Celtic Junction Arts Review

Acting Locally, Engaging Globally

By Natalie Nugent O'Shea

While CJAC has its feet on the ground with the local community year-round, our engagement with the Irish Consulates and the Irish Embassy has increased exponentially as we have become founding members of the Midwest association of Irish Cultural Centers, and the National Irish Cultural Centers of North America (NICCoNA).  Since our last Celtic Junction Arts Review, we met with the Midwest association in Chicago for a round table meeting with Ambassador Dan Mulhall, and with the National association in New York for discussion on sharing best practices, increasing opportunities for artists and arts programs from Ireland, and connecting with like-minded institutions across the country – acting locally, and engaging globally.

Cormac & Natalie O’Shea with Culture Ireland’s Valerie Behan

In both cases for the Midwest and the National groups, the Irish Government is reaching out to Irish cultural centers like ours to help them connect with their diaspora, to share news of Ireland’s development, and to ally with them as they expand Ireland’s global footprint as part of an initiative begun in 2018. The centers themselves are coming together to discuss challenges, to create connections, and to share successes.               

Irish Arts Center NY under construction
IAC|NYC’s Executive Director Aidan Connelly

On this last trip to New York, we got to see the new Irish Arts Center IAC/NYC $50 million center in the process of being built, a showcase of new touring theatrical shows coming out of Ireland, and to hear the pronouncement of Galway as the European Capital of Culture for 2020 by the mayor of Galway himself. CJAC shares the happenings of those meetings, and transcribes some of the inspiring speakers from these events to bring our community into the conversation.  If you have not seen them yet, here are links to some of those events in past Celtic Junction Arts Reviews:

It has been incredibly important to us as we develop Celtic Junction Arts Center and issue our inaugural Annual Report and Strategic Plan to think outside of the box – beyond our own walls, state, and even beyond our own country.  It is only by reaching outward to other centers and connecting with like-minded institutions across the world that we can find and develop our place in it. Here are some of our exciting developments this year:

  • We are delighted to have partnered with Irish Fair of Minnesota to produce the Irish Arts Week, which will prove to be the largest yet, hosting over thirty events across twelve days, including the Minnesota premiere of the Consulate’s Irish Language Exhibition.  
  • Our collaboration with the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies has blossomed, as we are featuring both the 2019 and 2020 O’Shaughnessy Poetry award winners for lectures and colloquia at CJAC and planning the upcoming Emigration Symposium together for March 14th.  
  • CJAC welcomed the Global Minnesota Forum, featuring a presentation and panel discussion with representatives from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on the subject of empowering youth.
  • We hosted our first arts tour and photography exhibition from IAC/NYC Irish Arts Center New York as part of the Wildflowers performance and exhibit. 
  • CJAC was invited to be the host country to the American Swedish Institute this year, staging our first external exhibition as part of their 90-year holiday celebrations. 
  • The connection we have made with the University of Maynooth for their T.E.G. (Teastas Eorpach Gaeilge) program has been both exciting and humbling, as we prepare for their examinations of our Irish College students for their Irish language exam on June 6th. 

We look forward to the upcoming year ahead as we continue to deepen and develop these world-wide relationships.  CJAC is also deeply honored to anticipate the arrival of Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall to Minnesota as the Irish Arts Week culminates in its final event on Tuesday, April 28th.  We will have some exciting new announcements to share with you all, but the gathering will also be bittersweet as we bid farewell to Consul General Brian O’Brien, who completes his assignment to the midwest region.  All our Celtic Junction community is welcome for an evening reception together at 7pm. Please join us as we show them both our deep appreciation with a hearty Minnesota welcome and some feisty Irish fun.

If you would like to hear about the latest developments, read on to:

  • Part One: Midwest Cultural Centers –  Roundtable meeting in Chicago November, 2019, with Ambassador Dan Mulhall
  • Part Two: National Irish Cultural Centers of North America (NICCoNA) – Convention in New York, January 2020, with Speakers from Culture Ireland 
    • P.S.: Galway 2020 – European Capital of Culture!
We Banjo Three, performing at the NYC Consulate reception in January.
We Banjo 3, performing at the NYC Consulate reception in January.

