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RTE Television

The Gathering: Homeward Bound

In a brand new primetime RTÉ Television series, six well known Irish people who are based abroad return to their home place, or a place they have close ties to, in order to help these communities prepare for The Gathering Ireland 2013 - a year long celebration where Ireland invites its Diaspora, or those with an affinity to Ireland, to come back home.

Among the celebrities featured in the line-up are Trevor Brennan going back to Leixlip; Bressie returning to Mullingar; Jean Butler re-connecting with Westport; Brendan Grace returning to the Liberties; and Tadhg Kennelly, who is going back to his native Listowel.

Each well known person will undertake a very personal journey where they will revisit places of particular significance to them, evoking an emotional and sometimes humorous response. They will also uncover the story of emigration from their home place, by meeting with local historians, visiting libraries and viewing church records.

Along the way they will help create connections between family and friends who have not seen each other for decades, putting flesh on the bones of what 'home' really means for the Irish scattered across the globe. Finally, each of the six will create a video invite to the world, asking them to return to the person's chosen town in 2013.

Episodes

Episode 1 of 6 - Brendan Grace

One of Ireland's leading comedians, Brendan Grace returns home from Florida to the famous Liberties in the heart of Dublin city. He is there to celebrate the place where he grew up and to hear what events are being planned to get people who have moved abroad to come home for The Gathering Ireland 2013.

Brendan left Ireland for the States in the early 90s and was part of an emigration wave that saw an opportunity there that didn't exist at home. Although he has lived in the US for almost a decade, he will always consider Ireland his home.

As part of his journey back here, he takes a tour of his old neighbourhood on a horse and cart and reunites with some of his old neighbours and friends. He has a knees-up with The Gingermen, his former bandmates whom he toured with during the showband era of the 60s and gets a surprise from two of Ireland's most famous entertainers and personal friends of Brendan; Sil Fox and Sonny Knowles.

He learns about other Liberties natives, like himself, who have emigrated over the years and gains a deeper understanding of the importance of coming home. Brendan meets Dublin's Lord Mayor, Naoise Ó Muirí, local residents and various community groups who are planning their own events and reunions to bring people back together again in 2013 and he sees what The Gathering is going to mean for the Liberties' community.

Episode 2 of 6 - Bressie

In this programme pop vocalist and ex-Blizzards front man Niall 'Bressie' Breslin returns to his native Mullingar. Bressie now lives in London where he works as a music producer as well as having a successful solo pop career. Bressie has come back to his homeplace of Mullingar to find out about what his town has planned for The Gathering Ireland 2013 and to reconnect with his old team mates, family and friends.

The people of Mullingar are coming up with ideas for their own events and reunions as part of the year-long celebration. Bressie is told about the left-handed festival in Belvedere and plans for the biggest clan gathering in Ireland at the Festival of the Fires.

As a proud Westmeath man he wants to see what he can do to help his own community invite its far-flung Diaspora back to visit next year. Bressie goes to see his old football team, Mullingar Town FC, as he has heard they have something special planned. 39-years-ago the senior team won The Glen Abbey cup which is the highlight of the team's history.

Rugby was such a big part of Bressie's youth in Mullingar and he gets time to catch up with his old rugby team in Mullingar Rugby Club. While in the clubhouse he and his teammates challenge the under 19s team to a match for 2013 for their very own gathering.

Bressie is curious to find out where Mullingar's Diaspora went to. A local historian, Ruth Illingwoth, takes him back through the different eras of emigration from the town. Ruth takes Bressie to see the train station which was nicknamed Lizzie's Express in the 50s (after Queen Elizabeth) when wave upon wave of Westmeath natives boarded the trains bound for the United Kingdom.

Bressie's last task is to play his part for The Gathering. While home in Mullingar he made a short film about the people and the town he loves and what home means to him. This video is his invite to the people of Mullingar all around the world. Bressie launches his video to a gathering of Irish people living London and sends out his message about how good it is to come back.

Episode 3 of 6 - Trevor Brennan

One of Ireland's best-known rugby personalities, Trevor Brennan, is reminded of what coming home can mean when he returns to his native Leixlip to invite Kildare's Diaspora back to Ireland as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013. Following retirement from professional rugby in 2007, Trevor and his family have lived in Toulouse where he owns and runs the busy De Danú Irish Bar.

Leixlip is a town that has experienced huge change in the last 50 years growing from a population of just under a thousand to more than 15,000. Trevor takes a ride in a helicopter to see from the air how his town has transformed and learns that despite the influx of people, Leixlip has its own emigration story with many of its former inhabitants now scattered all over the world, particularly in England, Canada and more recently in Australia and New Zealand. Trevor is motivated to help get some of its Diaspora back home next year as part of The Gathering. He inspires community and business groups to start planning events for 2013 including his old rugby club in Barnhall which hopes to reunite the famous team that got the club from junior to senior status in 1999.

