Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

19 January, 2023

Statement by Eamonn McKee

Anglo-Irish Division 1986-89

I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in October 1986 and was assigned to the Political Section of Anglo-Irish Division. The Division had increased its staff numbers to implement the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, notably:

The establishment of the Secretariat of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) at Palace Barracks, Belfast. The Secretariat serviced the regular meetings of the Conference and was manned 24-7 by Irish and British officials and staff members.

An expanded team of travelers based out of Iveagh House with specific areas of responsibility derived from the objectives of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Their reports were vital to the briefings and discussions at the Secretariat and the summit meetings of the BIIGC.

  1. The weekly pattern in the Division entailed the dispatch of travelers early in the week to meet with contacts and to report back. Their reports were compiled on Friday morning along with other reports of contacts and meetings from the embassies in London, Washington, and elsewhere into the weekly brief, known as the ‘Box.’ The Box was copied and circulated to the Government and senior officials on Friday afternoon. That day also saw the return of the team from the Secretariat and the departure of the weekend team to Belfast, under high security.
  1. The background of the Ulster Says No campaign led by the DUP, loyalist protests outside the Secretariat, ongoing paramilitary violence, and allegations of security force collusion and human rights abuses created a sense of purpose and consequence in the Division. Writing speeches and briefing notes, responding to a high level of PQs, attending meetings with official counterparts, NGOs, and groups and party representatives from NI, and responding to acts of violence generated a very full work programme. The SDLP, notably John Hume and Seamus Mallon, were frequent visitors to Dublin. SDLP representatives across Northern Ireland were essential sources of advice and guidance.
  2. As a junior officer, I supported the work of the political traveller, Liam Canniffe. Liam and I worked with members of the SDLP, notably Alastair McDonnell, to develop the Disadvantaged Areas Programme to help direct funds from the International Fund for Ireland to areas most affected by the conflict.
  3. The Department of Foreign Affairs conducted a human resource strategy that ensured that officers who were assigned to Anglo-Irish Division were rotated to related postings (Embassy London and Missions in the United States) and back to the Division on return to HQ. This developed a cadre of officers who had in-depth knowledge of, as well as a range of contacts relating to, the key issues in the peace process. This was an important factor in the negotiations of the GFA and the long process of its implementation.
  4. Following the pattern established by the Department, I was posted as Vice-Consul General Boston in August 1989. I was then transferred to the Embassy Washington in January 1990.
    1990-1996
  5. I worked directly with the Political Director at the Embassy Washington, Brendan Scannell. Early tasks included countering Ancient Order of Hibernia critiques of the International Fund for Ireland, the establishment of a funding scheme for Irish emigrant groups in the US, and support for the passage of legislation creating the Morrison visa programme which solved the problem at that time of the undocumented Irish. The Embassy’s relationship with Senator Kennedy, the Speakers O’Neill and Foley, the Congressional Friends of Ireland and related staffers was particularly strong and productive on issues related to Northern Ireland but also on all other issues, from visas to agricultural regulations.
  6. Ambassador Dermot Gallagher had opened lines of communication with Bill Clinton and the Clinton-Gore campaign. At the request of Senator Kennedy’s office, which was providing advice to Clinton-Gore on foreign policy and policy in relation to Northern Ireland, I wrote the draft text for the Clinton-Gore letter on Northern Ireland. Clinton’s presidency transformed the role of the White House with regard to the peace process and gave the Embassy unparalleled access. Brendan Scannell played a key role in this, having developed key contacts from his time as Consulate General in Boston. The Saint Patrick’s Day receptions at the White House were invaluable opportunities for networking and validating the significance of the Peace Process.

Anglo-Irish Division 1996-1999

  1. I returned to Anglo-Irish Division at the request of its then Director, Sean Ó hUigínn, to act as the traveller for the Justice and Security Section. Sean had been the key architect, along with Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, of the Downing Street Declaration, one of the breakthrough documents of the peace process leading to the 1994 ceasefires. This breakthrough built on the courageous outreach of John Hume in the Hume-Adams talks. Issues on my desk included parades (the Government’s submission to the North Commission), Bloody Sunday (the Irish Government’s Assessment of the New Material), policing, administration of justice, use of lethal force by the security forces, and allegations of collusion. I worked closely with a number of key contacts, including Alex Attwood of the SDLP, Don Mullan, Martin O’Brien and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch, Brendan McAllister of Mediation Northern Ireland, Resident groups in Belfast, Garvaghy Road, Dunloy, journalists, solicitors, and republican contacts. I travelled extensively, more or less weekly, filing reports for the Box and regularly briefing the Secretariat on current issues and participating in meetings there with NIO officials. I acted as the lead official for the proximity talks on Drumcree 1997-1998. My opposite number was Jonathan Powell, Prime Minister Blair’s Chief of Staff.
  2. In the run-up to the negotiations for the GFA, the new Director of Anglo-Irish Division, Dermot Gallagher, formed the Talks Team. I was a member of that team with particular responsibility for policing, justice and security normalisation. Martin Mansergh worked on the new proposed text for Articles 2 and 3 and I sent him a paper recommending the addition of ‘entitlement’ to the ‘birth right.’ By the time I arrived at Castle Complex, draft text had been agreed to on the policing section of the GFA. I invited Seamus Mallon and Alex Attwood to review it, and they confirmed my concerns. Thereafter I was the lead official negotiating new text with the NIO team. The NIO were focused on policing, that which continued to be effective, whereas I was focused on a future policing service that in its composition and ethos reflected society. Both objectives were essential. This creative tension produced hard bargaining, but a very good outcome regarding the terms of reference for what would become the Patten Commission’s recommendations. I extracted some final concessions at our last negotiation session unaware that PM Blair had instructed his officials that all text be finalised with the exception of the language around the North-South bodies.
  3. Overall, the Patten Commission did an excellent job through extensive consultations and a comprehensive set of recommendations that adhered closely to the terms of reference. Patten himself made this clear on the publication of his report when some unionists expressed surprise at the outcome of the Commission’s work. The post-conflict transition in the security sector is one of the most difficult to achieve and sustain in any peace process. In the formation of the Patten Commission, I insisted on the inclusion of Professor Peter Lynch. I understand that he made a significant contribution that helped eliminate the use of plastic baton rounds. The PSNI is an outstanding example of a successful security sector reform process.
  4. I would like to pay tribute to Alex Attwood and Brian Barrington who helped steer the whole implementation of the Patten Recommendations and the establishment of the Policing Board with a forensic focus and determination. For example, Alex played a particularly crucial role in resolving the issue of the Policing Board’s access to sensitive material involving national security on matters relevant to the Authority and its credibility. As with the Finucane case, the SDLP were determined to ensure that allegations of state collusion in the use of lethal force could not and would not be outside the mechanisms for accountability that it endorsed.
  5. Another crucial factor in the success of the policing transformation was the creation of the Oversight Commission led by former New York police officer John Considine and the Office of the Police Ombudsman under Dame Nuala O’Loan. The Oversight Commission ensured that the recommendations of the Patten Commission were fully implemented and operational on the ground. This provided a vital assurance for the acceptance of the PSNI and the eventual decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

Consulate General New York, 1999-2001
I was assigned as Press Officer to the Consulate General in New York and returned to HQ in December 2001.

Anglo-Irish Division, 2002-2004
I was again assigned to Anglo-Irish, this time as head of the Justice and Security Section.

  1. During the negotiations of the GFA, I learned that it had been agreed that while policing would have a full independent commission, the justice system would be reviewed only. This reflected a strong belief in the NIO and among Unionists that the justice system had continued to operate throughout the conflict and did not require fundamental reform. However, the review process was not without its problems. When I returned in 2002, I learned from contacts that the Criminal Justice Act, which gave effect to the recommendations of the Review, fell short of requirements, notably on judicial appointments. In anticipation of another round of talks to advance the implement of the GFA and secure the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, I convened talks involving the SDLP, led by Alex Attwood, and Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Kelly, at the Wellington Park hotel to agree a common agenda for amendments to the Act. These proposed changes became part of the negotiations convened at Hillsborough in March 2003. These commitments, including to a new Act, were published in a Joint Declaration by the British and Irish Governments in April 2003.
  2. I was also involved in secret talks at Farmleigh with British security officials on security normalisation. This was the culmination of many years of talks about the pace of normalisation. For example, the Chief Constable regarded the Observation Towers in South Armagh as essential to the safety of his officers where locals detested them as unwarranted intrusions. They had continued in operation for many years after the signing of the GFA. Seamus Mallon with mordant humour regarded them as the bane of his life. The eventual dismantling of the Towers and other military installations were seen as tangible indications of the progress of the peace process.
  3. Arising from the Weston Park Agreement and the SDLP’s endorsement of the new policing arrangements, the British and Irish Governments agreed to appoint a judge of international standing to investigate allegations of collusion in six controversial cases, including the murder of Pat Finucane. The judge was to make a recommendation on whether any or all of these cases merited a public inquiry. There was considerable back and forth between Dublin and London as to the appointee7. I interviewed and recommended Judge Peter Cory of the Supreme Court of Canada. This was endorsed by the British Government. Judge Cory did an outstanding job with speed and great integrity. His recommendation for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane has yet to be implemented.

