Matonabbee and Mr Dobbs: How an Irishman Accidentally Helped Create Canada

Arthur Dobbs exercised his influence on Canada without every setting foot here.  His relentless campaigning in London against the Hudson’s Bay Company eventually forced it to sponsor explorations not just of Hudson Bay but of the vast interior that lay to the north and west, terra incognita to Europeans. 

Dobbs’ campaign against the HBC also inadvertently created one of the most successful exploration partnerships in history, that between the great Chipewyan Chief and explorer Matonabbee and the Englishman Samuel Hearne. By inadvertently bringing these two together, Dobbs also unknowingly created a partnership that forged indigenous and western knowledge as a means of exploration and critically mapping.  This set the template for the exploration of the vast interior that lay beyond what was then considered Canada, the hunk of the east coast and the course of the St Lawrence known to Europeans. 

Dobbs himself was the personification of the imperialist and mercantile mind-set, holding to the beliefs of white and European superiority that dominated European thinking in the 18th century.  He would have been askance that someone like Matonabbee could possibly be considered one of the most significance men of his generation and one of the greatest explorers of the 18th century.

As Stephen R. Bown records in new history of the HBC, The Company, The Rise and Fall of the Hudson’s Bay’s Empire,[1]  Dobbs was keen to end the Company’s monopoly.  He was obsessed with the discovery of what he believed to be the Northwest Passage from Hudson’s Bay to Asia.  He was convinced that the Company was either indifferent to, or at worst concealing its existence, the better to preserve their exclusive domain and their trade monopoly. For Dobbs, the only way to open up exploration was to end the Company’s monopoly and encourage the prospects of trade that could finance exploration.  Dobbs would prove to be a relentless and formidable opponent, forcing the HBC on the defensive.

Dobbs hailed from an illustrious family in County Antrim. As an engineer and Surveyor-General of Ireland, he oversaw the construction of public buildings including the Irish Parliament in Dublin (during the golden age of Dublin before the catastrophe of the Act of Union in 1800).  High Sheriff of Antrim, MP for Carrickfergus (1727-60), an amateur scientist, sometime soldier, and a friend of Jonathan Swift, Dobbs represented the energy, confidence, imperialism, entitlement, and boundless ambition of the 18th century gentleman.[2] 

Dobbs was very much a man of his age in his obsession to find the Northwest Passage, the conviction that there existed in its eponymous direction a route from Europe to Asia.  This dream had spurred Europe’s great Age of Discovery (discovery at least for Europeans), including the voyages of Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus.  The source of most global economic activity and therefore wealth was Asia and its great arterial supply line, the famed Silk Road.  Western Europe, something of a global backwater, was desperate to get direct access to that trade.[3]

The Hudson Bay Company had been founded in 1670 by a Charter granted by Charles II to his family, friends and powerful figures in England during the Restoration, including Prince Rupert, the king’s cousin. [4] Its vast domain encompassed the rivers draining into Hudson Bay. The Charter therefore granted exclusive trading rights over an incomprehensibly large territory (later discovered to be four million square kilometres, about 40% of modern Canada[5], containing possibly ten million beavers).  That it was known as Prince Rupert’s Land says something of the presumption behind the enterprise; as if it was a vacant and uninhabited lot there for the taking. 

Though it was a commercial rather than imperial project, the Charter also bid the company to find a route to Asia.  The Company largely ignored this minor obligation though it did in 1690 sponsor a young explorer, Henry Kelsey, to head west.[6]  Thereafter and for the next sixty years it lost interest in the vast lands to the west and north of Lake Superior.  The Company stayed huddled in its trading posts in Hudson Bay where the main rivers of the interior drained into the sea on their great east-west journey across what was to become Canada.  The Company felt had no need to go inland since First Nations hunters and traders brought the supply of beaver pelts to them in exchange for the goods shipped from England (those most valued by the First Nations and Inuit being metal pots and kettles, axes, guns, fish hooks, blankets, beads, tobacco, brandy, sugar and the like).  The HBC would remain in complete ignorance of the complex diplomatic, trading and logistical system that operated across the country to bring the beaver pelts to them.

The indigenous were amused by the value that Europeans put on the beaver pelt and all the coveted goods they could get for them.  In fact, their own worn out coats of beaver skin were even more valuable since the rough outer hairs had been removed by use, exposing the soft interior fur.  It was this fur that made the best felt, in turn making and shaping hats that resisted rain.  Europe could simply not get enough felt to feed the fashion for hats, everything from tricorns to top hats. In fact, the trade in beaver pelt was the single most important factor is the creation of nation state of Canada.  And most of that was controlled by the HBC, albeit with some lesser competition from the French. So the history of the HBC is inextricably bound in the history of Canada’s foundation.[7]

Enter Arthur Dobbs, coming to London from Ireland with his obsessions and the manic energy and influence to pursue them. Bown writes:

“The biggest threat to the company’s monopoly in Hudson Bay emanated from the geographical musings and political agitations of a choleric Irishman named Arthur Dobbs.  The wealthy son of a prominent civil servant, Dobbs moved to London and became an intimate of the city’s prominent courtiers and financiers.  His favourite topics were free trade and the Northwest Passage, and the Company blocked the pathways leading to both of his dreams. An amateur hydrographer, he had analysed the tide levels in Hudson Bay and fixated upon the prevalence of whales that seemed never to exit into the Atlantic through the Hudson Strait.  Therefore, he concluded, the Northwest Passage must exist, in spite of the [failed] explorations a century earlier by Button, Foxe and James.”

As Bown recounts, Dobbs managed to convince the Royal Navy to fund a voyage of exploration which set off in 1741.  When it turned up nothing, Dobbs convinced the British Government to offer £20,000 to anyone who could find the Northwest Passage from Hudson Bay in 1745.  No one took up the offer so, ever relentless, Dobbs put together an expedition of two ships.  When that failed, Dobbs persuaded the Government to investigate the HBC in 1749 in a bid to break its monopoly.  Amidst wild claims and exaggerations, Dobbs lost credibility and returned for some years to Ireland.[8]

However, Dobbs’ hullabaloo about the HBC’s monopoly and the lack of any attempt to explore and exploit their enormous domain put them on the defensive.  To head off criticisms that they were failing to build Britain’s mercantile reach and protect their monopoly, the HBC was open now to opportunities to fund explorations. In 1754 the HBC sponsored an inland trip by Anthony Henday and his guide Attickasish. 

