October 20, 2017 President Michael D Higgins dinner at the Australian Museum
When the opening Acknowledgement of Country ceremony is described by President Higgins as “the most moving he has experienced in his time in Australia”, and the night ends with a céilí, you know you’re at a great event. The Ireland Funds Australia (IFA), in our 30th year, had the privilege of hosting Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins on Friday 20 October, as part of his 2017 state visit to Australia.
The event was a gathering of 100 of the Funds’ supporters, sponsors, donors and friends, and we were generously hosted by Westpac, in the beautiful surrounds of the newly-renovated Westpac Long Gallery at the Australian Museum. To celebrate 200 years of Westpac in Australia, the room has been filled with 200 of Australia’s most important treasures. Fittingly, one of these treasures is an enormous skeleton of a great Irish Elk, acquired by the museum in 1886. The Elk is mounted above the gallery, and oversaw proceedings on Friday evening with his noble gaze.
Our incredibly moving Acknowledgement of Country was provided by Libby Cook-Black and Leon Wunungmurra, two indigenous Australians, past and current recipients of scholarships to attend schools in Sydney from the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, a charity the IFA has supported since 2008. Both students spoke of what the scholarships mean to them, in terms of the opportunities offered in education, but also the sense of opportunity in representing their families and country, the joy of bringing friends from schools in Sydney to their homes and helping them to understand the importance of place in the lives of indigenous peoples.
Chairman of The Ireland Funds Australia Yvonne Le Bas, CFO of BT Financial Group, warmly welcomed guests, including our guest of honour, President Higgins, his wife Sabina, and members of the visiting delegation including Art O’Leary Secretary General to the President.
We were also lucky to be joined by former Chairmen of The Ireland Funds Australia including Peter Cosgrove, APN News & Media; Charles Curran AC, Capital Investment Group and Alan Joyce AC, Qantas.
Other special guests included Teresa Keating, Executive Director, The Ireland Funds Australia; Brad Cooper, Chief Executive Officer, BT Financial Group; Kieran McLoughlin, Worldwide President and CEO, The Ireland Funds, Richard O’Brien, former Irish Ambassador to Australia; Noel White Chargé D’Affairs, Embassy of Ireland to Australia and Jane Connolly, Consul General of Ireland to Australia in Sydney.
President Higgins spoke at length and warmly of the connections between Ireland and Australia, and particularly of the similarities and importance of the preservation and proliferation of our cultures to the Irish and indigenous Australian people. He spoke of the contribution made by the IFA to causes in Ireland over 30 years, saying our organisation is “a powerful force for good” particularly our support of education, literacy and cultural development. He specifically mentioned integrated education, and recognised the generous donations of the late Lady Mary Fairfax in that regard, represented on the night by her daughter Anna Cleary.
Fantastic entertainment was provided by a wonderful friend of the Funds Ciaran Gribbin, accompanied by his talented band Clare O’Meara on fiddle and Garry Steele on accordion. The President and Mrs Higgins generously gave of their time after dinner to meet with and take photos with all of the guests present, which was hugely appreciated by the IFA and our guests.
And it wouldn’t be an IFA event without a good party. Guests were treated to a reprise from Ciaran and his band, and for a little while the 200 finest Australian treasures including the mighty Irish Elk looked on as the Irish and friends of Ireland sang and danced, celebrating our own culture, and all that is great about Ireland and our adopted country.
Photos by Matt Teague