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Homecoming Update, 22 December 2014

With AOH leaders from Maryland, Virginia and DC in Hoban’s of Washington DC. Pic by William Pribyl
Inspired by the great Irish American city of Detroit which has its own annual Homecoming and the uber-successful Irish Gathering of 2013, Belfast has created the go-to event for Irish Americans.
The Belfast Homecoming 2015 will allow Irish American leaders to come home to join in the conversation about building a better Belfast. No one did more to build the peace in Ireland than Irish America so it’s only fitting that they have an opportunity to see the inspiring changes which peace has wrought.
With Andrea Haughian of Invest NI in New York, an honorary chair of Belfast Homecoming 2015, in the residence of the Consul General of Ireland Barbara Jones. That's the Empire State Building photo-bombing us. Pic by Kevin McKiernan

With Andrea Haughian of Invest NI in New York, an honorary chair of Belfast Homecoming 2015, in the residence of the Consul General of Ireland Barbara Jones. That’s the Empire State Building photo-bombing us. Pic by Kevin McKiernan

The inaugural Belfast Homecoming took place in September of this year when the indomitable mayor of Boston Marty Walsh led 50 prominent member of the Irish Diaspora back to Belfast for three days of engagements, visits, discussions and debates about how best to build Belfast.

But for the second Homecoming from 23-26 September 2015, we have set our sights on hosting 150 leaders, the majority from Irish America.
And  after a swift run last week through New York, Philadelphia and DC, I am confident we will hit that target for that Irish America is in our corner and our many friends are keen to see Belfast continue its rise.
At a breakfast reception on Monday 15 December in the New York residence of the Consul General of Ireland Barbara Jones and her husband Oliver, we heard Shuan Kelly of KPMG and Kieran McLoughlin of the Ireland Funds speak powerfully about the new Belfast which they witnessed during the Global Ireland Funds convention in June past. Andrea Haughian of Invest NI and Alison Metcalfe of Tourism Ireland painted a picture of a city transformed in which tourism and the soaring Titanic Building is reconfiguring the city’s visitor proposition.
In Philadelphia for lunch that same day, Kevin Kent and Bill McLaughlin of the Irish American Business Chamber and Network told me the 2015 Homecoming will clash with the start of Pope Francis’ visit to the City of Brotherly Love. No competition  then! But we are confident, we can find a way to bring a strong delegation from the Chamber and Network which has a strong emphasis on life-sciences linkages.
In Washington DC on Monday evening, the Ancient Order of Hibernians pledged to send a 10-strong delegation from the Tri-State area of Maryland, Virginia and DC which would bring a special focus on small business, regeneration and social justice. Former AOH National President Ned McGinley told his fellow Hibernians that they would find a visit to Belfast fulfilling and upfliting.
The following morning in DC, Stewart — an attendee at the 2014 Homecoming — Bronagh and Chris of the Northern Ireland Bureau rolled out the red carpet for this Belfast visitor to regale an audience of Irish American influencers about our 2015 plans. There were many Belfast accents in the air as plans were made to boost the Homecoming numbers. One person who remains a firm advocate for the Homecoming is Andrew O’Brien, Special Representative on Global Partnerships for Secretary of State John Kerry and in a meeting in the State Department, he spelt out the benefits to the US of continuing to endorse the process of peace and change in North Ireland.
Before I left the States, I also had an opportunity to meet John Connorton, first Chair of the Friends of Belfast organisation in the nineties, and Christopher Cahill of the American-Irish Historical Society who wondered aloud if it were time to bring a band of Irish American writers and artists to Belfast.
The generosity and drive of Irish America remains the engine of the Homecoming and I am confident we will over coming months put together the biggest-ever delegation of friends of Belfast in the US to Béal Feirste. Next year in Belfast!
You can learn more about the Belfast Homecoming 2015 and download a special Homecoming brochure at www.aisling-events.com/Homecoming and keep up to date with the Homecoming preparations at twitter.com/newbelfast and Facebook.com/newbelfastMáirtín Ó Muilleoir is publisher of the Irish Echo and Host of the Belfast Homecoming.
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