Our Gathering is no scam but an opportunity to be seized

It was desperately disheartening and disappointing to hear Irish actor Gabriel Byrne hit out at Enda Kenny once again and call the Gathering 2013 a scam last week. The former Cultural Ambassador to Ireland made his comments on Matt Cooper’s The Last Word on Today fm which was broadcast live from New York.

Having attended many Gathering meetings in Mayo it is evident that the country has grasped this opportunity to research our heritage and dedicate festivals to Ireland’s proud history and historical events.

It is a unique opportunity to publicise the past events that have made this nation so strong and proud and respected on the world stage. And what’s wrong with inviting the Diaspora to come and celebrate with us?

No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head. Any individual who chooses to come home next year is doing so of their own free will and the welcome they will receive will be sincere and passionate.

Byrne and his cohorts might have scoffed at the Yanks who clambered off the buses in Dublin when he was a young fella wearing their Burberry coats and looking for their roots. But I can relay a very different scenario in the west of Ireland. Growing up beside Breaffy House Hotel we were well accustomed to Americans and many other nationalities visiting our little village on a frequent basis. Many a week night Dot Redmond would pick me up and bring a gang of us to Breaffy House or to Ashford Castle where we happily entertained the tourists with our Irish dancing. We did so for the odd tip and a glass of orange. There was no scoffing, apart from a few biscuits if we were lucky. We hadn’t a clue what a Burberry coat was and it was fun to see the visitors clapping and tapping to the Irish traditional music.

And so what if the Gathering is a campaign devised to generate some income? Why not make a big effort to attract our relatives home? It’s their choice whether they travel at the end of the day, but by hosting a cultural event or series of events to make the trip all the more memorable then at least they will be getting some bang for their buck.

Byrne was also quick to blame Enda and the Government for the illegal Irish not being able to return home for family events. But they’re not in a position to change American immigration policy. Efforts are continually being made to effect immigration reform and the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore sees Obama’s re-election as new hope for comprehensive immigration reform.

There’s nothing more devastating than an immigrant not being able to return for a funeral, wedding or Christening. And it’s because of the dire economic situation we find ourselves that so many are now in that situation. These are problems which have been inherited by the current administration in Ireland. And remember, there are thousands more Irish who chose to travel to the US when times were still good here knowing that travel would be limited or prohibited while they remained there illegally.

Building on relations which were fostered with Barack Obama during his visit here, the Government are well placed now to up the ante in terms of lobbying for US immigration reform.

But illegal immigration and the Gathering are two very different issues and mustn’t be confused. While the latter shines a light on thousands who are unable to participate in the 2013 celebrations, it’s no reason to cancel the celebrations but could be used as a tool to highlight the struggles of the Irish abroad.

Far from being a scam, the Gathering is an opportunity.


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