Skip to main content

Address by Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD at the Benevolent Irish Society Premises, Newfoundland

Irish Abroad, MoS Jimmy Deenihan, Speech, North America, 2015


· Ireland has a long historic relationship with Canada, probably the longest with any country outside of Europe. We are here today in the Province of Newfoundland, the only territory outside of Europe which has a uniquely Irish language name, Talamh an Eisc. This is in itself a testimony to the longevity of our relationship.

· The fishermen from the south eastern corner of Ireland have known the waters off the Newfoundland coast sine the 1600s. I know that Professor John Mannion has carried out invaluable research into the early Irish settlers to this Province and I was delighted to hear about that research when I visited the Rooms this afternoon.

· Canada was very much the first real mass emigrant experience for the Irish population. Much of the settlement in Eastern Canada is pre-famine, with an estimated 400,000 Irish settlers arriving before the mid 1840s. The Irish Canadian populations in the Provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are all predominantly 18th century or early 19th century in origin. Even the Ottawa Valley in eastern Ontario and the city of Ottawa itself had large Irish populations before the famine or Canadian Federation. As the former Federal Minister for Finance, the late Jim Flaherty was fond of pointing out, the two biggest groups in Canada at the time of Federation were not the English and the French but rather the Irish and the French.

· Within that strong Canadian-Irish relationship, our links with Newfoundland are special and unique. It is doubtful whether there is any other place, outside the island of Ireland, which has a higher % of its people with an Irish ethnic background. The Irish migrants who came here found a home away from home. They preserved their own culture and identity while contributing heavily to the development of all aspects of life the new colony in Newfoundland.

· I have long had a desire to come to Newfoundland and meet with the Irish Newfoundland community here. I am aware that large sections of the Newfoundland population, especially on the Southern Shore, still speak in sounds that reverberate with the intonations and accent of the south east of Ireland. I am delighted to be here at last and I salute the community here for their ability to preserve their links with Ireland.

· I do not want the Irish/Newfoundland relationship to be confined to the dusty tomes of the history books but would love to see a living and vibrant relationship between our two islands. I have been receiving briefing on ongoing cooperation and want to explore the possibilities of further cooperation. Much is already taking place and hopefully we can build on that to the mutual benefit of both our peoples.

· I know that the there are a number of young Irish people migrating to Newfoundland and I would call on the Newfoundland Irish community here to assist these young people in gaining employment and integrating into life here in St John’s. I am also delighted to hear that a new GAA club has been established here in St John’s which is concentrating on hurling. I salute the young people for their initiative in this regard.

· I know that up until recently there were huge problems getting between our two islands which are geographically so close. The arrival of the Westjet service between St John’s and Dublin has changed all that. This route was the most successful in Westjet’s history and managed an incredible 95% load factor in its first year of operation. The bulk of the passengers originated on this side of the Atlantic but as the service gets better known in Ireland, I have no doubt but you will be seeing a lot more Irish visiting Newfoundland in the future.

· I would in conclusion to thank the Benevolent Irish Society for organising this event which has given me an opportunity of meeting a cross section of the Newfoundland Irish community. I am aware that the Society has an honourable place in the history of this island and played a key part in reconciling the different traditions which were a part of local history.

· Many thanks