Searching for Their Roots, Ireland Beckons

Published 10:03 am Friday, September 21, 2012

(NewsUSA) – Don’t be surprised if you get an unexpected e-mail or postcard from someone you know -; or possibly don’t know -; in Ireland in the coming months asking you to “come home to visit.”

It’s part of the unique outreach tied to the year-long extravaganza called “The Gathering: Ireland 2013,” and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. So intense is Americans’ interest in exploring their roots — beginning, often, with immigrant grandparents who passed through Ellis Island — that the National Archives’ website recently crashed after getting 37 million hits on its newly released 1940 census.

“What we’re all looking for is the story of the family — what made my grandparents the way they were, which made my parents the way they were, which made me what I am,” an expert in genealogy said of the crash.

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The Gathering taps into that yearning in ways generations of the huge Irish Diaspora here in the U.S. should find irresistible. Yes, big and boisterous events like the All-Ireland Hurling Championships, the Great Limerick Run and the Street Performance World Championships abound. But with the emphasis on grassroots participation — hence the e-mails from long-lost relatives and even sports clubs — odds are you’ll find something of interest wherever you go.

Among the highlights:

* National Heritage Week. Medieval fairs. Historical re-enactments. Maritime fun. And, yes, “night-time bat walks.” What’s not to like, especially since many of the 1,000-plus events are free?

* The Dublin Theatre Festival. As befitting a country that gave us the playwright George Bernard Shaw, actors ranging from Vanessa Redgrave to Neve Campbell have routinely appeared in classic and cutting-edge productions.

* The Galway Oyster Festival. For those hoping to learn if they’re descended from Irish gentry, coastal Galway — a.k.a. “the City of the Tribes” in honor of the 14 merchant families who held sway long ago — is a starting point. And you can watch a celebrity cook-off while downing the world-famous Galway Bay oysters.

* St. Patrick’s Parades and Festivals. Forget anything you’ve ever seen, even in New York. These showcase everything good about Ireland — pageantry, music, dance, comedy — and the one in Limerick (Dublin City’s is another biggie) also includes horseracing.

If You Go: The respected CIE Tours International has escorted millions of Americans to Ireland over the past 80 years, and offers many fully inclusive vacation options. Its “$550+ Advantage” protection guarantees that travelers are never charged for special features. For information, contact 1-800-243-8687 or