The Mashonaland Irish Association hosted its first St. Patrick's Day celebration in 1891

Zimbabwe is home to one of the oldest Irish diaspora groups in the world, the Mashonaland Irish Association (MIA), based in Harare.

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Writing for The Irish Times, Joseph Woods, a native of Ireland, explains that first became acquainted with the more-than-a-century-old MIA in 2015 when he and his family moved to Zimbabwe. He met with the then-President of the group and received a traditionally Irish welcome of a ‘full Irish’ breakfast.

Soon enough, Woods was involved with the MIA and was named to its governing committee before being elected its president. As such, he’s familiarized himself with the long and fascinating history of the MIA and has now published ‘The Mashonaland Irish Association, a Miscellany 1891-2019.’

Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of the group’s history is its first St. Patrick’s Day celebration which was hosted in 1891. Of it, Woods writes: “The banquet took place in a roofless mud-brick building, which when finished would become the first hotel in Salisbury. While conditions were primitive, the right spirit was in sufficient measure; wines, whiskey, Delagoa Bay gin and a ham were procured from the wagon of the aristocratic Compte de la Panouse who followed the column with his wares and delicacies.”

Woods notes the importance of the date as well: “In Irish chronological terms this might appear recent, but in colonial terms this predated the foundation of Southern Rhodesia, later Rhodesia and was a mere seven months after the Pioneer Column on expedition from south Africa, established camp at Fort Salisbury (now Harare) and raised the Union Jack on Cecil (now Africa Unity) Square.”

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Woods concludes: “The connections and threads between the two countries are manifest not just in the abundance of Irish place names here. Cumulatively, and beyond the stories of individuals, it’s a narrative that provides new insights into the layered complexity of the Irish and the colonial experience, and the adaption of the Irish first in Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe.”

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Today, more than 125 years after its inception, the Mashonaland Irish Association is still welcoming first, second, and third generation Irish people to its monthly events in Harare.

Check out this video from one of the group’s events:

Music and dancing. Great craic altogether!

Publiée par The Irish Mashonaland Association sur Lundi 20 mars 2017

Do you belong to an Irish diaspora group? Let us know in the comments!