Part One: Midwest Cultural Centers –  Roundtable meeting in Chicago November, 2019, with Ambassador Dan Mulhall.

A small group (23 attendees) of Midwest Cultural Centers met at DePaul University as part of a round table meeting with Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall.  The Ambassador addressed those of us there, and spoke a few words about the purpose of the Roundtable before addressing a congregation of attendees at DePaul University.

Ambassador Mulhall:

Daniel Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to the US
Daniel Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to the US

“Thank you for gathering today.  The biggest revelation for me is how the Irish in America are everywhere. You always think of Boston, Chicago, New York, and we don’t think of all the other places that you find that also strongly represent the Irish: Cincinnati, Cleveland – all over the place. I’ve been down in places as far flown as San Diego, Charleston, Charlotte, North Carolina, Miami – you name it – anywhere I’ve been, I’ve come across strong Irish communities with a strong sense of Irish heritage. Even though it may be a very limited number who are Irish-born in those places, still the tradition thrives in these places. People have a genuine affection for our country and an affiliation with Ireland. 

I’ve been in this game now for 41 years.  I know I don’t look that old, (laughter) but I can’t help but think of the 41 years and looking back and thinking what it was like when I first started this journey, back in 1978. At that time, we were a struggling country – lets be quite clear about that, people were still emigrating – we didn’t see ourselves as a leading economy, in any way. We were struggling to … well, we were close to the bottom of a ladder.  Not in global terms, but in European terms, we were the poorest country in Europe, by far. We were trying to make those steps to improve our economic condition. At that time, one of the first things I heard about was the Irish diaspora. We didn’t call it that in those days, we called it the Irish in America, cause people coming home from the United States would tell you about the Irish in America, but I never had any real knowledge of it, to be quite honest, because it just wasn’t part of my experience.  

I started off in India, back in 1980 and I then did postings in Austria, in Belgium, Scotland, Malaysia, Germany, the UK, and now in the US, so I’d been around the place, but never in America.  Until I came here two years ago, it was Terra Incognita. I had been here on a J-1 visa as a student in the 1960s but it was in Kansas City (that doesn’t count) but it wasn’t the typical Irish-American environment, although I did meet some people who did look after me very well.  At that time, when I first started, we took the Irish around the world for granted – they were there, but they came back in the summer and they wore their green slacks, and at that time Irish people didn’t wear green at all – even on St. Patrick’s Day they’d kind of have the shamrock in their pocket, but that was the greenery for the year.  Americans came to Ireland and people appreciated the fact that they came as tourists, and bought Irish products, but they didn’t really feel the connection that we feel today. 

The biggest change in the last twenty years has been that we are now actively aware of our global Irish community and we are aware that we need to relate to them, we can’t just sit there and observe. We have to be active – that’s why we have now seven consulates in the states, with an eighth one planned for next year in Miami, so we will have eight consulates. At that stage, we will have as many consulates as France, Germany and the UK, countries that have a population of fifteen, twenty times our population. That’s because we recognize the importance of connecting, intensively, with the 33 million+ people of Irish heritage in this country. 

Global Ireland Initiative logo

We have this Global Ireland policy, which is designed to recognize a simple fact – that we’ve changed.  We are not the country we were when we started off in 1978. We are now a fully developed country, and we have responsibilities as a fully developed country. Also, we’ve got interests that we have to look after, we can’t just hope for the best and ride the tide and hope we’ll end up in the right place.  We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have, as a small country. Also, we have to watch out for the risks that threaten us, now and in the future. So, our government is engaging in a new strategy for connecting with the Irish diaspora. It will be published probably, some time in the first quarter of next year. We are providing feedback into that process in Dublin so that we can take account of these people around the world who are part of our global Irish community. 

