When Sgt. Robert Harper was posted to Kilkenny in the early 1800’s, he hardly imagined that just shy of 200 years later, 170 plus of his descendants from 9 different countries would gather virtually for a family reunion!
The Harper family had been planning their 5th reunion in Kilkenny College from 16th -19th April, but due to the corona pandemic, the reunion had to be postponed. Our last reunion in 2013, part of The Gathering celebration, saw 274 people gather from 11 different countries. Since then there has been 21 marriages and 45 births, and sadly the loss of 10 family members.
Not to be out done by the corona virus, We organised this virtual reunion on Zoom to mark the weekend it was to take place on. Three meet-ups on Saturday and one on Sunday afternoon were scheduled to accommodate as many time zones as possible.
When those in Ireland had a morning cuppa in their hand, and the Australian cousins were having supper, we started with an opening welcome and some breakout chat rooms. Some conversations begin with “Auntie Helen, your mike is still on” or “How come we can’t see Emma in Lisbon?”. Echoes of Eurovision where heard too, “Sweden, are you ready?”.
As North America started to wake, they joined us in the afternoon for our Family tree talk by Gordon Harper (Ireland) and David Harper (Canada). Followed by breakout rooms discussing A.I., health and healing, farming, family history, and chat and banter. It was wonderful to hear from our oldest member, Uncle Sam, who will be 100 years old in October. Normally not one to embrace the stage, Zoom provided the perfect means for him to share his words of wisdom to an eager audience. The good news of the birth of the youngest member, Zeph Robert Harper born on Friday 17thApril 2020 in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Enabled us to congratulate the proud parents Graham and Cathriona Harper, and big brother Reuben.
Later that evening, as our family in Maui were starting their day, Norwegian cousins dazzled our screens with their dance moves for the evening talent show. Among the performers that evening was 9 year old Yasmine Harper in Sheffield (UK), who played her violin and brother Luke (13) on the piano. Art was displayed by Ellie and Lauren Harper in Kilkenny (Ireland) and some of Ben Harper’s work with Giant Animation was viewed from their show reel. The moon, stars and galaxies over head in Co. Clare where captured by David Wades’ photography skills, and brought to us by screen sharing.
That evening the Harper family cook book was revealed by Nigel Smyth (www.wolfandbear.co). The goal of this book was to help our extended family preserve and enjoy the amazing food we have all come to love as a family. The book is filled with wonderful stories, pictures, and delicious time-tested recipes that will serve as a family legacy to be cherished for generations.
Sunday afternoon was a collaborative experience as the wide breath of Christian expression within the family came together on Zoom. Live and recorded music came from families in Kilkenny and London. Recorded and animated media gave the kids and teens something to enjoy. The elders in the family shared from their years of faith, which was deeply encouraging in this time of separation and uncertainty. Communion was celebrated by Rev. Paul Taylor and prayers spoken by people of different generations and destinations.
Over the weekend the events on Zoom were recorded for posterity by the hosts. The closing task fell on Alister Shaw to organise the whole group and capture them in multiple screen shots. Family members were called in from other rooms, Zoom names changed from iPhone/iPad to reflect the person’s name and finally the challenge of getting toddlers to sit still while this was all happening.