Irish ambassador Ciarán Madden on the UAE's Irish expat community
It’s a long-standing joke for expats worldwide: whatever city you’re in, you’ll always find at least one Irish bar. In Dubai, there are close to ten. So no one in the city will be short of options when it comes to celebrating St Patrick’s Day on Sunday March 17.
According to Ambassador Ciarán Madden, the number of Irish expats here has risen from about 4,500 in mid-2011 to 6,000 today – an enormous leap in a short period of time. ‘The largest Irish community in the UAE is in Dubai, and I think it’s a sign of the welcome they’ve received over the past 40 years.
A landmark building such as the Burj Al Arab going green on St Patrick’s Day is a sign of that welcome,’ he explains. The Burj Al Arab will join a host of instantly recognisable landmarks around the world going green to mark the annual event, including Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, the Pyramids of Giza and the iconic ‘Welcome’ sign in Las Vegas.
‘There are various reasons for so many Irish people moving here,’ reveals Madden. ‘Of course some people can’t find work at home, but they come here because they see opportunity.’ Asked how he thinks the Irish have managed to maintain one of the most closely-knit expat communities in the city, he believes the Dubai Irish Society is largely responsible. ‘The society has been in place since 1974, so it’s one of the oldest expat societies – if not the oldest – in the UAE, and the Gulf as a whole. You now have Irish sports societies, business societies, golf societies, and it’s very welcoming to newcomers.’ He adds that the community has grown to such an extent that Lulu’s Hypermarket is using its Facebook page to ask followers what Irish products they would like to see on shelves this year. ‘They’re doing this because there’s such a strong Irish community – so they see the opportunity, I suppose’.
Madden reveals that the best part of his role in the UAE is helping Irish businesses to set up in the country. ‘If we can help them in any way, we will, and we’re happy to do so,’ he explains. This year his role also involves promoting The Gathering, an enormous initiative launched by the Irish Tourism Authority to persuade those with connections to the country, or those who have always wanted to travel there, to visit in 2013. ‘It’s the single biggest tourism initiative that’s ever taken place in Ireland. I’m sure you come across people who’ll say, “I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, but I’ve never got round to it,” so we’re trying to make The Gathering a tipping point for them,’ Madden says. ‘The core of it will be the Irish diaspora around the world, which amounts to some 70 million people.’
If you’ve always wanted to visit Ireland, 2013 might be the year to take the tourism board up on its offer. If a holiday to the Emerald Isle is a little too much of an extravagance this year, it can’t be long before we see yet another Irish bar throw open its doors in the city. Until then, be sure to check out one of the many St Patrick’s Day celebrations taking place across town. For details on The Gathering, see www.thegatheringireland.com.
Dubai’s Irish groups and events
Dubai Irish Society One of the city’s oldest expat groups, the society organises social, sporting and cultural events relevant to Dubai’s Irish community. You don’t need to be Irish to join, and all members get 10 percent off at MMI stores. www.irishsocietydubai.com.
Dubai Celts GAA This Gaelic Athletic Association is the largest in the Middle East, and regularly enters competitive tournaments. Of course, there is a big social element to the club, and it is often an induction point for newcomers to the city. www.sportsmanager.ie.
St Patrick’s Day Ball This annual event is set to be bigger and livelier than ever this year, with entertainment from Boxty and Anita Williams. Dhs500 per person. Friday March 14, from 7pm. Nasimi Beach, Atlantis the Palm, email@example.com (055 465 9404).
Rose of Tralee Another annual event: young ladies compete in a pageant, where they must display ambition, aspiration, intellect, social responsibility and a connection with Irish heritage. Applications by April 6; Rose Ball on April 27. www.irishsocietydubai.com.