- Lifestyle & Sports
- 09 Dec 21
Celebrating individuals, families, community organisations and businesses with Irish roots, To Be Irish aims to be a virtual hub for sharing the joy of being Irish at special moments throughout the year. The Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, gives us the lowdown...
What does it mean To Be Irish? To answer that fascinating question, a special initiative, under the auspices of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was first curated in 2020. The objective was to create meaningful connections with the 70 million Irish diaspora around the world, during what was one of the most turbulent times in recent memory.
It was an instant success, bringing families together virtually with loved ones and offering cherished cultural reminders when those who were abroad, but thinking of Ireland, needed it most. 2021's edition has now launched, with an exhilarating line-up of hybrid and in-person events being planned.
Launched last week by the Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD, ToBeIrish.ie is built around a dedicated online platform and celebrates the special connections between the Irish at home and abroad in the run-up to Christmas – which remain as strong and as meaningful as ever, despite the impact of the Covid pandemic.
The vision for this year has expanded monumentally. It will feature over 170 events, as well as unveiling nostalgic Irish recipes and extraordinary stories from Irish people living across the world. Musically, the likes of cellist Patrick Dexter, Soda Blonde's Faye O'Rourke, God Knows, MuRli and Tebi Rex will all take part. A ‘home away from home’ series of interviews with Irish women abroad will also include pioneering NASA Datanaut, Fionnghuala ‘Fig’ O'Reilly, crowned Miss Universe Ireland 2019; Samantha Barry, Editor in Chief of Glamour and Sherlock actress Yasmine Akram. And Hot Press will join in the fun, with special videos recorded by Wallis Bird, Lea Harte and Fia Moon.
Viewers across the world will be able to conjure the magic of the season via a series of storytelling videos, including 'A Hug For You' with Adam King; 'Tree Dogs Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature' with Manchán Magan; 'Rescuing Titanic' with Flora Delargy and 'Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen' with sports broadcaster Jacqui Hurley celebrating the real-life stories of women who have proved that gender is no barrier to sporting prowess.
Crossing the country in ‘A Lift Home’ series, hip hop artists God Knows, MuRli and TebiRex will buckle up and share authentic conversations while travelling across iconic Irish landscapes in Kerry, Limerick and Dublin.
The To Be Irish website, meanwhile, is filled with hundreds of stories and memories shared by Irish people all around the world including contributions from the Irish Defence Forces, various Irish Embassies and the likes of Grammy nominated Celtic Woman, Tara McNeill, and Robert L. Harris - warden of Skellig Michael since 1987.
Recipes from the ‘ultimate nostalgic Irish Christmas recipe book’ To Bia Irish at Christmas features Catherine Fulvio’s roast duck, Anna Haugh’s favourite seasonal starter, Graham Herterich’s (The Cupcake Bloke) show-stopping chocolate orange pavlova and Eunice Power’s Christmas Pudding.
It's clearly an initiative that remains close to the heart of Minister Colm Brophy, who was part of the '80s generation who felt forced to emigrate. While its impact has been mixed, the Covid-19 pandemic job loss, financial hardship and housing.
“This is our second year carrying out ToBeIrish.ie," the Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, tells me, beaming. "When I became Minister last year, the initiative came about because of Covid and the amount of restrictions Ireland had to cope with. It was a way of reaching out to the Irish diaspora, in order to give them a chance to experience a bit of Christmas at home through this website.
"We had great success with it last year. This year, there will unfortunately still be a lot of people who won’t be able to come back home for numerous reasons. That's why To Be Irish became an annual event.
"We start working on the programme each year around September. We always curate the line-up in a way that supports small Irish businesses if we can, and takes note of key figures from the year gone by. We’ve also been streaming the Expo World choir from Dubai live today on the website, which is a fantastic initiative. They’re singing songs from the Irish songbook, curated by [Hot Press editor] Niall Stokes and Gary Sheehan of the National Concert Hall. The conductor, David, is no relative of mine, despite sharing last names!" he laughs.
