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Celebrating the Contribution of Irish Missionaries in South Africa

Celebrating the Contribution of Irish Missionaries in South Africa

Irish missionaries living and working in Gauteng attend an event in their honour at the Residence of the Ambassador of Ireland

Today, the Embassy of Ireland is celebrating the contribution of Irish Missionaries in South Africa. Ambassador MacGabhann hosted our annual Missionaries’ Lunch at his official residence in Pretoria. Over 60 nuns and priests living and working in Gauteng came along for an afternoon of music, food and storytelling.


Did you know that the first Irish Missionaries arrived in South Africa over 150 years ago? Since then, many thousands of Irish nuns and priests, representing many different orders and organisations, have followed in their footsteps. They worked to provide education and health care services in disadvantaged communities around the country.

Elias Masilela, who was taught by Irish missionaries, speaking at Irish missionaries' event at residence of Ambassador


Many Irish Missionaries, who often worked in townships, became vocal opponents of apartheid and joined the anti-apartheid movement. Others quietly defied the system by providing a good quality education for all children, regardless of colour, at a time when this was not available from the state. For many South Africans, their Irish Missionary teachers and nurses were the first Irish people they had ever met. Their good work has helped to build the great friendship between Ireland and South Africa, which continues to grow today.


In the 1970s, South Africa was home to over 7,000 Irish Missionaries. Today, there are around 300, many of whom are still actively working in the community. We believe that it is important to remember their important contribution to both South Africa and to Ireland. The Embassy is beginning work on an oral history project, to record and share the fascinating stories of some of these courageous and dedicated individuals.

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