HAVING arrived in Scotland to take up post as Consul General of Ireland in July, I have had a busy and exciting time delving into and exploring the many links between Scotland and Ireland. These links, old and new, business and cultural, political and social are impressively and importantly strong and deep and rich.
In a number of ways, even before I took up this role, I am one of these links. I arrived across the short sea that joins us, on a route already familiar to me. I first came to Scotland 22 years ago, to study at the University of St Andrews, on that same short route across the sea. There are Grays and McIntoshes and no doubt other Scottish names in my family tree. One of the great pleasures of being in Scotland is having my own name—McCulloch—correctly pronounced!
In my first couple of months, as I have settled into the role, I have realised how easy it could be to spend all of my time in Edinburgh. As a capital city, and with our close links to Scottish Government, a lot of the Consulate General’s work is generated in the city. However, my appointment is as Consul General of Ireland to Scotland and I am determined to visit as many places across the country as I can, and to meet as many Irish citizens and to explore as many Irish connections as I can.
Coming to Edinburgh in time for the various festivals in August allowed me to experience the unique transformation of Scotland’s capital city to a world stage for expression and entertainment. The festivals in Edinburgh provide one of the most important international showcases for Culture Ireland to present Irish work, and I had the pride of witnessing Irish writers, performers and productions filling theatres, gaining rave reviews and winning awards.
Since then, I have been to Glasgow, Dumfries and Orkney, and—at the time of writing this—I have a busy weekend ahead, with events in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This all features civic engagement, cultural and media connections, academic and historical links, business and sport. I was particularly pleased to address the Causeway Ireland Scotland Business Exchange Annual Awards Dinner in the impressive surroundings of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, which celebrated so many businesses creating new trading connections between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with innovative products and services.
In Orkney, Irish and Scottish innovation goes back thousands of years, and continues today. The ancient Neolithic tombs of Maeshowe there and those in my own County Meath neighbourhood of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are well-known feats of engineering, and form UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to their international importance. In a different sphere of innovation, Irish people are working in the world, leading clean energy sectors in Orkney—an area of great interest for further Scottish-Irish cooperation.
The Boyne to Brodgar project was set up a number of years ago to connect the archaeological work and develop the understanding of our ancient peoples through the study of prehistoric monuments. Recent discoveries of further surviving significant sites and monuments in Orkney and Brú na Bóinne present great opportunities to reinvigorate the Boyne to Brodgar project, creating further opportunities for exchange of ideas, expertise and shared challenges, not just between academics, but in very practical and pragmatic ways—climate change and increased visitor numbers present new conundrums to be solved.
I am delighted by the vibrancy of the GAA, Irish language and dancing in Scotland. The launch of the Scotland GAA Strategic Plan for 2020-23 is an exciting opportunity to further develop Gaelic games here. I look forward to meeting many of those involved in this at the Clydebank Community Sport Hub and also at the Irish Culture and Heritage Day at the Grange Club in Edinburgh, which we are delighted to host again with Scotland GAA and Conradh na Gaeilge, Glaschú.
I look forward to meeting the numerous GAA teams taking part, from primary schools, universities and clubs across Scotland. It is particularly exciting that this year’s Irish Culture and Heritage Day will have the inclusion of underage hurling and camogie for the first time. We will also have Irish dancing (above), Irish language taster sessions for beginners and the PopUp Gaeltacht, storytelling and poetry. We look forward to welcoming Irish communities, and those with an interest in Irish culture, from all around Scotland.
We all happily celebrate St Patrick, and generously share him with the rest of the world in celebrating our Irishness, in its many disparate forms. In Scotland, of course, St Colmcille and his community in Iona are also very well- known. I have been delighted to introduce our third patron saint, St Brigid, to many of the Scots who I have met in recent weeks. St Brigid is recognised for her roles in agriculture, fertility and female creativity. I’m delighted to share with you that next year the Consulate General will begin celebrating St Brigid’s Day, which falls on February 1 —the first day of spring, regardless of what the weather indicates.
I will introduce this new tradition, first of all, in Glasgow, and look forward to exploring the varied ways in which we can all celebrate the creativity and achievements of Irish women in Scotland. Last year, EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, working with Herstory and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, produced a brilliant exhibition ‘Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women’ and we are currently looking at venues and dates to show and share this in Scotland.
Challenges and connections
We continue to face challenges, particularly with regard to Brexit. Current political difficulties aside, Ireland will continue to prioritise our relationship with Britain—our near neighbour, our close friend, home to so many of our citizens, and an important trading partner.
For my own part, I will be focused on Ireland’s relationship with Scotland, and I thank you all, as communities, and as individuals who form this relationship, so deep and broad and rich, for your part in keeping these links strong and for fostering and strengthening them as we move forward together, through the challenges ahead.
Our connections in family, in culture, in history, in business are very closely intertwined. Sharing our similarities as well as our differences gives us a strong bond on which to continue to understand one another, and to work together. This is why we have such a very genuine closeness in the Irish-Scottish relationship.
However, we must not take our close relationship for granted. We must maintain it and keep it strong, in order to adapt, to explore and to share new opportunities and challenges together. The world doesn’t stop turning, and nor should we stop looking outwards as well as reflecting inwards. Ireland and Scotland, as small outward-looking nations, have much more to achieve together.
I will have a busy four years here, not just exploring and understanding our many common bonds, but nurturing and strengthening them, and, I hope, creating many new and vibrant connections.
Jane McCulloch is the Consul General of Ireland in Scotland