DUBLIN, IRELAND -- It's 8:30 a.m. and I'm zombie-walking through the Dublin Airport after an overnight flight from Toronto. Soon, it will be Christmas. I'm jet-lagged and in the nauseous throes of early pregnancy. I can't wait to reach Maynooth, where a bed, hot shower and full Irish fry-up await at an auntie's house.
Before that pleasure, I must trudge through the airport walkways, dragging carry-on bags and doing my best to remain vertical. Cameras are flashing bright lights, however, and they jolt my sleep-starved and slumping body upright. Was Daniel Day Lewis on our flight? Is this the paparazzi?
No, it's us. They're photographing us, my husband and me. As we see Aunt Joan from Maynooth ready for our embrace, the photographers snap away. After our emotional greeting, they rush over to my husband, asking his permission to use the images for promotional purposes -- for The Gathering.
My husband, like many other young Irish citizens, has been living abroad for the past three years. We originally planned to settle in Ireland when we married, but in the end couldn't resist the lure of full-time work in Toronto.
You see, during the past few years Ireland has lost a lot of its citizens -- mainly to countries with higher employment rates. Mourning parents appear on Irish talk shows to discuss why their children have moved to Australia or Canada to find work. A popular TV series, Dublin Airport: Life Stories, chronicles the lives of the departing Irish.
It has become a nationwide pastime, discussing the diaspora. In towns and villages all over Ireland you hear the exasperated sighs of those who have stayed to tough out the economic hard times and the proud exclamations mingled with sadness of those whose family members have gone.
But 2013 in Ireland will be different -- the gloom is replaced with optimism. This year all of those who left, all who claim Irish ancestry and all who love Irish culture have been invited back for The Gathering -- the world's ultimate homecoming, running from Galway to Dublin, Cork to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
The Gathering is not an event. It's a year-long series of events and happenings developed by the Irish government and since supported by Fàilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. The massive undertaking kicked off at the New Year's Eve party in Dublin with a fireworks show that has sparked the nation. Everyone is encouraged to create a gathering, whether it's a small family reunion or a gala fundraiser.
Story by Janine MacLean, Vacay.ca Food Columnist
An American tourist group gathered outside Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. The 11th-century cathedral is a focal point for tourists exploring the medieval Viking origins of Dublin more than a millennium ago. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
Hikers on the Bray-to-Greystones cliff walk south of Dublin, Ireland. The Victorian resort town of Bray is in the background. The 8-kilometer (5-mile) path offers panoramic views of the Irish Sea and is among the most popular in the greater Dublin area. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
A flock of pigeons fills the pondside pathway in Dublin's central park, St. Stephen's Green. The park is a haven in the heart of Ireland's capital of 1.3 million and a popular resting spot for tourists, Dubliners and fowl alike. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
Children running toward the entrance of the Natural History Museum of Ireland in Dublin. The museum, with its playful hedge animals, displays the flora and fauna of Ireland. It is one of several Dublin museums offering free admission year-round. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
Dublin resident Catherine Heaney, 45, sitting near a field of blooming heather and a statue of Socrates in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, Ireland. The gardens, founded in 1795, are home to more than 300 endangered plant species. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
Visitors to the National Gallery of Ireland inspecting some of the sketchbooks compiled by the artist Jack Yeats in Dublin. Paintings by Jack Yeats, brother to Ireland's Nobel-winning poet W.B Yeats, form the centerpiece of Ireland's national art collection on view for free at the art gallery on Dublin's Merrion Square. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)
Cian O'Sullivan, background center, and Tom Walsh playing music in O'Donoghue's pub in central Dublin, Ireland. The most famous pub for live "trad"' performances is O'Donoghue's, a living room-sized venue that inspired the Dubliners and Chieftains in the 1960s. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
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