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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 very long and historic and have always been based on people.

Waves of settlement followed and over 400,000 Irish had settled in Canada before the Irish famine. Canada was the original and most favoured point of emigration for Irish people up until the famine in 1847.  Hence, many of the traditional Irish areas in Canada had been settled in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At the time of Canadian Federation, the Irish constituted the largest ethnic population, apart from 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 Treaty was based on the Dominion status of Canada.  Cooperation between the two Dominions, Canada and Ireland was very strong right from the start of the creation of the Irish Free State.

The London Imperial Conferences of 1922, 1926 and 1930 provided the context for a close working relationship between Ottawa and Dublin.  Both Dominions were pushing strongly for greater independence throughout the 1920s.  Both countries cooperated extensively and emphasised their growing desire for international recognition by joining the League of Nations and actively working in the League, as well as related International organisations and Conferences.  Both Dominions broke new ground by appointing their own representatives to Washington.  The cooperation was particularly strong when McKenzie King was Canadian Prime Minister and covered areas such as the role of the Governor General; Appeals to the Privy Council; use of Royal titles; extra territorial applications of Dominion laws etc.   Both countries, along with South Africa, helped shape the Statute of Westminster 1931 where the British Parliament finally renounced the power to legislate for the Dominions unless requested by an individual Dominion.  This is often regarded as the birth of the modern Commonwealth as a grouping of independent countries.

The first major bilateral visit was by William Cosgrave, President of Executive Council of the Free State to Ottawa in January 1928.  There were plans to open an Irish resident diplomatic mission in Ottawa in 1929 but this was deferred at the time. It was therefore only in 1939 that the two countries further 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 the 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 2011 census, 4.5m Canadian residents recorded an Irish ethnic connection. This is 14% of the total 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 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 had moved to Daly Avenue at that stage. The Irish State later bought the present Residence site on Park Road in 1967.  The present residence was extensively refurbished 2009-2010. 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