Next month Annascaul will host a rare event in the social and cultural calendar of West Kerry – a summer fair to celebrate 30 years of diplomacy and friendship between Ireland and Slovenia.
This comes about thanks to Ines Zdesar, the President of the Slovenian Irish Association who comes from the coastal town of Ankaran near the border between Slovenia and Italy, but now calls Annascaul home.
In 2014 Ines came to Inch to work in Sammy’s shop and restaurant, knowing nothing about West Kerry other than what she heard from a friend with a Slovenian mother and a father from Cloghane. She never planned to stay for long in Ireland but then she met Annascaul builder Eoin Knightly and in 2018 they opened the Shadow River Farm, which they run in the style of a Slovenian ‘agri-tourismo’, providing accommodation and full board in a farm setting.
For all Ines knew at that time she might have been the only Slovenian person in West Kerry, or in Ireland. She didn’t give it much thought either until the Slovenian Embassy in Dublin reopened in 2021, after being closed for nine years, and she took on the task of managing a Facebook group for the Slovenian Irish Association, which is called Detelca – the Slovenian word for ‘shamrock’.
“There was a lot of interest in the Facebook group. The Slovenian Ambassador contacted us and offered support and it organically grew from there. Now it has 1,800 members,” said Ines.
Not very many Slovenians live in Ireland. The 2016 Census recorded about 1,000, plus Erasmus students and even though Ines reckons the number will have grown following Brexit there are still only “a handful” in West Kerry.
According to Ines, many Slovenians know of Ireland through James Joyce who lived for a time in the formerly Slovenian city of Trieste. They also have a particular attachment to Ireland because it was the first European country to recognize Slovenia as an independent democracy after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
The support that came from Ireland at that critical juncture in Slovenia’s history means a lot to Ines, who is intensely proud of her native country. She didn’t pick that pride up off the ground – her grandmother Olga Druzina, who died last year aged 101, was Slovenia’s most decorated partisan fighter in World War II and she went on to become a lifelong collaborator with President Tito.
To celebrate her native land and its connections with Ireland, Ines held an Easter gathering at her home in Annascaul where she welcomed a small gathering of Slovenian people from Kerry, Cork and as far away as Amsterdam.
Last week, on Slovenian Statehood Day, she presented Slovenian Ambassador to Ireland Stanislav Vidovic with a Dingle Crystal plate, and the newly appointed Irish Ambassador to Slovenia, Adrian Farrell, was presented with a copy of June McIntyre and Dairena Ní Chinnéide’s book, ‘Scáil’.
The Slovenian – Irish connection will be further cemented on Sunday, August 7, when Ines hosts a summer fair in Shadow River Farm where there will be Slovenian and Irish music, lots of food, traditional outdoor games, and talks on history.
“I think the best way to represent the country is through music and food, and leave the politics behind,” said Ines. “We want to celebrate our independence, our links with Ireland and our gratitude for Ireland’s recognition of Slovenia in 1991.”