Irish Aid, UN Director, Director Conflict Resolution Unit, 2004-2009

In 2005 I was asked by the Secretary General Dermot Gallagher, acting at the request of the Minister, Dermot Ahern T.D., to establish a conflict resolution unit to share the lessons of the peace process. We launched a number of initiatives including a National Action Plan on UNSC 1325 Women, Peace and Security, and projects in East Timor, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In 2009 I was appointed as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

2013 to the present
In 2013 I was appointed Ambassador to Israel. In 2015 I returned to HQ as Director General for Trade. In 2020 I was appointed as Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and The Bahamas.

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland, Ottawa
15 January 2022

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The Good Friday Agreement Twenty-five years on: The Summer of 1998 and the Long Road to Peace

Travelers were officials working in Anglo-Irish Division who would weekly travel north to meet contacts, learn what was going on, report back and feed into intergovernmental discussions. Memory jog seeing my NI reports surface in the released state papers.[1] The parades issue was my beat as a traveler.  It pitched NI into new levels of heightened social tensions with dire potential.

Flashpoints combusted when Orange Lodges insisted on marching through nationalist areas. Places like the Lower Ormeau Road in south Belfast and the small village of Dunloy in the heart of Orange country in Antrim.  Drumcree in Armagh, the birthplace of Orangism, emerged as the leading battle of wills. 

Portadown Orange Lodge No. 1 held a traditional church service at Drumcree on the Sunday before the Twelfth of July, the annual celebration of King William of Orange’s victory over King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1691.  The traditional route took them along the Garvaghy Road, a nationalist housing estate on the edge of the predominantly loyalist Portadown. For the Twelfth, Portadown centre would be festooned with red, white and blue bunting, curb stones similarly painted, and triumphal arches erected across the street depicting King Billy astride a white horse.

Why now, with the ceasefires in place? As my contact and friend Brendan McAllister of Mediation Northern Ireland explained to me, the parades issue emerged after the paramilitary ceasefires as the new vehicle for the cross-community divisions that lay at the heart of the conflict.  The struggle between the paramilitaries and the security forces had acted as a default, a kind of lethal Punch and Judy show between ‘professionals’ on both sides, paramilitaries and the security forces.[2] 

The Orange Lodges insisted that they had the right to march ‘the Queen’s highways.’  Resident groups resisted this, saying they should not be locked in their homes with the security forces aiding a sectarian and triumphal demonstration. Each side saw in this a contest about their place in society, their rights, and the esteem of their identity.

The British Government appointed the North Commission to review parades and marches.  It reported that “The dispute in the summer of 1996 between the Loyal Orders and Nationalist residents groups, which required major intervention by the police under the public order legislation, brought Northern Ireland close to anarchy.”[3] Since the issue was on my desk, I drafted the Government’s response to the North Review.  It appeared from my research that while the right to assembly was a well-established one in many jurisdictions, there was no right to decide the route to that assembly.  Our submission argued that each parade dispute be subjected to arbitration based on the rule of law to adjudicate between those who insisted on marching and those who resisted such marches. The Director General, Sean Ó hUigínn, reviewed, honed and approved the draft. We traveled to meet the North Review to discuss the submission, Sean leading the delegation and responding to their questions with his eloquence and deep intellect. He left satisfied with the outcome. The North Review recommended the establishment of a Parades Commission operating under a new Public Processions (NI) Act 1998.[4] 

Tensions spilled over again in July 1997 as the Garvaghy Residents were cleared off their streets by the RUC on the night before the Orange parade. Riots broke out across the North.  The Minister, Ray Burke, called me to his office and instructed me to meet the residents. From the rise above Newry town, an eerie sight of plumes of black smoke rose across the North.

With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, the Drumcree march in July became a test case.  The newly established Parades Commission had ruled against the parade going via the Garvaghy Road. Loyalists and Orangemen gathered outside the church at Drumcree.  Nationalist supporters flooded into the Garvaghy Road.  The British Army dug a ditch and put up barbed wire in between both groups. There was something primal about the carnival of menace, jeering, fireworks and hatred from Drumcree hill. Everything seemed to be on the line: rights, law and order, the authority of the Parades Commission, the future.

In an attempt to head off the confrontation, ‘proximity talks’ were convened.  The Orange Order refused to meet directly with the Garvaghy Residents, seeing in this an admission that the Residents had a say in public order.  I was with them as the Government’s representative.  Their legal advisor was Rosemary Nelson from nearby Lurgan. I knew Rosemary from previous cases that we had raised through the Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Conference.  We talked a lot about the North in the longueurs of the proximity talks, about the tensions of living there, of the relief she felt whenever she crossed the border south. There wasn’t much for me to do but observe, check with contacts, make sure no untoward or unacceptable initiatives made matters worse, and keep Dublin closely informed. Under the leadership of the new DG of Anglo-Irish, Dermot Gallagher, senior officials in Dublin, Belfast and London were actively engaged and monitoring developments, advising the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as developments unfolded. I’m sure the lines between Ahern and Blair were busy. Up north, as a mediator trusted by all sides including leading churchmen on both sides, Brendan McAllister was trying his best to cajole a solution. My opposite number was Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff.  Jonathan too tried his best to negotiate a solution as he shuttled between Portadown Orange Lodge No 1 and the Garvaghy Road Residents. 

Then a horrific incident changed the atmosphere. Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, three young boys, died in a UVF firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney on July 12th. Widespread condemnation was immediate, including from some very courageous Protestant clergymen who spoke out from the pulpits.  A new consensus coalesced, enough was enough. Tensions eased, the Parades Commission’s decision was upheld. Garvaghy Road did not see an Orange Parade.

The Good Friday Agreement faced another dreadful test a month later.  On August 15th the Real IRA exploded a bomb in Omagh, killing 29 and including more than 200.  It was the worst incident of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, surpassed in lethality only by the Dublin Monaghan bombings in 1974 that killed 33 and injured more than 300. The consensus hardened that such murderous violence had to be consigned to the past, that the GFA was the future. 

In that summer of 1998, it was as if the Agreement, the shield of good intentions and high ambitions, made of words and ink, blessed by the people’s endorsement North and South, was being tested by the swords and dragons of Northern Ireland.  

Though Northern Ireland’s swordsmen and dragons died hard, the shield stood.  There would be other killings, for sure. In March 1999, Rosemary Nelson was killed when a bomb exploded under her car.  It was claimed by a loyalist group.  Yet peace had the upper hand and the inclination to use of violence ebbed.  Even the means to carry it out were tackled, led by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.  Canada’s General John de Chastelain played a key role in this along with its other members.  I had never been sure that decommissioning had been feasible.  In the wake of the GFA, a republican contact in Derry had thrown a live round across a table at me, said take it to Dublin and “tell them that’s the only f—king decommissioning they’re going to see.” It was a stubborn issue that took years to unlock but that too was achieved. As the new policing represented by the PSNI took hold, the prize of decommissioning all paramilitary weapons was finally won. The monopoly on the use of violence was returned to the state.

Twenty-five years on, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement reminds us of what we left behind: killing and hatred, a decent future frustrated by the claims of the past. Finding peace in Northern Ireland had been a long road: the Sunningdale Agreement 1973-74, the Haughey-Thatcher summits in the early 1980s, the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985, the Hume-Adams talks, the paramilitary ceases fires in 1994 and 1997, the GFA in 1998 and the twenty-nine subsequent agreements to implement it.  Through infinite hours of talks, meetings and negotiations, peace came dropping slow.

Great leaders emerged who took courageous decisions: Hume, Mallon, Haughey, Thatcher, FitzGerald, Spring, Major, Reynolds, Adams, McGuinness, Trimble, Robinson, Bruton, McAleese, Paisely (eventually) and Blair.  Countless others included the women of the Peace Movement like Mairead Corrigan and later leaders of the Women’s Coalition like Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar.  People working in NGOs and community groups at interfaces, risking vilification and physical violence to inch forward toleration.

Now the black swan of Brexit calls again for leadership of a very high order, provided on the Irish side by a new political generation. Like generations of peace makers of all kinds, as officials we were sustained by a ‘duty of hope’, committed to the process, always working toward a better future.  Here’s to more progress in 2023.

Eamonn

Ottawa

1 January 2023


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/pithy-and-precise-the-post-it-notes-from-bruton-s-era-1.4765531

[2] Security forces as a term covers many organizations, including RUC, its Special Branch which was regarded as a force within a force, the British Army and a host of covert intelligence agencies, including MI5 and the British Army’s Force Research Unit.

[3] https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/issues/parade/docs/north97sum.pdf

[4] http://www.paradescommission.org/

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Bloody Sunday: When and Why Apologies Work

Interesting to read about British discussions in 1997 about an apology for Bloody Sunday.  Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam wanted a review but only one such that “no soldier or other crown servant should be placed in jeopardy of legal action by whatever the reviewer might find or by what might flow from his findings”.  

As the Irish Times reports, “the restricted files released in Belfast show there was considerable debate within the UK government during 1997 over whether a fresh inquiry was necessary, or if a more limited review and apology might suffice.”[1]  The Defence Secretary, George Robertson, was concerned either that a review without legal consequence could not be guaranteed since a decision to prosecute lay with the AG, or that such a review would be of little interest to the Bloody Sunday relatives.  “A heartfelt apology should, in my view, be the Government’s last word on the subject.”

Here’s why an apology would not have worked in 1997 but was appropriate and fitting in 2010.

