Galway tourism volunteers bring thousands back to their roots

The Finnegan family - from both sides of the Atlantic - gather at the old family homestead in Williamstown, an event made possible through the offices of Ireland Reaching Out.

A Galway-based volunteer service is adding significant numbers to Ireland’s tourism figures – and creating the memories of a lifetime for thousands of the descendants of Irish ex-pats in the process.

Ireland Reaching Out – the programme pioneered in South-East Galway in 2011 before going national – directly hosted a record 277 returning Diaspora groups in 2017, and it is set for an even busier year ahead.

But volunteers at the Loughrea-based service have also helped thousands more to trace their Irish ancestry, to steer them in the direction of their roots.

Over 50,000 people, for example, visit the website every month.

And that has contributed in no small way to the growth in visitor figures for the Irish Diaspora returning to Ireland to find their place of origin.

According to Ireland XO founder and chairman Mike Feerick, there has been significant growth in numbers from the US, UK and Australia – all coming here to trace their Irish roots.

“The 277 groups are the groups we have direct contact with, but we know there are many other connections happening as a result of our volunteer efforts across Ireland, north and south,” he said.

“Ireland XO activity is bringing millions of euro into local Irish communities, but there is so much more room for the programme to be expanded,” he added.

The Ireland XO “Meet & Greets” involve local members meeting with visiting Diaspora who have travelled to Ireland to learn more about their ancestral place of origin.

They bring the returning families to the house, farm and townland from where their ancestors departed. The service is entirely voluntary and free.

Leo Finnegan, a member of Ireland Reaching Out from Williamstown, recently welcomed a long-lost family of name-sake Finnegans from California, back to the original family homestead.

“It was a very special day for those returning. Hugely emotional. A day they will remember for the rest of their lives – but also, it was a great pleasure to bring them our townland and parish too,” he said.

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.