"The Gathering" Calls Ireland's Diaspora Home, But Some Just See A Tourist Trap

Notre Dame Cheerleaders Parading In The Streets Of Dublin
Notre Dame Cheerleaders Parading In The Streets Of Dublin
Albertine Bourget

DUBLIN - Ireland, its scenery, its music, its hospitality… who has never dreamed of having a couple of drops of Irish blood in their veins?

That’s the idea behind “The Gathering.” In 2013, Ireland is calling on “all the Flynns, O’Malleys and Schweitzenburgs to come back home (…) no matter when their families left.” The event will kick off on December 31 with a concert in Dublin. Eamon Gilmore, the country’s deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that "the Gathering is also open to all those who love or are interested in Ireland."

Five million euros were invested in the project, including 1.5 million for advertising campaigns abroad. About 325,000 extra visitors are expected and 180 million euros in profits. As a comparison, and in the absence of statistics on tourism, about 800,000 Americans and 300,000 Germans make the trip during good years. Barry Hargreaves, a Texas resident, has decided to go to Ireland for the first time this summer. "My mother was a Murphy and all my ancestors are Anglo-Saxons. The Gathering is a great opportunity to discover Ireland."

Ceili tournaments (the traditional Irish dance), music festivals, a new show by the creators of Riverdance written by Joseph O’Connor, or even a reunion of bearded men in Ballymoe, in Galway. There will be "thousands of ways to get in touch with your Irish roots. Organize a golf trip, a family reunion or a corporate event. Prepare to bring all the members of your clan to Ireland next year": that’s what Ireland’s Transport, Tourism and Sport Ministry is proposing.

Clans are traditional kinship groups organized by name and heritage that made up the country before the 17th century and that met up during “gatherings.” Among those clans were the O’Neills, warriors that protected their land. Though they lost their power when the British took control of the island, clans have become popular again in the past decades along with renewed interest for Gaelic and the country’s history.

In May, 400 members of the O’Neill clan will gather in Armagh County in Northern Ireland. "The trip is supported by local authorities in a region that has suffered from recent conflicts," says Eoin O’Neill, a professor and member of the executive committee of the O’Neill clan association. "Foreign O’Neills want to see historical sites, take DNA tests, learn about their genealogy. These gatherings are also a way of meeting interesting people. One of my daughters is called Maire O’Neill. Well I met a Maura O’Neill who is a professor at Berkeley and works with Hillary Clinton!"

“Shaking down” the diaspora

The advertising campaign has been strong in Ireland, in the press and on social media, but also in the U.S., where about 35 million Americans claim to have Irish roots. A few weeks ago, Gabriel Byrne, a famous actor and a former Irish cultural ambassador to the U.S. where he’s been living for years sparked a controversy by calling the project "a scam." "Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora in Ireland except to shake them down for a few quid," he said.

He isn’t the only one criticizing this call to return home while the country is still struggling with the fallout of the 2008 economic crisis. In October, the unemployment rate was close to 15% and tens of thousands of young graduates have already left the country in search of a job abroad.

Others say the project is too dependent on its volunteers and is just adding its name to existing events. They are also worried that it is serving up a cliché of Ireland. James O’Higgins Norman, a sociologist and the vice-president of Clans of Ireland, says The Gathering and its funding pushed clans to hold their gatherings in 2013 instead of 2012 or 2014. "But there are also those who wanted to create groups and wouldn’t have done it otherwise. We are working with some of them to make sure they give visitors an authentic representation of our heritage rather than third-rate gatherings with shamrocks and Leprechauns."

Despite the criticism, Leo Varadkar, the Irish minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said he wasn’t "ashamed" of promoting growth. According to Gian Gregori, in charge of Ireland Tourism for Switzerland "more than 2,000 gatherings are planned in 2013 and the numbers keep growing."

In The Irish Times, Una Mullaly wrote: "The Gathering is an alright idea. It seems simple enough; (…) Maybe, even maybe, it might make Irish people realize that we are an important nation with tens of millions of people who want to feel a sense of belonging to this screwed up island."

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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