Irish Network Seattle, an all-volunteer group provides contacts and welcomes to members and visitors such as Leo Varadkar and Irish undergraduates on J-1 visas alike.

Irish Network Seattle (INSeattle) is an all-volunteer group with a local focus for its members, but also helps provide contacts and welcomes for a range of visitors, from Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar on a Trade Mission to the West Coast, to an Irish undergraduate with a fresh work Visa and a rather short resume.

INSeattle is one of 19 chapters of INUSA which connect people and businesses across the Atlantic and locally, to link us with our heritage, and to help do some good in the world.

In January 2018, INSeattle hosted a reception for Irish Minister Pat Breen, who was on a Trade Mission to the West Coast of the USA, organized by the Irish Consulate in San Francisco. Along with the Consulate, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, the Minister visited political and trade leaders on the West Coast, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle Trade Development Alliance. Brexit, the EU, and Ireland’s Data Protection environment were hot topics, nd drew a mostly young crowd to the INSeattle reception. At the end of the evening, a group of 20-somethings was gathered around the Minister, quizzing him on technology, EU policy, and building a career.

Minister Breen noted the growing connections between the USA and Ireland, especially the direct flights between Seattle and Dublin that Aer Lingus will start in May this year. “Any time we see a direct flight, we see business and tourism go from strength to strength,” the Minister said. INSeattle is proud that members of its Board were instrumental in helping to bring about the direct flights, a tremendous way to support business and to shave half a day’s journey off the long-haul home.

In November 2017, INSeattle hosted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for a business luncheon with 280 attendees, including US- and Ireland-based Government and business leaders. The Taoiseach emphasized the point that Ireland has a bi-lateral economic relationship with the USA. Not only are there US businesses in Ireland, but in 2016, there were over 700 Irish companies active in the US, with overall income of more than 3.74 billion Euro ($4.58 billion).

Although connections with Ireland today tend to highlight new technology, Irish people have been settling in the Seattle area for more than 160 years, and making a large contribution to the city’s development. John Collins from County Cavan was the first Irish-born mayor of Seattle in 1871. Judge Thomas Burke – called ‘The Man who Built Seattle’ – was a first-generation Irish-American, and helped to bring the Great Northern Railway to a Seattle terminus. Without him, the railway could have ended in Tacoma, and Seattle would have become a secondary city in Washington State.

Visits by leaders from the home country are always popular and inspiring. The audience responded enthusiastically to the Taoiseach’s uplifting address, applauding when he said, “Ireland is an island at the center of the world and at the heart of the common European home it helped to build, confident about its place in the world at a time when so many other countries are not.” Such visits have helped to grow INSeattle membership over the years, when people join to welcome and meet big names from Ireland such as Taoisigh (Taoiseachs) Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar, Ambassadors Anne Anderson and Daniel Mulhall, President Michael D. Higgins, and Government Ministers.

Hosting an event with a visiting Head of State requires pulling-together by many Irish volunteer groups and individuals, working hand-in-hand with the Irish Consulate in San Francisco, the Honorary Consul in WA state, the IDA, and Enterprise Ireland. As always with volunteer organizations, some people will take time off work, or get less sleep than usual, to ensure perfect roll-out of a high-profile event. As we said during the planning for the business luncheon in November, “It’s like four weddings at once.” There was a huge sense of satisfaction in being able to help make this event happen, and show Seattle – first home for some, and home-from-home for many first-generation Irish – in such a positive light.

For the volunteers, this kind of work is a way to give back, and to help others, and to feel a bit closer to the home country. We couldn’t do it alone, of course – Irish Consulates work actively to help Irish Networks be successful at every step, and are a great resource with their international experience and connections.

It’s a sign of the growth of Seattle as a business and technology hub that a growing number of Irish grads and undergraduates are attending Irish Network events. INSeattle is reaching out to Alumni groups in Ireland to establish a relationship and make it easier for students to get connected, because the best time for an undergrad or recent grad to seek contacts in their chosen destination is while they are still at home planning - long before putting down their suitcase in a Seattle hostel and starting to spend their precious savings.

No doubt there will be many visitors to the US this year, and perhaps you’ll be one of them. Give the Irish Network a shout if you’re over!

This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.