The Road Home/An Bóthar Abhaile
I have travelled to many wonderful cities in North America to meet the Irish – Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, DC, both Portlands, New Brunswick, NJ, and many more (did someone say, he forgot Pittsburgh?) but no matter how overpowering the warmth of the welcome, the greatest part of the journey was the road home.
That’s why the Homecoming — planned for Belfast from 24-26 September — will strike a chord with Irish Americans (and the Irish of Canada), because for them, even at 50, 100 or 150 years remove, Ireland remains the old country.
There’s a nostalgia to that of course, but there’s also a focus on a vibrant present and a bright future where the very best of Ireland in culture, education, music, dance, arts, business, charity and sports can be enjoyed as easily in Butte, Montana or St Louis, Missouri, as it is enjoyed in Birr, Co Offaly, or Strangford, Co Down.
We had set our sights on bringing in 50 people of influence from the Diaspora in 2014, growing that to 150 by 2016 but in my discussions with the Irish abroad about the Homecoming, they have brought their usual drive and endless ambition to this unprecedented initiative. “Why not make it a festival and bring 1,000 people by 2016,” suggested our old pal Larry Levin from the office of Californian Senator Loni Hancock. What a boost to the peace that would be.
Larry plans to be in Belfast for the inaugural Homecoming and in meetings with Tourism Ireland this week, it’s clear to me that we’re still only scratching the surface of the tourism and visitor potential of Belfast so why not aim high?
As high and as wide as the pioneers behind the new dot.irish initiative. This week, the visionaries behind dot.irish including New York-New Belfast conference regulars John Toland and Shane Naughton signed on the dotted line with the international internet authority ICANN to roll out the dot.irish domain name. Millions of dollars, thousands of work hours and countless travel miles have gone into the audacious plan to give the Irish their own domain name and I have no doubt it will be a runaway success.
Finally, and closer to home, the Workwest Enterprise Centre in West Belfast is appealing for votes to win RBS E-Kindle funds for its new project to put the jobless to work. You can vote here, they are a great bunch of people.