Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day March 17, 2011--The World Experiencing the Luck of the Irish

 This St Patrick's Day it is easier to see the "luck of the Irish" for all peoples around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa there is severe and cruel repression of protesters and those in dissent with their governments while governments supposedly committed to humanitarian intervention look on, ponder, discuss, reflect, consider what they may perhaps eventually possibly do about it. In Japan there are nuclear implications on top of the crushing tsunami. These ongoing nuclear threats also jeopardize further the Japanese and international economies. While these two foci draw most of the media's world news attention, there is plenty of "normal" suffering and strife in many other places.

The "luck of the Irish" is originally an ironic phrase, a grim expression of the horrendously bad luck of the Irish. It has been so misunderstood and misused that it has come to also mean wishes for good luck to all. In this meaning, it is a standard part of St Patrick Day celebrations as a slogan on pins, clothing, banners, etc. It is also a tribute to the resilience of the Irish, through poverty, famine, displacement, occupation, and "the troubles"; and to their impact around the world where they have sometimes settled in great numbers. In this sense, it is even easier this year than most to wish all, since all are Irish on St Patrick's Day, that they have the "luck of the Irish".

Though the number of Irish in Saudi and reciprocally the number of Saudis in the Republic of Ireland are small, the following two articles published this St Patrick's Day in the Arab News emphasizes their positive interrelations, in part based on shared family values. The first article is a tribute to the Irish attempts to be part of their community in Saudi Arabia, while the second is a good example of the positive aspects of having international students at universities for the host community and the students. It is also an example of the positives for Saudi or any international student of becoming more involved in the host community and how to do so.

Sean McPoland, left, who completed the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in New Zealand in aid of the International Children in Need Group, Sharon Whyte, and Irish Ambassador Niall Holohan.

How the Riyadh Irish Society came to be
Published: Mar 17, 2011 00:22 Updated: Mar 17, 2011 01:01

The Riyadh Irish Society was formed in late 2006 following a conversation between Cathy Walsh, an Irish nurse who was working in the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, and Colum Hatchell, who had arrived to Riyadh in his role as Second Secretary in the Irish Embassy. They in turn spoke to other interested people, including myself. With the approval of then Ambassador Tom Russell, the Riyadh Irish Society came into being.

From our first meeting, it was agreed that the Society would have three main functions: Firstly, to provide a social and support network for the Irish living in Riyadh and, in particular, newly arrived Irish; secondly, through our activities and the generosity of our members and sponsors, the Society would support a number of charities at home as well as here in Riyadh; and, lastly, in order to promote our Irish culture and heritage we would provide a number of cultural events which are held throughout the year under the auspices of the Irish Embassy.

While the connection between Saudi Arabia and Ireland goes back many years, for newly arrived Irish people life in Riyadh can initially be quite a culture shock. Therefore, through our activities, the Society provides a mechanism for new Irish arrivals to make contact with fellow Irish men and women, which in turn helps them to acclimatize to their new environment.

The Irish are known throughout the world for their very generous nature when it comes to supporting charitable organizations and causes: here in Riyadh, that is no different. It is truly amazing to see how generous people are and, over the years of the Society’s existence, its members have generously supported a number of organizations — both at home in Ireland and here in Riyadh.

Our very first donation was to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center and helped to provide educational materials and furniture for a number of units in the hospital. The Irish Red Cross in Dublin, the Downs Syndrome Charitable Association here in Riyadh, ICING (the International Children in Need Group), the British International School and the Gaelic Athletic Association. A number of our members have also taken part in various sponsored events with the support of the Society and its members.

To help us achieve our goal of promoting our Irish culture and heritage, the Society with the help and support of the Irish Embassy and a number of sponsors including British Midland International, Al Marai, Al Hokair and Tamimi, has brought a number of world-renowned Irish artists out to Riyadh to entertain our members. These artists have included Eleanor Shanley and her band, Brian Kennedy, Grúpa Cúchulainn, a group of Irish musicians and dancers from the Lord of the Dance show and, this year, we had Sharon Shannon and her band. We have also had a number of events showcasing our national sports of hurling and Gaelic football, with screenings of the All-Ireland Finals being shown for the members.

Without our members, there would be no Society. When we first started, the membership was made up of all nationalities but over the years — as more and more Irish have come back to Riyadh – this has changed and now our membership is predominantly Irish. However, we still have some non-Irish members, most of whom have been with us from the very beginning; all help to make our events very enjoyable and memorable.

