Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bring Them Home

Kilcullen is kind of lost in the summertime. There's no focus, no point to aim for, and we drift. Pretty soon the summer is over and we haven't noticed anything special, except maybe that it rained again. But we don't have anything to look back on and say: 'That was good; let's do it again next year'.

OK, we have a couple of small points in summer. The Community Day run by the Lions, which this year was coincidental to the one-off of the FBD Milk Ras start. The contribution to National Heritage Week. There are summer camps of various kinds and interests, all for the younger people. There's nothing, though, that brings the community together in an effort to be a summer celebration of our community.

That community is a lot more than those like me who are generations in the village. A lot more than the many lovely new people who have come to live here in recent years. A lot more than the straggling shape of our town and its mish-mash of old and newer buildings.

It is also our memories. It is our photographs of old and more recent times. It is the mementos of times and people gone. And it is the prospect of our town's and our children's future here.

It is also, and we sometimes can forget this, the very many people in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world who have a tether of some kind to Kilcullen. Whether it be the descendants of those who emigrated back in the middle of the 20th century, or those who went away themselves more recently. For whatever reasons, economic, search for adventure, or romance. And who decided to stay wherever they ended up.

These last are our diaspora. Kilcullen's own abroad. Sure, the ease of modern travel and better economic circumstances have made it possible for them to visit back here occasionally, certainly much more so than the waves of emigrants who went forever in the hungrier times of our history. And through the miracle of the internet, with Skype and email and digital photography, it is much easier to stay close to our loved ones abroad even if the physical distance is great. In the almost five years since I set up the Kilcullen Diary I have become very aware of how much our Wild Geese want to keep in touch with what is happening back here in the Kilcullen 'mother ship'. Quite often to the point that they become aware of things that are going on back here more quickly than their parents or siblings still living in Kilcullen.

How many such Wild Geese, first, second, and even third generation, are there? God only knows. But there are many. Very many.

So here's my thought for a possible focus to our future summers. Perhaps beginning with 2010 if enough people think the idea has merit. Let's have a 'Bring Them Home' festival. An organised core event that could provide a fringe of other activities which would be sewn together as a rich quilt of experience, heritage, memories, entertainment, and even consideration of our future.

Many of our Kilcullenites living away who do come home on visits do so for direct family reasons, not because there is a community impetus. It doesn't mean that they don't enjoy the community while they are here, but that is secondary. And that's fair enough; family is, after all, the strongest binder.

But what if we gave them a reason to all come together over a particular time in the middle of our summer? Not alone would they be maintaining a tie with their families and the village community itself, but it would also be an oppportunity for many to renew ties with each other from their locations scattered around the world.

The specifics of such an initiative need to be teased out. But here's my tuppence worth of pointers.

I think a weekend would be too short, and too confining for travel and accommodation arrangements. Perhaps a looser three weeks, maybe the first three weeks of August? It wouldn't be necessary for those coming to be here for the three weeks, but any week or ten days within it could be enough.

The event should have many elements, so that at all times there are attractions for every interest. Because it is possible that there are as many interests as there are those from our town living away.

So, just to throw out a few. We have a rich and deep heritage, so there could be a number of tours and talks scattered throughout the three weeks that delve into our past and how it played into our present. This could include informal gatherings of people telling their own stories and memories, not just of Kilcullen itself, but of the places where Kilcullenites ended up.

We have much music and drama within us, and that could be easily worked into some pageantary that further weaves colour into the whole experience.

We have many sports facilities, with the Boxing Club and the GAA probably most in the memories of the older emigrants. Entertainments and episodes from these could likewise be integrated into the programme.

The pubs, of course, would be important parts of the whole event. More than just meeting places, they could in turn be locations for a number of the other elements of the festival.

Many of our Wild Geese have done well in their adopted home places. There is a resource pool out there that might be tapped to develop our home community in some way, economic, social, or cultural.

Perhaps a book of the event might be compiled, to become part of our modern history, the community, and a foundation stone for something that ideally could become an annual festival.

Some of the proceedings could be broadcast on the Internet, for the benefit of those who didn't make it home. Indeed, the internet could make it interactive for these, and they could take part in some of the events from wherever they live.

I needn't take it any further at this stage. There is an opportunity here which may be worth further discussion. So, I now open it to the floor, so to speak.

The idea could die. Don't let it go, though, without discussion.