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The Embassy’s History

Find out more about the Irish relationship with Canada, the Embassy’s history, and our former Heads of Mission.

The Irish relationship with Canada is as old as European settlement. There were Irish families among the original colonists in New France, coming to Champlain’s settlement in Québec City as members of the French military. In addition, as early as 1538 Irish fishermen were recorded as returning to Cork from Newfoundland fisheries. Therefore, the connections are historic and have always been based on people.

Waves of settlement followed and over 400,000 Irish had settled in Canada prior to the Great Famine. Indeed at the time of Confederation, the Irish constituted the second largest ethnic group in Canada (27% of the population) after the French.

In political and diplomatic terms, the Irish connection with Canada is also one of our oldest. The level of self-government offered to the Irish Free State in the Anglo-Irish Treaty was based on the dominion status of Canada. The two dominions collaborated closely to maximise their independence from the very beginning, particularly during the London Imperial Conferences of 1922, 1926 and 1930. This cooperation took the form of increased assertiveness on the world stage (including membership in the League of Nations), the 1931 Statute of Westminster, and reforms surrounding the role of the Governor General, appeals to the Privy Council, use of royal titles and extraterritorial applications of dominion laws. This cooperation was particularly strong during the premiership of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

The first major bilateral visit to Ottawa was by William Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, in January 1928. There were plans to open an Irish resident diplomatic mission in Ottawa in 1929, but the decision was deferred. However, in 1939 the two countries finally strengthened their existing bilateral relationship by opening resident missions in their respective capitals.

With the passing of the External Relations Act, Ireland ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth and the intervention of Canada and Australia was vital in resisting some pressure by other Commonwealth governments to retaliate on issues such as free migration, trade preferences, etc.

Today, the two countries enjoy a special relationship based on ethnic and cultural links. In the 2016 census, 4.6m Canadian residents recorded an Irish ethnic connection (approximately 15% of the population).

The first resident Irish Representative in Ottawa was the distinguished Irish diplomat John Hearn. He is often credited with drafting the Irish Constitution, under the political guidance of President Eamon De Valera. The library in the current residence bears Hearn’s name. Delia Murphy, often regarded as a pivotal influence in the revival of Irish folk music, was the wife of former Ambassador, Dr Thomas Kiernan.

The original Irish mission (chancellery) was located on Wellington Street (present Senate offices) and the residence in Wilbrod Street. The mission was upgraded to an embassy in 1950 when the first Irish Ambassador to Canada, Seán Murphy, was appointed (the residence was moved to Daly Avenue).

Ireland later bought the present residence site on Park Road in 1967. The present residence was extensively refurbished between 2009 and 2010, and it now hosts a large number of community, trade and cultural events.

Previous Irish Heads of Mission

H.E. John Hearn, High Commissioner, 1939-49

H.E. Seán Murphy, Ambassador, 1950 -55

H.E. Leo McCauley, Ambassador, 1955 -56

H.E. Thomas Kiernan, Ambassador, 1956 – 60

H.E. William Fay, Ambassador, 1960 -64

H.E. John Belton, Ambassador, 1964-67

H.E. William Warnock, Ambassador, 1967-70

H.E. Joseph Shields, Ambassador, 1970-73

H.E. Paddy Power, Ambassador, 1974-78

H.E. Sean Kennan, Ambassador, 1978-83

H.E. Sean Gaynor, Ambassador, 1983-1988

H.E. Edward Brennan, Ambassador, 1988-1991

H.E. Antóin MacUnfraidh, Ambassador, 1991-1995

H.E. Paul Dempsey, Ambassador, 1995-2001

H.E. Martin Burke, Ambassador, 2001-2006

H.E. Declan Kelly, Ambassador, 2006-2010

H.E. Ray Bassett, Ambassador, 2010 to 2016

H.E. Jim Kelly, Ambassador, 2016 to date