How to Throw a Killer International Family Reunion
Updated: Aug 4
My father's mother has always been something of a legend in my life. She died when I was about two years old, and I have no memory of her. What I do know about her is that my grandfather used to take over the shuffleboard table at the bar so that she could dance on top of it. I know that she once held my grandfather by his ankles out of a second story window after he came home drunk and wouldn't bring him back in until he promised never to come home drunk again. She had eight children; seven made it through infancy. Legend has it that she was one of the most caring, joyful, and bighearted people ever to have graced the Earth. Legend also has it that she was a total badass.
I also know that she used to say if we ever traveled to County Cork in Ireland and met someone with the last name Busteed, they were certainly part of our family. I had the amazing good fortune to test out this part of the Legend of Grandma in June. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, about 100 descendants of Old John Busteed came from the USA, Canada, England, Australia, and Ireland to gather in our ancestral home of Kinsale for a big party. Grandma was right - all the Busteeds in the world are 10th cousins or less. It turns out that being a caring, joyful, bighearted badass is a family trait.
The reunion was planned by the incredible Orla Busteed - she's a civil engineer, professional harpist, and amateur genealogist. She did an incredible job bringing the family together and programming a weekend of events. Do you want to organize your own international family reunion? You probably should, if only so that you can tell your colleagues, "You know, I hate to miss work, but the last time we all got together was before we left for the new world some time in the 1860s." You'll sound like a total dickhead and it will feel so good. It's not all genealogy and Facebook stalking, though. There is a lot that goes into creating a party as fantastic as Orla's. Here are Queer Martha's tips for planning a killer international family reunion:
1.) Many branches of the family tree will show up at your killer family reunion. Try to identify the different branches and give out name tags with the branch names. Here you see the Inchigeelagh Clan - we lived in Inchigeelagh, Cork before heading to Scranton, PA.
It is important that your clan accidentally dresses in a harmonious color palate. Do not underestimate the power of Pantone at your family reunion. Fuchsia, sage, and shades of grey is a solid choice.
2.) Wherever you end up having the reunion, make sure that there is a cheeky photo op. Is this sailor statue stroking his rope? Yes, he is, and Aunt Therese is helping him. Cheeky.
3.) Find your ancestral home. Take a tour. Bonus points if your ancestral home doubles as ruin porn. More bonus points if halfway through the tour of your ancestral home you learn that your ancestors bought the land when the castle was already in ruins and ended up living in a small farmhouse around the back for 300 years.
Our ancestral home is called Mountlong Estate in Oysterhaven. It's still a working farm (as it was when our family lived there), and the family that owns it now was generous enough to let us all visit it.
Orla says the giant crack has been in the tower for at least 20 years, but it is getting worse.
This made us feel better about buying a house in Philadelphia with an electric box from 1977, you know?
4.) Make a coat of arms. No, really, you need to do this. You don't have "legal authority?" Who cares! Flip 'em your "eagle rising proper" and put your coat of arms on everything you own (which, yes, I will be doing now).
5.) In order to commemorate the really incredible thing that you and your extended family are doing, get a commemorative stone laid at the local community center. Listen, it's sort of a big deal to get every back home after centuries of being apart. Let's not forget that it happened.
6.) Host a fancy-pants dinner gala. Make a special menu just for your reunion. Look around halfway through dinner and think to yourself, "Holy cow. This is happening. Look at all these people whom I never knew whom I now know are a part of me." Keep drinking during the gala and this feeling will just keep growing and growing .
7.) During the dinner gala, bring out traditional entertainment that highlights your cultural heritage. When the dancers came out, I thought to myself, "Oh, this is a funny thing that the Irish family members are doing for us foreign family members because they they want to satiate our idea of what Ireland is," but then our waitress, Norma, came over to us and said, "Aren't they fantastic? I was never very good at step dancing. I hoped my daughter would be, but she didn't show much interest after her first year of classes." I asked her, "Is it normal to take step dancing classes?" And Norma said, "Oh, yes, every little girls gets signed up." Apparently this is not a stereotype! If there are any Irish readers out there, please confirm.
