Politician from Ireland visits Quinnipiac University, talks ‘global’ Irish people

HAMDEN — A political leader of Ireland toured Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University Thursday during a trip to Connecticut, New York and Philadelphia.

Ciarán Cannon serves as minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the Irish Diaspora and international development. His trip, which started in New York and will conclude in Philadelphia, is focused on meeting with Irish community groups to find how Ireland can keep connected with both its emigrants and their descendants.

There are 34.5 million people in the U.S. who self declare as Irish or who have Irish ancestry and the Northeast has one of the largest concentrations of people with Irish heritage. Connecting Ireland to Irish people all over the world is “incredibly important,” Cannon said.

“When you live on a small island on the edge of Europe, just under 5 million of us, and you have an opportunity to connect with 70 million people all over the world who self declare as Irish and being of Irish descent, that’s an incredible opportunity and an incredible resource,” he said. Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, known in the country as Taoiseach, wants Ireland to become a dominant force in world affairs over the next 10 to 20 years and the only way they can do that is through their people, Cannon said.

“We want to develop a sense of a global Irish people, not confined to that little island at the edge of Europe, but spread across the whole world so when people feel that affinity, that sense of loyalty to Ireland, we want to mirror that, reciprocate that, and allow us to connect in a more meaningful way over the next number of years,” Cannon said.

Quinnipiac has a strong connection to the Irish community through the museum, which has the world’s largest collection of artwork related to Ireland’s Great Hunger from 1845 to 1852. One collection of artwork housed at the museum will be brought for a tour to Dublin, Skibbereen and Cork, Ireland, from March to September. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs is supporting its transportation by donating 100,000 euros to bring the 50 pieces over.

“It’s important for us as a people and country to get a chance to reflect on that horrendous time in our history and this will give us a chance to do exactly that,” Cannon said. Ryan D. Mahoney, executive director of Ireland's Great Hunger Museum said this will be the first time the collection “comes home.”

“The Irish story is the immigrant story and we use it to talk about modern day hunger issues and refugee stories,” Mahoney said.

To help connect Ireland to the Irish community abroad, the end of Cannon’s trip will culminate in the launch of the first Foróige club in the U.S. in Philadelphia. Foróige is a youth organization in Ireland that gets youths involved in their local community and helps youths developas civic leaders. The first club was established in Mooncoin, Ireland, in 1952 and the Philadelphia club will be the first Foróige club outside of Ireland.

“We thought it was appropriate in trying to strengthen the next generation of Irish American’s across the U.S. to give them the chance to become involved in this youth movement founded in Ireland, based in Ireland,” Cannon said. Hehopes it will become a template for other Irish-American communities across the country to give their youth the same opportunities.

Cannon said they want people to feel they are part of the greater global Irish community no matter where they are in the world and technology and social media will have a huge part to play in connecting Ireland to itsmany members abroad, especially since people are becoming increasingly mobile.

“That’s where we need to move to and put aside that sense that you’re not Irish unless you’re on the island,” Cannon said. “You are Irish no matter where you are in the world.”