However, it was a report in 1767 from a Chipewyan chief and regular supplier to the HBC’s factories[9], the famed Matonabbee, of his travels deep into the interior that got the attention of Moses Norton, the commander of Prince of Wales fort in Hudson Bay.  Matonabbee was a natural born leader, diplomat, explorer, and multilinguist with a vast reservoir of indigenous knowledge that allowed him to traverse and survive the land’s unforgiving geography, tribal tensions, dangerous predators, and brutal climate (there were a lot of ways to die in Canada).  He reported to Norton that a river flowed into the sea out west. More than that, Matonabbee brought with him a hunk of copper.

The incentive to possibly find mineral wealth and just maybe the Northwest Passage finally stirred the company into action.  The sense of pressure and competition from French traders moving north and west added another rationale.[10] By 1770, Matonabbee was teamed up with Samuel Hearne, a hardy, intelligent, and experienced Royal Navy sailor trained in navigation and astronomy. On their epic trip of some eight thousand kilometres there and back, they reached the Arctic Ocean and concluded rightly that there was no Northwest Passage.

Shoalts: “Although Matonabbee and Hearne might not be anywhere near as famous as Lewis and Clarke, they ought to warrant serious consideration of as rival claimants to the title of the greatest exploring duo in North American history.”[11]

However, Bown makes an important distinction between their roles:  “The expedition was conceived by Moses Norton, financed by the Company and led by Matonabbee following his well-trodden commercial route.  Hearne was the map-maker and chronicler.”[12]

Yet what distinguishes travel from exploration is map-making and there was no doubt that their epic adventure succeeded as exploration because of the combination of the skills and knowledge of both men.  They established a template of cooperation that later explorers would follow, mixing indigenous and western knowledge to map and open the vast interior between the known east and the unknown lands between the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Along with the technology of mass violence, perfected by Europeans, map-making is the key tool of empire, the means to control and exploitation.

As for Arthur Dobbs, having bought some 400,000 acres in North Carolina in 1745, he moved there in 1754 to take up the position of Governor and encourage Scots-Irish settlement.  He had further adventures dealing with the French and Indian War, the start of the American Revolution, making the first recorded observation of the Venus flytrap and, inevitably given his personality (what in Northern Ireland they call ‘thran’) , engaging in running battles with the State Assembly.

In 1762, at the age of 73, Dobbs married a fifteen year old and got a stroke some months later (no comment). Though in a wheelchair, he resolved to return finally to Ireland but died in 1765 before making the journey home. 

By this time Matonabbee was a seasoned traveller and trader across the vast interior but his epic adventure with Samuel Hearne lay in the future.  Dobbs died without knowing of his contributions, designed and unwitting alike, to a key chapter in the creation in modern Canada.

Matonabbee’s end was tragic.  In 1782, a French raiding party destroyed the two HBC trading posts of Prince of Wales and York, taking as prisoners Hearne and most of the HNC employees to England.  Bereft of his status as the key between the supply of beaver and the supply of western goods, convinced that he would never see his friends again, without a home or supplies for the winter, with six wives and four children to feed, he committed suicide, a very rare occurrence among the indigenous. 

Hearne returned to Hudson Bay to rebuild but his heart was no longer in it and he died in England before his account of his epic adventure was published, to lasting acclaim. Though Hearne was in effect a passenger of Matonabbee on the exploration, it was he who won fame because he was the European and he wrote it down.

As for the HBC and their French rivals in the fur trade (the Nor’Westers), the competition drove them inexorably to explore, map, trade and settle their way across the interior in their hunt for beaver pelts. The western frontier of Canada moved inexorably westward as the hunt for the beaver continued, fueled by the insatiable European demand for its pelt.

So if there is a central character in this, it is in fact not the hunter or trader that made Canada but their prize, the industrious beaver.  In 1975, the National Symbol of Canada Act gave the beaver official status as an emblem of the national sovereignty of Canada.



March 2021

[1] (Doubleday, Canada 2020), 105


[3] See Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, A New History of the World.

[4] See Mark Bourrie’s Bush Runner, The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, for an engaging biography of a remarkable man and a remarkable life: Radisson tried to sell the idea of trading from Hudson’s Bay for beaver pelts to the French who passed on it.

[5] Ibid, 42

[6] Ibid, 88-89: see also Adam Shoalts A History of Canada in Ten Maps (Penguin Canada, 2018), 125-6.  Kelsey’ trip lasted three years and took him as far as the plains.

[7] Harold Innis’ The Fur Trade in Canada, first published in 1930, represented a revolution in historical thinking, flipping the causal narrative from ‘great men’ to the beaver. See Charlotte Gray, The Promise of Canada, pp 104-123.

[8] Ibid, 155-8.

[9] Known as such because they were led by ‘factors’ or managers but they were simply trading posts.

[10] After the fall of New France, 1759, French competitors set up the North West Company and pushed exploration north and west.

[11] Shoalts, 178

[12] Op cit, 173


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The Fews, South Armagh (Féa, woods): A place name and a potted history of a legendary Area

I have an interest in The Fews of South Armagh for family and professional reasons.  My paternal grandfather, one of seven brothers, came from Newtownhamilton, and fought for the IRA during the War of Independence.  After partition, he came to Dublin and set up a successful business.  When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, security normalisation in South Armagh was a challenging part of my brief in Anglo-Irish Division.

“Fiod is one of the words meaning ‘wood’ and is Anglicized as fee or fi,” writes Flanagan (p.88). In the case of the Fews in South Armagh (and Waterford), it is the Irish plural féa with the English plural ‘s’ added. 

As Joyce notes, Ireland was covered in woods so there are a host of words in Irish to describe them.  He gives fiod as fidh, or in Old Irish fid.  So covered in woods was Ireland that he records that one of the Bardic names for Ireland was Inis-na-bhfiodhaid or woody island (vol I, p 491).  Feenish in Co Clare is another way of saying woody island.  Fiodhach means a wooded place, hence Feagh, Feeagh, Feenagh.

Fee can have white (bán), big (mór), small (beg) and high (ard) added to it: Feebane, Feemore, Feebeg, Fethard and Feeard.

The Fews of South Armagh was historically a dangerous place whose locals fought to preserve their independence from invaders and interlopers.  None were more famous than Redmond O’Hanlon, a 17th century Gaelic Chieftain and, perforce, an Irish outlaw who, in a manner of speaking, helped preserve order, admittedly at a price.  The protection money he received he paid back out to his supporters and informants. He was a rapparee or tóraidhe, an irregular; ironically tóraidhe mutated into Tory as a name for the British conservative party. O’Hanlon was of noble Gaelic stock whose family was displaced of land and status by the Elizabeth and Cromwellian conquests.  He was betrayed and assassinated in 1681 but his name lives on in legend.