An apology in 1997 would have been an attempt to head off the pressure for a new inquiry into the 1972 killing of 14 people in Derry by the British Army (the Paras).  Pressure to revisit the killings increased dramatically with Don Mullan’s Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. With forensic skill and detective work, Don worked through the contemporaneous statements ignored by Widgery.  Over 500 statements had been collected by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the National Council for Civil Liberties.[2] His account directly challenged the official British version contained in the report of the Widgery Inquiry.

Widgery, the Lord Chief Justice of Britain, had conducted a public inquiry under the gold-standard Tribunal of Inquiries Act 1921.  With undue haste, it took him only a month.  Yet his conclusions echoed through the years.  In exonerating the soldiers and blaming the victims with false accusations that they were armed, Widgery became synonymous in Ireland with a white wash. The Widgery Report was dismissed, including by the Irish Government.

The events of Bloody Sunday and the Widgery Report exacerbated the conflict, strengthened the Provisional IRA, cast the British Army into the role of aggressor, and robbed nationalists of any belief that the rule of law or justice was available to them under British rule. 

Yet however much nationalists would denigrate the Widgery Report, it was the official British version of events by the Lord Chief Justice, the officer at the very apex of the British legal system.  This is what the long campaign of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign was up against. If there was ever to be a new inquiry, the Widgery Report would have to be set aside. By 1997 the case against Widgery was reaching a climax.

The publication of Mullan’s Eyewitness Bloody Sunday prompted renewed calls for another inquiry and the campaign of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign got a fresh impetus. In addition to Don’s work, others like Professor Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick had analysed the statements by soldiers to the Military Police and Treasury Solicitors, detailing their many discrepancies and alterations.  New ballistic evidence emerged, reinforcing the questions raised back in 1972 by Samuel Dash. Channel Four News broadcast new interviews with soldiers on duty that day that challenged the Widgery version of events. We discovered 101 statements by eyewitnesses collected by Irish Government officials.  Investigative reporting by the Sunday Business Post added to the growing body of evidence that the Widgery was indeed a white wash, at the very least an incomplete and distorted account of events. 

Parliamentary Questions were tabled in the Dáil.  In drafting responses, I suggested and the Department of the Taoiseach (Paul McGarry) agreed, that the ‘new material’ presented by Don Mullan would be assessed.  Initially I had no idea how to do this.  A colleague and friend, Gerry Corr, was intrigued.  “You are summoning beasts from the deep” he said, “What will you do if they come?” (Gerry became a life-long friend with a highly distinguished diplomatic career and one of the Department’s great speech writers. He had worked as a traveler in Anglo-Irish Division during some of the worst years of the conflict.)

So I went back to the source and read the Widgery Report.  It was a rich repository of material about the events of that infamous day.  It was plain to see where Widgery had to distort the narrative to validate pre-determined conclusions.  The rationale for ignoring eyewitness statements that conflicted with Widgery’s mission to exculpate of the soldiers was clear. The new material from all its various sources did not need to be proven factually or legally correct. Rather it could be collated and aimed directly at Widgery’s claims, paragraph by paragraph.  The Widgery Report could be hoist on its own petard. The draft Assessment was finished with great editorial and research support from colleagues in Anglo-Irish Division, and Gerry Cribben and Wally Kirwan in the Department of the Taoiseach.

However to my mind, the real test of the Assessment’s merit was the judgement of the Director General of Anglo-Irish Division at the time, Sean Ó hUigínn.  Sean played a pivotal role in the peace process, a supreme intellect at work navigating the way forward in the crucial transition from conflict to ceasefires.  He had been the architect of the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, working closely with the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, another driving force in the peace process. After Sean had read the draft, I was summoned to his office.  He was leafing through the document and lay it on the coffee table as I sat down. As long as there were no glaring errors in it, he approved text.  Relief. In his view, the new material fatally undermined and discredited the Widgery Report. More than that, Sean subsequently added concluding paragraphs that resounded with the high principles of justice at stake.  His indictment was eloquent and excoriating: 

“There have been many atrocities in Northern Ireland since Bloody Sunday.  Other innocent victims have suffered grievously at various hands. The victims of Bloody Sunday met their fate at the hands of those whose duty it was to respect as well as to uphold the rule of law.  However, what sets this case apart from other tragedies which might rival it in bloodshed, is not the identity of those killing and killed, or even the horrendous circumstances of the day.  It is rather that the victims of Bloody Sunday suffered a second injustice, this time at the hands of Lord Widgery, the pivotal trustee of the rule of law, who  sought to taint them with responsibility for their own deaths in order to exonerate, even at great moral cost, those he found it inexpedient to blame.”[3]

Under Sean’s seal of approval, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern conveyed the Assessment to the newly elected British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.  I understand that he underlined in the strongest possible terms the import of how Blair would respond and of the significance of overturning the historic wrong of Bloody Sunday.  Blair could have little doubt that such a powerful gesture would reinforce the momentum toward peace and reconciliation.

The intention was to publish the Assessment eventually so that even if the British Government refused a new inquiry, the Irish Government would table in effect an alternative narrative. It was a great example of the collective talent and teamwork that the Irish system was able to bring to the peace process.

Legend has it that Blair gave the Assessment to his wife Cherie to read with her legal eye.  She had just taken silk, become a Queen’s Counsel.  I like to think that that might be true. Imagine the scene as, possibly armed with a legal pad of her notes, she tells Tony that he can’t stand over Widgery.

It was quite a moment then in January 1998 as, across the floor of the House of Commons, Blair faced Ted Heath, the Prime Minister who had established the Widgery Inquiry over twenty-five years earlier.  Blair announced a new inquiry: “I have been strongly advised that there are indeed grounds for such a further Inquiry. We believe that the weight of material now available is such that these events require re-examination.”

The Inquiry would take twelve years and cost £200 million. Yet in that brave decision Blair sent a profound message that he meant business about a new form of engagement in Northern Ireland. 

Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology in 2010 was meaningful precisely because it was based on the conclusions of the Saville Inquiry. “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong……Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

An apology in 1997 would have done little to substantively correct the double injustice of the victims, murdered and then blamed for their own deaths.  Thanks to the Saville Inquiry, the victims of Bloody Sunday had their innocence not just declared but proven.  The wrongs of Bloody Sunday were laid at the door of the British Army. And through the long years of the Saville Inquiry, there was much truth recovery that in future years will be invaluable for future assessments of what happened that day and why.

Eamonn

Ottawa

31 December 2022


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/history/2022/12/31/bloody-sunday-mo-mowlams-draft-apology-on-soldiers-not-intending-murder-ruled-out/

[2] Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, 25th Anniversary edition, p 23.

[3] Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal, The Irish Government’s Assessment of the New Material, p

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Christmas Message 2022

Dear Friends,

This was very much a year of two halves. The grip of the pandemic loosened as we entered spring and by the summer life had really returned to normal in earnest. It was great to see the streets bustling again, restaurants opening up, and cities across Canada coming alive, and friends and families crossing the North Atlantic.

The pandemic showed that we can use online events to extend our reach. We hosted some great events to celebrate Irish Heritage Month and St Patrick’s Day. The chair of the Canada Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group, James Maloney MP and myself were honoured to be joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You can find it here if you missed it. We had great fun with discussions and celebrations of St Brigid’s Day, the Women behind James Joyce, readings from Ulysses for Bloomsday, as well as posting podcasts about a host of topics.

Since we were able to travel and assemble, we were able to enjoy a great St Patrick Day’s Parade in Toronto, pulled together with little advance notice but a lot of passion and energy.

Sadly, we learned the following day of the unexpected passing of our dear friend and colleague, the former Ambassador to Canada, Jim Kelly. It was shocking news for one so young to die and with so much more to offer. We miss him and continue to have Anne, Ciara and Orla in our thoughts at this time of year when the loss of loved ones is felt so keenly.

In terms of my colleagues working here, we said goodbye to Frank Flood who did such a great job establishing the new Consulate General in Vancouver. I was delighted to welcome Cathy Geagan as our second Consul General and she’s already doing a great job.  It was a thrill to finally establish a Consulate General in Toronto: Consul General Janice McGann and Deputy Consul General William Barrett are off to a flying start.

I want to thank all of our Honorary Consuls who do such a great job supporting us, aiding the community and promoting Ireland. Eithne Heffernan has passed the torch to Janice and I want to pay tribute to the amazing job she did with such grace as our Honorary Consul in Toronto over the years, notably through the years of the pandemic which proved difficult for so many. We deeply value the work and outreach of I/CAN as providing essential support and services to the Irish in Canada. Our great Honorary Consul in Alberta, Doodie Cahill, retired. Mary and I were able to join the Edmonton Irish Sports and Social Society there to say thanks to Doodie and enjoy the Club’s 60th anniversary. We also visited Calgary to catch up with our great Honorary Consul there, Deirdre Halferty. We met for a great evening with the Irish Cultural Society of ceol agus craic. It was a real pleasure too to get down to business with our Honorary Vice Consul, Laureen Regan who has been sterling work with her newly launched and dynamic Ireland Alberta Trade Association.

This has been an exciting year of discovery about the depth and strength of the Irish in Canada. The Irish in Canada have a lot of which to be very proud indeed. From Anglo-Irish administrators and Governor Generals to Catholic Church leaders, from hard working immigrants in the lumber industry, farms, and cities, to business barons, founding fathers, politicians, labour organisers, soldiers, explorers and writers, the list keeps growing. We want to spread the word that Ireland and the Irish should come to mind when you think of the westward expansion of Canada, the RCMP, Canadian botany, the Canadian Flag and a host of businesses from Labatt’s to Eaton’s and Richardson’s.

