This is the year to discover your Irish heritage

The fourteen flags of Galway,
The fourteen flags of Galway

Insight's Ireland author, Alannah Hopkin, explores some of the festivals taking place in Ireland this year and explains how you can learn all about your Irish heritage as part of the country's Year of the Gathering celebrations. 

The Gathering is a year-long celebration of Irishness, building on Ireland’s reputation as a destination where people love to party. Everyone is invited to visit Ireland during 2013, the Year of the Gathering, whether you have Irish blood, a link to Ireland, or have just always wanted to take a look: this is the time to do it.

The invitation has been taken up with alacrity, which is no surprise when you consider that 70 million people have Irish connections, and there are currently about a million Irish-born people living abroad, spreading the word, and coming back for a break themselves.

Add an unexpected spell of hot sunny weather, in which picnic gear and patio furniture that hardly saw the light of day in Ireland’s last two overcast summers has been rediscovered, and you have a party mood par excellence, gathering momentum by the day.


From Galway Arts Festival to goat kings


A Gathering can be anything from a simple reunion of family or school friends to a massive clan gathering: the Gallagher Clan are hoping to make the Guinness Book of Records when they meet up in September.

The regular summer festival calendar is already packed with events from large ones including the vibrant Galway Arts Festival (until 28 July) to the picturesque Puck Fair in Kerry (9–12 August), in which a goat is crowned King, to smaller celebrations such as the Redhead Festival in tiny Crosshaven, Clonakilty’s Random Acts of Kindness Festival, and numerous one-off sporting events inspired by the American football clash between Notre Dame and the Navy that launched the Gathering in Dublin. In addition to the free open-air music associated with summer festivals, visitors will receive welcoming cocktails/mocktails and complimentary tea and home-baking to make them feel extra special.


Uncover your Irish ancestry


Another initiative to entice people to Ireland, known as Ireland Reaching Out, has been defined as “reverse genealogy”. Instead of waiting for people to come to Ireland to chase up their ancestors, volunteers in some 2,500 parishes have been identifying those who left, and tracing their descendants around the world, inviting them to come back for a look, with a personal welcome at the end of their journey guaranteed.           

Gravestones in Ireland


Genealogy sessions are an integral part of the Gathering, and those involved professionally in tracing people’s roots are expecting a busy year. They advise you to talk to your oldest relations about your Irish connections, and to come armed with the name and date of birth of your Irish ancestor. If you can also find out the parish or county that they came from, and their religion, you will be off to a flying start.

The National Library in Dublin (has helpful staff who will talk you through their online resources. Or begin right now by checking out the 1901 and 1911 census online at

Earlier this year Tom Cruise identified the Irish ancestor who left for New York in 1825, and was presented with a Certificate of Irish Heritage.

National Library, Dublin


But the best bit will be a visit to your ancestor’s parish of origin, where this year the whole community will be on the alert for visitors, waiting to include you in whatever form of Gathering is taking part that day.

The kettle is on, the scones are baking, and the musicians are tuning up – even the sun has come out – you are invited, so what are you waiting for?


Alannah Hopkin is currently updating the new edition of Insight Guide Ireland, due to be published at the end of the year. Follow Alannah on Twitter @hopkinhiggins.


Plan your trip to Ireland


Insight Guide Ireland

For practical advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland, visit our Ireland destination guide or browse our Ireland guide books.


Articles about Ireland...


• An introduction and where to start your trip to Ireland...

From the Giant's Causeway to the Aran Islands, see our top 10 Irish attractions

• The Gaeltacht and interest in the Irish language

• Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Heaney – Irish literature and literary festivals

• Walking enthusiasts should take a look at our top 10 hikes in Ireland 

Ryan's Daughter, The Commitments, Game of ThronesIreland's best film and TV locations

• Coddle and drisheen – food and drink in Ireland

• Alive and kicking – Irish dance

This July we're exploring Ireland as our destination of the month. For more updates keep following the Insight blog, or check us out on Twitter @InsightGuides or on our Insight Facebook page, or why not look at some lovely travel photography on Pinterest.