In a trip down memory lane, Trevor visits St. Catherine's Park where he spent many long summer months playing as a young boy. There, he meets fellow Leixlip native, Mary Kelly, who lost a close cousin to emigration almost 40 years ago. Frank Herbert left Ireland for Canada with his new bride in 1973. He was just 20 years old then and worked as a fitter turner. He has since become a successful businessman and owns an oil tools manufacturing company in Alberta, Canada.

Trevor hears how Mary and Frank shared a magical childhood growing up together in the woods in Leixlip and how heartbreaking it was for Mary to see Frank emigrate. He is affected by their story and is determined to get them back together again for The Gathering next year.

While back home Trevor prepares his own video, a call to action for each one of us to invite someone back home next year and an invitation to Irish emigrants around the world to reconnect with the place they come from.

Episode 4 of 6 - Tadhg Kennelly

Kerry GAA and Aussie Rules football star Tadhg Kennelly returns to his home town of Listowel. He has come home to see his friends, family, teammates and old neighbours to learn more about the place he loves most in the world and to see what they have planned for The Gathering Ireland 2013.

Tadhg was born into one of the most famous families in Kerry and his Father Tim 'The Horse' Kennelly was GAA royalty. At 17 Tadhg made the shock decision to leave Listowel and move to the other side of the world to pursue a career in Sydney as an AFL player. Tadhg went on to have huge success with his club the Sydney Swans.

When his Dad died, Tadhg made the biggest move of his career and left his team in Sydney to come home to Kerry and play GAA for the Kingdom in 2009. It had always been a lifelong ambition to win an All Ireland and the dream became a reality in that year.

After winning the All Ireland title for Kerry Tadhg moved back to Australia. He still misses Kerry and has very strong ties with home. This time he is coming back to help his own community get its people home from all over the world as part of The Gathering celebrations next year.

Tadhg wants to find out what Kerry has planned for their Diaspora for 2013. He hears that the Rose of Tralee is bringing back all the Roses and Escorts from the past 50 years and that the Listowel Writers Week is going to focus on the writing of the Diaspora.

Tadhg pops into the Stack furniture shop in Listowel and Damien Stack tells him they are inviting Stacks from all over the world to Listowel for The Stack Clan Gathering. Damien takes Tadhg to see local genealogist Ger Greaney and they tell him that anyone from North Kerry can have their family genealogy done for free as part of the North Kerry Reaching Out project for next year. They have even taken the time to do Tadhg's family tree and he is surprised to see who he is related to in the town.

Tadhg visits his old neighbour Vincent Carmody who takes him on a tour of the town. Vincent tells him about some of the people who have left Listowel through the years. From Cathy Buckley the White House cook to Elizabeth Scanlon one of the first people from Listowel to have been deported to Australia. Vincent also tells Tadhg about the Gleasure family who lived on the square in Listowel and who had two sons who left to live in Massachusetts at the end of the nineteenth century.

Letters from the 1890s to the 1950s were left in an attic in America and the descendent of the Gleasures, Ben Naylor, found them and has been busy transcribing them online. On reading the letters Tadhg is hooked on the Gleasure story and the tragedy that was to hit their family. Tadhg is anxious to see if there is any living Gleasure left in Listowel as he would like to connect Ben back to his family in Ireland.

He finds Giles Kelliher from Tralee, a living relative of the Gleasures, and he fills him in on the letters and on his cousin Ben in the US. Giles is stunned and Ben is delighted to have a relative to come to Ireland to meet. Tadhg is determined to get Giles and Ben together for a Gathering in 2013.

Local woman Mary Cogan wants to tell Tadhg about one other person she has come across in her Listowel Connection blog. She was in touch with a woman in Sydney who has traced her great great grandmother Bridget Ryan back to Listowel. Bridget was taken from the workhouse as an orphan and moved to Australia. Her descendants are so proud of her and Tadhg is determined to meet with them when he goes back to Sydney to learn more.

When Tadhg gets home to Sydney he finds Bridget Ryan's descendent Barbara Farrell and they agree to meet at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney where they talk about Bridget. This is where Bridget was taken when she first arrived. The story is one that ends well as if she had been left in the workhouses in Ireland she may well have died of starvation or disease.

Tadhg's last task is to launch his video invite of Listowel. While home he made a video message for the people of Listowel to tell them to reach out to invite someone back for 2013 and to invite the wider Kerry Diaspora, wherever they are, to connect with their Irish roots.