We’re really excited by the vision and ambitions of Robert Kearns of the Canada Ireland Foundation and look forward to partnering with them in promoting Irish heritage and contemporary Irish culture. The Cultural Centre that Robert, William Peat and their board are creating at the Corleck Building will be an enormous asset in a new era of Irish-Canadian relations.

We visited Newfoundland in May, a Province that is unimaginable without the decisive influence of the Irish and where Irish accents are so deep you think you’re home. We were part of a very moving ceremony at the Irish Famine Grave at Grosse Ȋle in July with thanks to Bryan O’Gallagher and Irish Heritage Quebec for keeping that hallowed space cherished and its memory alive.

We had the honour of our naval vessel the LE James Joyce visit Halifax Nova Scotia (whose founding father was Dublin man Richard Bulkeley), and still managed to have the on-board VIP reception despite the attentions of the uninvited guest that was hurricane Fiona!

Visits to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto were fabulous engagements with Irish societies proud of their heritage and vibrant with plans for the future.

We hosted Irish Night on Parliament Hill in November and if there was one event that summed up the spirit of the Irish in Canada it was this one. We had over four hundred guests, with great music, dancing, and short but passionate speeches. You can get a flavour of the evening here.

As a Resident of Ottawa, I have been particularly thrilled to discover the city’s Irish heritage. I am not surprised that this is news to me. I am surprised that it is news to so many. Thanks to local historian Michael McBane, we learned of the famine grave at Macdonald Gardens Park and held a ceremony of remembrance there in August.

From the Rideau Canal to the Irish heritage of Rideau Hall and the decisive role of the Ahearn family in the development of the city, we have much to be proud of here. The great Irish stained glass window by Wilhelmina Geddes was restored with Irish Government support, and was rededicated at a Remembrance Service led by the window’s champion Reverend Father David Clunie of St Bartholomew’s Church. We wish him well on his retirement.

Ottawa was created and developed by its large and extensive Irish community, which reaches deep into the Ottawa, Rideau, and Gatineau Valleys. We are looking forward to developing our Bytown-Ottawa Irish Heritage Trail. Irish Senator and genealogist Jillian Van Turnout and I shared great stories on our inaugural tour of the trail, taking us from the city up to the great Irish community at Low and Venosta in the Gatineau. Just let me say this, it will be a long heritage trail with many stops along the way!

We have been busy at the Residence too with music, readings, receptions and networking dinners. The pandemic was well and truly over when we hosted our Team Ireland Conference at the Residence in June, joined by the State Agencies and colleagues from Dublin. We were delighted to work in partnership with Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland to bring the great Irish chef JP McMahon over to cook with Indigenous Chefs at the Field to Feast Festival in Glengarry. At the Residence, he showed me how to cook halibut! Prof Joseph Valente gave a great talk about Bram Stoker’s Dracula at the Residence to an audience enlivened by many in costume!

We hosted two great events at the Residence with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA promoting bilateral economic links. We were a bit rusty after two-years of pandemic induced torpor. However, thanks to a magnificent effort by the team, led by the incomparably active Second Secretary Sally Bourne, and diligently supported in all things by my wife Mary (truly a hostess with the mostest!), we really had some splendid evenings. We look forward to doing more.

Finally, we organized a simple gesture of lighting a candle of remembrance at the grave of some three-hundred victims the Famine Irish at Macdonalds Gardens Park Ottawa at dusk on the Winter Solstice, 21 December.  We did this in association with the National Famine Museum at Strokestown House, Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto where candles were lit.  We are planning to do this again next year at the Winter Solstice and look forward to doing so at more locations where Irish Famine victims lie.

As metrics go, social media may not be the best but nor is it the worst. We recorded some 600,000 impressions over the year, reflecting the wide interest in our content and activities.

After a busy year in a world where the predictable has been replaced by the uncertain, Christmas is special time of year to take some time out, reflect on the past and remind ourselves that compassion, generosity and kindness are what truly enrich life. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, holiday season and New Year. 

Nollaig Shona Diaobh!

Eamonn

Ambassador of Ireland

Ottawa, 22 December 2022

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Lilias Ahearn Massey: The Utility of Glamour and the Value of Privacy

(The Bytown-Ottawa Heritage Trail: the Fabulous Ahearns concluded)

Lilias Evva Ahearn was born in 1918 into a family that had a local dynasty in Ottawa. Her father Frank had married Nora Lewis in 1909. Frank returned from the front in 1916, having been wounded.  As a war hero, scion of the business empire built by his father Thomas, and soon-to-be sports mogul, Frank was quite the man about town.  She was named after Frank’s mother who had tragically died giving birth to her aunt, also called Lilias. The family home was 7 Rideau Gate, a walk across the road from the gates to Rideau Hall, official residence of the GG.[1] 

Lilias would have learned from the outset of her life that attention was her due; from her doting parents, from the powerful people that visited them, and from the press.  As a young girl, she was often the prized flower girl at weddings of the local elite.  As she grew, her life was regularly reported in the press.  Gregarious by nature, a natural and witty hostess, Lilias learned to use to tools of glamour as an asset.  And then she had the wisdom to leave that behind, to discover the value of privacy.  

The Ahearn family were no mere spectators to the comings and goings of the Governor Generals that passed their door on their way to their official residence at Rideau Hall.  Her grandfather Thomas was a confidante of Prime Minister MacKenzie King and later a member of the Privy Council.  Her father Frank was a busy man in a city that the family had done so much to modernize and develop.  Lilias grew up in an atmosphere of politics and glamour within the small resident elite of Ottawa.  Family lore was rich, reaching back to John Ahearn, her great-grandfather and the Irish-born blacksmith who had come to what was then the rough lumber Bytown in the late 1840s or early 1850s.

In her perceptive view, the historian Charlotte Gray wrote that the Ahearns were Ottawa ‘lifers’, not like the ‘self-important comings and goings of the Dominion capital’.  The Ahearns and their Ottawa friends took access to the GG’s Residence as a right, not a privilege, she notes.  When she was 18, Lilias the debutante was presented at Rideau Hall:

“They [the lifers] included the Southams, the Sherwoods, the Scotts, the Keefers – and the Ahearns.  Thomas Ahearn, known as the King of Electricity because he brought electric street cars to Ottawa, was Lilias’ paternal grandfather.  Lilias Ahearn was born in the family cottage at Thirty One Mile Lake, a grew up with both the assurance of a rich man’s daughter, and the insecurity produced by Establishment Expectations.”[2]

The first years of Lilias’ life were momentous.  Canadians had just come through the trauma and victory of Vimy Ridge in 1917, a decisive episode in the formation of Canadian identity.  The Winnipeg General Strike put government on notice that Canada had to provide decent lives for all its citizens. The year she was born saw women granted the vote. This, combined with social change and the impact of technology, gave Lilias a degree of freedom and autonomy that generations of Ahearn women could not have dreamed.

Other reliefs to the slavish lives of women were coming on stream. Like her mother Nora, Lilias would have servants in the house, a dramatically different lifestyle to that of her grandmother, and even more so that of her great-grandmother. At any rate, the harnessing of electricity for domestic appliances achieved by her grandfather would transform households. He had invented the electric oven but others would apply the technology to a host of other functions, including fridges, irons and above all the washing machine, the greatest liberation from drudgery since the invention of clothes.

As a toddler, Lilias would have been known to Lord Byng (GG 1921-26), who had been the Commander of the Canadian Army Corps at Vimy and a Canadian hero.  Byng was an avid sportsman and loved the Ottawa Senators so much that he rarely missed a game.  That the Senators were owned by her father reinforced the social ties. However, the Byng-King crisis must have strained relations.  It was a complicated tussle between Prime Minister MacKenzie King and the Governor General about the dissolution of parliament.  As the crisis roiled, Frank and his father Thomas no doubt supported their friend, the Prime Minister. The outcome saw a significant evolution in the role of the Governor General.  At the Prime Minister’s insistence, the Governor General from then onwards represented the British monarch only, not additionally the British Government.

As Lilias matured into a young girl, Viscount Willingdon arrived at Rideau Hall in 1926.  This was also a momentous year as the Imperial Conference degreed that all Dominions within the Commonwealth were members equal in status to Britain.  The Governor General henceforth represented the crown but acted on the advice of the Canadian Government.

Society was changing fast, driven by the upheavals of war and the speed of technological development. Willingdon was the first Governor General to travel by air, flying return to Montreal.[3]  Telecommunications technology had fascinated her grandfather as a boy and propelled him into fame as an inventor and wealth as a businessman.  Telecommunications were was developing apace.  Grandfather Thomas was the technical expert for the first official transatlantic phone call made a Canadian Prime Minister in 1927.  “The same year he was appointed the chairman of the broadcasting committee for the diamond jubilee [60th] of confederation and oversaw the earliest coast-to-coast radio broadcast.” [4]  Thanks to his expertise, the celebrations were broadcast on radio, including the first ringing of the new carillon at Parliament’s Victoria [now Peace] Tower. A year later her granddad was appointed to the Privy Council.

By 1932, Canada had its first trans-Canadian phone system, thanks in large part to Thomas Ahearn.  The Governor General by then was the Anglo-Irish Earl of Bessborough who inaugurated the system from his study in Rideau Hall with calls to all his Lieutenant Governors.

