A special relationship: the United States and Northern Ireland
Ulster County, New York. Londonderry, New Hampshire. Newry, South Carolina. Antrim County, Michigan. Belfast, Maine.
Over a quarter of a million men and women left ports in Belfast, Larne, Derry-Londonderry, and Newry for the ‘New World’ during the 18th century, and they brought with them more than the names of their hometowns.
They also carried with them their hopes and dreams, their tireless work ethic, and their vibrant culture. These intangible gifts became an integral part of the warp and weft of American society.
Northern Ireland has given America presidents, artists, industrialists, academics, and community leaders.
The far-reaching influence of the people of Northern Ireland on the values and traditions of the United States runs deep, and is still felt across America today.
The perilous seven-week journey once endured by our forefathers can now be completed in under seven hours, facilitating daily two-way tourism and modern commerce and, perhaps most importantly, the continued exchange of ideas and expertise.
Northern Ireland and the United States are more than friends and colleagues – they’re family. And, the traditional week of events and activities surround Saint Patrick’s Day celebrates these lasting ties.
The Saint Patrick’s Day tradition in Washington, DC has existed since 1952, when a bowl of shamrock was presented to President Harry Truman at the gates of the White House.
For both Americans and the people of Northern Ireland, these events are a recognition of the enduring kinship and unity between our two nations.
It is important to realise that our deep ties are not only historical, but also future-leaning.
For the institutions of the Northern Ireland Bureau and the US consulate in Belfast, the events of this week further build upon the political, economic, cultural, and academic connections that we strive to cultivate every day.
For the Northern Ireland Bureau, Saint Patrick’s week provides an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the many business, political, artistic and cultural interests to the highest echelons of American society.
In the United States, these interactions are invaluable, allowing us to support Northern Ireland’s ongoing progress while encouraging steps to safeguard and build upon the gains that have been made.
This relationship extends far beyond the realms of politics, business and industry. Every year, many American universities waive fees and provide singular academic opportunities for students from Northern Ireland.
Similarly, Americans are discovering the benefits of studying abroad in Northern Ireland at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Northern Ireland’s two world-renowned universities, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, have long been attractive destinations for international students with a keen interest in conflict resolution and reconciliation.
Almost half of Northern Ireland’s foreign direct investment now comes from the United States. Around 75% of the 200 US companies based in Northern Ireland reinvest in the region, which is a testimony to Northern Ireland’s highly-skilled workforce and strong pro-business climate.
Cutting-edge innovations in the fields of cybersecurity, financial services, and biomedical sciences have helped position Northern Ireland as one of the UK’s most attractive regions for global investors.
And, the United States is now the largest export market for Northern Ireland companies beyond the island of Ireland.
Northern Ireland has also fast become a top tourism destination. Each day, thousands of tourists are discovering the ancient majesty of the Giant’s Causeway or exploring new attractions like Titanic Belfast.
They’ve visiting Bushmills, the island’s oldest distillery, cycling along the Peace Bridge in Derry-Londonderry, or traversing the stories paths once taken by literary giants like CS Lewis, Seamus Heaney and, more recently, 2018 Man Booker Prize-winner Anna Burns.
According to Tourism Ireland, the region attracts upwards of 2.2 million visitors each year. And, the North American market is without question the most important, delivering an estimated 15% of all overseas visitors.
With The Open Championship returning to Country Antrim’s Royal Portrush Golf Club in July, the many celebrations surrounding Derry-Londonderry’s 400th anniversary as a walled city, and the introduction of over 150 cruise ships to Belfast Harbour, now is the time to visit Northern Ireland.
Belfast-born author CS Lewis once said that we meet no ordinary people in our lives.
We’ve certainly found this to be true. On both sides of the Atlantic, we continue to meet so many special individuals who make our partnership the present-day success it is.
In this important week for transatlantic relations, we can reflect on our shared history as a foundation for our common values and interests.
We can also celebrate our achievements and the many initiatives that continue to make Northern Ireland’s relationship with the United States so special.
Perhaps most importantly, we can look to the future and begin exploring new and exciting opportunities which we’re certain will strengthen what has become a dynamic, robust, and mutually-beneficial partnership.
l Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau is US Consul General in Belfast and Norman Houston OBE, is director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington DC