Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

A Vancouver welcome for new Irish immigrants

In the last couple of years, the influx of young Irish immigrants to Vancouver has been greeted with mixed feelings by those of us who’ve been here a long time, writes Mary Monks of the Irish Women’s Network.

Sat, Nov 12, 2011, 06:00


In the last couple of years, the influx of young Irish immigrants to Vancouver has been greeted with mixed feelings by those of us who’ve been here a long time, writes Mary Monks.

On one hand, it’s lovely to hear young Irish voices in the street, in the elevator – sorry, lift – in the shops and offices. On the other, it is distressing to think of the loss: the loss to these emigrants of their homeland, families and friends, the loss to Ireland of so many thousands of bright young people, and the great loss to us older emigrants, too, who care deeply about the wellbeing of our country and who deplore the squandered opportunities of the years of prosperity.

So you might describe the emotions among the Irish community in Vancouver — a loosely knit community that is connected through web sites, Facebook pages, and The Celtic Connection newspaper — as anger at the terrible waste that this migration represents, mixed with a heartfelt concern for our young newcomers. Because, despite its origins in Britain and Ireland, society in this part of the world is hugely different in its thinking, its assumptions, its – I almost said ‘customs and traditions’, but it doesn’t really have any. For Vancouver, lovely though it is (“stunningly beautiful” in the words of one rather mature newcomer), was only discovered 144 years ago, is highly multicultural, and hasn’t had a chance to develop its own character or personality.

Isolated as a lone immigrant in Vancouver myself in the early 1990s, and hoping for a job with someone Irish, I joined the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce. There were a few other women in the Chamber like myself: no good reason for joining a chamber of commerce except that it offered contact with other Irish people.

And then I read President Mary Robinson’s Cherishing the Diaspora, and later Rosita Boland’s On the Women’s Day of Christmas (The Irish Times, 6 January 1998). The first motivated me to stop waiting around for others to do something, and the second to organise a gathering of Irish women to celebrate Nollaig na mBan. The opinions I sought were encouraging and so, with the support of a few friends, the Irish Women’s Network of BC was born in April 1998.

Thirteen years later, with the recent arrivals very much in our thoughts and real concern for them widespread in the community, the IWN held a networking event for our new arrivals in the early summer, and another when the Ambassador was in town in September, so that they could, at least, connect with each other and know that we were there to help if needed. Our only publicity was on the Web, especially Facebook, and it served us well. We had a good response. But we knew something more practical was needed. .

Job hunting in Vancouver is not like it is in Ireland. Here it’s not a matter of getting your CV to as many companies as possible, but rather of ditching your CV, writing a resume tailored to the requirements of a specific job, and incorporating elements that demonstrate your abilities and achievements. It is also about whom you manage to connect with – a sort-of variation on “who you know” in unstructured situations that are not overtly about job seeking. It was essential to get this information to our newcomers. But resources are minimal.

Fortunately Ireland’s new Ambassador to Canada (Ray Bassett) is very involved with the Irish Community throughout the country and greatly concerned for our new immigrants. With his encouragement, we applied for, and received, a small grant from the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme to fund some networking events.

And so it was that, last Saturday afternoon, November 5th, more than 100 Irish people gathered at BCIT in Vancouver, about 70 newcomers and 30+ longer settled members of the community, for a serious networking event, the first of two. (The next one will be in February/March.)

An energy seemed to infuse the room as one of our speakers, (Jennifer Gervès-Keen) told participants how to go about the business of finding jobs. Then, while others told stories of how these strategies had worked for them, Jennifer retreated to a table where she was surrounded by people looking for help with resumes they brought. For a couple of hours, she scrutinised, scribbled, advised, rewrote, and made suggestions, until long after most people had gone home.

For me, one of the more exciting aspects of the event was that the Recruitment Manager from the company I work for not only attended, but expressed interest in hiring Irish immigrants. Further, he wants to find a way of making connections in Ireland to enable him to recruit more young Irish people. Fortunately, a young Irish woman present, one of our speakers who is a relatively recent arrival, has useful contacts back home. Who knows where this will lead?

It’s all about networking!

Sometimes I’m a little envious when I see this generation of emigrants enjoying the company of Irish friends; with Skype, the Internet, e-mail, YouTube, The Irish Times and RTE all right at their fingertips. All that and a concerned group of people trying to ease them into their new lives. It is far removed from my own emigrant’s world of twenty years ago when none of these things existed, phone calls home cost $1.20 a minute, and it took ten days for letters and The Irish Times to reach me.

But the envy doesn’t linger long. I, too, now have all those benefits of communication. And I have half a dozen thick binders filled with treasured letters from parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and many others – so much more tangible and lasting than e-mails. Furthermore, I love the fact that my Ireland is still there when I go home: friends, family, relations, former colleagues. I wonder, sadly, how many of this scattering will be able to say the same in a few years’ time?

Mary Monks founded the Irish Women’s Network in Vancouver in 1998. See