The North is naturally cut off from the rest of Ireland by the Erne river system, a band of steep ovoid drumlins (left behind by melting glaciers after the ice age) and the Mourne Mountains. There is a gap in the mountains that allows passage into Ulster from the south.  For that reason, South Armagh has featured as the focal point of wars and power struggles from mythic to modern times (see blog on Slieve Gullion). 

Faughart marks the southern end of the Gap of the North.  St Brigid was born here in 451, daughter of Dubhtach, a king of Leinster (we don’t know what he was doing there at the time of her birth). St Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints, along with St Patrick and St Columcille. The shrine to her at Faughart is a popular attraction for pilgrims and tourists.

In Louth to the south, the land is flat and fertile, in contrast to South Amargh whose terrain was buckled by a volcano (now the famous Ring of Gullion).  Louth represented the northern reach of the Anglo-Norman Pale around Dublin. So the Fews of South Armagh were at the heart of a ferocious and prolonged struggle for control between the native Gaels, led by the O’Neills of the Fews, and the Anglo-Norman and later Elizabethan invaders. 

Mountjoy, Elizabeth I’s most successful soldier in Ireland, built Moyry Castle to hold the Gap of the North. As Toby Harnden points out in his book Bandit Country, The IRA and South Armagh, the castles built to control the area were the forerunners of the British Army Observation Towers erected during the Troubles.  

South Armagh became infamous as the redoubt of the local Provisional IRA, a ferocious and bloody conflict between local paramilitaries and the security forces. It was the scene too of sectarian atrocities.  There are both Protestant and Catholic McKees in Newtownhamilton.  James McKee (70) and Ronald McKee (40) were killed by a republican attack on Tullyvalen Orange Hall, along with two other civilians.

For the security forces, the fifteen Observation (surveillance) Towers and concrete sangers dotted around South Armagh were critical as far as the British Army and Northern Ireland police were concerned.  They would not or could not patrol without them. Troops moved and were resupplied by helicopter between them to avoid roadside ambushes.

For locals the Towers, and the constant helicopter traffic, were a serious imposition giving rise to all kinds of concerns about lack of privacy, noise, constant surveillance, possible health effects, and the fear that going about their daily lives meant they were at risk of being mistaken for paramilitaries.  I recall Séamus Mallon, SDLP Deputy Leader, MP and a modern day local chieftain (the peaceful variety), from nearby Markethill, saying that the Towers were the bane of his existence as a politician.

When I was a traveller in Anglo-Irish Division during the Troubles, there was always a sense of alertness as you entered the Gap of North, under the gaze of the Observation Tower on Camlough Mountain.  There was equally a sense of relief when you passed through it heading south.  Rosemary Nelson and I used to talk about this.  A human rights lawyer from Lurgan, Co. Armagh, Rosemary represented the Garvaghy Road residents during the Drumcree standoff.  Times were tense: contentious parades surged as new flashpoints in the conflict in the wake of the 1994 paramilitary ceasefires. Rosemary felt the relief acutely, either heading to Dublin or across the border for a holiday in Donegal.

The bitterest of all standoffs was between the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Residents of Portadown. I was the Government’s point-man on this and got to know Rosemary.  In 1994, the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time, Ray Burke, dispatched me north to meet the Residents the day after they were beaten off the Garvaghy Road to allow the Orange parade to pass. As I approached the Gap of the North, I could see trails of black smoke from burning tires spiral skyward across the north. The north had erupted into riots the previous evening. A burned-out bus lay athwart the Newry by-pass. When I reached the massive steel gates that separated the Garvaghy Road from Portadown centre, the RUC officers open the gates with barely a nod. They knew I was coming. As the tires crunched over broken glass, my first thought was that getting a puncture leaving Portadown was probably not a good idea wearing a suite and tie and driving a southern registered car. I was glad I had left my DFA ID on the desk.

The Orange Order itself was founded in County Armagh at the end of the 18th century where the balance between Catholic and Protestant populations ramped up sectarian tensions and inter-communal violence. After the Good Friday Agreement in 1995, the line was held on the Garvaghy Road by the security forces and over time the tensions around the parades issues were managed into de-escalation. Rosemary paid the price for her high profile role as a human rights defender and was assassinated by car bomb outside her home in 1999.  

After the Good Friday Agreement achieving security normalisation was part of my brief in DFA’s Anglo-Irish Division.  Progress on security normalisation in South Armagh was very challenging but the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and Prime Minister Blair kept working at it with the determination that marked all their effects to bring peace to Northern Ireland. 

That the Observation Towers were eventually demolished along with all the security architecture at the border crossing was an emphatic demonstration that peace in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the legendary Fews of South Armagh, was here to stay.  Today, it is hard to spot the border, save for a keen eye on the colour of the road markings.  The determination to preserve this gain, so essential to the Northern Ireland peace process, has been a driving force in the Government’s efforts to manage the challenge of Brexit to the progress we have made.


Ottawa, 7 March 2021

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The Beauty, Magic, and Mystery of Slieve Gullion – Sliabh gCuillinn

Slieve Gullion, Armagh’s highest peak, is surrounded by a natural dyke, formed by a collapsed volcano, the famous Ring of Gullion.  This made it a great place for outlaws and rebel locals to hide since time immemorial and a dangerous place for travelers (particularly taxmen and other officials).  The dramatic pass between Slieve Gullion, and the Mourne Mountains was the traditional gateway between Leinster and Ulster, the famous Gap of the North. A narrow defile between steep slopes, it was easy to hold against an invading force.  For centuries, even millennia, competition for control of South Armagh and its pass has played a major role in our history. 

The Gap of the North was a focal point of conflict for centuries between local Gaels and the invading Normans and English. It has been said that during this struggle, south of the frontier wealth was measured by land, the English way, and north of it measured in cattle, the Gaelic way.  South Armagh earned a new reputation during the Troubles as a redoubt of the Provisional IRA. 

As one of the Department’s travelers during the Northern Ireland conflict, I would regularly drive north to meet contacts.  As you crest the elevation just south of Dundalk, Slieve Gullion and the Mourne Mountains would loom ahead, the Gap easily spotted as your entry point to the north.  I have a vivid memory of that skyline ominously strung with plumes of black smoke curling into the air after clashes around the parades issue in the summer of 1997. Soon you were speeding through the Gap of the North, hilly shoulders either side: on that trip heading to Drumcree, at the behest of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ray Burke.  When you traveled north, there was always a subtle sense of relief, of unguardedness, on the return journey as you scooted out of the Gap and were back south.

