Gallaghers Galore - Largest Clan Gathering in Recorded History by Patricia Gallagher Cuff
A Global Village of Gallaghers recently assembled in their native County Donegal. Their purpose was to surpass the Guinness Book’s World Record for the largest clan gathering in recorded history. Gallaghers, and Callaghers, Gollahers and Golloughers, no matter the spelling, they were one clan. Joining up with Ireland’s contingent after traveling from Australia, Africa, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and Brazil, they came in response to a challenge. The valiant issue of the High King of Ireland, Gallchobhair, would take on the Jones Clan of Wales, record setters in 2006 with a head count of 1,224. Could the Gallaghers keep up with the Joneses?
On a soggy September day in Letterkenny, the Gallagher Clan convened on the campus of the Institute of Technology. Tension mingled with good cheer as the participants became acquainted and queued to present their qualifications, a photo ID or a birth certificate for the “nee Gallaghers.” Officials stamped hands and Kittie Forde, the official Guinness adjudicator, clicked off the numbers. “It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that we’d win,” commented Adrian Gallagher, Event Coordinator, as he watched the tally of Gallaghers. “And it was a great feeling of relief and delight when we did.” At the 1,488th click of Kittie’s counter it was official. History was made and the Gallaghers held the Guinness Book of World’s Records™ designation as The Largest Same Name Gathering, ever.
But it wasn’t bragging rights that inspired history teacher, Tim Gallagher, to urge Adrian Gallagher into creating the assembly in 2007. Four hundred years before, in September 1607, eight Gallaghers left with the earls and began the diaspora that found Tim in America and Gallaghers worldwide. The aims of the organizers were to unite these Gallaghers, to build a family history resource, and to document the clan’s accomplishments through the ages.
Not surprisingly, Gallaghers who met that day were a friendly bunch It took no time before we chatted like the cousins we might be. There was the Laura Gerene Galliher, in town from Sitka, Alaska. Laura’s black hair and dark eyes spoke of her Aleutian Eskimo mother. Ian Gallagher, born in Lisburn, traveled to Ireland from Namibia, Africa, and came home to be reunited with his family and friends after 44 years away. Mary Ann Gallagher, a rugged senior, writes books on hiking in her Canadian countryside. And there was Elsie from Texas, whose last name was not Gallagher. But Elsie had come anyway. “I felt connected,” she explained. “I grew up in Pennsylvania. With so many Gallaghers around me, I felt there must be a relative there someplace.”
One of the most colorful of the Gallaghers present was Charley, the committee’s official historian and blacksmith by trade. With his long, slim frame, period white shirt and shoulder length hair, he was as dashing and brilliant in real life as his images on the posters. He can be seen on the Gallagher Clan website, using his sword in an “escape” from Dublin Castle, undeterred on his way to the Gallagher reunion.
So the week unfolded with a variety of activities, each one related in some way to the clan’s common heritage. One of the highlights was La Gaelach, a day to experience Irish language and traditions. Immersed in the Gaeltacht, we lunched at the Ostan Loch Altan Hotel in Gortahork, then drove to the Ionad Cois Locha Visitor Centre, in Dunlewey for exposure to the recreated life styles of our forebears, the shearing and spinning and, sewing and weaving which allowed them to survive, barely. We toured the beautiful lake in Poison Glen, , misnamed in a spelling error and had just enough time to shop for the gifts we’d take home from Donegal.
A native of the glen, Jane Crane, joined our table at dinner. She was a generous sized woman, with frizzy red hair and the look of a character from Dickens. She announced that she was a witch and pointed to three large ceramic pieces on display. She had created them as models of the “Little People” she spoke to regularly. Fortunately, her little friends had stayed at home that evening.Talent abounds in the Gaeltacht and it starts early. Later in an evening of Gaelic culture, a nine-year-old lad and his slightly older sister, sang songs in Irish to delight the heart and a line of girls danced so precisely as to rival Riverdance.
The week culminated with a trip to Rathmullen for the ceremonies involving the 400th Anniversary of the Flight of the Earls. Ireland’s president, Mary McAleese, spoke to the crowds on the windy waterfront reminding us that the earls’ flight, though ending Gaelic Ireland, resulted in the worldwide spread of Irish culture. On the horizon their ship laid waiting. Later in the day, on a boulder strewn shore at Portnamullen, pipes wailed as two large rowboats set out for that ship, carrying the “earls and their families” to their fate.
But not to be sad for long. The craic came back that evening at the Gala Ball in Letterkenny’s Radisson Hotel. Numbers and addresses were exchanged. We could continue the conversation and stay in touch by email email@example.com. We talked of the next reunion. Tim Gallagher is looking for volunteers to help organize the next clan gathering in Washington, DC, May 23-26, 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adrian Gallagher voiced his hopes to develop the clan’s structure. “ I’d like to set up a stronger organization. One with a central area to collect and conserve the heritage of the Gallaghers.” He envisions that heritage to come from national and international subsets of the Gallagher Clan resulting from the Donegal gathering.
And as for the record, it’s rumored that the O’Donnells are mobilizing. “Good luck to them,” says Adrian.