Although the "Emerald Isle" is divided into two regions, representatives from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share a common goal of re-connecting their homelands with their scattered “diaspora.”
“Our diaspora is hugely important to us, not least our diaspora here in the United States. Twelve percent of the population of the United States is Irish-American,” said Michael Collins, Ireland's ambassador to the U.S., at a luncheon held in Atlanta to celebrate the opening of Ireland’s new consulate general in Atlanta.
Speaking to an audience at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead on Feb. 17, he said that bridging the gap between Ireland and Irish-Americans was a work in progress with varying levels of interests.
“Not all members of the 40 million family here are equally interested in Ireland. Some are passionately interested, some need to be reminded, and some are not interested at all,” he said.
Mr. Collins said that Ireland is developing new and progressive ways to engage this family, including the Global Irish Network, a forum for Irish and Irish-connected people abroad to exchange ideas on economic opportunities and issues.
Developed at the Global Irish Economic Forum last year in Dublin, the network currently includes over 300 people in 37 countries.
On a visit to Atlanta three weeks earlier for a British American Business Group luncheon, Mark Finlay, director of the economic development initiative Northern Irish Connections, said business organizations in Northern Ireland are also looking to cultivate potential “seeds” of business growth in Atlanta and around the U.S.
Scots-Irish Americans including an estimated 250,000 Irish Presbyterian and Protestant dissenters from the Province of Ulster migrated to North America's Appalachian Mountain area during the colonial era. Most Scots-Irish were descended from Scottish and English families who moved to Ireland in the 17th century.
The migration of Catholic Irish occurred primarily in the 19th century during the Irish Potato Famine.
After traveling around the U.S., Mr. Finlay plans to release a report before March 17 on business opportunities between Northern Ireland and its diaspora, a term which he said comes from the Greek word for “scattered seeds.”
Sponsored by the University of Ulster, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the economic development agency Invest Northern Ireland and other business organizations, the initiative commissioned Mr. Finlay to explore opportunities in cities across the U.S.
He added that he wanted to hear about business prospects in cities with well-established Northern Irish communities such as Boston or New York and in cities with smaller communities such as Atlanta or San Antonio.
“I want to hear from you as to how we can leverage these relationships better,” said Mr. Finlay over a BABG luncheon on Feb. 1.
Addressing a crowd of 20-25 business professionals and government officials, including Annabelle Malins, the British consul general in Atlanta, he noted that he saw potential business opportunities between Atlanta and Northern Ireland in software development, mobile technology and tourism.
Mr. Finlay added that tourism and genealogy are growing connections to the region that he particularly wanted to develop between Atlanta and Belfast.
He noted that these connections “happen one business deal at a time.”
Ireland's ambassador, Mr. Collins, shared his northern neighbor’s sentiment and encouraged the audience at the Ritz-Carlton luncheon attended by more than 270 people to visit Ireland and re-connect to their heritage.
“Please come home. There has never been a better time to visit the homeland,” said Mr. Collins.
To send Mr. Finlay business recommendations, contact him via [email protected].
For more information on the Irish Consulate, visit www.consulateofirelandatlanta.org.