The vast influence and power of Ireland throughout the world is proven every St. Patrick’s Day. And don’t think it is just parties and parades; it is testimony to the robust spirit and unique character of the Irish people who vigorously celebrate their loyalty and love for their native land.
Take our own nation’s capital city, Washington D.C. St. Patrick’s Day this year began with an expansive Irish breakfast party at Vice President Joe Biden’s residence, moved to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s private chambers in the Capitol building for an elegant luncheon party, then it was on to the White House itself where President Obama hosted hundreds of Irish and Irish Americans for cocktails, music, and, of course, a few speeches.
What other nation commands such respect and attention? Ireland is by any standard a very small country with just over six million people.
When the Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, came to Boston for Ted Kennedy’s funeral on that memorable pelting rainy day last summer, he agreed to meet with a few journalists. Sitting in a side room at a Boston Hotel in a very wet suit he smiled wryly when asked why so many Irish ministers came to the United States and answered, “because Ireland’s reputation in the United States is the envy of the world and we want to make sure that continues.”
St. Patrick’s Day holidays are celebrated throughout the world, making the remembrance of Ireland’s patron saint one of the most magnificent and authentic marketing tools ever devised. The Irish Tourist Board, for instance, in an effort to improve awareness, struck agreements to bathe the Sydney Australia Opera House, the London eye, Toronto’s CN Tower, and New York’s Empire State in green lights. The fountains on the North Lawn of the White House were colored green for the day and, of course, the central river in downtown Chicago is dyed a bright green during the day. There are certainly many more such examples.
Taoiseach Cowen is the leader of this well-choreographed world-wide effort. He travelled to Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and finally to Washington to meet with businessmen and women. In the Valley, he met with 75 business leaders discussing Ireland’s successful record and during the seven-day trip he spoke positively about Ireland’s future, its welcoming attitudes, and the many tax advantages it offers.
Here in Boston this St. Patrick’s Day, we received attention from Ministers from both the North and South of Ireland and from one of the country’s dominant political leaders, the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams. Public opinion in Boston is important to Ireland, on all sides and to all governments.
Minister of State in Northern Ireland Paul Goggins spoke at the Irish American Partnership breakfast on St. Patrick’s Day morning and then went down to Washington to be with the president at the White House party. Minister Of State Dara Calleary from Mayo also spoke at the Partnership breakfast and later that day at Irish Consul General Michael Lonergan’s party at Faneuil Hall. The South Boston parade attracted thousands despite the rain and Jack Hart’s South Boston Breakfast was again a great hit with all who could get a ticket. Massachusetts was also blessed with several other parades and events. One of the best was on Cape Cod in Yarmouth, a relatively new parade of five years’ standing.
We often hear that it is the Irish Americans who do the celebrating. Not true. Ireland itself has many parties and parades. Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Cork city, Limerick, Armagh, and Coleraine all have significant parades, frequently trying to outdo each other.
But it is the sophisticated government planning and work by so many ministers and other leaders that provides an indication of how wide and powerful Ireland’s influence is today throughout the world. St. Patrick’s Day is not just cocktails and speeches; it is a huge effort by the entire government, especially foreign affairs and tourism, to bring tourists and new business investment to Ireland.
During the St. Patrick’s Day holidays, Irish ministers visited twenty countries and many cities to renew ties and improve contacts. In Western Europe, Rome, Milan, Munich, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Paris, London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Belgium, and the Netherlands all received visits by Irish ministers. In Eastern Europe, it was Warsaw, Vienna, and Russia. In the Far East, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Shanghai. In Australia, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth. In India, Delhi and Mumbai. In New Zealand, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. And in the United States in addition to Boston and Washington. ministers visited Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, New York, and Chicago.
Each minister talked with business people and potential tourists to help make them aware of Ireland’s advantages. This is an enormous effort on behalf of St. Patrick’s Day and one that will pay great dividends for Ireland in the long term. Congratulations to everyone involved.