For some time, I had toyed with the idea of hosting, via the good offices of the Irish Echo, a convention of Irish Americans from right across America.
From Hawaii to the Hamptons, and all places in-between, as it were.
I had even decided on a location for this gathering: The Museum of Ireland’s Great Hunger at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
But the gods were against me. Air travel costs, appropriate accommodation, the sheer distance and scale of America, never mind trying to find a free date in the calender all meant this was a project which was filed under ‘B’ for bonkers and forgotten about.
Until the pandemic struck
Overnight, we have all become Zoom students and Skype scholars, surprising ourselves by how easy it is to pull up a chair and chat with a pal the breadth of a Continent away. And the online image and sound is, delightfully, J. Arthur Rank quality.
All of which had me scrambling to find that Irish American conference file.
Duly dusted down, it has been reconfigured for this time of Corona as The Big Irish Campfire on 28 August.
There will be an added urgency to our discussions given the impact of Covid-19 on almost every expression of Irish culture in the US – parades are stood down, dancing shoes hung up, trad music sessions stilled, and exuberant Irish fests furloughed.
So it’s a time to collogue and to converse, a time to find a way through this emergency and to ensure Irish America emerges stronger and better — while keeping the bridge to Ireland open.
In most of our lifetimes, we have never experienced the almost total block on air travel between America and Ireland so the Campfire will give us a chance to reset relationships and renew acquaintances.
Around the campfire, everything is up for discussion. We plan panels which will address sports, heritage museums, Irish centres, immigration, networks, arts and culture, literature and theatre, movie-making, transatlantic investment, start-ups, festivals and the sad sight of shuttered Irish bars. There’ll be music too and maybe even a glass raised to keep our spirits high.
Our contributors will be as diverse and as widely-spread as Irish America itself but all will share a belief that the future of Irish America is worth fighting for.
We have some stellar participants but the real strength of the campfire will be in having grassroots voices heard.
Indeed, this will be the biggest and most inclusive forum ever held by Irish America.
In short, with your help, we’re going to unite the Irish of the USA like never before at a time when the Irish American community are not just separated from each other but from home base as well.
I’ll be directing the entire affair from studios in Belfast — the bridge across the Atlantic will not just be open but will make landfall in Belfast — and I plan to have some guests join me, particularly from the tourism sector, to talk about the recovery journey.
We learnt a lot from last month’s virtual New York-New Belfast conference so expect sparks at this campfire.
Register now. Oh, and bring marshmallows!