Shane Stephens, Ireland's consul general based in Atlanta, is enthralled by the turnout at this year's St. Patrick's Parade.
Atlanta's St. Patrick's parade off to a brisk start.
Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s parade off to a brisk start.

Atlanta got a head start on St. Patrick’s Day with a parade on Saturday, March 12, that drew thousands to Peachtree Street, even if this year it had to forego a visit by Ireland’s former prime minister, Enda Kenny, who served as the grand marshall of the parade last year.

Mr. Kenny is making the most of his remaining days as Ireland’s caretaker Taoiseach until his successor is appointed and is visiting President Obama in Washington to celebrate the life of his country’s foremost patron saint.

He gave his notice of resignation as prime minister following a failed bid to win a majority in the Irish parliament in a general election on Feb. 26. Ireland now is going through a series of coalition negotiations on the formation of a new government.

By choosing Washington over Atlanta for his final official farewell to the U.S., in addition to Atlanta’s parade he missed the annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast held at the Capital City Club downtown where he would have heard a positive accounting of Ireland’s current economic condition as well as reflections on the Easter Rising of 1916.

Shane Stephens, Ireland’s consul general based in Atlanta, reported that the Irish economy has made impressive progress over the past three years, having regained its fiscal health and becoming the first country to exit a European Union bailout.

“Things are going extremely well,” he said in his opening remarks. “We are experiencing a recovery with robust trading along with a domestic recovery. The two sides are coming together.”

Kathleen Codd-Nolan of the Wexford County Council with Shane Stephens, consul general of Ireland.
Kathleen Codd-Nolan of the Wexford County Council with Shane Stephens, consul general of Ireland.

Despite of the collapse of the housing market, Ireland maintained a hold on its chief assets during the recession including the American multinationals that have flocked there as a European production base due to its well-educated workforce and low corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent.

Mr. Stephens pointed out that Ireland also has experienced both strong exports and imports benefiting in comparison to its partners in the eurozone from the fact that it exports heavily to the U.S. and Britain.

Ireland also is the only member of the European Union to be granted access to the U.S. market for high-value steak cuts, he said, the first country to breach an embargo in effect since the late 1990s.

Michael Smith, vice president of Ireland’s investment and development agency in Atlanta, encouraged local company representatives to investigate Ireland’s advantages as a launchpad into the European Union joining other Atlanta-based companies such as First Data Corp. and Equifax Inc.

L-r: Irish historian Dr. Ruan O’Donnell, former president of Atlanta’s Irish Chamber Kevin Conboy and Yeats scholar James Flannery.

While the economic ties between Ireland and the United States seem to be strengthening all the time with pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer choosing to invest there along with tech and social-media firms including Apple, Facebook and Google, Dr. Ruan O’Donnell, an Irish historian, addressed the important role played by Irish immigrants to the U.S. in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Kathleen Codd-Nolan, vice chair of Ireland’s Wexford County Council, led an economic development mission to Atlanta after visiting Savannah in hopes of encouraging investment in one of Ireland’s less developed counties that seeks to benefit from the country’s improving economic prospects.

Students from the Atlanta Irish Music School also performed with Olivia Bradley providing especially beautiful renditions of the national anthems of both the United States and Ireland.

In conclusion, James Flannery, a specialist in the work of W.B. Yeats who in 1988 founded in Atlanta the W.B. Yeats Foundation, provided a moving and dramatic reading of the Yeats poem Easter 1916.