Irish ambassador visits uni centre

Eamon Cleary Chair in Irish Studies at the University of Otago's Centre for Scottish and Irish...
Eamon Cleary Chair in Irish Studies at the University of Otago's Centre for Scottish and Irish Studies Prof Sonja Tiernan and Irish ambassador Peter Ryan. Photo: Peter McIntosh
One in six New Zealanders have Irish roots - the highest proportion anywhere in the world apart from Ireland.

However, many Kiwis do not know much about their Irish heritage or what led their ancestors to leave the country and settle elsewhere.

The first Irish ambassador to New Zealand said he was keen to strengthen New Zealanders' understanding of their Irish heritage - and he was excited to take a look at the University of Otago's Centre for Scottish and Irish Studies.

Ambassador Peter Ryan, who was also speaking to an Irish Business Network group yesterday evening at Ombrellos Kitchen and Bar, said it was "great to be here".

"This is a pretty special place - it's the only such centre in all of New Zealand.

"We look forward to working closely [together]."

Mr Ryan said on his travels around the country he had met many people descended from Ulster Scots, or who had a connection to Ireland they were keen to know more about.

He was talking to the centre's Eamon Cleary Chair in Irish Studies Prof Sonja Tiernan at the centre, who said a huge number of people were keen to know more about their heritage.

Prof Tiernan was appointed in June, succeeding Australian-born Prof Peter Kuch, who took up the inaugural chair in 2006 - and is a director of the centre along with Scottish studies lecturer Prof Liam McIlvanney.

Mr Ryan said as well as educating people about where their families came from, the centre was keen to tell the story of modern Ireland - and to reflect all the different shades of opinion, which was something that had not always been done in the past.

"I'm keen to help Sonja and her team here tell those stories," he said.

Mr Ryan said because of Brexit there was a heightened interest from New Zealanders in Ireland as a European Union partner.

As well as one in six New Zealanders describing themselves as having Irish heritage, New Zealand had three Irish-born prime ministers - John Ballance, William Massey and Daniel Pollen - which was also unusual.

Prof Tiernan said the two countries had much in common - from friendliness to bus drivers to some amazing scenery.

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