St Patrick’s Day festivities help Irish make a mark in Asia

Ministers on hand as national holiday is celebrated in China, South Korea, Singapore

The rapidly expanding Irish community in Asia made its presence felt over the course of St Patrick's Day.

It may be apocryphal that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, but perhaps it was fleetingly so when it was lit up in green for the first time to mark St Patrick's Day at Badaling on the outskirts of Beijing.

The illumination was overseen by Ireland's ambassador to China, Paul Kavanagh, with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin also present.

Minister Howlin's profile has been high during his visit. He outlined Ireland's plans to set up its first diplomatic mission in Hong Kong this year in a bid to increase its presence in Asia, and he also wrote an editorial for the South China Morning Post in the territory.


Here he outlined Ireland’s road to recovery and said this was a very positive moment for Ireland’s relationship with China and with Hong Kong.

“My visit this St Patrick’s Day aims to reinforce these connections and to open new opportunities for mutually beneficial co-operation,” he wrote.

As well as lighting up the Great Wall, a cross-section of artists from Ireland and China will stage Convergence 2014, which is a cross cultural collaboration between artists from Dublin, Cork and Belfast and their peers in Beijing Shanghai and Hefei. The exhibition is curated by Fion Gunn, Sean Campbell and Niamh Cunningham

In China’s financial capital Shanghai, nearly 5,000 people turned out to visit the festival which took place in the Shanghai International Fashion Centre on Yangshupu Road in Yangpu disctrict.

Visitors were treated to a parade led by a Chinese dragon sporting a green beard, live performances of Irish music, singing and dancing from both the Irish and the local Chinese communities in Shanghai.

“I was proud to see so many of the Irish community and local residents come together to celebrate Irish culture in Shanghai,” said Ireland’s Consul General, Austin Gormley. “The festival is about sharing our traditional music, dance and sports and it was great to see so many Shanghaiese children’s groups participate. The glorious St Patrick’s weather capped a perfect day,” he said.

Katherine Zhang, 25, an account executive in an international advertising agency, had seen Irish dancing a la Riverdance on the TV and the internet.

“But today is the first time I’ve seen it performed live - and by Chinese dancers too. It was fantastic and really exciting. It’s great to be able to watch the dancing and listen to the traditional Irish music performed live and funny to see so many people dressed up in funny hats and green wigs,” she said.

Ms Zhang said she would upload plenty of photographs to her Weibo and WeChat accounts, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter.

“I know the Irish are famous for being very friendly and today I believe I really made some new friends today,” she said.

Another highlight was the enormously popular Shanghai ball in the Shangri-La in the city’s Pudong district, with tickets selling out within hours of going on sale.

Singapore hosted its eighth annual St Patrick's Day Street Festival at Boat Quay and the adjacent Circular Road, in the presence of Ambassador of Ireland to Singapore, Joe Hayes, with Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello in attendance.

Thousands attended the three-day event, which was sponsored by Irish Chamber of Commerce, St Patrick’s Society, the Singapore Ireland Fund, and Singapore River One.

Parade chairman Colin MacDonald said Singaporeans, expatriates and tourists showed up in full force - decked out in all shades of green - to celebrate. Events included a combined Singapore schools pipe band with 90 young Asian bagpipers from schools with old Irish links.

Things got going early in Malaysia, where the Penang Irish Association and Healy Mac's Irish Bar celebrated the inaugural Irish festival on the island.

The four-day event included a concert with Irish band Heathers, a ball at the E&O Hotel, attended by Ambassador Declan Kelly and his wife Ann, and the first St Patrick's Day Parade.

Minister of Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald was in Korea where she was hosted by Ambassador Aingeal O'Donoghue at a reception, and also addressed students and an invited audience at Ewha University on Irish perspectives of women in work and child wellbeing.

During her visit, she also laid a wreath at the memorial to those of Irish birth and heritage who died in the Korean War.

As well as meeting businesspeople, she promoted Flahavan's Porridge, which recently arrived on Korean shelves in Hyundai Department Stores and Lotte Mart, while another architectural landmark, Seoul's Namsan Tower, also went green for St Patrick's Day.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing