Nearly 150 years ago over 600 Irish immigrants and Irish Americans, utilized the First Ward of Buffalo – now an officially designated Irish Heritage District - as a staging ground for what would quickly prove to be a failed attack on Canada. While this effort certainly was not the genesis of the Irish Community in Buffalo, who by this time probably numbered over 10,000, it can be used to mark the rise of a fighting spirit to keep bonds with Ireland and offer support to what many would still consider home. This spirit is alive and well today.
Fresh off an official visit by GAA President Liam O'Neill and Deputy Consul General of
Ireland Peter Ryan, there is no doubt that a strong hunger exists to further link the Irish and Irish American communities of Buffalo to those across the US, and more importantly Ireland.
From Captain Pat Mann of the Buffalo Police Department sharing stories of his father's days as a "grain scooper", to enjoying a full Irish breakfast that any 'Mammy' would be proud of skillfully prepared by Ellen Coyle, to a celebration of another successful season for the Buffalo Fenians Gaelic Football Club, it is easy to imagine transplanting the entire weekend's festivities to any town in Ireland.
But this ‘Cead Mile Failte’ was indeed in Buffalo. New York's second city, with a population of approximately 260,000 residents, it has seen its share of tough times in recent decades, but is itself certainly a city on the rise. Over the course of my weekend in Buffalo I learned of plans spearheaded by the University of Buffalo that will ultimately bring 17,000 people to the City's downtown, develop a $40 million entertainment complex along the waterfront, and to redevelop vacant city owned lots into affordable housing opportunities. It came as no surprise that right in the middle of all of these exciting developments that will transform the city are Irish Americans and some more recently arrived Irish professionals.
Collaboration, as a tool to tie together business, arts, and academia is the very mission of Irish Network USA, and now very evidently at the forefront of efforts to rebuild the City of Buffalo. An announcement late last year by Governor Andrew Cuomo of a $125 million investment to leverage $1.5 billion in private investments is set to lead to the development of a state of the art facility to for high-tech and green energy businesses, and the University of Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center, one of the hosts for the weekend, is itself a product of partnership between academia and private industry.
Irish Network USA looks forward to continuing to work with our new friends in Buffalo and the Irish Consulate in New York to build a strong chapter there. A stronger Irish and Irish American community in Buffalo is good for the same communities in cities across the US, and good for the continued growth and reemergence of Ireland as it continues to surpass job creation and investment objectives on the back of strong initiatives to attract foreign businesses to its shores.
* Steve Lenox is the Co-President of Irish Network USA and the President of Lenox Consulting, an international communications firm with offices in New Jersey, New York and Ireland.