The Society is also very lucky to have ongoing support from the Irish Embassy and our current ambassador, Niall Holohan.

It has been a privilege to be involved with the Riyadh Irish Society from the beginning and as its current chairperson I sincerely thank all who have served on the committee over the years. The committee at present has 12 members who work in various hospitals and organizations throughout Riyadh and it is down to the hard work and dedication of this group of people that the Riyadh Irish Society is still as strong and successful as it was when it first started.

— Sharon Whyte is the chairperson of the Riyadh Irish Society.


Saudi students in Ireland. (AN photo)

Saudi students make great strides in Ireland
Published: Mar 17, 2011 00:36 Updated: Mar 17, 2011 00:57

It takes a bit of lateral thinking to create a Saudi ambassador “for” rather than “to” Ireland. That, however, is one of the aims of Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, director of Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT).

AIT initially took on a small batch of Saudi students three years ago for eight-week courses to develop their teaching skills. The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) program in Saudi Arabia sponsored the initiative. Courses included language development, and methodological and technical training for the classroom.

It was a successful tryout because now the Saudi complement of students at AIT alone by the end of 2010 had reached 58 spread over two academic years of a three-year degree program. By mid 2011, there will be Saudis in all three years of the degree program. “That’s when it will really gel,” said Ó Catháin.

The aim, he said, is to boost the numbers to 120 — all of whom would be funded by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Other major technical colleges in Ireland, notably Galway and Waterford, have Saudi students as well.

In most respects, Saudi and Irish cultures are very different. One of the similarities, thought Ó Catháin, is the central position of family values in both societies. “Central I think is the whole concept of the family. The nucleus of the family is very important to both. They have taken to us and we to them,” he said.

“That commonality has been central to the integration of Saudi students into the local community. Although, in the early stages the students lived in dormitory accommodation, they soon moved in with local families or independent dwellings and none have elected to return to the relative isolation of their early accommodation,” he said.

He told the story of a shopkeeper in the town who broke his heels and ankles in an accident. He said that one of the Saudi students, Latif, ran him back and forwards to hospital for an entire winter and often helped out in his shop.

“He said to me later that if I had told him he would have had a Muslim at his Christmas dinner table this year, he would have told me that I was off my head,” said Ó Catháin.

He added that all the students have really got involved with the community, mix very well and were first at the sandbag filling stations when Athlone was hit by a flood from its local river, the Shannon.

“We know from the feedback from the students that they are very content,” said Ó Catháin.

Inside the college, the Saudis are mixed in with the student body that is very internationalized and Ó Catháin thought it useful as it “broadens their outlook and the cultural mix.”

As with any new project, both sides had to proceed into new waters. AIT has a large international element in its student body but Saudis were a first. “We wanted Saudi students coming to Ireland because from the cultural perspective it’s good for the country to have people from the Muslim world coming in who are seen as normal as opposed to the picture that is sometimes created,” commented Ó Catháin.

“That’s a very beneficial thing for the Muslim community worldwide. They have been very much welcomed here in Athlone.”

He felt the secret to the success of the venture was communication and dialogue as the students arrived — the ground rules for both sides were made very clear, each voicing their expectations of the other.

“We made it very clear what we expected from them before they came and had a Yemeni post doctoral student here for months translating to reinforce this and to establish what they expected from us. We have kept a very open dialogue with them,” he said. He added that it’s about building a relationship. “You have got to build the friendship and the understanding. I find that in Saudi Arabia the personal relationships you build are critical to how business works,” he said.

AIT has a close interest in the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) program in Saudi Arabia and over the coming years looks to expand into the Kingdom, both to assist with its delivery and develop the number of students it hosts on the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Scholarship Program. In the foreseeable future Ó Catháin hopes to open a joint AIT/ Waterford/Galway institutes office in Riyadh. Already, AIT has received enquiries to run a new technical college in Jeddah.

“We are not in it simply for the money, but to provide a great education and have ambassadors, Saudis included, leave here and go all round the world promoting us and Ireland.” If you can get them to leave, that is.


Happy St Patrick's Day!

The Luck of the Irish to ye!

Related Posts:
The Irish in Saudi Arabia--Shamrocks Amongst the Palms
Advice to Saudi and Other Foreign Students Studying Abroad--
Part I Chiara's 10 Recommendations and 10 Tips
Part II Fouad Alfarhan's Advice and Typology: The Fool, The Fearful, and The Hero

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