‘I felt at home’ – the extraordinary links between Ireland and Ukraine

As Ireland welcomes refugees, Daria Blackwell wants to deepen the bond with Ukraine

The connections between Ireland and Ukraine are manifold. Constance Markiewicz's husband, who ran a stud farm at Zywotówka in central Ukraine, is just one example.

Another is Sophie Raffalovich from Odessa, who married the Irish land reform champion William O'Brien. When the O'Briens retired to Westport, Co Mayo in the early 1900s, they pioneered the use of copper sulphate spray to combat potato blight and gave financial support to improve local fisheries. Sophie assisted local nuns setting up the Westport lace industry.

A century onwards, Clew Bay is home to another remarkable woman of Ukrainian origin. Settling on the west coast of Co Mayo in 2008, Daria Blackwell, born to Ukrainian immigrants, is a sailor, former scientist and medical marketing expert.

'What's not to like about the Irish? The Ukrainians like potatoes; the Irish like potatoes. The Ukrainians love to sing and dance; the Irish love to sing and dance.'

The Ukrainian-American-Irish woman has long been interested in the links between the Irish and Ukrainians. Now more than ever, as Ireland welcomes the first refugees from Ukraine, she wants to deepen the bond between the two countries.

"My mother fled the border region between Ukraine and Poland during world war two," says Daria. "She used to say, 'What's not to like about the Irish? The Ukrainians like potatoes; the Irish like potatoes. The Ukrainians love to sing and dance; the Irish love to sing and dance. The Ukrainians like vodka; the Irish like whisky.'"

“Arriving to Ireland, I was struck by how at home I felt, perhaps because of the parallels between Ukrainian and Irish cultures. Ukrainians are gentle and peaceful. Music and traditional dance are central to their upbringing, as is sport.

“Traditionally agricultural was the central way of life, farming grains and animal husbandry. The celebration of Malanka in Ukraine is a folk holiday on January 13th, which is New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar, and people dressed up in straw costumes – sound familiar? It’s just like the wren boys in Ireland who dressed up in straw costumes and went door to door reciting verses to get money.”

“To me, the Ukrainian and Irish language have a similar feel, with a very soft lyrical quality to both. Ukrainian and Russian may share a similar alphabet, Cyrillic, but they are two different languages.

“Understanding the complexities of Ukrainian society will take some time, but whether they speak Ukrainian or Russian, those who have arrived on our shores are wholly Ukrainian in conviction.

"I think that Irish people will appreciate learning about the Byzantine rite (or Eastern Rite) and Orthodox Christian faiths. Religion is important to Ukrainians, who are mostly Orthodox Christian and Byzantine rite Catholics. While ritually the Byzantine rite is a little different from Roman Catholic, in practice it is wholly Catholic.

"Perhaps it's no surprise that scientists at Trinity analysed DNA from the remains of Celtic people in Ireland and found that their DNA matched that of people who originated in the Steppes of Ukraine.

The people of Ireland have already extended a hugely warm welcome to the first arrivals. Helping them integrate safely into our society should be our first priority

“The Vikings also had a significant influence in both countries; being founders of both Kyiv and Dublin. So we have a mix of Celtic and Viking influence on both societies. Even the national symbol of Ukraine, the Tryzub or Trident, may have its roots in Scandinavian falconry, shared with that of a Viking king of Dublin.”

“Another striking similarity is that both nations suffered devastating famines, a trauma that lives on in the collective memories of the people. In Ukraine, it is known as the Holodomor, meaning ‘Terror Famine’. It was orchestrated by Stalin in 1932 and resulted in the deaths of millions.

“Ukrainians are a stoic but warm-hearted people, consumed by their hunger for freedom. Now that they have had a taste of it, having won their independence fairly recently, they will not give it up.

“The people of Ireland have already extended a hugely warm welcome to the first arrivals. Helping them integrate safely into our society should be our first priority. Many will be traumatised, but our kindness will help them heal.”

Read More

Recommended