In any case, the dancers invited us to dance with them during certain songs, and my partner, the dancer with the short blond hair in this photo, told me her name was Meraid: "Mermaid without the second 'm,'" which I think means she is actually a mermaid, right? I danced with a mermaid, guys.
8.) Hold a religious service in your ancestral place of worship. There is something really special about being in a place where your family has been getting married for centuries.
We did, however, find out that the bulk of our extended family is Church of Ireland. We had no idea! The Inchigeelagh Clan is Catholic! Grandma would be so shocked.... You see, there is so much to learn at an international family reunion.
9.) After the religious service, have a tea and biscuit reception in a graveyard.
Make sure the children are passing out the cookies. I don't know why this is necessary, but you really need to have children passing out the cookies. Especially if they have cute accents.
10.) Do not forget to organize a boat tour. There should definitely be a boat tour. Everyone loves boats. Everyone looks good on boats. "But my family is from the steppe of Russia," you say. I hear you, but you are just going to have to make it work.
I learned that William Penn worked at this fort before heading off to start Pennsylvania. International family reunions: freaking fonts of new knowledge.
11.) Organize a graveyard tour where your ancestors are buried. Do not participate in grave digging. I can't believe Cork County had to create this sign. Also, do you think people grow up wanting "approved grave digger" as their career? I am fascinated.
Graveyard tours are especially recommended if your ancestors are buried outside of abandoned churches perched on hilly meadows overlooking the sea.
Definitely try to integrate fun and controversial stories into your graveyard tour. Below, we are standing outside the walls of the church's cemetery in order to see the grave of an ancestor. Why he was buried outside the walls of the churchyard remains a question that divides Busteeds of good faith from Busteeds of bad faith. Was the road next to the church moved, thus making a grave initially within the church walls merely appear to be sitting outside, or did our poor ancestor commit suicide and thus lose his right to be buried within the walls? Controversies like these will help inspire conversation at your family reunion, too.
12.) Visit all the prominent places named after your family members. In Ireland, "prominent places" translates to "pubs," and I am very proud to tell you that Rosie Busteed's establishment seemed like a topnotch place to grab a pint.
13.) Integrate some free time into the family reunion schedule. This is a photo of Rachel on the "Millennium Walk" in Minane Bridge. In the USA, a millennium walk would have LEDs and aluminum siding and a giant public art installations. I appreciated that in County Cork, a millennium walk is just a path through the forest. It's as if they are saying, "Let's keep celebrating nature and agriculture this millennium." I'm into that.
14.) In addition to celebrating your cultural heritage, highlight the talents of your family members. This Celtic harp ensemble included two family members: Orla and the lovely Clíodhna all the way on the left. By showing off family member's talents, you enable everyone to brag about their distant relatives when they return home.
15.) Don't shy away from hobnobbing with important people. You might be descended from a bunch of farmers who lived in a cottage behind the ruins of a castle, but your returning home is a special and awesome. Go big! Get your huge extended family invited to City Hall to meet the Lord Mayor, for example. Maybe the Lord Mayor will reference your ancestors who were Lord Mayors themselves in the 19th Century. Maybe he will thank you for their service. Maybe he will take a photo with your dad!
Fun fact about Cork City Hall - behind those red curtains in the photo below is a full bar with kegs of Murphy's at the ready. Cork City Council knows how to make politics fun.
16.) While you are celebrating where you come from, don't forget to be grateful for the place you ended up. Here is the Inchigeelagh Clan sitting in the Lord Mayor of Cork's chair with a copy of the Scranton Times-Tribune because, you know what, Cork is in our blood, but Scranton is in our hearts and hands and tongues (which is clear whenever I say I was born in "Scra-in"). A century from this family reunion in Ireland, our descendants might be converging in Northeast PA from around the world. They will head to a half-a-double house on Capouse Avenue and say, "Legend has it that Old Peggy Busteed once held her husband out the window by his ankles when he came home drunk and wouldn't let him back in unless he promised never to come home drunk again. She was such a badass."