Ireland is embedded deep in the DNA of its diaspora
Families were fractured but still showed resilience and created new families in so many lands.
The children of these waves of emigrants have made contributions of great importance and, although they are successful and settled in their new lands, the pull of Ireland and its culture and customs remains very strong.
As a member of the diaspora I can relate intimately to this. We have strong ties to the countries we have made home. Yet deep down a couple of lines of Yeats, a snatch of a John McCormack song (we listened on the lovely wind-up gramophone) or a news article about beautiful west Cork sets us thinking. And sometimes leaves us wishing and hoping we could be catapulted back.
There is something in our souls that is stirred. We know about the DNA of our bodies. But what about the DNA in our souls? It is strong and powerful.
We should take time to acknowledge it and draw comfort from belonging to a precious and internationally admired country. The recent approach to the Government by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to facilitate a strand of the third Global Diaspora Forum in Dún Laoghaire says a lot. It is recognition by her that Ireland’s diaspora has thrived, yet has remained very connected to its motherland.
Hosting the Global Diaspora Forum gives us an opportunity to consider how we can link better with our diaspora to exploit new markets, drive innovation and help in problem-solving, including in conflicts and disasters. However, it is also an opportunity to connect with and celebrate our diaspora.
Sense of belonging
Some years ago I visited Ellis Island, which is a symbol and celebration of American immigration. It was a hugely impactful experience. Learning more about the stories of those who came to make the United States their home illuminated my connection to Ireland. I felt a sense of belonging that the 70 million other members of the Irish diaspora – from throughout the ages – shared with me. That experience has resided with me ever since.
I am pleased that the programme for government seeks to support the creation of a diaspora centre.
We must pass on to this generation and to future generations the importance of the Irish DNA of the soul. The sense of belonging to a very precious country brightens our lives. This is what, in strong terms, the diaspora centre will do.
By supporting this, we shall be paying tribute to our ancestors who worked so hard. It will offer a place for people to feel that important sense of belonging. It will give our grandchildren, and generations far into the future, a place to come when they want to seek out their roots.
Baroness Detta O’Cathain is a member of the House of Lords and of the leadership council of the Irish International Diaspora Trust, which is working to create a diaspora centre at Dún Laoghaire Harbour.