Ireland and Belgium have long enjoyed excellent relations, politically, culturally and economically.
Our historic relations have been documented as far back as the 7th century, and include connections in places such as Leuven, which has been a centre for Irish religious, academic, and political thought since the Flight of the Earls in 1607.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries Irish merchants made their mark on the trading ports of Ostend, Bruges and Gent, with one Irish man from Youghal in Cork serving as mayor of Ostend from 1728 – 1738.
The Irish presence in Belgium during the First World War has received significant recognition in recent years with the establishment of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines and other memorials in Flanders Fields. The Peace Park was opened in 1998 by President of Ireland Mary McAleese in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II and King Albert II of Belgium.
In June 2017, the centenary of the start of the Battle of Messines Ridge, an island of Ireland commemoration, jointly led by the Governments of Ireland and the UK, in partnership with the Mayor of Messines, was marked at the island of Ireland Peace Park. The ceremony reflected on the engagement, side by side, of the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division at the Battle of Messines, the remembrance of which has become an important symbol of reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
Today, Belgium is one of Ireland’s biggest trading partners – goods exports to Belgium were €14.7bn in 2016. Belgium is a key part of the supply chain for Irish exports, with much export traffic routed through its ports for onward distribution. Over the last number of years we have seen our relationship deepen and intensify as we worked together to grow trade, employment and tourism.
The Irish Community living and working in Belgium continues to grow and includes business people, people working in the European Institutions in Brussels, students on university exchanges and Irish people who have decided to call Belgium home. Their vibrant and unique contribution in the business and cultural spheres can be seen regularly at the events held by the many Belgian-Irish societies, associations and clubs across the country.
There is also considerable Belgian interest in our country and its culture. Indeed, Belgians have long had an affinity for Ireland and there is a strong cultural interest in Irish literature, music and dance.
Belgians are now visiting Ireland in record numbers, providing visitors with wonderful memories of breathtaking landscapes and warm Irish hospitality.