When World War II erupted, Lilias joined the Red Cross and was part of the Royal Canadian Airforce. She met and fell in love with Flying Officer Douglas Byrd Van Buskirk from New York. As reported in the press, on 9 November 1941, Lilias learned that her husband was missing in action.  Then she received the fateful telegram from London that he had been killed in an air raid over Germany. It had been a massive formation flying in bad weather.  It took severe casualties with 37 bombers and 15 fighters failing to return.  Buskirk and his crew were buried in Dusseldorf, according to the German authorities. Lilias had just enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She then joined the Canadian Red Cross in England as an ambulance driver, the press reported.[5]

Charlotte Gray again: “Then she reverted to type and married into the closet thing that Canada could offer as an aristocracy: the immensely rich Massey family.”  The splashy wedding in 1946 certainly lit up dreary post-war Ottawa.  Lilias had a blast and her wedding photo with her handsome husband Lionel and five bridesmaids shows it.

Lionel Massy himself had by this stage an interesting career.  He had served as Press Attaché for the British Commonwealth Relations Conference in Australia in 1938 which might have started a diplomat career (his father had been Canada’s first High Commissioner or ambassador in Washington).  However, he joined the army on the outbreak of war and served as a captain in the King’s Rifle Corps.  He fought in Egypt and Greece where machine gun fire injured both knees and he was a German prisoner of war between 1941 and 1944. 

In 1952 Lionel’s father Vincent Massey was appointed as the first Canadian to serve as Governor General.[6]  Lionel accepted the post of Secretary to his father but with reservations about the impression it might create of turning the office into a family affair.

No such reservations dogged his wife.  All of Lilias’ background, character and natural gifts had prepare her for her next and most significant role.  Since Vincent was a widower, Lilias was a natural choice to act as chȃtelaine, or vice-regal consort. Once she, Lionel and their three daughters were ensconced in the cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall, Lilias took up her duties with gusto. “The Masseys organized the most divine dinner dances.  Vincent had a sense of style from his years in the diplomatic service, and Lilias was an excellent hostess,” recalled one contemporary.[7]  Dinners, lunches, receptions and even movies filled the Massey calendar. Lilias hosted with aplomb guests like Eisenhower, Nehru, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Queen Juliana and Haile Salassie, and a host of European crown heads.

One of Lilias’ first duties was to represent her father-in-law at the 1952 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London.  Interestingly, Vincent himself opted to stay in Canada:

“Mr. Massey revived the use of the State carriage in 1953 when it was used in Ottawa for the Coronation celebrations of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Amid much pageantry, the carriage brought Vincent Massey and his staff to Parliament Hill under escort by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Mr. Massey introduced Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation speech, broadcast in London and around the world. The carriage he used that day is still used for the opening of Parliament and during official State visits. To commemorate Her Majesty’s Coronation, Mr. Massey issued silver spoons to all Canadian children born on that day, June 2, 1953.”[8]

As the first Canadian citizen to be Governor General, Vincent Massey was a tireless champion for Canada, making 86 trips around the vast country.  He travelled extensively “visiting every corner of the country – where plane or ship couldn’t reach, he went by canoe or dog team.”[9]  On all but two of his travels, Lilias went with him, showing again that adventurous streak, grabbing life with both hands. When he had decided to remind Canadians about their great arctic territory and its Inuit culture, she flew with him when such air travel still had its dangers.  She was the first airborne woman over the North Pole.

Lilias used her talents and glamour to support the image of Canada’s first native Governor General and to demonstrate that Canada could hold its own with world leaders. She and her family illustrated too what an immigrant family could do if and when given the opportuntity. Canada had given them that. And they had given Canada much.

When Vincent’s term concluded as Governor General in September 1959, the Masseys left Rideau Hall.  Lionel took up a post as administrative director at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, promoted to Associate Director in 1963.  He died suddenly two years later of a stroke, aged 49.  Lilias moved back to Ottawa and into an apartment. She passed away three decades later in January 1997.  

In a way, an era ended not with her death but thirty years earlier when she returned as a widow to her home town.  By the time she had left Rideau Hall, Canada had established itself as a nation in its own right.  A new chapter was beckoning in which Canada would forge its own modern identity with a refashioned constitution, a new national flag, and a vibrant creative culture. As members of the jet-set, Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret channelled a new kind of glamour. 

At so many levels, the 1960s and 1970s challenged virtually every aspect of the society in which Lilias had grown and prospered. With a strategic insight worthy of her father and grandfather, she manifestly grasped this.  Privacy was her new value. On return to Ottawa in1965, she closed the door on the limelight.  Perhaps she intuited too that the iconoclastic new era would change the traditional deference of the press to social elites, rip the veil that shielded their affairs, illnesses and scandals from the public eye.  Glamour had utility but now demanded more imtimacies and with it more dangers for those who wielded it.

From now on, as Gray records, Lilias’ social circle were the friends she had known all her life, the aging lifers of Ottawa.  Lilias and her friends no doubt watched with interest the political and cultural forces reshaping Canada but their greatest adventures were in their memories. 

Lilias was the last leader of the Ahearns.  They had made an enormous contribution to Ottawa and a significant one to Canada.  Within three generations they had through talent and energy moved from a blacksmithing immigrant from Ireland to a business empire, the Privy Council and on to Rideau Hall.  That said something about them, the fabulous Ahearns, and it said something too about Canada, their land of opportunity.

Today, Lilias’ old family home at 7 Rideau Gate is the Canadian Government’s official guest accommodation and the Prime Minister lives in the cottage that hosted Lionel, Lilias and their family in the glory years when the Masseys ruled Rideau Hall.

Eamonn McKee

Ottawa

18 December 2022


[1] As I have written elsewhere, bought by Irish GG Monck and extensively developed by the Anglo-Irish Lord and Lady Dufferin.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/wwiicdnwomensproject.org/photos/pcb.248477750075474/248477500075499/?type=3&theater

[3] https://www.GG.ca/en/governor-general/former-governors-general/viscount-willingdon

[4] http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ahearn_thomas_16E.html

[5] There is also a strange reference to the granting of annulment in the marriage of Lilias Ahearn and Wilbur Pittman Roberts, ibid, WW II Canadian Women’s Project, ibid.

[6] The family had made its fortune with the Massey-Harris company, founded in 1891, the largest producer of agricultural machinery in the Commonwealth, later Massey-Ferguson, so well known and loved in Ireland that the Massey-Ferguson is synonymous with tractor.  Vincent’s brother was the Hollywood actor Raymond Massey.

[7] Cited by Gray, op cit.

[8] https://www.GG.ca/en/governor-general/former-governors-general/vincent-massey

[9] Ibid.

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Frank Ahearn: Businessman, MP, and Sports Mogul

(Bytown-Ottawa Heritage Trail: The Fabulous Ahearns cont’d)

Thomas Franklin Ahearn, known as Frank, was in Ottawa in 1886.  By then his father Thomas had embarked on a career that would see him successfully establish a business empire with Warren Soper and a reputation as Canada’s leading inventor and moderniser of the city of Ottawa (see blog). Frank showed similar drive and ambition to his father, embracing with gusto a varied career as a military officer, businessman, parliamentarian and sporting mogul.

In his young days, Frank played ice hockey with his pals, using an old street car from his father’s company as a dressing room.  Ice hockey indeed would be a life-long devotion and mark one of his significant contributions to Ottawa and Canada.

In the meantime, World War I intervened and like so many other Irish Canadians, Frank joined the army as a lieutenant with the First Canadian Supply Division, Mechanical Transport in January 1914.  He served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France, saw action, was promoted to captain and was wounded.  He returned home in 1916 and later became orderly officer to the Minister of the Militia, Sir Sam Hughes.[1]

Frank rekindled his love for hockey, managing amateur junior and senior hockey.  “He became interested in professional Hockey because he felt that was the best way to get the city a badly needed new facility. Besides, he’d grown tired of the huge gray area represented by the term amateur during this period.”[2]  Frank became a part-owner of the Ottawa Senators in 1920 and was a key figure in the evolution of the sport from amateur to professional. 