The portal also aims to share Christmas celebrations whether at home or around the world. Connecting with their local community, wherever that may be, is deeply encouraged. On home shores, Winterfest will take place at the iconic Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, while Blot’s Most Marvellous Historical Guide to Printing Books is happening at the National Print Museum. You can even enjoy some lunchtime theatre with Dinner in Mulberry Street at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre. Festive Christmas markets are also in the mix all around the country, and plenty of pantomimes are on offer.
Minister Brophy notes that the definition of an "Irish Christmas" is unique to each individual, but he himself finds that reminiscing about festivities gone by is a surefire way to drum up excitement for the future.
“I was talking to others about what makes an individual’s Christmas ‘magical’, and I think it’s mostly about associations with your childhood," Brophy smiles. "For a lot of us, our best moments are about family. One of the things for me, as a Dub, is walking around and seeing the lights on Grafton Street, Henry Street and Cleary’s. That's one of the reasons why we're putting on Dublin City Council's Winter Lights, and we use a lot of archive footage from the Irish Film Institute to remember Irish Christmases from past decades. Old ads from when there were only two channels on the telly, for example. My dad used to use me as the television remote," he grins.
"A lot of people tell us from the diaspora side of things that Ireland does Christmas in a very particular way. It’s very extended, it’s personal," Minister Brophy continues. "We ran To Be Irish during the Christmas period last year, but we began before the big day in 2021. Unfortunately for a lot of Irish abroad, Christmas ends on Christmas Day. We’re not having any of that! My American cousins couldn’t believe that we essentially still mark the event on Stephens’ Day, then during the build up to New Year’s Eve too."
To Be Irish, of course, required plenty of input from organisations abroad to come to fruition. What does Minister Brophy recommend for maintaining a relationship with Irish culture while abroad?
“In terms of keeping your Irish identity alive, I find that – in places like Australia, New Zealand, the UK and North America – the GAA is brilliant. We’ll be launching new initiatives next year about putting sport at the heart of the diaspora community abroad. We actually have very little outward migration, compared to what we used to have. It's usually young people who are working flat-out wherever they land. It’s about getting them to stay grounded to their Irish roots while they’re gone. There’s a whole bunch of people in their 20s and 30s making a real go of life in the Middle East, who have this Irish business network that enables them to tap in and reap rewards from the opportunities. The GAA has so many advantages.
"When you go and live in another country, your identity in relation to 'home' is often stronger," the Minister adds, reflecting on the ever-evolving definition of an 'Irish identity'. "The same goes for your sense of where you come from and what makes you unique. I consistently meet people who are very much in touch with their Irish identity when they’re abroad. It doesn’t play as much of a role in the everyday lives of Irish people who live here. Even in that very modern, global world in which there’s huge interconnectivity, your home country has a more potent pull for you when you're away.”
To Be Irish not only focuses on events at home, hybrid and in-person, but offers the Irish diaspora the chance to reconnect with culture on an international scale. Looking further afield, in Colombia, Irish citizens in Bogotá will be able gather for a Christmas Get Together. Meanwhile, A Celtic Christmas, now in its 25th year, is spreading Irish Christmas cheer in cities across the US. Residents of Zagreb, Croatia can enjoy a magical Irish Christmas choir concert in Maksimir Park; and in Berlin, The Embassy of Ireland hosts an online screening of The Busk which follows Glen Hansard and some of the most memorable live music performances ever seen on Irish streets.
What is Minister Brophy most looking forward to?
“One of the embassies is also doing a Christmas eve dinner in Brisbane with the Irish community, so you can tap in and see how that’s getting along. That's so full of warmth," he says, emphatically. "The Christmas lights will also be beautiful, and the fireside tales. On the music side, you’ve got cellist Patrick Dexter performing 'Carol of the Bells'.
"Truly, To Be Irish is one of those things you do, where you really see the benefit throughout the year. People really do appreciate the hard work that goes into putting on something of this magnitude - the feedback last year was just wonderful. It’s a poignant thing for people to have access to their loved ones or aspects of their culture they cherish.”
Check out the full programme of hybrid, in-person and online events at ToBeIrish.ie.
To Be Irish at Christmas is brought to you by the Department of Foreign Affairs with support from Local Authorities, cultural institutions, broadcasters and organisations across Ireland.
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