Gathering has received.
I am a member of the Stack family and we have our own event planned for next year. For three days in July, the Stack clan gathering is inviting all our descendants to Ireland and offering them a chance to connect with their past. It is purely a volunteer committee effort that is bringing about our event and it is organised by Damian Stack. Over the four days there will be a tree-planting ceremony, a turf-cutting exhibition, visits to Kilflynn (formerly known as Stackstown) and a townland connected with the name called Crotta are also planned, as well as many more activities.
Back to your roots
Ancestry is a huge thing and an industry in itself. I became very interested in it when we organised a trip over to New York and we went to Ellis Island. I found it a very emotional experience. When I first heard about The Gathering, I thought it was an absolute cracker of an idea. If you look at the Irish-America fund in relation to the North, where I visit regularly, the amount of funding generated in industry and community spending is excellent. So I am hugely in favour of extending that sort of thing to the rest of the country.
If you have 1100 events, as The Gathering say they have, can you imagine how many people are involved in this. There must be countless communities. And that is what it is about, community, not a money scam. For example, we are including the GAA clubs in the areas between Tralee and Listowel in our gathering event. We are involving the whole community in the parish – the youth groups and clubs, cultural groups like the Listowel players – the local drama group. So many people are getting involved.
I can’t understand Gabriel Byrne – I think he must have been having a bad day to come out with such negativity. I have met him in the past, and he seems like a lovely, nice man, but I am hearing the complete opposite to what he said he is hearing. Last year we had 35 Stack visitors over from the USA in July. My cousin who lives in the States brought all his children and grandchildren to Ireland. He had four generations of his family here. They had an absolute ball and obviously they spent money in the community, which is great, but that is not what it is about.
Over a dozen of the same people are coming back next year for our event – now if that is not an indication of just how impressed they were with their trip home to Ireland, then what is? Most of them had never been here before, they are third generation. They could travel anywhere they wanted to in the States but they are choosing to come back.
This is not a “scam” as Byrne has stated. People do not feel they are being scammed for money. Most people that are coming over are hard-working people, who are lucky to have a job and have earned their wages and just want a nice trip home. They have all the same issues with unemployment in the States, maybe not to the same extent as we do, but they are people who work hard, get two weeks holidays a year, and are choosing to spend it in Ireland.
Gabriel Byrne said that we have abandoned our diaspora, but I think it is the complete opposite. He wasn’t listening to the ordinary people from around the world; he only referred to three people. People involved are full of buzz and enthusiasm about it.
The three people he spoke to were negative about it, but what about the 97 per cent that are positive about it. And it is not just about what he describes as “shaking people down for a few quid” – absolutely not. This is not just about Americans; this is for everyone, from Australia to South Africa, New Zealand, the UK and Canada – there’s an Irish diaspora everywhere.
There have been references by some that this is merely just a scam to get money from the government and that is not true. There is a 75 per cent grant towards the volunteer organisations that are organising events and that goes towards marketing. There have to be accounts presented to The Gathering section of Tourism Ireland, so to say that this is just a way for people to make money is just not true. There is only €5 million for the whole program, so it wouldn’t go very far anyway. This really is volunteerism at its absolute best. What I see with our project in North Kerry is that people are giving up their time voluntarily and they will be looking for nothing in return.
Eddie Barrett is on the committee organising the Stack clan gathering. If you would like more information on their event next year visit their Facebook page.