Over the centuries, the Irish have dispersed like clovers in the wind, alighting in lands far from their native soil. This year, the Emerald Isle is calling them back to their roots.
The Gathering, launched last year by government officials, is an extended family reunion of Ireland’s diaspora. (Quick migration lesson: 70 million people worldwide claim Irish lineage, including 40 million in the United States.) More than 3,000 activities, held throughout the year in all 32 counties, including a few in Northern Ireland, salute the pillars of Irish culture: art, music, literature, food, drink, sports, community and camaraderie.
“This is a call-out from Ireland to the Irish ancestry around the world to come to Ireland and help the Irish economy,” said Joe Byrne, head of North America’s Tourism Ireland, “and to have a bit of fun while they’re at it.”
To partake in the hands-across-Ireland experience, you don’t need an O’ in your name or a drop of green blood in your veins. You just have to “heart” Ireland.
“There are two kinds of people in the world,” said Byrne, who grew up in Tullow in County Carlow. “Those who have Irish ancestry, and those who want to have Irish ancestry.”
At its core, the Gathering is a grass-roots movement, with sporting clubs, family clans, high school alumni, redheads, left-handers, scuba divers and other niche groups organizing events. For example, folks who answer to the name of Clare, Claire or Clair will congregate in Ennis, County Clare, on June 23. Throughout the summer, the Gaelic Athletic Association, which promotes traditional sports and arts, will hold hurling competitions at various playing fields. And on May 4-5, female veterinarians will meet up in Roscommon in honor of native Aileen Cust, the first female vet to practice in the British Isles.
Broader themes and interests also pop up on the calender, such as the Killarney Summerfest (July 26-Aug. 4) and National Heritage Week (Aug. 17-25), a mini-Gathering unto itself.
The Gathering universe revolves around its website (www.thegatheringireland.com), which lists activities by location and date, in addition to other essential information. For example, you can choose among 25 events on June 22 or sort through 550 activities in Dublin. Another strategy is to plan your trip around a marquee event. Some highlights:
• Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival. Musicians including the Pat McManus Band and Nine Below Zero commemorate the legendary blues rocker in his birthplace of Ballyshannon, May 30-June 2.
• Morpeth Roll Exhibition Tour. The “largest bon voyage card,” signed by nearly 200,000 people and presented to departing Chief Secretary of Ireland Lord Morpeth in September 1841, tours the country for the first time. Various dates and locations.
• Cork International Choral Festival. The southern city fills with the sounds of choirs — and more than 5,000 voices — May 1-5.
• Listowel Writers’ Week. The literati converge on North Kerry for a packed program of lectures, readings, writing workshops and more, May 29-June 2.
• The Gathering Cruise. The 100-yacht sail, led by Irish round-the-world sailor Damian Foxall, kicks off south of Dublin July 17 and ends with a bash in Dingle on Aug. 1.
• The Fleadh. The Aug. 12-18 music festival and competition keeps traditional songs and dances alive and twirling in the Northern Ireland city of Derry-Londonderry, this year’s U.K. City of Culture.
• All-Ireland Football Championships. Gaelic footballers compete around the counties, vying for a shot at the All- Ireland Final, the country’s Super Bowl held in Dublin on Sept. 22.
• Gathering the Gathering. On New Year’s Eve, messages recorded and uploaded throughout the year will be sent by radio waves from CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork to Epsilon Eridani, a star with an extrasolar planet. Officials will also preserve the memories in a digital time capsule until 2023, at which time we (or our descendants) can come together and relive Gathering 2013.
“This is the year of the first Gathering,” Byrne said. And although there won’t be one in 2014, he said, this one “will certainly leave a legacy effect.”