After weeks and months of preparation, the first guests of the inaugural Week of Welcomes 2011 arrived at Cloghan Castle in Kilchreest for a Welcome Reception on Sunday, 26th June. This was the kickoff to what was to be a week of learning, homecoming and at times, deep emotion as long-lost cousins, homesteads, and gravestones were sought and found. IRO Board Members Mike Feerick and David McWilliams and the IRO team were there to greet visitors returning from the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia and other parts of Ireland. Representatives from the local communities also turned out in great numbers to welcome our guests home.
Broadcaster and Economist David McWilliams spoke eloquently of the importance of the Diaspora to Ireland: “Having contacted them all over the world and invited them back to the parish of their ancestors, the IRO team have created something very special which has the potential to transform genealogy as we know it and more importantly, it could totally change the relationship between Ireland and the Irish tribe.”
The “Who do you think you are?” Day
The event continued on Monday, with a “Who do you think you are” day where guests were brought to the parishes from which their fore bearers emigrated for what proved to be an emotional day for those returning. At the East Galway Family History Centre, the returning visitors got an in-depth insight into its work and how it can help in researching their family trees. As a result, a number of the guests have established heretofore unknown links to local areas and people.
Tours of the South East Galway Parishes
Over the following days, the guests toured the parishes the length and breadth of south east Galway, learning about the fascinating and ancient history of their fore bearers. These included the Kiltartan Gregory Museum, Coole Park, the cathedral site of Kilmacduagh with its famous leaning round tower, Rathnagra Ringfort outside Loughrea dating back to pre-Christian times, as well as Pallas Castle, the best preserved bawn wall in the region. The tour also included Portumna Castle, a semi-fortified manor house, the ancient Augustinian abbey of Clontuskert, St. Brendan’s Cathedral Clonfert with its world-renowned 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque doorway, and concluded in Aughrim, the famous site of the 1691 battle between William of Orange and James II, attended by locals and national guests such as Michael Starrett, CEO of The Heritage Council. Thursday’s afternoon tour was rounded off by a special performance of local talent in the Aughrim Interpretive Centre. On Thursday evening, the visitors were guests at the launch of the Great Outdoors Festival in Portumna Castle where our common heritage was celebrated in music, song, dance and words with a wonderful performance called Emigrant Eyes.
Week of Welcomes Highlight. A Real Wedding in a Real Irish Castle.
The highlight of many a visit in Ireland is often a family wedding and thanks to Loughrea’s Seamus O'Kelly Players, our guests at the Week of Welcomes did not have to leave without having attended one. This traditional Irish Wedding featured the marriage of Mercedes Dunne, only daughter of Celtic Tiger Entrepreneur Extraordinaire Donacha Dunne, to her beloved Raymie, scion of the Donegan family whose father Danny Donegan claims to have studiously avoided all the worst excesses of the Tiger years.
Final Day and Farewells
The final day of the inaugural Week of Welcomes took the visitors to the Clonfert-Eyrecourt-Meelick part of the county. A Village Market and Photography Exhibition was put on by the local IRO team in Eyrecourt with a fantastic spread of homemade cooking and local artifacts on display. Clarke's pub hosted the group for lunch where Michael Fahy, a local GAA historian, prepped on the local foundations of the GAA, and the local club’s historic participation in the first All-Ireland Hurling Final (Meelick vs. Thurles in Birr). Guest of honour was Liam O’Neill, President Elect of the GAA. This was followed by a demonstration of hurling skills at Clonfert Pitch and a Puck Fada competition. The afternoon was rounded off by a Senior Hurling game - a highlight for a number of visitors - between Meelick-Eyrecourt vs. Tommy Larkins (Ballinakill) before heading back to Cloghan Castle for the final time. A Farewell Reception, including presentations to the guests, went long into the night with music by the Kilnadeema Ceoltas while the Kilchreest Set Dancers soon had everyone joining in on floor.
Concluding events, IRO Chairperson and Founder Mike Feerick stated that the inaugural “Week of Welcomes” event proved beyond doubt the huge potential for Ireland Reaching Out across Ireland. He stated “the inclusion through the Ireland Reaching Out programme of the missing element of genealogical research - the local “meet & greet” which Irish people do so well - can transform tourism to local parishes the length and breadth of Ireland”. The success also proves that the programme is of interest to young and old, and brings out the best in not only our visitors but also our volunteer parish communities.
Testimonials from the Visitors
It’s hard to describe really. I never expected to find the location, or much less the remains of the house of my fore bearers. I’ve reached the end of a long journey. It’s very, very special.
- James (Jim) Kelly, USA
Congratulations on the quality of the organisation of the Ireland Reaching Out Week. I was very impressed with the personalised attention given to all of the visitors and their interaction with Ireland X O Team. I am sure they will return to their home countries very satisfied with their trip to Ireland.
- Frank Pelly, Dublin
Thank you for the great Week of Welcomes and the wonderful hospitality in East Galway.
I managed to hook up with some unknown cousins and get to know better the villages of my ancestors in Clonfert, Eyrecourt and Lawrencetown. I hope this becomes an annual event and please put me on your list of future events.
- Ger Corcoran, Germany
If this project goes forward and expands to other counties I would be most interested in County Kerry and County Louth. We will likely also visit Galway again given that we have so many new friends there.
- Marge & Ed O'Connor
To learn more about getting involved, please contact:
Dolores O'Shea, Project Administrator
South-East Galway Diaspora Pilot Project
'Ireland Reaching Out'
Tel: +353 (0)91 842013
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