The Ottawa Senators were a storied team since their foundation in 1883, the first club in Ontario and a founding member of the National Hockey League.  They won the first Stanley Cup challenge in 1893 and kept it until 1906. They returned to winning form in 1920 when Frank became a part owner of the team, along with the founder and majority owner Edwin ‘Ted’ Dey.[3] 

Tommy Gorman was another part-owner, one of the greatest managers and talent spotters in ice hockey history, winning seven Stanley Cups during his career. First generation Irish, Tommy was born in Ottawa of an Irish father, Thomas Patrick Gorman who was born in Kilmanagan, Co Kilkenny in 1849. Thomas Patrick was a newspaper editor so it was not surprising that his son Tommy became a writer with the Ottawa Citizen in the years up to 1921, writing about his great passion, sports.[4]

The Senators won the Cup again in 1922 again in 1923.  It was then that Frank bought the Senators from Dey who was retiring. The Senators won the Stanley Cup again in 1924, with Frank demonstrating “his prowess as a handler of player personnel.”[5] Tommy sold his share to Frank in 1925 and went to New York to establish professional hockey there. The Senators were champions again in 1927, the (possibly) eleventh and final time they won the Championship.[6]  The team for the 1926-27 season included some of the greats of ice hockey, Irish Canadians like King Clancy, Alec Connell, Cy Denneny, and the ‘Shawville Express’ Frank Finnigan (so called because he got the train to Ottawa but I’m sure it had something to do with his style of play!)[7]

Frank’s biography in the Hockey Hall of Fame:

“Ahearn was not one to shy away from significant transactions. After winning the Stanley Cup he sent Hooley Smith to the Montreal Maroons for $22, 500 and the immensely talented Punch Broadbent. A few years later sold King Clancy to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two players and $35,000. The latter move was one of desperation as the Depression took its toll on the once proud franchise. Ahearn fought hard and lost a great deal of money trying to keep the Senators afloat. He successfully lobbied for the team to be excused from the 1931-32 season. The next year the club finished last and was forced to relocate to St. Louis, Missouri were it ended for good after one season. Despite the ending, Ottawans enjoyed many years of outstanding hockey as a result of Ahearn’s commitment.”[8]

Along with Gorman and Dey, Frank was part of the consortium that built the Ottawa Auditorium, home to the Senators from 1923, capable of hosting 10,000 spectators. It was located beside what is today the Canadian Museum of Nature on the site of what is now a YMCA. The Auditorium’s fortunes waned along with the team’s decline from greatness.  It went into receivership in 1936, with Gorman returning to take ownership in 1945.

Throughout these years, Frank was a leading businessman, following in the footsteps of his famous father, taking over the Ottawa Electric Railway Company in 1938 when Thomas Ahearn died. Two years later he headed the Ottawa Electric Company and had many business interests in realty, car manufacture and investments.

Frank was certainly a chip off the old block and in addition to his interests in business and hockey, he was elected to Parliament where he served for almost a decade between 1930 and 1940, a Liberal MP first for Ottawa City and then Ottawa West.  

Frank’s family home was at 7 Rideau Gate, a fine detached residence, where he lived with his wife Norah, son Thomas and daughters Joan and Lilias.  Frank died in 1962.  That year he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Four years later he was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.

Frank, his wife and children were the last private family to live at 7 Rideau Hall before it became the official guest accommodation of the Canadian Government.  And that is part of Lilias’ story.

Eamonn McKee

Ottawa

17 December 2022


[1] Parliamentary Profile, https://lop.parl.ca/sites/ParlInfo/default/en_CA/People/Profile?personId=507 and his biographical entry in the Hockey Hall of Fame, https://www.hhof.com/HonouredMembers/MemberDetails.html?type=Builder&mem=B196201&list=ByName

[2] https://hockeygods.com/images/14791-Frank_Ahearn_Ottawa_Senators_President_and_Owner

[3] Wikipedia entry, Edwin Dey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Dey

[4] Thanks to Michael McBane for establishing the Irish birth of Tommy’s father.

[5] Hall of Fame biography: https://www.hhof.com/HonouredMembers/MemberDetails.html?type=Builder&mem=B196201&list=ByName

[6] It is a matter of some dispute whether in fact they won it 9, 10 or 11 times.

[7] Finnigan won the Stanley Cup again, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After his sporting career ended in 1937, Finnigan had a problem with alcohol and Frank Ahearn got him a job.  Finnigan overcame his drinking problem and managed hotels in the area.  His daughter Joan became a writer and collected many stories of the Irish in the Ottawa Valley.  She wrote the screenplay for the 1968 docudrama, The Best Damn Fiddler Player from Calabogie to Kaladar which won the Canadian Film Award, as did the film itself.  Margot Kidder, famously playing Lois Lane in the Superman movie, made her film debut in the movie.

[8] Op cit.

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Death of a Peace Maker and Friend: Brendan McAllister RIP

As we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, there is naturally a focus on the negotiations of that historic agreement and its implementation.  That is right and proper.  However, peace in Northern Ireland was the achievement of courageous people who reached across the sectarian divide in myriad gestures of reconciliation.  Peacemakers worked for years, decades even, through the haze of violence, riots and blood, reaching for a better future, for the better part of our natures, for peace.

One of those people was Brendan McAllister.  He died unexpectedly, suddenly, too young, this week.  His name will not be familiar to most.  To those who knew him, and loved him, his name is in our hearts.

Brendan worked with Mediation Northern Ireland in the years before and after the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994.  Alex Attwood, member of the SDLP and a former Assembly member and Minister, was one of his closest friends.  Reflecting on Brendan’s life and work, Alex said Brendan went to the hardest places.  There were no harder places in mid-1990s than the confrontations between the Loyal Orders and nationalist residents.

In 1996, parades in contentious areas like the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast and the Garvaghy Road in Portadown exposed sectarian emotions at their rawest.  Peace in Northern Ireland felt like it was on the line.  As a mediator, Brendan went there armed with his humanism, his abiding Christianity, his determination to make Northern Ireland a better place, a place where people weren’t murdered for their beliefs. Brendan explained the parades issue.  Before the ceasefires, the Northern Ireland conflict was fought between ‘professionals’ on both sides: the PIRA versus the security forces.  In a way, they were the Punch and Judy show, avatars and mediums of the deeper divisions within society. 

Brendan worked hard as a mediator to win trust on all sides, to bridge the sectarian divide, to find common humanity.  Drumcree emerged as the titular confrontation of the parades issue. As a traveller with Anglo-Irish Division, we found each other in the no-man’s land between the Garvaghy residents and the Orange Order.  He was working to mediate, to connect the key stakeholders and find an agreed solution.  Jonathan Powell, PM Tony Blair’s chief of staff, was lead for the British Government.  I was point for the Irish Government. Daily, I would talk to Brendan, analyze, assess, and report back to Dublin. 

The annual Drumcree crisis washed over us, nationalist residents beaten off their own road by the RUC in daylight in 1996.  Then beaten off their own road again at night by the RUC in 1997.  Still Brendan worked to connect, and not just in Portadown about across innumerable interfaces in Northern Ireland, firefighting for peace, for that better future.

The Good Friday Agreement changed the equation.  Lines were held in 1998.  Courageous people spoke for toleration.  As the Parades Commission adjudicated each confrontation, the energy drained slowly from the parades issue. Again Brendan was at the coalface, injecting into the arbitration the philosophy and practice of mediation, reason, and compromise.

Brendan was also truly influential on the policing project.  His experience of the parade confrontations the critical role of policing in avoiding escalation and calm tensions.  Security sector reform is one of the most difficult challenges of any peace process.  In Northern Ireland, it was not only critical but successful.  Thanks to his input and influence before the Patten Commission and during the implementation of its recommendations, policing change in Northern Ireland was profound and successful.  It remains an enduring success of the peace process precisely because it is no longer on the radar screen. 

Years later, Brendan served as a Victims Commissioner and the Department of Foreign Affairs nominated Brendan for the UN’s panel of standby mediators.  I am sure that his wisdom, compassion and experience of conflict were invaluable in the places where he worked. 

I met Brendan and his wonderful wife Elizabeth a few years ago at a dinner hosted by the Irish Joint Secretary in Belfast.  It was a wonderful evening, a joy to spend time with Brendan and other old contacts.  When we parted, we hugged.  Brendan was a hugger.  And a smiler too with a ready infectious laugh that said ‘sure what’s it all about?’  By then the shadow on Brexit had fallen over the North.  There would be more work for Brendan, endless work of reconciliation.  Reflective as ever, his thoughts turned back to his faith and earlier this year he was ordained a Deacon.  When Brendan died last Tuesday, Northern Ireland lost a true friend and a gentle guide on its journey to a better future.

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland to Canada

Ottawa, 14 December 2022

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Thomas Ahearn, the ‘King of Electricity’ and the Man who Made Ottawa

The Bytown-Ottawa Irish Heritage Trail: the Fabulous Ahearns, cont’d.

Coincidentally, the man who would create modern Ottawa was born the year that the city changed its name from Bytown. In hindsight, this was auspicious.  If Bytown owed its existence to the Duke of Wellington, Ottawa owed its entry to the modern era to Thomas Ahearn.   

We do not know much of Thomas Franklin Ahearn’s early life but considering the energetic, confident and brilliant son they had raised, John and Norah must have been loving and supportive parents.  Young Tom would have seen up close the magic worked by his blacksmith father, heating cold black iron until it glowed orange and soft enough to be shaped.  Satisfied, his father plunged it hissing into cold water.  A kind and patient father would have answered his son’s questions, turning the young lad’s wonder into curiosity about the infinite variety and utility of the things that could be made.  Likely too that Tom’s close friend Warren Soper visited the forge.  The boys supported each other in their exploration of the new scientific breakthroughs reshaping the world.  If metallurgy had fashioned civilization for millennia, and steam the age of industrialisation, harnessing electricity birthed the modern technological age.

It must have been a well-read household for Thomas was exposed enough to new developments to develop a passion for electricity.  He grew up as telegraphy came of age, spreading around the world, its binary signal spreading information in hours where before it would have taken weeks. That flow of information was transformative: for markets, armies, technology, and daily life. By the time Tom was eleven, the New York businessman Cyrus Field was hailed a hero for successfully laying the transatlantic cable, finally uniting the world’s telecommunications and putting the last piece in place for a truly globalized world. It is hard not to think that Field was an inspiration to young Tom.

