Wednesday 7 December 2016

Kenya officially joins Ireland’s Centenary commemorations

Greg Harkin, in Kenya

Published 01/12/2016 | 16:51

Minister McHugh and the First Lady
Minister McHugh and the First Lady
First Lady Kenyatta and Environment Minister Prof. Judi Wakhungu
Minister McHugh and the First Lady
Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya and wife of President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya has officially joined in Ireland’s Centenary commemorations with an exhibition featuring 100 years of Irish involvement in the country.

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The African nation’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the most popular woman in the country, officially opened an exhibition at the National Museum here in Nairobi

Mrs Kenyatta has been honoured by the UN and drawn support from celebrities including Madonna for her Beyond Zero campaign to reduce infant mortality in Kenya.

She has credited her success in life to her attendance at a Loreto Convent school run by Irish nuns in Msongari.

First Lady Kenyatta and Environment Minister Prof. Judi Wakhungu
First Lady Kenyatta and Environment Minister Prof. Judi Wakhungu

Hundreds of Kenyan and Irish nationals packed into the museum for the event hosted by Ireland’s Ambassador to the country Dr Vincent O’Neill.

The First Lady said the century-long relationship between Kenya and Ireland has been based on generosity, kindness, service, mutual respect and appreciation.

She said the enduring co-operation between the two nations is further strengthened by common experiences of triumph over adversity as former colonies and shared values and ideals of freedom, autonomy and self-determination.

“We also have in common great cultural histories, in the arts and music; an outward facing and embracing curiosity, as well as a similar commitment to sport," said the First Lady.

Minister McHugh and the First Lady
Minister McHugh and the First Lady

“Through the course of Kenya’s history we have hosted Irish Missionaries, NGO workers, businesses, and individuals who have contributed immensely to the development of our country and the welfare of our people."

Irish missionaries were among the first nationals from Ireland to set foot in Kenya where they left their footprints in educational and health institutions.

Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya and wife of President Uhuru Kenyatta
Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya and wife of President Uhuru Kenyatta

Many Kenyans, said the First Lady, have also worked and lived in Ireland over the years where they have contributed their cultural flair and entrepreneurial know how.

“They have left their enduring mark on the social and economic fabric of Ireland," Mrs Kenyatta told the audience which included Diaspora and Overseas Development Minister Joe McHugh.

The country’s Environment Minister Prof. Judi Wakhungu was emotional as she told how Irish Loreto nuns instilled self-belief in her.

As a result she went on to become a professor of geology, adding: “They also taught us how to play tennis. I went on to represent my country internationally.

“And thanks to that I was able to go to university on a tennis scholarship. My parents were very, very grateful because it didn’t cost them a penny.”

Ireland re-opened its embassy in Nairobi in 2014.

Dr O’Neill said the last century had seen Irish people contribute immensely to Kenyan society.

“Some came as missionaries and stayed to provide healthcare and education,” said the Ambassador.

“Some came for other opportunities and stayed and helped set up medical practices, motoring businesses, legal firms, training schools and agricultural colleges.

“The Irish came and fell in love with a country and a people that in many ways mirrored their own experience of home.”

Minister McHugh said the centenary of the Easter Rising was an ideal opportunity “to capture and communicate the contribution of so many Irish people to the development of Kenyan society”.

He added: “I know after just two days of my first visit to Kenya that the Irish presence and contribution here is greatly appreciated by the Kenyan people.

“Irish people the world over are famous for our desire to travel the globe, to settle in faraway places and making a lasting contribution to their newly adopted homeland.”

The exhibition will be on display for a month at the National Museum before going on a year-long tour of the country.

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