The Irish Society in Uganda
By Ms. Deirdre Clancy
Every year, the week of celebrations surrounding St Patrick’s Day on the 17th of March, Ireland’s national day, puts Irish culture and the Irish community in Uganda in the spotlight. This year was no different with the Irish Society, taking the lead in making sure that the best of Irish music, food and revellery was enjoyed in a series of events across Kampala, culminating in the St Patrick’s Ball at the Sheraton Hotel which reverberated well into Sunday morning.
Founded in 1953 the Irish Society is one of the oldest international societies in Uganda. At one point the premises of the Society at the now Shanghai Restaraunt in Nakesero were taken over as an army mess and all of the Society’s records and assets were lost. The Society went underground, meeting in private homes, defying the curfew to keep the spirit alive.
The Society has always been a home away from home for Irish Ugandans living across the country, creating a space for them to come together at key moments to share friendship and experiences and celebrate their Irish connections. From the beginning the Irish religious orders were a huge focus of the community, with the Franciscan nuns at Nsambya Hospital dressing up as leprechauns after midnight mass on Christmas Eve to host an annual ‘thank you’ tea for the support of the Irish Society. This year a St. Patricks Day mass was celebrated with the Mill Hill Fathers, with shamrock all the way from Ireland.
Today, the Society embraces Irish and honorary Irish from all parts of the globe—and all walks of life—to share in the Irish spirit. The 2012 St Patrick’s Ball once again echoed this expanding welcome with Ugandan and Sengalese artists from Sabar Percussion and the Kampala Ballet and Modern Dance School joining the Wright Family from Karamoja and the Irish band Hickory Wind from County Westmeath, to lead the merriment. The best of Irish food and drink was also on offer with artisan Irish cheeses, beef braised in Guinness and even some favourite Tayto crisps all the way from home.
Although the Irish Society has in many ways become synonymous with the annual St Patrick’s Ball, events down through the years have spanned everything from a celebration of the 975th anniversary of the expulsion of the Danes (a flimsy excuse for a party if ever there was one), to medieval banquets, treasure hunts, Eurovision contests, family days out, Fr. Ted tea parties and the Who Wants to be a Millionaire quiz show. The famous Kampala hash has also been inveigled into taking on the green, with St Patrick’s and Bloomsday hashes occasionally helping to repair the damage of late nights.
While the Society has always been known for the fanstastic “craic” (fun) and friendship it generates, it is also about service. The Society has raised millions of shillings for humanitarian and development organisations in Uganda with an Irish connection through sponsorship, events and fundraisers. Among the groups which benefitted from the record sum of 39 million Ugandan Shillings raised last year were Uganda Hands for Hope, the Serenity Centre, the Good Shepard and Busega Children’s Homes and Kiotovu Hospital.
Over the years the engagement and membership of the Society has evolved to reflect the changing character of the Irish community in Uganda and its presence today across all sectors of society from private business to public service. This year sponsorship from a range of businesses associated with the Irish community once again made it a record for the Society’s charitable giving, with both contributions and beneficiaries reflecting the breadth of Irish contribution to life in Uganda.
The Irish Society would love to hear from you and how you might like to get involved: there is no need to be a member to attend Society events. Over the next months planned activities include the Eurovision Song Contest in May (get rehearsing now!), an Irish Film Festival in July and a Golf Tournament in September.
Membership to the Irish Society in Uganda costs 25,000 Ush and comes with a discount on tickets for the annual St Patrick’ Ball and other events.
For more information, please contact:
The Irish Society in Uganda