Tourism Ireland is welcoming people from around the world to Ireland for 2013!  The Gathering is an invitation for people to come to the Emerald Isle and discover their roots. Families all around Ireland are organizing huge gatherings. People are making plans through email and Facebook to round up everyone from the Maguires to the Callahans from around the world to come together over the course of one year to celebrate their Irish heritage. Now mind you, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the celebration. After all, everyone is Irish on St Patrick’s Day!

My family at the Ireland Kickoff receiving our Ireland Heritage Certificates!

My family has a very deep Irish history. Both my mother and father’s families are originally from Ireland. My sister Catie and I decided to bring our film crews with us to Ireland and highlight the beautiful country of our ancestors and discover a bit more about our heritage. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life.

On the Greenway with my sister Catie.

We flew into Dublin and made a beeline to County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland where our mother’s family is from originally. We received a warm greeting from our extended family, which had done a great job of telling the small town of Newport that we were coming! Everywhere we went we were greeted with open arms and people went out of their way to accommodate us. It really felt like home for us.

Seeing our family for the first time on this trip.

Our day in Newport started with a tour of Grace Kelly’s home. According to my mom’s research, Grace Kelly is our third cousin twice removed. When we arrived, we were greeted at the Kelly homestead by some local Grace Kelly experts who took us to the house and provided us with interesting facts about the home and the connection that Grace Kelly had to the area. In fact, Grace Kelly’s son, Prince Albert was just in Newport for a visit earlier in 2012. The house itself is roofless and more of a shell of a home than anything else. It was quite interesting, however, and we enjoyed connecting with our famous cousin in such a tangible way. For tourists coming to Newport who want to connect with Grace Kelly, I recommend they visit during the Grace Kelly Film Festival, which takes place at the end of September.Walking inside Grace Kelly’s home.

 Photo from The Daily Edge (Grace Kelly’s visit to her grandfather’s home in Newport in 1961)

After our visit to Grace Kelly’s home, we went to a local pub called Grainne Uail.  We had the BEST meal of homemade seafood chowder served with brown bread, followed by bowls of mussels that had been caught earlier that morning.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  We enjoyed music performed by local musicians, a dancer whose feet were quick yet flawless and spontaneous rounds of songs delivered by gentlemen who could capture the attention of a crowded pub.  It was magical.  It was everything I know Ireland to be.

 A tour group from New Jersey enjoys a pint at Grainne Uaile.

After lunch we went to find our grandfather’s house.  Well, it is more like a few stonewalls, but it still belongs to our family.  We had to take quite a hike up to the house, but it was worth the visit despite getting pretty muddy.

The wall of my grandfather’s house.

Jon was not able to get wellies in time for the trip to grandfather’s house.

We paid a visit to the local butcher’s shop, which is owned by the Kelly brothers. What a treat! We tasted their award winning sausage and learned that we might possibly be related to them as well! We learned that their meat is served in many of the local restaurants and is highly sought after. We could taste why – it was delicious!

The day ended with a visit with many relatives and local friends at Nevin’s Pub. The pints flowed and a local vocal group called Westport Coda had the crowd mesmerized with their beautiful songs sung in multi-part harmony. It was the perfect end to the perfect day. Though the formal Gathering isn’t happening until next year, we kicked off our own reunion a little early with the clear intention of coming back with the rest of the clan in 2013.

Our family and good friends!

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