Episode 5 of 6 - Jean Butler

In the fifth episode of the series, Irish dancer and choreographer Jean Butler leaves her home in Brooklyn NY to go back to Westport in Co. Mayo. Although her mother came from Ballyhaunis Jean has always had a strong link withWestport. She used to go there often when she was living in Ireland and it is still one of her favourite places to visit when she comes back from her home in New York. She used to dance with the Chieftains in Matt Molloy's famous pub and on this trip home there is an impromptu session as Jean puts on her dancing boots while Matt plays the flute.

She discovers who Mayo's diaspora are as she learns about the history of emigration from the area spanning as far back as the famine. She wants to reconnect with those emigrants and to try to bring them home for 2013. She visits local sites such as Westport House and Foxford Woollen Mills who have plans to reconnect people who left Mayo as part of The Gathering next year.

Jean meets Michael Foy who is now 80-years-old. He grew up in a tiny house with his parents and four siblings on Foxford Main St. At the age of 17 he followed he father over to Leeds for work. He has lived in Leeds ever since but always thought he might get back to live at home some day. For Michael the visit back to Ireland is a moving one and despite living away for over 60 years his sense of where home is has never left him.

Jean brings her message back to New York to remind our diaspora about the value of the place we come from and to invite them back for 2013.

Episode 6 of 6 - Fionnula Flanagan

Irish Hollywood star, Fionnula Flanagan returns home to Galway to reconnect with its people and help bring some of its emigrants home for The Gathering Ireland 2013.

Based in Los Angeles since the late sixties, Fionnula has worked extensively in theatre, film and television for over 50 years becoming one of Ireland's most successful Irish actresses. Despite having spent a majority of her life in the States, Fionnula maintains she's Irish and always will be. Her favourite place in Ireland is Connemara and her secret love is the Irish language.

On her journey home, she drops into one of Galway city's oldest pubs, Tigh Neachtains where local poets are gathered for a poetry reading hosted by Cúirt, Galway's International Festival of Literature. She hears that as part of The Gathering, the festival is extending a special invite to publishers, critics, editors and agents all over the world to come to its festival in April next year.

Fionnula visits one of Galway's most famous institutions, NUI Galway, where she received an Honorary Doctorate in 2008. She talks to students there about what it means to be Irish, how our identity has changed on the world stage and how important it is to stay connected with Ireland.

Fionnula takes a trip out west to a deserted village near Roundstone in Connemara where she hears about the history of emigration from Galway and how it has taken its toll on the region, but that through the work of Ireland Reaching Out, a reverse genealogy project based in Galway, the Irish diaspora can reconnect with their long-lost relatives and the homeplace of their ancestors.

In the old village of Knickanesnear Williamstown in north-east Galway, Fionnula hears about the Mee family gathering planned for next year. She meets Danny Geraghty, one of the Mee descendants whose family was decimated by emigration during the 1920s. Six of his aunts and uncles left Ireland for America and England and over the years, those family ties were lost. Through the genealogy work of his cousin, Jennifer Mee Arthur, based in Florida, family connections on both sides of the water are now beginning to be restored.

As a surprise, Fionnula arranges for Jennifer to be flown home to meet her long-lost cousin, Danny. Moved by their emotional reunion, Fionnula is inspired to get more people reunited as part of The Gathering next year. She makes a video highlighting the importance of coming home and asks people all over the world to come back and reconnect with Ireland and their relatives here in 2013.

The Gathering: Homeward Bound sees six well-known Irish people who are based abroad return to their home place, or a place they have close ties to, in order to help these communities prepare for The Gathering Ireland 2013, a year-long celebration which will see the people of Ireland reaching out to many millions of friends, family, loved ones and connections overseas, inviting them to Ireland next year to celebrate with everyone.

The personalities featured in the line-up are: former rugby international Trevor Brennan goes back to Leixlip; musician Bressie returns to Mullingar; Irish dancer and choreographer Jean Butler re-connects with Westport; comedian Brendan Grace returns to the Liberties; Kerry GAA and Aussie Rules football star Tadhg Kennelly goes back to his native Listowel and renowned Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan revisits Connemara.

Each of those featured will undertake a very personal journey where they will revisit places of particular significance to them, evoking an emotional and sometimes humorous response. They will also uncover the story of emigration from their home place, by meeting with local historians, visiting libraries and viewing church records. A clear picture of both the historic and more recent emigrant history will be created so that the Diaspora of each particular town will become a more tangible and real concept to the people in each of these places.

Along the way they will help reunite family and friends who have not seen each other for decades, putting flesh on the bones of what 'home' really means for the Irish scattered across the globe. Finally, each of the six will create a video invite to the world, asking them to return to the person's chosen town in 2013.

The Gathering: Homeward Bound
  • RTÉ One, Tuesday, 7.00pm