The European Union Single Market removed the need for a border and opened the way for the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  To spot where the border is today, you have to keep an eye out for a change in the colour of the road markings.  Thanks to a lot of diplomatic ingenuity by the Irish Government and the EU Commission, the open border has stayed open despite Brexit.

Today, the Ring of Gullion, the Mourne Mountains and the Carlingford Lough are great destinations walkers, hikers, and day trippers.  For when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, check out its history and ways to explore it here

Slieve Guillion’s beauty comes from its physical appearance, the conical hill of Armagh’s highest peak surrounded by crags and set beside the Mourne Mountains. Its magic comes from the fact that it is the epicentre of Ireland’s ancient saga, the Táin Bó Cuailgne, or Cattle Raid of Cooley. The mystery comes from its place name.

Sliabh is straight-forward, meaning a mountain (or moor or mountain land) and always comes with a qualifier, like mór (big) or rua (red). The spectacular Slieve League in Co Donegal is Sliabh Liag, mountain of the flagstones (Flanagan). Slievenamon in Co Tipperary is Sliabh na mBan, Mountain of the Women. However, there is no certainty as the meaning of Gullion. It appears that Gullion could mean one of three things; Culann (a name), cuillean (a slope) or cuileann/cuillinn (holly).

The uncertainty around the meaning of Gullion is all the stranger since it is so central to the action of the great Irish saga, the Táin, when Queen Maebh of Connaught launched her raid to seize the Brown Bull of Ulster from the Cooley Penninsula. To get there she and her army had to pass through the Gap of North at Slieve Gullion. She had one problem.  The mythic hero, Cú Chulainn, stood in the gap determined to save Ulster and win eternal fame by defeating her army single-handedly.

Cú Chulainn got his name from Culann, the smith who forged the weapons of the King of Ulster, Conchobhar MacNessa. Culann was hosting a feast for the king and his knights at his fort and had released his ferocious hound () to guard them.  Setanta, the young Cú Chulainn, was late for the feast and killed the attacking hound, much to Culann’s anger.  To assuage him, Setanta offered to become his hound, Culann’s hound.

Since Culann’s forge was at Slieve Gullion (pretty appropriate given its volcanic origins), it would seem logical to assume that it translates as Culann’s mountain, with Gullion an Anglicization of Culann. Not so fast.

Flanagan does not shed any light on it directly. does not throw much light on it, simply noting that it is a non-validated name. Joyce, however, proposes and then disposes of the notion that Gullion refers to Culann.  If so, he writes, it would be spelt Sliabh-Culainn.  Rather he thinks that it is Sliabh-Cuillinn “which admits of only one interpretation, the mountain of the holly.” 

Flanagan does say that Cuilleann means ‘steep unbroken slope’ and appears as Cullion in Cos Down and Tyrone.  But she does not reference Gullion, even though to me it sounds close and of course as Armagh’s highest peak certainly has steep slopes. Since topography predates vegetation which predates human habitation, perhaps logic suggests that Gullion is Cuilleann.  She goes go on to say that cuilleann is close to cuileann, meaning holly: “and as a result many names have been erroneously constructed as referring to ‘holly’. We may never know for sure what Gullion means but unravelling its mystery is a good way to reveal the rich heritage of this beautiful area.


Ottawa, 13 February 2021

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St Brigid’s Day Festival Vancouver

Welcoming Remarks

First of all, I want to say thanks and pay tribute to Maura Freitas, founder of the Irish Connection and Irish Benevolent Society of BC.  Maura and her team have put together an excellent and impressive programme of speakers.  Thanks to all the volunteers who made this possible, including my colleagues at the Consulate General in Vancouver, Jennifer Bourke and Frank Flood.  Also special thanks to the sponsors for making this possible. 

Brigid’s Day is going from strength to strength.  It has met a need for women to be recognised and to connect.  It brings balance to the celebration of our heritage in St Patrick’s Day which has traditionally been very male orientated, from St Patrick himself to the often male-dominated Irish societies over the centuries.  Celebrations of our National Day have expressed great pride in being Irish. They sustained not only the fight for independence back home but inspired love and support for Irish heritage within our Diaspora.

St Brigid’s Day adds a whole new and vital dimension to the celebration of Ireland and continuing epic story of the Irish.

There seems to me to be a number of distinct phases in the celebration of St Brigid, well captured in this programme this week.

There is the goddess Brigid from pre-Christian times.  Goddess of spring, fertility, poetry and blacksmithing. She was clearly a very powerful figure in Gaelic society. This reflects the fact that women had agency in Gaelic society and, accordingly, feature as key players in the ancient Irish mythology and sagas. Think Maebh in the Táin and the Morrigan, the great queen of the otherworld who commands war and fate. Marriage was a fluid contract: Divorce was available, relations were formed and reformed. 

I think the fluidity of marriage, its dependence on the quality of the relationship, was because marriage was distinct from property.  Property in Gaelic Ireland was held communally.  You could not alienate it from your kin and their territory, the tuath.  On your death, it reverted to the kin for re-division.   

Then there is the Saint Brigid of Christian times.  There is no doubt that St Brigid was a very powerful figure in early Christian Ireland.  We know this from the fact that she is one of our three patron saints (along with Patrick and Columkille). The order she founded began modestly as a wooden building under a magnificent oak tree that Brigid loved it.  This of course recalls Brigid’s intimate relationship with nature.  So attuned was she to nature that it was said that she could hang her cloak on a sunbeam.  Her cell was situated on a ridge overlooking the grassy plains of the Curragh.  This was probably at the close of the fifth century.  Her convent was a great success and soon expanded, and around it grew the the town of Kildare.  Kildare as a place name means the Church of the Oak.

For centuries after her death in 523, the influence of Brigid’s religious order and its convents around Ireland endured.  There are thirty-four townlands and parishes in Ireland called Kilbride, the church of Bríde.  Indeed, the legacy of St Brigid was so powerful that the episcopal heirs St Patrick in Armagh refrained from imposing their will on her domain.  When Armagh was trying to establish its position as the archiepiscopal head of the church in Ireland in the seventh and eighth centuries, it stepped back from a confrontation with Kildare because of the power of St Brigid. In the Book of the Angel (part of the Book of Armagh), the angel that appears to Patrick and grants him and Armagh leadership of the church in Ireland, says:

“Between St Patrick and Brigit, the pillars of the Irish, such friendship of charity dwelt that they had one heart and one mind. Christ performed many miracles through him and her.  The holy man therefore said to the Brigit, your paruchia in your province will be reckoned unto you for your monarchy: but in the eastern and western part it will be in my domination.”

