by Enda Brady
RTÉ’S latest offering is a programme that will strike a chord with every single Irish family who have either lived abroad or have a loved one who has moved away. It’s called The Gathering: Homeward Bound and each week it features a well-known Irish person who goes back to their hometown to reconnect with friends and family and see what’s going on in their county over the 12 months of The Gathering Ireland 2013.
This week’s show featured Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin, the rugby player turned singer/songwriter whose talent and ability has won him a legion of fans. Born in Dublin, he grew up in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath and that is where he heads back to for this show. Standing 6′ 6″ and handsome, Breslin is a man who is ridiculously talented and he speaks his mind, so it’s easy to see why RTÉ wanted him for The Gathering.
His CV to date includes an economics degree from UCD, rugby glory for club and country, number one hits, supporting AC/DC at Slane, mentoring on The Voice of Ireland and co-producer of a gig in London with 19 Entertainment and the renowned Simon Fuller. “I felt it was a programme and movement that concentrates on the positive and optimistic side of all things Irish,” he says. “It has been a tough couple of years for our country and it has been hard to remain positive in such difficult times, so anything that promotes and celebrates the amazing attributes Ireland possesses should be promoted.”
Rugby has been a huge part of his life so it’s no surprise that he goes back to his sporting roots and visits Mullingar RFC, where he and his friends decide to challenge the town’s U-19s to a match in 2013 for their very own gathering. Niall played for Leinster before going on to tour Australia with Ireland’s U-21s, though he’s on record as saying that when a rugby player gets injured he ends up being treated “like a second-class citizen”. (Just as well he had his musical ability to fall back on then!)
Like every other town in Ireland, his beloved Mullingar has been battered by emigration recently, but from talking to local historian Ruth Illingworth, he learns all about what it was like in the 1950s, when the local train station was nicknamed ‘Lizzie’s Express’ because of the high volume of Westmeath people emigrating to Britain. “I get home quite a bit as a I gig at home,” he adds. “I feel very relaxed in Mullingar and of course it’s where my family live. I feel very lucky that although I don’t live in Ireland most of the time I get to see my family very regularly.”
Mullingar has big plans for 2013 and preparations are under way already for the biggest clan gathering in Ireland at the Festival of the Fires. “It’s good to see people trying to make a difference because for too long we have been playing blame games, which never seem to get anybody anywhere. We’re a creative and culturally rich country and no matter what happens economically this cultural capital can’t be taken away from us. We should celebrate it.”
The aim of The Gathering is to encourage Irish people around the world to make 2013 the year that they come back to their homeplace and make the effort to re-connect. ‘Bressie’ has made a special short film for RTÉ about the town of Mullingar and its people and what they mean to him, and how good it is to come back home. He adds: “I feel wherever you grow up is where your personality and character is defined — good, bad or indifferent. It’s where you learn to be the person you become and I loved growing up in Mullingar. They are great people and with a great attitude.”
The Gathering has plenty more in store with former rugby international Trevor Brennan going back to Leixlip, Irish dancer and choreographer Jean Butler returning to Westport, Aussie Rules and GAA star Tadhg Kennelly heading home to Listowel and actress Fionnula Flanagan revisiting her native Connemara.
Maybe one day RTÉ might ask me to go back to Enniscorthy!