WHILE the Irish community in Scotland may have been physically disconnected from those in Ireland, one boost from the lockdown and global restrictions has been revealed by Ireland Reaching Out, an emigrant-focused community charity.
The organisation has reported an increase of 100 per cent in the use of the online sessions on their website, while membership has also dramatically increased along with the creation of ancestor profiles on their website.
Reaching Out Ireland aims to put those of Irish heritage in touch with community based organisations in their family’s place of origin, building fresh relationships from the family links which exist and fostering a sense of community and understanding.
The platform boasts over 100,000 members around the world and has over 10,000 individual profiles, known as Chronicles, which provide details of individuals, locations or events in Irish history. Now, with a surge in interest, those involved in the programme are hopeful that not only can Irish people around the world connect with the people and places in their families’ stories, but that a real boost can be given to Ireland in the months and years which follow Covid-19 through tourist activity related to their work.
Identifying four strands which may be behind the rise in interest, Reaching Out Ireland believe that more time to explore such activities during lockdown and increased computer literacy among older people have combined with the increased desire to feel connected during isolation and clear-outs happening in homes around the world to drive users to their platform.
“These diaspora connections with local communities could be a real benefit to the country as we try to kickstart our tourism industry,” Laura Colleran, Ireland Reaching Out Programme Manager said. “It is important that we now focus on developing and deepening these direct relationships, which will be so important when the country opens up to tourism once again.
“We believe that the sense of family connection through spending more time with family was heightened during Covid-19. It made people think about their roots. Most people have a drive to gain a sense of connection and to deeper understand their own personal identity and Covid-19 might have been a catalyst for that.”
Given the restrictions placed on international travel, such heritage based travel has been impossible, but should those in Scotland who uncover family links with Ireland wish to make their own journey of discovery there has been some good news from travel providers —with Stena among those who have unveiled new arrangements for customers.
With fresh hygiene procedures on Irish Sea routes, including fogging machines to disinfect communal areas, mandatory face masks, fresh air circulated throughout the cabin and social distancing measures throughout, the fight to maintain safe travel links between Scotland and Ireland has allowed trips to be planned once again.
“Ferry travel is the only mode of transport where you can social distance, so it is no surprise that we are now seeing an increase in bookings due to the expected reduction in lockdown restrictions,” Stena Line’s CEO Niclas Mårtensson said. “In advance of the return of international travel we now feel the time is right to tell people about our new anti-Covid-19 measures and reassure them that ferries provide the safest mode of transport for travel passengers and freight drivers. The safety of our passengers and crew is always a top priority for Stena Line.
“By providing the ability to social distance the whole journey, our big, bright and spacious ferries have plenty of fresh sea air, both inside and out, and offer the safest way to travel for people who want to take a break after the long lockdown.”
There will be much relief among the Irish in Scotland, who can now begin to look to the time beyond restrictions when the familiar journey home can start once again.