As the historian Kathleen Hughes notes, “Armagh would not forego her universal claims to sovereignty in these areas, but she recognised the area of central Leinster remained under Brigid’s authority and except from Patrick’s universal claims” (The Church in Early Irish Society, pp 113-114.)

Devotion to Brigid is then eclipsed by the cult of the Virgin Mary in the second half of the nineteenth century, in other words after the catastrophe of the Great Famine, 1845-51. Before this Irish Nakba, the peasantry of Ireland still revered the natural environment and all the invocations of ancient beliefs that came with it – the reverence for holy wells, trees, and sacred places with their immemorial traces of previous occupation, the old churches and pilgrimages.

However, after the Great Famine, the Marian cult takes hold, and St Mary’s popularity grows immensely in Ireland.  Think of those iconic statues of St Mary in churches and grottos around Ireland.  Mary was a new icon befitting the new social imperatives after the Famine. The brutal lesson of the Famine was that the unity of the farm was a matter of life and death.  No more the subdivision among sons, no more the reliance on a single crop. Survival meant having a sustainable farm.  Passing on the farm intact to one son was the highest desideratum. This imperative redefined marriage not as a relationship but as a critical mechanism for inheritance. 

The Catholic Church, already active to secure for itself control of Irish education since the Act of Union of 1800 which abolished the Irish parliament, found a new and vital role for itself in policing sexuality morality and protecting the lineage of property and the integrity of the farm. This meant policing women’s bodies.

The iron relationship between property and marriage, and the influence this in turn provided for the Catholic Church, triggered a grim period for Irish women.  It meant the repression of sexuality. Sex outside marriage was a threat to this new order. Pregnancy outside of marriage was a disaster.  The very allure of women, the pull to form loving relationships was now a threat to the existential need to preserve the farm and to conform to the social dictates of the Catholic Church.

Thus begins a long and difficult period for Irish women. Eligible men are rare and older because they must wait for their fathers to retire to get the farm and marry.  If a son is not to inherit the farm, he can join the British Army, the civil service, become a priest, or a barman.  If not, he will most likely have to emigrate.  For women, the options were far fewer.  By the end of the 19th century, in the tidal wave of Irish emigration to America, more Irish women than men were emigrating. 

In the 1911 census, my great grandmother, Mary Kirrane from Roscommon, is recorded as having had twelve children and she would go on to have another one.  She was forty-five years of age and her husband Michael was sixty-eight.  This was a very typical pattern of the time, late but fertile marriages.

For women who found themselves pregnant outside of marriage, their fate was grim, as was that of their children.  Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Babies Homes, orphanages, adoptions overseas and industrial schools.  The fathers concerned became the great invisible men of Ireland.

The partition of Ireland in 1921 meant a homogenous and triumphant Catholic Ireland after independence in 1922. It also created a new role for the Church and religious orders in the provision of health services. It was a hard and often cruel society for those girls, women and children outside of marriage.

Even in the liberal 1960s, the stigma and shame of relationships outside of marriage were powerful forces.  Young women had to emigrate to find some form of freedom.  Edna O’Brien became the voice and symbol of young Irish women.  Irish women like Bernadette Devlin, Mary Robinson, Nell McCafferty, Nuala O’Faolain and countless others in the suffering rank and file of women led the fight for change.  The Ireland in which I grew up is now no longer. Ireland is a better place across virtually all social and economic metrics. The weight of history has been removed but its impact and costs have yet to be assessed.  

I am delighted to see Monica McWilliams on your roster of speakers, whom I know from Stormont’s Castle Complex during the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement.  The Women’s Coalition, like the women before them in the Peace Movement, played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process.  They were a vital ingredient in the successful negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement because they made sure everyone’s voice was heard, made sure the Agreement represented everyone’s hopes and aspirations.

Enough of me, I do not want to interpose myself as a white male in your programme and discussions. I am delighted and honoured to welcome you and to reiterate my thanks to all those involved in making this happen. Check out the festival’s programme for this week here

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Kill (Cill, a church but also Coill, a wood)

Kill (also Kil, Kyle or even Cal) is second only to Baile as a common root word.  Care is needed because Kill can also derive from the Irish word for a church, Cill, or a wood, Coill.  Joyce reckons about one-fifth of 3,400 Irish place names with Kill refer to a wood. Telling the difference can come down to pronunciation in Irish or a church ruin. #Irishplacenames

Kill is directly taken from the Latin Cella (a room in a building) and marks therefore the arrival of Christianity in Ireland in the fifth century.  Other names in Irish for church all come from Latin: Eaglis, teampall, and domhnach.

Another indicator that Kill in a place name refers to a church is association with a saint’s name: St Canice (Kilkenny), St Columba or Colman (Kilcoman).  St Brigid gives us Cill-Bhrighde or Kilbride and Kilbreedy   Kilmurray might come from a surname but could be Cill-Mhuire, the church of Mary.

As Flanagan points out, if Kill is associated with a parish, the chances are it refers to a church.  Kill as a church is often joined with a local feature; Kildare (Cill-daro, Church of the oak tree), Kilroot (Cill Ruaidh, Church of the red [soil]).

The mellifluous Killashandra, Co. Cavan, is Cill na Seanrátha, the Church of the old fort. Shankill is simply Seanchill, old church and may mean that its original name, likely associated with a saint, is lost.

Tulach is a hill which gives us the parish of Kiltullagh in Co Roscommon.  As Joyce records, it could be the hill of the wood but the ruin of a church on the hill provides the solution. My grandmother Winifred Kirrane was born in Cloonfad East in the parish of Kiltullagh. Recall Cluain fáda, long meadow or pasture, often near a river or a marsh: that indeed is the topography of Cloonfad. 

Christianity in Ireland arrived in three ways. There were small colonies of Christians in the east of Ireland, thanks to the Irish influence in southwest Wales and the traffic across the Irish sea, including the slave trade. Palladius was sent from Auxerre (Burgundy) by Pope Celestine to Ireland in 431 as bishop of the Christians in Ireland. Palladius focused on the south, possibly with Cashel as his base. After his famous six-year stint as a slave, St Patrick returned from Roman Britain around 432. His activities were concentrated in the northeast, central and western areas (see Kathless Huges, The Church in Early Irish Society). His base is traditionally associated with Armagh. Where Palladius was learned and steeped in continental christianity, Patrick declared himself unlearned, speaking a rough Latin without a wide or sophisticated vocabulary. He never refers to Palladius or to any Christians in Ireland before his mission to convert the Irish. Accompanied by young Gaelic nobles and bearing gifts, he was a remarkably successful missionary.

