On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day 2012, the Father Thomas McEntee Reading Room on the 10th floor of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building was awash in green.
The occasion was a special March 16 visit by Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs and trade, to Concordia’s School of Canadian Irish Studies to help celebrate the Irish cultural and religious holiday of March 17.
About 100 guests, including Ray Bassett, Ireland’s ambassador to Canada, members of the Concordia community, Canadian Irish Studies Foundation trustees, and two former government leaders crammed into the recently opened reading room that is filled with hundreds of books on Irish history and culture.
Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, the Johnson Chair in Quebec and Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia, welcomed the audience with a mix of English, French and Irish Gaelic.
He said the presence of the impressive group proved an old Irish saying: “There is no strength like the strength of collaboration.”
Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor Frederick Lowy spoke of Concordia’s association with the University College of Cork and the University College of Dublin. Lowy added that he’d bought the tie he was sporting while on a speaking engagement at Trinity College Dublin.
David Graham, Concordia’s provost and vice-president, academic affairs, spoke of how the university’s new Academic Plan underlines the importance of transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research — an idea perfectly embodied by the School of Canadian Irish Studies.
Michael Kenneally, principal of the School of Canadian Irish Studies, spoke of the impressive growth of the Canadian Irish Studies program — the only one of its kind in Canada — over the past 15 years. Its success, he said, is due in part to being able to tap into the rich vein of Irish history and culture. Government, university and private support has also been crucial. He particularly thanked the extraordinary efforts of foundation chair Brain Gallery, who could not attend the event.
Gilmore spoke of the important relationship between Canada and Ireland and how impressed he is by Concordia’s unique Canadian Irish Studies program. “I’m particularly proud to meet students studying the Irish language,” he said.
He also presented a Certificate of Irish Heritage to two special guests: Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada and honorary patron of the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation, and Daniel Johnson, former premier of Quebec and a trustee of the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation.
Both Martin and Johnson spoke of their Irish heritage. Each has an ancestor who came to Canada from Mayo County, Ireland.
Martin’s relative, James Martin, arrived in 1847 during the Irish Potato Famine. He’s also a descendant, on his mother’s side, of Tom McManamee, who came from Ireland in the early 1800s. “I cannot tell you how touched I am, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister,” he said of the honour.
Daniel Johnson related that his ancestor, George Johnson, came to Canada in 1823. “I am also very touched by this gesture from the old country, the home country,” he said. “We feel, at this time of year, that we are part of the tradition, and while it is not manifest, it is felt.”