So for me, I am extremely proud of the way in which people of Irish descent in this country genuinely have a feel for Ireland and genuinely try to be supportive of Ireland, to be affiliated with Ireland and have an affinity with Ireland.  It is an extraordinarily precious resource that our country has. Most other countries – well, ambassadors I know from other countries who have quite large diasporas here – have no sense of the same kind of connection as that which we have in the Irish case. So I thank all of of you for what you do, and pay tribute to you for the way in which you have taken hold of the challenge of passing the heritage of Ireland, and the Irish American heritage, on to future generations be it through music, dance, cultural activities, literature, and through a whole range of economic activities as well.  The modern relationship of the United States with Ireland is multifarious. It is one based on, of course, sentimental, traditional attachments between our two countries, on generations of migration, and on a modern connection, which is driven forward by 750+ US companies that are located in Ireland and the 500 Irish companies that are located here, many in the Chicago Area.  

Chief Francis O’Neil
Chief Francis O’Neill

So, I want to thank the Consulate, for what they do – not just my two colleagues here, Brian and Sarah, but also the staff at the Consulate – I met them all this afternoon for lunch.  They are dedicated people who spend a long time and a lot of effort to make sure that Ireland’s flag is being flown here to the best possible extent. I recognize the Midwest as a special place for Irish identity and Irish heritage. Everywhere I go here, I realize that people who have been really huge contributors to Irish culture actually came from the Chicago area – Liz Carroll came from here, Michael Flatley. Across the board there are all kinds of people from this area. I was shown today a copy of a book from a police commissioner, here, Chief O’Neill.  Imagine that – a policeman, when those today would hardly have the time or inclination to be more than be a policeman and then to look after their family commitments, and this man devoted himself to saving Irish music from, perhaps, disappearing down the black hole of history.  

Reception view from the top of 1 East Wacker Drive, home to the Chicago Consul General.

So, the more I learn about the Irish heritage of this part of the United States, the more impressed I am. Honestly, when I go around the country, I become emotional about the sheer quantity and the quality of the American connection with Ireland and the connection of Irish-Americans. It does move me, enormously, when I meet people who want to have their photographs taken with me – and not because I am anything to photograph (laughter) but because I am the Irish Ambassador. A number of people over the last two years have said to me, “Oh, my grandfather/my grandmother would be so proud that I am standing with the Irish Ambassador to the United States”. That makes me feel quite emotional, I confess.  So, my purpose in being here today is to talk to you, to listen to you, and answer any questions you may have. I’m particularly keen to listen, and to know how things are within the Irish community in this part of the country, how your various projects are going, what works for you, and what we can do to help you further. There is always going to be a limit to the amount of funding that we have – the funding will continue to rise, but it will rise slowly, and we’re not going to be able to fulfill all the needs that are there, we can’t provide full funding for most of the organizations, however deserving you are of full funding. There simply isn’t enough in the pot to go around, but we will continue to provide support in funding through the work that Sarah is doing at the Consulate, and my colleagues around the United States are doing in their respective consulates, and at the embassy to try to support what you do. Ultimately, we need to be open to helping and supporting you in as many ways that we can, in order to ensure that the goal of preserving and nurturing Irish culture and Irish identity in the United States is pursued to the best possible effect.  Thank you very much.”

Roundtable Discussion

Ambassador Mulhall requested each attendee introduce themselves and their organization, and following that, prompted a discussion began on the needs of the Midwest area organizations.  Aside from funding, four main points were made. One; it was recognized that regularity of the meetings would be much easier to plan for and attend. Two; the presence of the Consulate and Embassy representatives at centers and at events was significant, and helped increase visibility in the communities we serve. Three; that increasing connection and communication between the centers with a central contact list is critical to our continuing success.  Four; that one of the biggest set-backs to our progress and development across the board was the difficulty and expense of the visa process. A representative from the Chicago Social Services organization attended, and offered to help connect us with a legal organization for a webinar on updates to the visa process, including changes to the performer and ensemble visas. The webinar took place with success, and with many additional organizations taking part in the Coalition of Irish Immigrant Centers P&O Visa Session with McEntee Law Group. CJAC would be happy to direct any interested parties to those resources.

Part Two: National Irish Cultural Centers of North America (NICCoNA) – Convention in New York, January 2020, led by Consul General Ciarán Madden with Speakers from Culture Ireland.