The arrival of Christianity in Ireland was a profound event in Ireland’s history. It brought with not just a new religion but writing. This began a process or recording Gaelic society’s language, laws, literature, history and genealogies. Up to that point, the vast corpus of knowledge and culture was memorized. It is an incredible thought that a whole society lived essentially in a mind-palace. Christianity itself adapted its form to Gaelic society, its power-structures, laws and landholding. Irish monks left their churches and monasteries in the C7th and C8th centuries to establish monasteries and centres of learning in France, Germany and Italy, playing a critical role in saving Western civilization.

In the ruins of churches and monasteries, and in their associated place names, monks prayed, meditated and wrote (and illustrated) the books that changed the course of Irish history and saved western civilization.



30 January 2021


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Bally – Baile (place, home, town, townland)

Bally is one of the most common components of Irish place names, numbering some 6,400.  However, precisely what it means is complicated.  It takes Flanagan some six pages to explain.  Originally it appears to have meant simply a place.  It might even have meant a fort.  Joyce records that that may be why the lighthouse at Howth is called the Bailey because it was built on a promontory fort know as baile. In Cormac’s tenth century Glossary, Flanagan notes, baile is glossed as ráth or fort.

From ‘place’ baile evolved to mean homestead or settlement, referring most likely to the cluster of settlements rather than the unit of land around them.  The arrival of the Normans and the phonetic similarity to villa may have helped ensure its survival as the Normans settled in and adapted to Gaelic society.

Perhaps more directly, the new monastic orders that arrived in Ireland in the mid-12th century, prior to the Normans in 1169-70, had used baile to record grants and endowments of land, content that the term meant a specific unit of land. These are the first records of the use of the term for that purpose.

By the middle of the 11th century, then, when these records began to be kept of who had title to what land, Bally came to describe geographic units.  Again the size was not standard, reflecting the fact that baile was being used to describe the land around settlements of any size.  This evolved so that townlands, the smallest geographic unit, were often called Bally-this or that. Very often baile or bally was associated with a family name, presumably the chief who had possession of the land.  As villages and towns were established, it came to mean one.  The town in question could be of any size, echoing its loose definition of scope and its original meaning of place. 

In the east, as Joyce notes, Bally can be shortened to Bal, as in Balgriffin, Baldoyle, and Balbriggan.

In modern Irish usage, baile means home as in ‘tar abhaile’, come home, or ‘mo sheoladh baile’, my home address. 

So identified with Irish towns and villages that writers often resort to it when dreaming up fictional towns.  Tom Murphy’s 1985 play, Bailegangaire (Baile-gan-gaire, town without laugher) earned its name from the plot.  The BBC’s series (1996-2001) was set in the fictional Ballykissangel which somehow derived from its Irish fictional place name Bally Coisc Aingeal, the town of the fallen angel.  Go figure.  I never watched it so I can’t help there.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, W.B. Yeats used it when creating the name of the Norman tower he purchased and restored near Gort, Co Galway: Thoorballylee, Túr (tower) baile Ó Laoigh (surname).

The biggest Baile needs a separate blog: Baile Áth Cliath, Dublin.


23 January



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Lis (Lios) – Fort

Along with rath and dun, lis means a fort, more specifically the place around a dwelling.  As Joyce notes, where rath may have begun as referring to the rampart and lis to the internal space, that distinction faded over time. Lis is common to 1,400 place names (Joyce) but the distribution is mysterious.  It displaces rath in the north yet is rare in the east, and along the west coast, notably absent from Donegal.  There are heavy clusters in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Roscommon.

Lis has less status that dun (or the rare Daingean, fortress, as in Dingle) or rath and it does not appear in the epic tales, or feature much in the great books of law passed down.  It is often combined with a colour – bán, dubh, buí, ruadh, white black, yellow, red – or size, mór or beag, as in Lismore and Lisbeg. Lis can appear at the end of the place name in its genitive form, as in Moyliss (moy, a plain), Knocknaliss (cnoc, a hill),  and Gortalasse (gort, a field).

The diminutive Leasán or Lisheen appears in twenty townlands, says Joyce; Lissen Hall near Swords is a good example. Lissadell, famed influenced on W.B. Yeats, means Lios-an-doill, the fort of the blind man (Joyce). The definite article appears too as in Lisnamuck in Derry, the Fort of the Pigs (Lios na Muc).           

As Flanagan points out, Lis is often combined with uisce, water; possibly because the ditch outside the rampart was filled with water as an extra defence. Of the twenty-five or so instances of the, most appear only in the west; Lissaniskey for example, Lios an Uisce in counties Cork, Tipperary and Roscommon. If it was a strong fort it might earn the prefix dur, giving us durlas as appears in the anglicized Thurles, Co Tipperary, translated by Flanagan as stronghold.

Lis is at times associated with a name, like Liscolman, or Listowel, Lios-Tuathail, Co Kerry. The Norman Lisrobert, occurs in Co Mayo.  Indeed, it appears that in some instances the Norman conquerors took over an existing lis and built their own fortification on top, such the motte-and-baily at Lismahon, Co Down, and the castle at Liscarroll, Co Cork.



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Rath (ráth), Ring Fort


Rath (Ráth) is a really interesting place name component because it is very common (appearing in about 700 townlands), is transliterated directly into English, and reaches back into our ancient past and its mysteries.

Built during the Iron Age (700/600 BC to 100 AD), a rath is a fort, a circular rampart often enclosing a dwelling comprising several buildings (residence, kitchen, housing for calves, sheep and pigs, and a kiln for drying corn). In place names, rath applies to the whole settlement. 

Less commonly found but also a ring-fort is lios, which tends to appear in the north and is rare in the southeast (Flanagan).  Joyce suggests that originally rath applied to the rampart and lios to the enclosed area, a distinction lost over time (Social History, vol. II, p. 59).

As enclosed spaces raths functioned as residences for the nobles (all landowners) and non-noble freemen with property (though not land), known as bó-aire, meaning a cow chief.

Dún solely refers to the residence of the king (rí) or chieftain but raths served as royal residences too, for that purpose called ríráth generically.

