Ireland's ambassador a man of the people

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-13 10:10
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Ireland's ambassador a man of the people

Perhaps it's because of the luck of his compatriots that Irish Ambassador Declan Kelleher's time in China has been so enjoyable.

But more likely, it's the hospitality he's received that has made his life here marvelous.

And because he's had such wonderful experiences with Chinese people, he hopes the ongoing Irish Culture Festival will enable more citizens of his host country to better know natives of his homeland.

"I like to get out and about, and understand more about Chinese culture and the festival will give Chinese people a chance to see Irish culture firsthand," Kelleher says.

He explains that - like his life and work - the jamboree isn't just about Ireland in China.

"It's about China and Ireland - an Irish festival with Chinese characteristics," Kelleher says.

Sunday's Irish Culture Parade in Beijing's Chaoyang Park, for example, features not only the island's musicians and dancers but also the likes of Chinese stilt-walkers and lion-dancers.

The event will also offer Chinese people a chance to "see someone who looks like St Patrick but, of course, isn't St Patrick", he adds, smiling.

"Irish people want to celebrate their culture but they also want to include other non-Irish people. I hope it will generate an interest among Chinese people in Ireland, because we'd like more Chinese people to visit."

Despite having most of his time gobbled up by official duties, Kelleher has made it a point to engage his host culture over the past five years through travel, language study and calligraphy.

"Calligraphy is an extraordinary mixture of technical demands on one hand and self expression on the other," he says.

"The best calligraphy is not only technically superb but also reflects the personality of the person doing the writing. I find that to be an interesting combination."

And what can one tell from viewing Kelleher's penmanship?

"They could see that I need to practice my calligraphy more," he says, laughing.

In addition to intensively studying the language, Kelleher has also embraced the country's diversity. He has traveled to at least 20 provinces; by this point, he's lost count, he says.

But he also believes Beijing is a good place to learn about the rich cultural variety of China.

"People from all parts of China meet here," he says.

"I find Chinese officials are always very pleased when they hear that I've been to their home province."

Kelleher believes that a diplomat's attitude shapes his engagement with his host culture.

"We have many duties in our personal life as well," he explains. "So, it's important to make the best of the time you get."

For Kelleher, that means getting out of the compound and getting deeper into the everyday life of China and its people.

(China Daily 03/13/2010 page11)