Ireland’s US Ambassador Talks to Cleveland Ahead of Muted St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

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Ireland’s Ambassador to the US, Daniel Mulhall, spoke to Clevelanders last week about the rich history between the U.S. and Ireland and the Irish connection to Cleveland that continues to develop today.   

Global Cleveland hosted the online event – the Ambassador spoke from Washington DC, where he says he has been since last April at the start of the pandemic.  

Mulhall says he talks about Cleveland quite often when speaking to the people of Ireland. “I almost always refer to Cleveland,” he says. “This is a midsize American city, and yet it has an institution known the world over in the Cleveland Clinic. I give that message to people in Ireland to inspire them. You don’t have to be New York, LA, or San Francisco, to host global entities like the Cleveland Clinic. That’s a very good message for other parts of the world who are trying to find ways of developing their own economic potential.”

Brexit remains among the most queried topics Mulhall faces. “There is no good version of Brexit, from the Irish point of view,” he says. 

Ireland is not part of the UK, but it shares a land border with it that divides the island between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. Most Americans are familiar with this area from the news of regular bombings by political groups in the 1960s to 90s, like the IRA, who sought to throw the British out and unite the island. That land border has been of much concern during Brexit, eventually resulting in laws Mulhall says ‘uniquely favor’ Northern Ireland.    

“Our main priority is to protect the open border on the island of Ireland,” says Mulhall. “We now have a protocol signed by the EU and the UK and approved by both parliaments…which commits both sides to never having a border on the island of Ireland.

“The whole idea behind the Northern Ireland protocol is to make Northern Ireland unique. It will be the only place in the whole world that will have total access to the UK market and free access to the European single market.”

Ireland is already notable as one of the US’s best business partners, with particular connections to Cleveland’s city. The outgoing US Ambassador to Ireland, Edward Crawford, is the son of Irish immigrants and grew up in Cleveland Heights. The first Irish immigrants to Cleveland arrived in the 1840s to escape the Potato Famine and find jobs building the Ohio and Erie Canal. Families and neighbors followed each other overseas, resulting in a large diaspora of Irish immigrants, specifically from County Mayo in the west of Ireland, permanently settling in Cleveland. Their descendants make up the current Irish population in Cleveland and are familiar to the Ambassador.

“I’ve met more than a hundred,” he says. “The vast majority are not just from Mayo, but [specifically] from Achill Island.” 

This connection led to an official “sister-city” relationship established in 2003 between Cleveland and County Mayo. Kenny Deery, the Executive Director of Galway Chamber and a special guest to this event, explains: “The origins of our sister-city engagement with Cleveland stems from patterns of immigration over the years, particularly the pattern of Irish to Cleveland. There are many tributes and nods to this area around the Angle in the Flats area, Kamm’s Corners, Battery Park, and other Cleveland areas. Such was the level of the cluster of Achill and Mayo people that about twenty years ago, it was agreed that we should formally recognize this and potentially build on the opportunities that could be harnessed from a twinning.” 

Since the official pairing, the cities have collaborated on several ventures, including a fundraiser in Cleveland that helped build a sightseeing aquarium in Mayo that now features a “Cleveland Wall” displaying the donors’ names. 

Deery says ‘over 50’ businesses from the West of Ireland have come to Cleveland to pitch business ideas or to use Ohio as a location to launch their business into the US market: “These range from technology businesses looking to meet people in jumpstarts, food producers, for example, smoked salmon producers, energy drink producers…looking to pitch to Heinen’s, using local connections to get in the door…there have been fascinating encounters over time.

“And we’re [currently] working with two Cleveland businesses looking to use West Ireland as their launchpad into EU markets.”

The panel also included Mark Owens of RelateCare, an Irish medical consultancy firm with Cleveland clients, and the local Consul General of Ireland, Kevin Byrne. All the panelists expressed disappointment that St. Patrick’s Day events in Cleveland and worldwide have been affected by the pandemic. Still, all stated they look forward to returning to celebratory times and visiting Cleveland once again.