Raths without evidence of buildings may have been used as enclosures for cattle to keep them safe at night.  In Gaelic Ireland, wealth was measured in cattle which in turn determined status in society.  Client relationships were forged through the exchange of cattle. Ireland had wolves so predation was a risk but the real danger to cattle came from kings raiding each other to seize cattle. Ireland’s epic the Táin Bó Cúailnge, concerns the tale of the cattle raid of Cooley and rivalry of the royalty of Connaught and Ulster concerning the possession of the greatest bull in Ireland. Rathcroghan (Cruachain) in Co Roscommon features a lot in it, as the royal residence of the chief protagonist, Queen Maebh.

Raths are often situated on low hills. Rathdrum, the fort of the ridge. Since Ráth is pronounced ‘raw’ in Irish (Joyce), you find it as Ra in English.  Raheny, up the road from Clontarf, for example. Joyce gives it as Eanna’s rath, but Flanagan gives it as Ráth Eanaigh, the fort of the march as does Not to be confused with Raheen, Ráithíní, little forts.

Ranelagh, Raghnallach, Ragnal’s place.  Ramelton, Ráth Maeltain, Mealtan’s place. Raphoe, Ráth Bíoth, fort of the hut.

Rathgar is Ráth Garbh or rough fort: Rathgar is rough no longer and is one of Dublin’s premier suburbs.

Rathfarnham, where I live, had been a village outside Dublin up to the start of the twentieth century but is now absorbed as a suburb.  It is interesting because while Joyce translates it as Farannan’s Rath, Flanagan gives us Ráth Fearnáin, Rath of the alder.

Joyce and Flanaghan agree that Multyfarnham refers to Farannán’s home but Joyce says it is Farannán’s mills (muilte) while Flanagan says it the summit of Farannán’s house (mullach, a summit, tighe a house).  Checking the database, Joyce is correct about Multyfarnham and Flanaghan correct about Rathfarnham.

Rath can also feature at the end of the place name.  Ardara, Co Donegal, in Irish is Ard-a’-raith, meaning the height of the rath. Drumragh, Co Tyrone, the ridge of the fort. Corray, Co Sligo, is Cor-raith, the round/pointed hill of the fort or rath.


Main Sources:

Irish Place Names, Deirde Flanagan and Laurence Flanagan (Gill &Mcmillan, 1994, 2002)

The Origins and History of Irish Names of Places, P.W. Joyce (The Educational Co of Ireland, 1869-1920)

A Social History of Ancient Ireland, P.W. Joyce, (M.H.Gill & Son, 1920).

In Search of the Irish Dreamtime, J.P. Mallory, (Thames and Hudson, 2016)


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Finding Ireland’s dreamtime and history in Irish Place Names

The components of Irish place names are recurrent; for example Kill, Clon, Rath, Glen, Clock, Mullach, Carrick, and Lough (respectively church, meadow, fort, valley, stone, summit, rock, and lake.  ‘Ard’ means high, ‘bally’ means a homestead, place or town, ‘knock’ means a hill, and ‘doon’ or more commonly ‘dun’ means a fort.

Irish place names are most often portmanteaux of these descriptive parts. The combinations produce myriad variations. Necessarily so because there are more than 64,000 townlands in Ireland (the smallest geographic unit ranging from a few acres to a few hundred) and millions of place names.

Many place names originated in what has been called the Irish dreamtime, before recorded history, and are associated with myths, legends, and leading figures. Many others derive from the time of recorded Irish history, notably the arrival of writing and Christianity in the fifth century and then a major influence on place names with the arrival of the Normans, English, and Scottish settlers from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.

Irish places names are then lodestones for our language, history and folklore.  

For the next while I’ll be tweeting how to decode Irish place names and telling their stories. I’ll choose places that have the most common components, along those that are prominent or have interesting backgrounds.  Some will feature simply because I know them. I’d be happy to look up suggestions.

A word on the sources. P.W. Joyce’s The Origin and History of Irish Place Names proved to be very popular when it was published in 1869. Joyce followed this up with a second volume a few years later and a third volume in 1920. It was pioneering work, done within the limitations of research at the time. Joyce travelled about the country collecting oral histories and stories and checking pronunciation (to confirm orthography).  The stories helped ensure the proper interpretation and the correct etymology.  He relied on and acknowledged the research of great linguists and scholars of old Irish, notably figures like John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry, and particularly for his work on place names, the Rev. William Reeves.

These experts and sources, along with the census, the collections in the Royal Irish Academy, and the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (maps of course being so essential), were his tools.  

There is however a caveat.  The late Deirdre Flanagan (née Morton), editor of the Bulletin of the Ulster Place-name Society, lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and an expert on Irish place names reckoned that up to one third of Joyce’s translations are in error.  To be fair to Joyce, he makes it clear time and again that the process of decoding place names is fraught, prone to error, and requiring informed guesswork. To double check Joyce therefore, I am using Irish Place Names (Gill and Macmillan, 1994, 2002) by Deirdre and [also late] Laurence Flanagan (Keeper of Antiquities at the Ulster Museum).   However, that does not mean that Flanagan is accurate in all things.

Where there is a dispute between the two, there is the fantastic, the place names database created by Dublin City University.

A good example is Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath. Joyce and Flanaghan agree that Multyfarnham refers to Farannán’s home but Jocye says it Farannán’s mills (muilte) while Flanagan it as the summit of Farannán’s house (Mullach, a summit, tighe a house). Flanagan’s doesn’t sound right. Logainm gives it as Farannáin’s Mill. Joyce translates it as Farannan’s Rath, Flanagan gives us Ráth Fearnáin, Rath of the alder. Logainm translates fearnáin as alder. Score one all!


Eamonn McKee

Ottawa, January 2020


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Ireland’s Economic Resilience, Canada’s Market Opportunity

Having been tested by the global financial crisis over a decade ago and the now by the Covid-19 crisis, Ireland’s economy has shown tremendous economic resilience.  It came back strong from the former and signs are that we will bounce back robustly from the current difficulties. 

That makes Ireland a great bet for Canadian businesses looking to diversity their markets and build their global portfolio.  We’ve a very business friendly approach to all business, whether large corporations or SMEs. Ireland and Canada have a lot in common and CETA is already spurring our bilateral economic relations. Come Brexit in January, Ireland will be an ideal platform for entry to the massive EU market and all the global markets embraced by the EU’s 70 preferential trade deals.  And if there is one lesson for business from Covid-19, it is the need to diversity markets and supply chains.

