AS PREPARATIONS for The Gathering festival in 2013 gain momentum, a Castlebar town councillor, Thérèse Ruane, has called for the establishment of a National Diaspora Centre in the county town. This would complement many of the exhibits and narratives on show at the nearby National Museum of Country Life, opened in Turlough Park just over a decade ago.
The Sinn Féin Councillor, who has worked and travelled extensively abroad, has proposed the former Military Barracks in the town centre as an ideal location.
“I believe that one of Ireland’s greatest resources is our people and that we need to connect with and honour the estimated 80 million people worldwide who make up the Irish Diaspora. A National Diaspora Centre, located here in Mayo, would recognise and honour the lives and achievements of countless generations as well as make important social, business and cultural connections with Irish emigrants and their descendants, to benefit our society and economy,” Cllr Ruane said.
She has tabled a motion about the proposal for the next town council meeting and says she is confident of the support of her colleagues. She also hopes this support will lead to a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister of State, Michael Ring ‘to progress this really innovative project’.
Cllr Ruane observed that our ‘greatest resource is our people who are scattered throughout the globe in the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Caribbean, Latin America and Europe’.
She said: “It is estimated that the Irish Diaspora is made up of more than 80 million people, more than 13 times the population of the island of Ireland. I’ve worked and travelled in many parts of the world and no matter where I’ve been – whether it’s Cuba, United States, Canada, England, Mexico, Venezuela, France, Bolivia, Spain – I’ve met people with Irish origins, with a hunger, a fascination and pride about their Irish identity. I’ve also met many Irish emigrants forced into exile in the 1950s, 1980s, and today as the blight of emigration starts again, who feel neglected, abandoned and let down by their native country.”
Cllr Ruane said that during her travels she was repeatedly amazed at the number of people with Irish ancestry who have played key roles in their adopted countries.
Citing Admiral William Brown of Foxford, the founder of the Argentine Navy, as a celebrated such case, she listed many other famous Irish emigrants whose stories could be exhibited and interpreted at the proposed centre.
“We know of Che Guevara, revolutionary, doctor, author, diplomat an described by Time magazine as one of the one hundred most influential people of the 20th century. His grandmother Ana Lynch fled Galway in the mid 18th century for Argentina,” she continued.
There are numerous other Irish heroes who remain largely unrecognised at home, according to Thérèse Ruane. She cites Ambrose O’Higgins, Spain’s Viceroy to Peru and father of Bernardo O’Higgins, founder of Chile who led the fight for independence from Spain and became the first leader of Chile.
She also refers to The San Patricios, who deserted the US army to the Mexican side in the US-Mexican War of 1846-48 to stand up for the rights of Mexicans to their own land that was rightfully theirs. They fought under a banner of Erin Go Braugh, with St Patrick and a harp.
“I visited the Calle Mártires Irlandeses, the street of the Irish Martyrs, which exists today in Mexico City where they were finally caught, hung and slaughtered. A film has been made about this brave, courageous Irish brigade,” she continued.
While recognising the many good initiatives already implemented both internationally, nationally and here in Mayo – The Diaspora Forum, The Global Irish Economic Forum, www.mayo.ie – she suggests that it is time to take a step further with the establishment of a National Diaspora Centre.
CLLR RUANE lists other famous people of Irish ancestry; John F Kennedy, the 35th US President; Brian Mulroney, the 18th Canadian Prime Minister and Paul Keating, 24th Prime Minister of Australia; Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Beatles; Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis; Peter O’Toole and Maureen O’Hara, Hollywood actors; Henry Ford, businessman; Martin Sheridan, an athlete originally from Bohola, several times Olympian medallist; Eamon de Valera, Uachtarán na hÉireann.
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