The Irish Chamber of Atlanta had insisted till the end that the show would go on.
But days before this year’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast and parade, it became clear that the events posed too much of a health risk, even if a prominent guest from the Irish government could have skipped across the pond.
On March 12, the same day the Georgia governor announced social distancing guidelines, the chamber reluctantly canceled the breakfast, the pandemic depriving the Irish business community of one of its top networking opportunities and leaving one local high schooler unable to present his prize-winning poem about the green-hued holiday’s deeper meaning.
Siobhan Tinsley also lost something — her chance to take the baton publicly as the new chamber president, replacing Bill Duffy, CEO of the Aspire Group, after the latter’s nearly five-year tenure.
“It’s an unusual time to take over,” Ms. Tinsley, a dual citizen and native of Ireland’s County Westmeath, told Global Atlanta in a phone interview.
Not that she needed the introduction: Now assistant general counsel at Cox Communications, Ms. Tinsley came to Atlanta after graduating from Trinity College Dublin to attend law school at Georgia State University. She has stayed since, with a brief stint at MCI before joining Cox, where she has worked for 23 years.
A longtime mover in Atlanta’s Irish business circles, she serves on the boards of directors of the Irish Network ATL, launched in 2016 as the 20th chapter of a nationwide organization, and IrishFest, the city’s annual celebration of Irish music and culture.
She has also played behind-the-scenes roles for the chamber in welcoming high-level guests like previous Prime Minister (Taoseach) Enda Kenny (2015) and current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, back when he was serving as minister of tourism and sport.
She said now is the time for her to give back to both nations that have shaped her, both personally and professionally.
“It’s really just a great leadership opportunity,” Ms. Tinsley said. “It’s a phenomenal organization. I really feel honored that they asked me to be president, because it’s a prestigious role and it’s an area that I’m just incredibly passionate about. There’s a huge opportunity to make a difference.”
Though she isn’t yet planning any drastic operational changes, she will hone the chamber’s role as a convener of the Irish business community, which has grown all the more relevant as Irish investment grows here.
Atlanta is home to CRH Americas, the parent company of building materials giant Oldcastle, but more recently it has been a magnet for Irish technology companies, with a special emphasis on the payments and fintech sectors. Irish expatriates have also played key roles in some of Atlanta’s top public companies — a recent example among many is Coca-Cola Co. CFO John Murphy.
“What differentiates the Irish chamber from the other Irish groups is that business focus, pulling those Irish companies together and providing them a networking opportunity and then programming that is suitable for their professional needs,” Ms. Tinsley said.
The chamber will continue to work with the various Irish government entities that provide business support to investors in both directions, from IDA Ireland, the country’s inbound investment recruiter, to Enterprise Ireland, which among its recent credits helped food manufacturer Kerry Group set up a $125 million factory in Rome, Ga.
Ireland’s ambassador, Daniel Mulhall, recently predicted that Irish investment would soon account for more American jobs than the other way around, a massive achievement for a nation with just 5 million people that has capitalized on its cultural linkages and sizable diaspora.
“Ireland has a reputation for always punching above its weight,” Ms. Tinsley said.
The presence of an Irish consulate general in Atlanta since 2010 has helped that cause immensely, she added, praising current Consul General Shane Stephens for his work promoting the country and knitting the various groups together.
Mr. Stephens had similarly kind words to say about Ms. Tinsley and Mr. Duffy for their leadership.
“Siobhan is passionate about all aspects of Irish life, brings an exceptional knowledge of both Georgia and Ireland to this position and already proven herself as a someone who gets things done,” Mr. Stephens wrote in a message to the chamber.
He also praised the chamber for its role in introducing the consulate to key players in Atlanta and for supporting large initiatives like the 2018 Georgia Tech football game in Dublin, which was accompanied by a large Atlanta business delegation. Mr. Duffy in particular, has contributed greatly to the Irish Network’s effective mentorship program, the consul general said.
“Your own personal style and humour and gift for getting the best out of people has made this all possible and elevated every event,” Mr. Stephens added in an emailed statement.
For his part, Mr. Duffy believes Ms. Tinsley’s appointment “represents an upgrade to the role” he has filled since replacing founding chamber president Kevin Conboy.
In a display of his dedication, Mr. Duffy, who has moved to Sarasota, Fla., had driven up for the 18th annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, only to have to make the tough call to cancel it “after much consultation and consternation.”
“We had a great lineup for the breakfast but as we know, the Irish Community of Atlanta is a strong one and no doubt will be back in 2021 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with gusto,” he wrote in a notice to members.
The Irish consulate is soon to see some changes as well, with Mr. Stephens, now the dean of the consular corps, poised to move on to a new post sometime this summer.
Learn more about the chamber here.
Follow the Irish Consulate on Twitter at @IrelandAtlanta.