Tom wanted to be a part of this but he was expelled from the College of Ottawa for misbehaviour.[1]  The lack of a formal education mattered little to him.  He joined the Montreal Telegraph office at Chaudière, as a messenger really intent on learning about the application of electricity. After a stint in New York, Tom returned as the company’s chief operator, then hired some years later aged twenty-five by Bell Telephone.  Bruce Deachman writes about this in an anecdote that tells us much about Tom:  “This latter development was not without some irony: In 1878, Ahearn, perhaps unaware of the misdeed he was committing, infringed on Alexander Graham Bell’s patent when, after reading an article in Scientific American, made the first successful long-distance telephone call from Ottawa using handmade sets he’d built from cigar boxes to place a call to Pembroke. Ahearn later sold the boxes for $16 to settle an outstanding hotel bill.”[2]

Tom knew the practical end of electricity but when he realised he was undercharging for his installation work he knew he needed a business partner.  He turned to his childhood friend Warren Soper and in 1881 they formed Ahearn & Soper Telegraphy and Electric Light Contractors.  IN 1882, their Ottawa Electric Light Company installed sixty-five street lights, Thomas working him with two Irish laborers draping the lines as they went along. The lights were powered by Canada’s first hydro-electric power from a wheel and generator at Chaudiere Falls. They won a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway to install telegraph lines and began building a local business empire. “The following year the young men were awarded a contract to introduce electric lights into the House of Commons. The lights were switched on in January 1884, a full year earlier than at the Capitol in Washington, DC.” [3]   It would prove to be a life-long partnership that created modern Ottawa and earned them the title the Edisons of Canada. 

Ahearn is most famous for the invention of the electric oven and stove. “On 17 January, 1884, he cooked the first dinner with teh appliance in Ottawa’s Windsor Hotel before a collection of VIP journalists. The oven was over 6 feet [2 metres] in height and width and in the words of the Ottawa Citizen, ‘It was hot enough to roast an ox.’ The dinner consisted of Saginaw trout, potato croquettes, sugar-crusted ham, lamb cutlets, stuffed loin of veal, strawberry puffs chocolate cake, and apple pie.” [Sweeny, pp 351-2]

The year 1884 was also significant for Thomas personally. On 25 June, he married Lilias MacKey Fleck. In May 1886, Lilias gave birth to their son, Frank. Two years later, she gave birth their daughter but tragedy truck and Lilias died in childbirth. Grief-stricken, Thomas named his daughter Lilias. Lilias’s fate in childbirth was one of the great dangers that women had faced and continue to face. She would not see her children grow, nor her daughter Lilias marry the publisher Harry Stevenson Southam, one of the resident elite families of old Ottawa. Frank would call his daughter after her, an Irish tradition.

Ahearn and Soper literally electrified the city and brought lighting and phones to the Parliament, factory floors, the streets and homes.  In 1887 they used thousands of light bulbs to decorate Parliament in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In 1891, Thomas Keefer transferred the rail charter to Ahearn and Soper. Keefer was the son-in-law of the builder of the Rideau Canal and founder of Bytown, Thomas Mackay. Keefer had developed the Rockcliffe neighbourhood and used horse-draw railcars to connect it to the town centre. With the charter in hand, Ahearn and Soper introduced electric trams, the new lines literally generating Ottawa’s suburbs as houses sprung up along them.  Ever inventive, Ahearn installed electric heaters in them. The tramline went first from Bank Street to Landowne, spawning the Glebe neighbourhood as the local farmer sold lots for housing.  Ahearn and Sopper bought the land adjacent to planned lines the next time. To ensure his streetcars did a good business at the weekend, Ahearn built amusement parks at Rockcliffe with, of course, electric merry-go-rounds.  He helped encourage the first skiing in the region on the scenic slopes there overlooking the Ottawa River.

Ahearn combined many traits, from creativity and constant tinkering with new devices, building networks of people to advance his projects, and thinking big about how to develop Ottawa. “However, it was his ability to find solutions to particular technological obstacles impeding the progress of large systems that gave his companies an edge over the competition. He was always innovating, interconnecting his machinery in new ways, and adapting inventions to his needs. He was also a master of promotion. On 29 Aug. 1892 he invited members of the Ottawa elite to an “electric” banquet. An entire meal was cooked in a powerhouse on electrical appliances that he had designed and constructed. The food was delivered to the dining room of the Windsor hotel by streetcar.”[4]

Thanks to Ahearn and Soper, Ottawa was first in all these things, ahead of Montreal and Toronto. “By 1900, it was reported there were 100,000 incandescent light bulbs burning in the city, more per capita than anywhere else in the world.” [5]  Ahearn drove the first car in Ottawa, notably an electric one using batteries.  He was forever inventing and held almost thirty patents in Canada and the US.  He applied his technical genius to make ovens[6], fridges, water bottle warmers, streetcar heating systems, insulators, battery jars, arc-light carbons, motor brushes, recording machines for music, telephones and telegraphs systems.

Ahearn was a close supporter of both Wilfred Laurier and Mackenzie King, the latter appointing him to the new Federal District Commission tasked with the development of the city’s parks and roads in 1927. Thanks to Ahearn we have the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and the Champlain Bridge. A year later, the Prime Minister appointed Ahearn to the Privy Council. 

Tom Ahearn died in 1938.  Anna Adamek sums up his life in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography thus:

“Thomas Ahearn’s career was truly remarkable. Although he was born in a poor working-class family, he became one of Ottawa’s richest and most influential entrepreneurs. His outstanding technical expertise, but also his intuition, allowed him to compete successfully with members of the city’s business elites and build powerful political alliances. Through the companies he founded and the institutions he led, Ahearn realized his vision of Ottawa as a modern, industrialized capital and greatly contributed to its transformation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Deachman again: “Tom, as he was known his entire life, grew up in lockstep with the new city, and it’s impossible to imagine what Ottawa might look like today without his influence. Along with his business partner, Warren Young Soper, Ahearn touched the lives of everyone in Ottawa, through transportation, electricity, beautification and leisure and entertainment. The pair’s interconnected business enterprises very much shaped how and where the city grew, as its population soared from just over 10,000 when Ahearn took in his first breath, to about 150,000 when he exhaled his last.”

We can look forward to a full treatment of Ahearn’s life when a new biography of Ahearn and Soper is published by Laura Ott.  Ott has said that Ahearn and Soper are “among the most unrecognized people for the type of impact they had on the city.”

Tom’s son Frank built a memorial to his father and you can see it now in the Glebe, at the corner of Bank and Holmwood.  As well as an image of his father, the memorial was combined with a drinking fountain, a wonderful symbol of the utility that Tom brought to the life of his beloved city of Ottawa.

So we are lost for choice when it comes to putting places on the Bytown-Ottawa Irish Heritage trail marking Tom Ahearn’s impact on the city.

Up next, we look at the remarkable life of his son Frank in the continuing saga of the fabulous Ahearns.

Eamonn McKee

Ottawa

5 December 2022


[1] Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB), entry by Anna Adamnek.

[2] Capital Builders: Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper, the ‘Edisons of Canada’,  Ottawa Citizen, 4 April 2019.

[3] DCB.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp in 2011 featuring Ahearn’s electric oven.  The oven had won him the gold medal at the Central Canada Exhibition in 1892 and featured in the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Ibid, Ottawa Citizen.

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John Ahearn, founder of an Irish Canadian Dynasty

The Bytown-Ottawa Irish Heritage Trail: the Fabulous Ahearns

In three generations, the Ahearns progressed from an Irish-born blacksmith to the Privy Council and to a leading role in the Governor General’s Office, along the way creating and shaping the modern city of Ottawa. Each generation more than deserves tribute and whether individually or collectively, the Ahearns were indeed fabulous. Here is the story of the fabulous Ahearns, John, Thomas, Frank and Lilias. Each were a leader of their generation. They will be great additions to our heritage trail. First up, John Ahearn.

We do not know much about John Ahearn other than that he was born in Ireland in 1806. He married Honorah (Norah) Power, date and location unknown. He or they immigrated to Canada and he worked his trade as a blacksmith in what was then Bytown. The home of John and Norah was on Duke Street in the working class neighbourhood of Lebreton Flats, not far from Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River.


We can guess what brought him to the Ottawa Valley. By then the long struggle between Britain and France for global dominance was over and thanks to the Duke of Wellington, the construction of the Rideau Canal had begun, a strategic communication between Kingston and Montreal away from the St Lawrence, the likely point of attack of the United States. There was already a thriving lumber industry, dating back to the Napoleon blockade that had cut off Baltic timber. The Irish could find cheap passage as living ballast on the lumber ships on the ships’ return leg from England and the naval shipyards there.


In the Ottawa and Gatineau Valleys, there were jobs in the lumber industry, though the work was dangerous and rough. There was cheap land to buy when the trees were cleared, though clearing giant tree stumps and rocks was backbreaking. However, the canal and plans to build almost one hundred locks and dams meant that there was plenty of good work for skilled craftsmen like carpenters, stone masons and blacksmiths. All of these opportunities drew in the Irish at a time when the Irish economy was in recession after the boom times of the Napoleonic wars.


John packed up his belongings, probably too the tools of his trade, and began the long sea passage across the great North Atlantic, up the St Lawrence to Montreal and then the Ottawa River to its confluence with the Gatineau and Rideau Rivers. He married Honorah Power, but we do not know whether they met in Ireland or in Canada. Her life would have been one of hard labour, giving birth and running a household without any modern conveniences. The brutal winters added to her chores, as did the muddy spring time and mosquito infested summers. Cut off from home and the support of relatives, loneliness must have been a factor too. Prevalent illnesses would have added distress as well as the ever fear of death. Throughout all of this, Norah was wife, mother, cook, cleaner, nurse, moral conscience and educator. Raising a family in these conditions was nothing short of heroic.

