THE WELCOME flags are out in Mayo today as The Irish Post Gathering with Leeds Irish Health and Homes gets underway in Ballina.
After months of preparation the excited party arrived in the western county yesterday, ready for a week of activities and a civic reception with town dignitaries and businesspeople.
Among them Fionn MacCumhaill, Managing Director of the Castle Hotel Group, was ready and waiting to welcome the group – consisting of eight LIHH clients, accompanied by a selection of the charity’s staff and members of The Irish Post team.
“We are delighted to have The Irish Post and Leeds Irish Health and Homes here in Ballina for the week,” the hotelier, who has venues in Dublin, Scotland and Wales, told us.
“We’ve been looking forward to their arrival and are excited to show them the best of our area and the great Irish welcome they deserve,” he added.
The delegation are based at Mr MacCumhaill’s Ballina Manor Hotel as they explore the town which lies at the mouth of the River Moy and has an official friendship link to their home city of Leeds.
For many the trip will mark the first time they have been back to Ireland for many years, so it provides a perfect occasion on which to rekindle their memories of home.
Anne Hanrahan, whose late husband hailed from Co Clare, has been living in Leeds for 29 years and is looking forward to a ‘restful’ holiday, enjoying the sights of Ballina.
Sligo-native Noel Keaney has been in Leeds for 24 years and is excited to visit Ireland for the first time in many, to ‘see how home has changed’.
He added: “This holiday means a great deal for me, it’s been six years since I was last home and I wouldn’t have a trip at all if not for LIHH and the Irish Post.”
For retired Derry-native Delores Goodyear the holiday means ‘everything’, and offers a chance for a little respite. She told The Irish Post: “I do need a rest and this will be a very special one. My daughter had been poorly so I have been visiting her in hospital a lot and I am very tired.”
The event also provides a showcase for the best of the third sector organisations serving the most vulnerable Irish in Britain.
Leeds Irish Health and Homes has been serving the health, housing and social care needs of the Irish in the city, many of whom hailed from Co. Mayo, since 1996.
With a civic reception and a host of activities planned for the Leeds entourage upon arrival, it seems the people of the town of Ballina are as excited about the trip – which runs until Friday – as their visitors.
A reception at Ballina Civic Offices tomorrow will officially mark the Gathering event and the week of activities planned around it include an afternoon of salmon fishing with Irish Fisheries, guided walks provided by Sláinte Ireland Tours and a special lunch planned with the local Moy Valley Over 55 group.