Ireland: Celebrating the Czech-Irish connection
Ambassador says the two nations share similar history and wry sense of humor
Posted: January 30, 2013
Though it may not seem obvious at first, Ireland and the Czech Republic are closely connected - while not geographically proximate, the two countries share an intimate history that dates as far as back as the second century B.C. According to Ireland's ambassador to the Czech Republic, Alison Kelly, those ties still strongly persist, even today.
Kelly, who has held her post as ambassador in Prague since February 2012, tells The Prague Post some of her previous assignments included positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin as well as in Washington, Madrid, Vienna, Cairo and The Hague. Now stationed in the Czech capital, Kelly said her impressions of Prague have been universally positive thus far and that it is a privilege to represent Ireland in the Czech Republic.
"Irish and Czech people have a similar, wry view of the world, and I get great enjoyment from my day-to-day interactions," she says.
According to Kelly, the links between the Czech Republic and Ireland are long and extensive: Celtic Boii tribes came to the Czech lands in the second century B.C. before traveling westward to Ireland. Along their journey, they passed on a rich heritage and even named both countries, Bohemia and Éire, as well as the Vltava River, which translates to "wild water" in the old Germanic language of those ancient tribes.
"Some historians say Irish missionaries worked alongside Cyril and Methodius in Great Moravia in the ninth century," Kelly says. "Irish Franciscan monks established a monastery in Prague in the 17th century on what became Hybernská street, and legend has it they introduced the potato to the Czech lands. Jakub Smith, an Irishman, was also rector of Charles University in the mid-18th century."
Though these connections are now considered ancient history, Kelly says Czech and Irish histories continued to mesh and parallel one another even in more contemporary eras. She explains that the nationalist and language movements that occurred in Czechoslovakia and Ireland in the 19th and early 20th centuries inspired one another, and that the two countries gained independence almost simultaneously. Kelly also notes that many Irish literary works have been translated into Czech, including those by classic authors like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, as well as those by contemporary writers like Seamus Heaney. In the 1920s, Czechs, including Alfred Navrátil, helped establish the sugar processing industry in Ireland, while in the 1940s, Kelly says, Karel Bačík was a founder of the world-renowned Waterford Crystal factory.
"Many Irish came here in the 1990s after the Velvet Revolution, while there was significant Czech immigration to Ireland after EU accession in 2004. There is great interest in Irish music and dance here, as well as in the Irish language, with classes and programs in a number of cities," Kelly says. "And, of course, the Czech-Irish collaboration of Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard won an Oscar for the song 'Falling Slowly' in 2008."
Key priorities for Kelly are the trade, investment and tourism links, and she works closely with the active local Enterprise Ireland office, as well as with the Czech Irish Business and Cultural Association to promote Ireland.
For the first half of 2013, Ireland holds the European Union presidency, for which Kelly says she has been busy presenting Ireland's priorities and reporting to Dublin on Czech views. Ireland's focus for the term is stability, jobs and growth, and Kelly also says that, following the hard economic times Ireland has seen in recent years, the country's presidency will be that of a successful recovery country driving much-needed recovery across Europe.
"This is our seventh time holding the presidency," Kelly says, "and it comes 40 years after joining the European Community, which then had nine members but which has now grown to a union of 27 states."
Finally, Kelly says tourism between the Czech Republic and Ireland is robust, with about 25,000 tourists per year in both directions, well facilitated by the daily Aer Lingus flight between Dublin and Prague. According to Kelly, last year saw an increase of more than 12 percent in tourism. In light of the rising number of tourists, Kelly is particularly enthusiastic about a new project aimed at welcoming people to the Emerald Isle.
"This year sees a major initiative known as 'The Gathering,' where we are inviting anyone who has ever had or wanted to feel a connection to Ireland to visit," Kelly says. "Hundreds of events are taking place all over the country, celebrating Irish people and our heritage, culture, arts, sport, creativity and music. There has never been a better opportunity for people to explore and have fun."
Kasia Pilat can be reached at
- The strongest link between the Czechs and the Irish is that they were both lorded ...
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- You mean, they both like Semtex? ...
- Hmm, she should also have mentioned that Michael & Karin have lived in and blog ...