The Irish community – feeling at home and celebrating

Pop-up shops at CelticFest 2016. | Photo courtesy of CelticFest

Vancouver’s Irish community has established itself on many platforms through Facebook, websites and real-life events that coexist in the great diverse cultures found in the city. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 250,000 Irish Canadians live in Vancouver.

To Irish residents, the annual CelticFest, which runs from March 10–18, may sound like familiar name. The festival, which features local Celtic arts, dance performances and theatre shows, offers a special sporting discussion event this year with two Irish sports personalities coming to Vancouver, Pat Spillane (Gaelic Football) and Mick Galwey (former Irish national rugby team captain) on March 10.

Alan Cosgrave, Board Treasurer of CelticFest, says that the event celebrates the heritage of seven Celtic nations (Ireland, Spain, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany, Scotland and Wales) while creating a family-friendly event.

He recalls the history behind the festival’s establishment in 2004.

“The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association wanted to establish a Saint Patrick’s Day parade and then the parade kind of came: this week-long celebration of Celtic heritage,” he says.

Finding help in the city

To help newcomers, the Irish in Vancouver and Irish Women of BC have been offering various resources for eight and 19 years respectively. Eilis Courtney, President of Irish Women of BC, shares her past work in the said platforms, the goal behind founding the two organizations and her positive outlook on the Irish community in Vancouver.

“Twice a year, we run seminars for newcomers,” says Courtney. “If there is an event that the Irish Women network or another group field that they want to promote, they can talk with us. Or we can help newcomers or sometimes even people who have been here for quite a while [who are] looking for connection [within the] Irish community.”

Courtney explains that the Irish community has integrated the local community very well, adding its own flavour to the mix.

“If you bring in an Irish performer, you can always guarantee that the Irish community will come out and support,” she says.

Young and Irish in Vancouver

According to Courtney, the Irish language is stagnant in Vancouver despite it being the second language of Irish people.

“There would be no advantage to us in encouraging people to speak it because the majority [of] Irish people would not be fluent Irish speakers,” she says.

Jimmy McGuirk, who has been a Vancouver resident for four and a half years, agrees.

“The Irish language itself is rarely used. It would be mainly used back home,” he says.

Looking at Vancouver’s social scene, Patricia Downey, who is on two-year working visa and working in Vancouver, remarks that even if multiculturalism is a strong point here, she also finds Canadians to be not as welcoming as Irish people are.

“I didn’t want to fall into that Irish community but I find it very hard not to, because it’d feel quite lonely in Vancouver if I didn’t,” she says.

On the other hand, Áine Rooney, who first arrived in Vancouver in 2012, found her encounters with people to be positive despite hearing claims about difficulty in meeting people. Rooney also runs an Irish Facebook group consisting of over 8,000 members.

“If I ever have queries or anything, I will always ask on the page and the people are always willing to share their knowledge,” Rooney says. “Irish [people] have a long history of immigration and we’re quite good at looking out for one another.”

With celebrating Celtic heritage and organizing group activities, Irish Vancouver residents have formed a comfortable community that welcomes any Irish newcomer.

For more information, visit www.celticfestvancouver.com.

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