Here are the facts, a quick take on Ireland’s fiscal and economic health and a look ahead to 2021.  Unfortunately, I have to mention the dreaded Brexit, the Grinch that stole more than one Christmas! 


As of August, the Exchequer recorded a deficit of over €9 billion, a deterioration of €8.8 billion on the same period last year.  The deficit to date is driven primarily by increased public expenditure, particularly in the areas of health and social protection, as a direct result of the pandemic. Total net voted expenditure of €43.2 billion at end-August was 21.0% or €7.5 billion ahead of profile.

Tax revenue has, on aggregate, performed above expectations due to resilient Income Tax and Corporation Tax receipts, but nonetheless shows a year-on-year decline, with particularly steep falls seen in VAT and Excise duties, reflecting the fall in personal consumption.

The Government has intervened on an unprecedented scale to support the economy, including a stimulus package of €5.2 billion in July, targeted at the most affected sectors with the objective of getting as many people back to work as quickly as possible.

This public deficit impact

The budget deficit impact is in line with most other European countries. However, Ireland is committed to remaining in the ‘middle of the pack’ and restoring the public finances to a credible and sustainable footing so not to risk becoming a fiscal outlier over the longer term. 

This we believe is the wisest course, avoiding any dramatic retrenchment that hinders recovery while retaining our bond market credibility. The result is shown in the market: our costs of borrowing are at historic lows.  We retain at least an ‘A’ grade status with all major sovereign debt rating agencies, with all forecasting a stable outlook. It signals too confidence that Ireland has the capacity to recover from the effects of the pandemic just as robustly as we did from the financial crisis.


The Irish economy entered the Covid-19 induced crisis from a position of strength, with GDP growth of 5.6 per cent recorded in 2019.  In the Stability Programme Update in April, the Department of Finance forecast a decline in GDP of 10.5% for 2020 (15% of modified domestic demand), with GDP growth of 6%.

The contraction in the second quarter of 2020 was less severe than anticipated, due to the earlier than expected reopening of the economy and robust export performance.  This reflected Ireland’s sectoral strengths in pharma, Medtech, digital services and financial services generally.  However, the hit was still huge, with a fall of 6.1 per cent far surpassing the 4.7 per cent decline recorded in the fourth quarter of 2008 when the GFC impacted us.  So a huge hit but not as severe as in the UK, Eurozone and the US where GDP declined by respectively 20, 12 and 9%.

In terms of unemployment, the situation is a tad complicated and the CSO has provided a helpful note on it here.  In essence, simply receiving Covid-related income support does not meet the EU definition of unemployment.  Using the standard definition (actively looking for work), indicates an employment rate in November of 7%.  Including Covid-related payments means that we went from full employment at the beginning of the year to an unemployment rate of 29% by April, pegged back to 15% by now. So we can probably expect that once Covid restrictions are lifted in 2021, employment levels in Ireland will show resilience, particularly as domestic demands returns with a vengeance.

In terms of trade, we see also signs of resilience.  The CSO reports that exports increased by almost €1.5 billion in September bringing value of goods exported to €14bn, an increase of 12% when compared with September 2019. The value of goods exports for the period January to September 2020 was €122bn, an increase of 8% when compared with the first nine months of 2019.  Much of this resilience is due to exports of Medical and pharmaceutical products, up 17% and accounting for 40% of the total value of goods exports.  Our food sector also showed resilience, up 5%. We took a hit with exports of electrical machinery, apparatus and appliances down by 8%. Overall, goods imports dropped by 7% in the first three quarters of this year so our overall trade balance is looking healthy.

On services, we simply cannot see the picture for 2020 yet because of the lag in statistics.  It is a much more problematic exercise gathering services data.  However, services comprise half of our exports and we have very strong digital services.  According to the DHL Global Connectedness Index, Over the twelve months to mid-2020, cross border internet traffic increased by almost 50%, double the previous average.  (If you want a confidence boost about the future of globalisation, read Gillian Tett’s take on the Index in the FT here.)  I’d hazard that when we do see the figures, Ireland will see resilience there too simply because Covid has acted as an accelerant for digital services that were already powering ahead.  

News just in this morning from the Central Statistics Office; the economy bounced back sharply in the third quarter with growth of 11% and all sectors experienced resurgence, particularly those with a domestic focus; consumption, construction, distribution, and hospitality.  Exports also saw a hop of 5.7%.


There is no  gainsaying it, Brexit is going to be a hit on our economy.  However, because we rely on Britain for only 14% of our trade (down by magnitudes historically) and because we are so globally integrated, we will weather the disruption come January in good shape in macro-economic terms. 

Because the hurt will be felt most by our indigenous sector and SMEs, the Government have €340 million set aside for support and mitigation.  New logistical arrangements are in place to get our goods directly to the EU rather than via Britain.  The Government has also established a €3.4 billion Recovery Fund to stimulate increased domestic demand and employment in response to COVID-19 and Brexit. The Recovery Fund will allow the Government to react swiftly and flexibly to provide support for infrastructure development; reskilling and retraining; and investment and jobs.

We might see a few bumpy quarters ahead but the prospects for the Irish economy are to my mind great.  Why the confidence? 

The sectors we are strongest in are the sectors of the future; life sciences, Medtech, pharma, ICT, financial services and services generally, digital services, and high quality/high value ethical food. We are investing in our infrastructure through Project Ireland 2040.  We are investing in our overseas footprint and market presence in Global Ireland.  We are investing in the talents and training of our people through Future Jobs.

We are committed members of the EU, the Single European Market and the Eurozone, the strongest most integrated region in the world today, stronger than most of the world’s largest countries. We share the EU vision for a future that is green, economically sustainable, digital, financially robust, innovative, and welcoming of talent.

In the immediate future, Ireland will be part of the EU’s massive stimulus package, a total of €1.8 trillion – yes, that is CA$2.8 trillion – to help rebuild a post-COVID-19 Europe that will be greener, more digitised. and more resilient than ever.

Above all, I am confident because the Irish people are looking to the future, not to the past.  We understand the lessons of history.  That cooperation and making friends are better than going it alone, without partners. 

That change and adaptation are good and that the best innovation comes from sharing not competition (think Covid vaccines). 

That talent is to be welcomed – today some 17% of people in Ireland are foreign born and one in eight don’t speak English at home.

We value free trade, globalisation, the rule of law, and the universal applicability of human rights.  We put a high value on well-being and equality.

In short, we’re pretty much like Canada.




4 December 2020

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