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!