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!
Ambassador of Ireland
Ottawa, 22 December 2022