Irish economist, writer, and broadcaster David McWilliams is behind a project called Ireland Reaching Out, which aims to bring emigrants (and their descendants) back to their home parishes in Ireland for a visit. This is a pilot program focusing on thirty parishes in southeast County Galway. An article in the Connacht Tribune says that the plan is to contact 44,000 emigrants from parishes in places like Gort, Portuma, and Loughrea, and invite them back for a “Week of Welcomes” in June of 2011.
This “Week of Welcomes” will include a program of activities in the parish of origin, including lectures, tours, and samples of local culture, food, and drink. The hope is that these visits will provide a short-term boost to the local economy as well as promote future investment in the region.
I read some comments from recent emigrants who seemed angry and bitter and wanted nothing to do with a program like this. Maybe for these individuals, their feelings about having to leave home are too raw; the wounds of emigration are too fresh. I cannot tell you how many times I hear Americans engaged in family history lament that the older generations of immigrants never spoke of Ireland. In my own family story, all we were ever told was that they came from Cork. Many, many Irish immigrants in America came from Cork, and practically all of them left from Cork.
Further removed from emigration, you will find Americans eager to make a connection with the place their family came from in Ireland. Granted, in light of the recent economic downturn Americans may be taking fewer vacations overseas. But there are Americans who, if given the chance to have a pint at the local pub their grandfather frequented before coming to America, would seize the opportunity to visit Ireland. I know it sounds a little corny to Irish people, but the attraction of Ireland to Irish Americans is undeniable. It makes perfect sense for the Irish to capitalize on this pull. These days it may take more than the Blarney stone to lure American tourist dollars.
Mr. McWiliams describes the program in his own words in his piece on Independent.ie – click here to read the editorial. In my opinion, the fact that a program like this is underway in Ireland is proof that although the bubble may have burst, the Irish people are using their strengths to imagine their future. A future deeply rooted in history…that’s nothing new for Ireland, is it?
Next time I will share a bit about our most recent visit home. By the way, Mr. McWilliams if you are reading this, you must hire my cousins Jimmy and Helen McCormack of Ballyedmond, County Laois as consultants for Ireland Reaching Out. You will have to read my next entry to see why…