Cormac O’Se dancing with We Banjo 3 at NICCoNA in New York, Jan, 2020

The National Meeting was convened in the New York Consulate in association with Culture Ireland and with support from the Embassy.  Following a coffee and tea reception, the attending organizations were addressed by The Consul General:

Ciaran Madden
Ciaran Madden

Consul General NYC, Ciaran Madden welcomed the attendees to the Consulate for the third meeting of the network. He spoke about the Global Ireland Programme and its focus on culture and its connection to Ireland’s place in the world.  New embassies and consulates have been opened, consolidating the Government’s commitment to expanding Ireland’s diplomatic and cultural reach. A new Cultural Director has been appointed at the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eugene Downes and he was introduced to the meeting.  It is hoped that a Cultural Officer will be appointed in 2020 to work in the US. The Cultural officer would have the intention of helping to connect the Irish cultural centers in North America.

Christine Sisk with Cormac and Natalie O'Shea
Christine Sisk with O’Sheas, 2019

Christine Sisk, Director of Culture Ireland thanked the participants for attending the meeting and especially those who had travelled long distances to attend.  She spoke of the importance of the work that the Irish Cultural Centers do, and highlighted the benefits of joining up touring for artists and the centers and the advancement of Irish culture throughout the US.

Eugene Downes
Eugene Downes

Eugene Downes, Cultural Director at Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spoke about his ambitions for his role and how important the promotion of Irish culture is on a global scale and the linkages between diplomacy and culture.  He also thanked the attendees for their dedication to the presentation of Irish artists and art and he looks forward to developing his role further and working with colleagues in the future.

Patricia Philbin
Patricia Philbin

Patricia Philbin, CEO of Galway 2020 addressed the meeting about the varied and exciting programme of events scheduled for Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture.  She spoke of the four distinct themes of the programme associated with the ancient Celtic calendar beginning with Imbolc in the first week of February.  She presented promotional video and invited all to visit Galway throughout 2020 to experience the events first hand.

Neil Murray
Neil Murray

Neil Murray, co-director Abbey Theatre, spoke about the 2020 programme at Ireland’s National Theatre.  He also spoke to the ambitious plans for redevelopment of the theatre and the importance of retaining the address on Abbey Street as a link to the original theatre.  

Roundtable Discussion

A tour de table took place and all participants were very engaged and grateful for the opportunity to take part in the discussion and share experiences with fellow participants and with Culture Ireland and DFAT colleagues. 

Christine Sisk thanked all for their active participation in the meeting and invited the participants to the Culture Ireland Showcase in the IACNY (Irish Arts Center New York) and to see the progress of the new building.

Consul General thanked all for their attendance and engagement and invited them to stay for lunch and to return to the Consulate for the Galway 2020 reception that evening. 

P.S.: Galway 2020 – European Capital of Culture!

Mike Cubbard, Mayor of Galway
Mike Cubbard, Mayor of Galway

The Mayor of Galway, Mike Cubbard, greeted guests and spoke about how honored the city of Galway is to be the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2020.  As Cultural centers, we were encouraged to try to engage with events, and that some of the arts and events produced there may become available to us abroad following their year in the spotlight.

Information on Galway’s year of events here.

Galway City Centre
Galway City Centre. Photo by Ivar Husevåg Døskeland (CC BY 2.0)

The charming city of Galway on the west coast of Ireland has been selected as European Capital of Culture for 2020, one of the largest cultural events in the world. Throughout this Galway 2020 programme, the themes of language, landscape and migration come to life. Structured around the old Celtic calendar of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, Galway 2020 begins in February and runs through until the end of January 2021, kicking off a year of theater, literature, visual arts, music, dance, film, architecture, heritage, sport and food events.

Galway 2020 will focus on the themes of landscape and language, and there is no better place on the island of Ireland to immerse yourself in these. With events taking place everywhere from the wild, savage beauty of Connemara to the welcoming bustle of Galway’s towns, villages and city, the region will come alive like never before.