Avril Conroy, Chairperson of the Irish Business Club

Selection_550How long have you been living in Russia?

I have been living here for 20 years.

What made you come out here?

I came to work with an Irish company and enjoyed working and living here.

What is the major mission of the Irish Club in Russia?

Our main mission is to help Irish people who live and work here. There are not many of us; about 300, so we try and support everybody as best as we can. We organise events such as business breakfasts, social evenings, and two annual Balls, the Emerald Ball and the White Ball. We also arrange a children’s party at Christmas for the Irish community together with the Embassy.

Our biggest event each year is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We are incredibly grateful to the Moscow Government who, for the past 20 years, have allocated us a main street for the parade, the only foreign country granted such permission to celebrate our national holiday.

Our secondary mission is to help members of the local community who need us. We have given our continued support to local charities and is something we have taken very seriously over the past two decades.

What was the situation like as far as the Irish in Moscow when you first arrived?

Well, in the past there were a lot more Irish people here. Ireland played a major part in terms of breaking down the walls and opening up Russia to western business and culture. The size of the Irish community has fluctuated along with its make up, there are a new population of Irish here, particularly teachers which is fantastic for the community.

It is true that when people think about Ireland they often think of Riverdance and Guinness. At the same time, I think it is important to understand that besides all of the fun, we have some really smart people in Moscow who play important roles. As a community I think we have a drive and an energy and we are consistent. It doesn’t matter that people come and go, the parades still continue, the Balls continue, the business breakfasts still continue, it’s not just reliant on individuals, we all have a will for them to carry on.

The Irish here now work in a variety of businesses, in banking, in commerce, in teaching and culture. The one thing we all have in common is that we know that we are there to help each other. I certainly know that when one of us needs help, the call for help will be answered.

Is there anything that’s going to affect the Irish community more or less than any other community?

We are just like any other community. People will always have choices, to stay and weather the storm and face turbulent times, or leave.

One thing I’d like to mention is the creation of a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) club here in Russia. This is an example of the introduction of something completely Irish here into this country and culture. The Moscow Shamrocks GAA Club started last year and is a small but dedicated group of people who actively promote Gaelic football, handball, rounders, hurling and camogie. There is now also a GAA club in Krasnodarsk, so it is definitely spreading.

We believe that these are the sort of events that are extremely important to keep going, so that they become embedded into Russia and life here in Russia. The Parade itself is not easy to sustain, but along with the Emerald Ball we’ve kept it going for 22 years.

Congratulations on being awarded with an Irish Presidential Distinguished Service award for 2014.

Thank you, although there are a number of people here who have and continue to make the events work. The Irish Club could not function without the support of the Irish Embassy.

We have done a huge amount of charity work over the past 20 years and all proceeds have gone to support a whole range of really amazing local charities.

The GAA is a big step, if you look at the GAA in Africa, China and many different countries, it is run by the local people, not by the Irish. We’d like to see the GAA in Russia turn into a locally run and sponsored movement. All of these activities, like the Parade and the Balls, are not possible unless the support is continuous, and that’s what we do, we are serious and not just out to have fun, although that certainly is part of it.