The construction of the Rideau Canal had stimulated a new settlement dubbed Bytown after Colonial John By, the engineer in overall charge of the canal’s construction. Officers and gentlemen worked and lived around Barracks Hill while the Irish and French workers settled in the swampy area of Lowertown. The market, taverns and shanties there became known as Byward. Perhaps indicating his status as a craftsman and perhaps too intent on avoiding the violent quarrels between the Irish and French in Lowertown as they competed for jobs and dominance, Ahearn settled in Lebron Flats, at Duke Street.


By any stretch, John’s life was fabulous, moving from an island scarred by British colonialism and savage sectarianism, across the incalculable expanse of the North Atlantic, perhaps guided by some old letters that had promised opportunity. For somebody from Ireland, the vast scale of the St Lawrence must have been awe-inspiring. He probably stopped at Quebec and then Montreal, bustling cities cacophonous with French speakers and up close with Indigenous residents, visitors and fur traders. As he travelled up the Ottawa River, he would have seen the giant rafts of squared logs, topped with cabins and guided downriver to Montreal by strong and hardy lumbermen. He would too have seen Indigenous travelers in their birch bark canoes, including warriors, hunters, and families.


When he arrived, John would have found Bytown to be boisterous and half-built, with muddy streets, shanties and some grand stone buildings, yet a city ambitious for its future. He could admire the success of fellow Irishman John Egan who had risen to be the leading lumber baron in the Valley and an influential politician. Ahearn would have noticed that the immediate region was stripped of trees. He must have gazed in wonder at the Gatineau hills and beyond the wilderness of bear and wolf stretching infinitively west and north. Imagine his first winter in Canada as all of this fell under a crystalline spell of snow and ice. At least he would not have been short of company in the large Irish community, the cadences of the Irish language common among his fellow immigrants. John and Norah’s son Thomas Franklin was born in 1855 at their home in Duke Street, Lebron Flats.

Next up, we look at Thomas’ life and his role as the founding father of modern Ottawa.

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Irish Night on the Hill, 23 November 2022, Remarks

Failte romhat, a chairde, welcome everyone. Tá an-athas mór orm, I’m delighted to see you all here. Good evening ladies and gentle, friends of Ireland. What a thrill to have you all here this evening.

This is our third Night on the Hill. The first two were organized by Jamie and my dear colleagues Jim Kelly and Michael Hurley. Tragically, both passed away in their prime. Earlier this year, I was shocked to get a phone call saying that Jim had died suddenly last St Patrick’s Day. It is impossible to reconcile his wife Anne and their two daughters, Orla and Ciara, to their loss. That is permanent, eased only by loving memories.

However, it was some comfort to recall to Anne how many people Jim had touched in Canada with his humanity, his warmth and his professional integrity as a diplomat so proud to represent his country. Knowing Jim’s love for Canada and the Irish in Canada, he would be well chuffed about our gathering this evening. We remember him this evening.


There is no better place for a Parliament than on a Hill. I love this Hill. At the confluence of the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau Rivers, this Hill was always a meeting place. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional territory of the Anishinabek and the Algonquin.


We recall too that it was John Egan from Galway who played the instrumental role in securing the land at Maniwaki for the reserve at Kitigan Zibi in 1853. Egan arrived here in 1830, penniless. He became the Ottawa Valley’s leading lumber baron. He helped to develop Bytown through lumber, stream boats and rail connections, and as a leading politician. Egan entertained Governor General Lord Elgin during his visit to Bytown as part of the campaign to make it the capital city of Canada.
Egan sold land at half price to the Irish. That is why we had such strong Irish settlement in the Ottawa and Gatineau Valleys. I’d like to recognize our Irish friends here from Brennan’s Hill, Martindale and Venosta in Gatineau and from Douglas.

The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and raised in Trim. Most of his soldiers were Irish. Without Wellington, there would have been no Rideau Canal. No canal, no Ottawa. 

Michael McBane is here, a great local historian. Thank you Michael for all your research on this region’s Irish Heritage. It is thanks to Michael that we know that Famine Irish emigrants died of fever on this hill, men, women and children, in 1847. Thanks to Michael too, we know that some 300 hundred of their remains lie in Macdonalds Gardens Park. We are working to commemorate that site.

Thanks to Canadian compassion, like that of Sister Bruyère of the Grey Nuns, most of the Famine Irish survived in Bytown as well as all along the St Lawrence River, from Quebec and Montreal to Kingston, Toronto and Hamilton. Through such Canadian compassion, the Irish found hope here. Through the opportunities in Canada, the Irish found success here.

The Irish gave much to Canada too. Irish and French workmen built the Parliament complex. In the halls of Parliament, Thomas D’Arcy McGee could marvel at the outcome of the negotiations for Confederation in 1867. His friend, Lord Monck from Tipperary, was the Governor General who played a key role in steering those negotiations to success.

Indeed, the first three Governor Generals after Confederation were Irish; Monck, Lisgar and Lord Dufferin. Monck bought Rideau Hall. Lord and Lady Dufferin added the Ballroom, the Tent Room and skating rinks there, making it the centre of social life in Ottawa. They were part of a long line of Anglo-Irish Governor Generals, Lieutenant Governors, officials and soldiers who shaped Canada, from Guy Carlton to the Duke of Wellington.

Thomas Ahearn, son of an Irish born blacksmith, brought electric lighting to Parliament. With his genius for invention and his command of the science of electricity, he brought electric power to Ottawa, electric trams, an electric car and even invented the electric oven. His son Frank Ahearn owned the Ottawa Senators when they won the Stanley Cup in 1923, 1924 and 1927.
Frank and his daughter Lilias lived at 7 Rideau Gate. She became vice regal consort to her father-in –law, Governor General Vincent Massey, and accompanied him to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Today their home is the Government’s official guest house. In three generation, the fabulous Ahearns went from blacksmith, to business empire, to Rideau Hall itself. That says something about them. And it says something great about Canada too.

So we are working on a Bytown-Ottawa Irish Heritage Trail. Call it reverse colonization. By the time we’re finished, Ottawa will be Canada’s leading Irish town. I’d like to welcome newly elected Mayor of Ottawa, Mark Sutcliffe. Great to see him here and have to chance to brief him on our plans to promote the city’s Irish heritage.

I’d also like to recognize Robert Kearns and William Peat from the Canada Ireland Foundation. They have been working for years to promote the Irish Story in Canada and have fantastic plans for the future. We deeply value our collaboration with you.

Grant Vogl of the Bytown Museum is here too. Grant and his team at the Bytown Museum do such great work promoting Ottawa’s great heritage. We’re looking forward to taking our work with them forward. Celebrating the Irish story in Canada is an exciting journey of discovery.

This night is also about friendship. Saying thanks to all our friends and supporters. And working together to build the relationship between Ireland and Canada.

Canada has been a great ally to Ireland. Next year, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Canadians played a key role in our peace process. Canada was a founder member of the International Fund for Ireland in 1986. Canadians supported the talks process. Judge Peter Cory became a legend for tackling the issue of collusion in Northern Ireland, a wonderful man of compassion and impeccable integrity. General John de Chastelain played a key role on the Decommissioning Commission in taking the gun out of Irish politics. Al Hutchinson helped consolidate the new policing as Police Ombudsman.

Our Peace Process is a work in progress. We are working to restore power-sharing, to remit the damage caused by Brexit. Our future faces challenges that are daunting but exciting, the prospect of unification. That is journey where Canadian support will be vital. Because in Canada we learn that divergent loyalties can happily the same space in peace and stability.

I would like to say a special thank you to my wife and our small team at the Embassy for all that they do promoting Ireland in Canada. They have worked really hard to make this event happen. The team was led by Second Secretary Sally Bourne and she did a terrific job pulling all this together. A warm round of applause and thanks to them.

We have to say goodbye to John Boylan, our Deputy Head of Mission and I know a friend to many of you here. We will sorely miss you John, thanks for your outstanding contribution and best of luck for the future to you, Deirdre and your family.

I would like to acknowledge the Sue Healy school of Irish dancing, and dancers Nora and Nessa Healy, Joely Henderson, Rosalie Boisselle, Hannah Clegg, Ainsley Smith, Lauren Mortimer, Anna Jackson and Adele Stanton-Bursey. Thank you!
Piper Ross Davison, thank you! That’s a genuine set of pipes he’s got there, Uilleann pipes! None of this blowing in a tube stuff!

I would like to pay a particular tribute to my friend James Maloney, Member for Etobicoke. It has been my honour and pleasure getting to know him and to count him as my friend. Thanks to his leadership and support of the Parliamentary Friendship Group, March is officially Irish Heritage Month. And we have great plans for the future. James, the floor is yours.

I am honoured to introduce Senator Robert Black. If his devotion to farming and agriculture is anything to go by, he definitively has Irish genes!

I am now honoured to call on his honour, Kevin Waugh MP. Kevin distinguished himself in his great speech on the Second Reading of the Motion to Irish Heritage Month. In fact, he proved his Irish credentials by breaking into song!

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

Ottawa

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