In the closing days of 2012 we read that our young people are leaving this country at the rate of 200 a day, a level of emigration not experienced since the great famine. They head off to Britain, Canada, United States of America, New Zealand, many parts of Europe or as in the case of my family, to far off Australia. Although 46,500 Irish-born left us in the year to April 2012, these new emigrants have opportunities to stay in contact with brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends through social media and the irreplaceable Skype. Long ago – and indeed not so long ago – when our family members departed these shores, it was often a challenge to stay in contact; people did not have telephones, for those who did, phoning was expensive; people either could not write or were not good at writing letters.
Today New Year’s Day, marks the beginning of The Gathering 2013, a year-long series of events celebrating our heritage, our musical and literary traditions and our sense of fun all arranged to tempt our departed kinsfolk to visit the land of their fathers. We Irish have a natural instinct to gather, rooted perhaps in the old rural tradition of the ‘meitheal’ where neighbours came together as a team to help with the harvest or some other major event and where firm friendships were shaped.
This afternoon, a 21 gun salute resounded out over the splendid Cork Harbour,from where countless thousands left here by choice or necessity down the ages. The 21 gun salute was heard here for the first time in almost 30 years. Spike Island in the Harbour is the site of one of only two fixed national saluting stations in Ireland, the second being on the end of the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, appropriately enough also at the point of departure of tens of thousands of Irish seeking better lives abroad.
The sounding of the 21 gun salute is a tribute to all the people who have left Ireland, and while it also symbolizes a ‘caoin’ from the heart of those of us who are left behind, it is a mighty symbolic call to Ireland’s emigrants to come home, a symbolic call that has been sent out across the oceans, across continents to all parts of the world where Irish have settled to remind them of their heritage and to come back and share in some of it .
2013 is set to be a spectacular year-long celebration.
Taragaí linn. Beidh failte roimh gach duine in the wonderful year that is planned!