There was no question which embassy home in Rockcliffe Park was hosting the St. Patrick’s Day receptions on Thursday — the one with the tasteful shamrock decor on its front door.
Inside, a wonderful world of Irish culture awaited some 400 to 500 guests welcomed by Irish Ambassador Eamonn McKee with his wife, Mary Rae McGillis-McKee.
The embassy held back-to-back receptions, first for a group of mostly foreign diplomats, followed by a second for Ottawa residents and community groups with deep and proud Irish roots.
The Ottawa Hospital’s future neuroscience institute ‘a game changer’ for ground-breaking treatment
The new neuroscience institute will provide a hub for brain-related researchers and clinicians – one of the strongest of its kind in the world.
Relationship building for businesses: How the Ottawa Senators can help you get it right, every single time
The Ottawa Senators have worked with businesses across the city for years, providing top-quality team building experiences for companies of all sizes.
The annual gathering hadn’t been held in four years. It was cancelled at the last second in 2020, just as the pandemic arrived. Its absence had been greatly missed, judging by the strong sense of community apparent that night.
Ireland’s minister of health, Stephen Donnelly, told everyone at the earlier reception what an honour it was for him to be there.
“As you can imagine, as minister of health during COVID, it’s nice,” he said as the room broke out into knowing laughter. “I actually got to have full conversations with various people today.”
Donnelly delivered a sincere thank you to retired Canadian general John de Chastelain for all his work as chair of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, from 1997 to 2011. The commission was responsible for ensuring the decommissioning of arms by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, as part of the peace process. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement is next month.
The minister also gave a special shout-out to Liberal MP James Maloney (Etobicoke-Lakeshore). Maloney successfully brought forward the motion in the House of Commons to designate March as Irish Heritage Month in Canada.
Other guests who attended that night included local businesswoman Sue Healy, owner of the Sue Fay Healy Irish Dance Studio, Heart & Crown Irish Pubs’ Shauna Bradley, who was gearing up for today’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and Ottawa rugby legend Al Charron.
Attendees were also encouraged to sample some of the imported Irish whiskies and to enjoy the live entertainment of traditional Irish dancing, music, song and poetry.
Not to be missed was Patrick McDonald’s boutonnière of shamrocks. The plants were hydroponically cultivated in Ireland before arriving here as part of a larger shipment. McDonald owns St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, home of the National Irish Canadian Cultural Centre.
Ottawa city councillor Theresa Kavanagh, who’s especially proud of her Irish heritage, was there with some of her colleagues, including Ariel Troster, Rawlson King, Wilson Lo, Marty Carr and Riley Brockington.
While welcoming everyone, the ambassador spoke about the universal story of immigration as it relates to Saint Patrick and to the Irish famine migration to Canada in 1847. More than 100,000 people fled here from Ireland over the course of that year, during a deadly typhus outbreak.
“The Canadians looked after them and they showed them tremendous compassion,” said McKee. “They gave them opportunities.”
Saint Patrick had also, at one time, been an immigrant and outsider to Ireland, he pointed out.
“When you offer assistance and compassion to the stranger on your shore, this is how you’re rewarded — by lives saved and contributions to your own society.
“And I think that’s the greatness of Canada and of Ireland, too. It’s what we have in common, that sense of community that we’re celebrating today.”
Among those touched by the ambassador’s remarks was Jennifer Conley, chief advancement officer at Carleton University and president of Carleton University Foundation.
It meant the world, she said, to be able to rejoin her fellow community in recognizing the “epic contributions” of the Irish diaspora to Canada in such areas as music, arts, culture, business and politics.
“Green beer and shenanigans are fine, and everyone being Irish for the day is great,” said Conley.
But St. Patrick’s Day goes much deeper than that, she added.
“It’s about celebrating all of the progress we’ve all made together.”