Remarks by H.E. Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland to Canada
17 September 2022
(Evo Montreal 777 Boulevard Robert-Bourassa)
I want to thank Dan Doyle of the Erin Sports Association for the invitation to this event. Indeed, I would like to thank all of the officers and members for their commitment to this organization and to the promotion of Irish heritage in Montreal.
It is thanks to people like you that the story of the Irish in Canada is preserved, honored, and indeed built on for future generations.
Indeed, one of the great pleasures of my posting to Canada is exploring the story of the Irish here. It is an epic story. The Irish truly helped shaped Canada in so many ways.
Guy Carlton, the First Baron Dorchester, was born in Strabane and earned fame as the man who saved Canada. When the British took over, he ensured equality and rights for the Catholic French of Quebec under the Quebec Act of 1774. Otherwise, Quebec might have revolted or seceded to the United States. Coming from Ireland, he understood the divisive power of sectarianism and he helped Canada avoid those dangers at a critical moment.
Ireland’s patriots and poets helped shaped Canada’s sense of identity and imagination, people like Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Moore, and Adam Kidd.
Bishop Michael Fleming reshaped Newfoundland politics in the 1830s and 1840s, and built the biggest cathedral in North America, St John’s Basilica.
Journalists and political thinkers like Thomas D’Arcy McGee shaped Canada’s constitution with confederation in 1867.
While a fifth of Irish Famine emigrants died on the way to or on arrival in Canada in 1847, four-fifths survived thanks to Canadian compassion and Irish resilience. They made new lives here and help make Quebec and Canada what it is today.
Richardson and Sons, one of the largest companies in Canada, was established in 1857 by an apprentice tailor from Aughnacloy, James Richardson. He came to Kingston and was paid in grain, forcing him to trade it, eventually to become one of the richest men in Canada and in the process establishing a family dynasty that built the Canadian economy.
Thomas Ahearn was the son of blacksmith from Ireland, living in Byward, what was then Bytown, later Ottawa. He was a businessman, inventor and really the founder of modern Ottawa, bringing electricity to the city, the first car (an electric one), a railway and spearheading the roads and parks of the Capital city.
These achievements were possible because of Irish communities and the organizations that sustained them and supported their leaders. Some of the oldest and strongest of these are found here in Montréal.
I was not sure what to expect when I came here today, particularly after the pandemic and all the adverse effects that had on organizations.
To see such a huge turnout for this event, some seven hundred I was told, is a testament to the resilience of your organization and community here in Montreal. For good reason, you have earned your reputation for the cohesion and deep roots of your traditions and the vitality of your Irish heritage in this great city.
There are few better representatives of the values of community, Irish heritage and public service than the honoree today, Irish Person of Joseph Quinn.
When Joseph was born in January 1942, the world was going through a tumultuous time. Senior Nazi officials met at the Wannsee Conference to agree on the implementation of the Final Solution, deportation of Jews to Poland for extermination.
This was at a time when the war was going badly for the Germans with defeat at the Battle of Moscow. America had entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour the previous December. The first American soldiers to land in the European theatre of operations disembarked at Belfast, Northern Ireland
I have to say, Joseph, considering your birth year, you’re looking fresh as a daisy!
You share a birth month in January of 1942 with Mohamad Ali.
Yet far more significant for Verdun and the Irish community of Montreal was the birth of Joseph Quinn. While you have lived in Verdun for over eighty years, you told me your dark secret: that you were born in Ottawa. I am sure they have forgiven you!
Joseph has been a pillar of the Verdun community. For 32 years, you dedicated your life to the service of your community in the Fire Department.
Your contribution to the community went way beyond your professional calling. From community centers to food banks, from education and heritage to Christmas baskets and epilepsy campaigns, you were there organizing, supporting and fundraising.
Your priority of course was your family: your wife Heather (married in 1966), children Kevin, Kenneth and Shannon and grandchildren Patrick and Taggart Quinn.
Throughout all of this time, you were a major figure in the life of the Irish community, including the United Irish Societies of Montreal.
Your public, volunteering, and community service has been recognized, rightly by a slew of awards. All were thoroughly deserved.
However, I am sure that this award of Irish Person of the Year is a special one for you. With a name like Quinn, how could it be otherwise?
I did some checking and our Honorary Consul, Michael Kenneally wrote the following to me:
Joe and his extended family have been part of the backbone of the Montréal Irish community for many years, especially that part of it associated with Point St. Charles. He was President of the United Irish Societies, which runs the parade, as was his sister Elizabeth and his son Ken, who is currently President of St. Patrick’s Society. Joe is a retired firefighter and has been and is very involved with charity work at a grassroots level – soup kitchens, etc. He is a lovely man and a salt of the earth type of guy. I am sorry I cannot be there as I very fond of him and a great admirer of his commitment to community and the social welfare of its less well-off members.
This, Joseph, is what they are saying behind your back!
I am honored and proud to be a part of this occasion. It is a particularly auspicious one since we can say, thanks to the pandemic, you are Person of the Year for three years running!
Being here allows me to say to you maith thú, well done Joseph, and congratulations.