We love to celebrate the big occasions in the lives of those that matter to us. Whether it’s a 21st or a 60th birthday; we gather, we celebrate, we party. But do we need to wait for a milestone? Why do we wait to celebrate? Being together should in itself be a reason to celebrate.

I recently spent a day at a gathering where we came together to spend time with my Uncle Gerry. I call him my favourite uncle - though Mom only had one brother! He was visiting Ireland with his daughter, Louise, from Wales and his being here was enough to gather the family for an afternoon of chat; sharing stories and old photographs. There was no cake, candles to be extinguished or balloons to decorate the room, but there was laughter, kids running around and a lovely atmosphere of being with family.

Coincidentally, my cousin Kieran, his wife Eleni and their daughter Erin were arriving in Ireland the day before the gathering for a holiday here. It was very special having them there, as Kieran’s parents both died in America during the COVID-19 pandemic, so no one was able to travel to be with them. It seemed so right that Mom’s family - her brother, nephew and niece - could now gather and have the craic.

There were cousins at the gathering who I haven’t seen since my mother’s funeral - and before that, at her 80th birthday. Mom had been looking forward to a big party for her 90th birthday, when these and other cousins would have been invited. She died shortly before her birthday and it struck me again, as it has done many times, that we come together for funerals - which is really important - but so is coming together for the living.

Back in 2013, we had a tourism initiative in Ireland called The Gathering. The idea was that we would all invite family living abroad to come home for a holiday. Now, while many felt this was a cynical move to increase visitor numbers, I love the idea that we can hold gatherings for reasons as simple as our holidays coinciding. We can all WhatsApp or Zoom relations in far flung lands, but there is nothing to beat being together. I spent time over the last few weeks bringing some of the aforementioned relations around the area. In fact, I reckon I have ‘frequent flyer’ miles around the Burren at this stage. But those chats in the car, over cups of tea and while getting blown away on the Cliffs of Moher are priceless. While a lot of it is reminiscing, there are also great chats about everything from politics to work, ambitions and even musical preferences. You can cover a lot of ground driving - and I don’t just mean mileage.

A gathering doesn’t have to be big or involve lots of planning. On this occasion, we choose a central hotel and sent out emails. We didn’t even organise a meal, as we felt that once people are seated it’s more difficult to move around and meet others aside from those at your table. By saying it was from 12:30 - 4pm, people came and went as it suited them and their commitments. Some had lunch, some a few drinks, but all had an opportunity to chat to each other and importantly to Uncle Gerry.

It really got me thinking about friends that I haven’t seen for ages.You know - the ones you WhatsApp every so often and the last message invariably says, “Oh we must get together soon.” We mean it at the time, but then life gets in the way and it goes on the, “I must do that some day” list. Who would you love to meet up with? Are there older relations you haven’t seen for years? I hope, as you finish reading, you’re thinking who you’d like to gather with. Let’s not wait for the big occasions. Let’s gather and celebrate now because we can.

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