CEDAR LAKES, W.Va. — The first female consul general of Ireland paid the first visit in the New York City Consulant’s history to West Virginia this week.
In her history-making trip, Barbara Jones was on a mission to spread the word about the Emerald Isle’s history and culture and meet some of the millions of Americans who trace their ancestry back to Eire.
During a reception at Cedar Lakes Retreat Center in Ripley the consul general, along with Dr. Mick Moloney, a New York University professor, award-winning musician and Irish historian, shared the sounds and sights, past and future of Ireland with individuals from all over West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other neighboring states.
“The countryside here is beautiful beyond belief, the fall foliage, and this extraordinary welcome I’ve received here. I think the deeply held ties between Ireland and West Virginia have to do with history and memory, and relationships,” Jones told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.
The consul general noted the numbers of those with Scots and Irish ancestry are high in West Virginia.
“Between the Scots-Irish and the Irish, the percentage here is on par with your neighbor Pennsylvania, around 12-13 percent, which is a higher percentage even than New York and Boston. Irish people from all traditions on our island came here and found a welcome and a home and there is a great history there. Of course the history is important in it’s own right but also hopefully means good continued relations in politics, in sports, in culture and in business, and I’m very much looking to the future,” Jones said.
Jones assumed her general consul duties in 2014. She has the distinction of being the first woman in that post. The New Office first opened in 1930 and serves six states, including West Virginia. Officials said as far as they know none of the consuls had ever visited West Virginia before.
The Consulate, which is part of the Foreign Affairs Department, promotes and protects Irish interests through its work with the Irish community in the region, promoting Irish economic interest, supporting partnerships between the U.S. and Ireland, and providing a range of key consular services.
Ireland’s Embassy and network of Consulates General across the U.S. work closely with Irish State Agencies to promote trade, inward investment and tourism by supporting Irish companies wanting to find and access new markets, providing advice on business and pursuing export and investment opportunities that will benefit Ireland and work to secure market access for Irish products.
Jones, who was born in County Wexford, Ireland, received a warm welcome this week in Ripley, including a key to the city presented by Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader.
The mission of the consulate general includes promoting and protecting Irish interests through its work with the Irish community in the region, promoting Irish economic interests, supporting the strong partnership between the U.S. and Ireland, and providing a range of key consular services.
The Irish government has 74 missions across the world, including 61 embassies, eight multilateral missions and nine Consulates General and other offices.
The Consulate General of Ireland was established in New York City in 1930, when the world was in the midst of the Great Depression. In Ireland, the 1930s was a period of significant political and constitutional changes that culminated in the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937.
After the War of Independence in 1921, Northern Ireland had its own devolved government controlled by the Unionist majority until 1972. However, discrimination against Nationalists in voting, housing and employment and the repression of Nationalist civil rights campaigners led to civil unrest and was followed by the period of sustained conflict known as the “Troubles.”
From the 1980s onward, the Irish and British governments began to work closer together to achieve peace, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The Agreement set out a framework for both communities in Northern Ireland to resolve their differences and ended decades of violence. The Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly approved by the people of Ireland in referendums both North and South in 1998.
Jones said relations with the English government are “excellent right now.”
The General Consul said Queen Elizabeth personified leadership when during a 2011 visit to Ireland she spoke of “reconciliation and trust.”
“She is using the wisdom of her age to share a great insight into forgiveness,” Jones said. “We need to talk about the history, but we also need to talk about forgiveness, learn from the past mistakes and learn from them.”
Borrowing from a Northern Ireland poet, she said: “How can a man know who he is if he doesn’t know where he’s from.”
“Whatever journey we are on, we have to move toward peace and reconciliation on our island. Here in America you all can help by supporting and encouraging your leaders to continue your interests in Ireland; we need the U.S.’s power and influence to get there.”
Jones was at one time the Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Ireland in London dealing with political relations and the Northern Ireland peace process.
She talked about Ireland’s sectarian violence, and wars for independence, and noted the eyes of the world are on Ireland and maybe lessons learned there could be applied to conflicts in other parts of the world.
The queen’s 2011 visit was the first by a British monarch to the area that is now the Republic of Ireland since the 1911 tour by Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V, when the entire island of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
“We have to continue the dialogue and diplomacy to address the issues,” Jones said. “We have to continue to try and heal this division; it’s good for the island and we must encourage the rest of the world; we need to be a model for how good diplomacy and institutional change can stop sectarian violence; there is hope and lessons to be learned,” she said.
Jones recalled the influence of the Irish on the United States, noting many were here when the American Revolution began, and she said thousands if Irish joined America in its fight for independence.
She noted several Irishmen who signed the Declaration of Independence, an Irishman printed the document and noted the first Irish U.S. President Andrew Jackson.
“The Irish who found their way to America made great contributions to this important and freest country in the world,” she said.
Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, and Jones said there are “strains and that has damaged solidarity.”
She noted discussions over currency, and said there is some bitterness about the conditions of bailout; some felt the terms were unfair. “But Ireland is supporting the movement for Britain to stay in the Union and there is solid support for that.”
She was asked about the current Syrian refugee problem in Europe. Ireland has agreed to take 5,000 of the refugees.
“It is the most significant movement in Europe since World War II,” she said.
Jones is a graduate of Arts (French and History) (1977-1980) of University College, Dublin and holds post-graduate qualifications in Education (1980-1981) from University College, Dublin and Computer Science (1982-1983) from the National Institute of Higher Education from the University of Limerick. Her career at the Department of Foreign Affairs began in September 1983. She has worked primarily on Anglo Irish and European Union issues. She was head of Humanitarian Aid policy (1994-1997) and travelled extensively in Africa over that time.
Her overseas postings include assignments at the Consulate General of Ireland in San Francisco (1986-1990); at the Embassy of Ireland at Luxembourg (1991-1993) and as Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Ireland in London dealing with political relations and the Northern Ireland peace process.
In September 2012, Jones was appointed Joint Secretary at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat in Belfast. She took up duty as Consul General of Ireland in New York in September 2014.
Jones served in two other government Departments in Dublin from 1997-2002. From 1999 to 2002, she served as Speech Writer and Special Adviser in the Department of the Taoiseach. Prior to that (1997 to 1999) she was seconded to the Trade Section of the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, where she wrote and developed a new long-term strategy for promoting Irish trade with China and Asia. She speaks both Irish and French.
Jones and her husband Oliver O’Connor, who is a business consultant specializing in health care finance, innovation and public policy, have two sons and a daughter, Killian O’Connor, Tadhg O’Connor and Maeve Jones-O’Connor.
Moloney provided a historical perspective on Ireland. Author of “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The story of Irish American History through Song,” released by Crown Publications in February of 2002, he holds a doctorate in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, and Villanova Universities, and currently teaches at New York University in the Irish Studies program.
He has recorded and produced more than 40 albums of traditional music and acted as adviser for many festivals and concerts all over America. Moloney also served as the artistic director for several major arts tours. He hosted three nationally syndicated series of folk music on American Public Television; was consultant, performer and interviewee on the Irish Television special “Bringing It All Back Home”; a participant, consultant and music arranger of the PBS documentary film “Out of Ireland”; and a performer on the PBS special “The Irish in America: Long Journey Home.”
In 1999 Moloney was awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts- the highest official honor a traditional artist can receive in the United States. He received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the President of Ireland in November of 2013.