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Irishness abroad

Last month, I was delighted to be part of two extraordinary events in London, the ICRW Gala Dinner at Claridge’s and a wonderful evening at the Irish Embassy, at which Prince Charles was the guest of honour. The two events, the former celebrating Champions of Change for the empowerment of women, the latter celebrating the warm relationship which exists between Britain and Ireland, focused on areas which are important to me as a person, and to Louise Kennedy as a female-led Irish company which for almost 20 years has had a warm relationship with our UK neighbours, colleagues and clients.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research institute with headquarters in Washington DC, and regional offices in New Delhi, India and Kampala, Uganda. ICRW promotes women’s human rights and creates the conditions in which all women can thrive. ICRW comprises social scientists, economists, public health specialists and demographers, thought leaders driven by a passion to alleviate poverty and rectify injustice in the world. ICRW believes that when the quality of life of women and girls improves, families are healthier and economies are stronger. In the words of Hillary Clinton: “I have always believed that women are not victims, we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace – all we need is a fighting chance.” The work of the ICRW brings the benefit of rigorous research and planning to projects and people who are intent on lifting women out of poverty so that they may become the agents of change in their families, in their villages, and little by little, in their countries.

I was honoured to be a committee member with my friends Michael Bonsor, of Rosewood Hotels and Guy Oliver (from Oliver Laws the interior design firm currently working on the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin). Guy and Baroness Mary Goudie were co-chairs of the event at Claridges where visionary leaders were honoured with awards for being Champions of Change. Previous recipients of the awards have included Melinda Gates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Hillary Clinton.

Guy Oliver, an ambassador for the ICRW for five years, welcomed guests and spoke about his interest in this area, and how he had worked on projects in Africa and Afghanistan to promote gender equality. One of the most inspiring speeches was given by Tsitsi Masiywa, a Zimbabwean philanthropist who co-founded the Higherlife Foundation. This year alone, the foundation has pledged 100 million dollars to education.

The following evening, I was a guest of HE Adrian O Neill and his wife Aisling and Tánaiste Simon Coveney at the Irish Embassy in London. The house, at 17 Grosvenor Place, SW1, owned by the Duke of Westminster and leased to the OPW, once belonged the Guinness family. Built in 1868 in the “French Renaissance” style, the listed building is undergoing an extensive refurbishment but looked elegant and inviting as we arrived. Special guests were Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. I was very honoured to be at Prince Charles’ table, along with writer Marie Heaney. There were wonderful speeches from Prince Charles, from Adrian, and from Simon Coveney, reflecting the connections between our two countries, in good times and bad, and how we are so intertwined, from national to family level, with each other. The visits of the Royals in recent years has done much to highlight and strengthen these bonds, and it seems Charles and Camilla have been genuinely heartened by the warmth of the welcome shown to them.

Prince Charles spoke of his love of Ireland and how Camilla and himself have already visited 15 counties in Ireland and how determined he was to visit the remaining 17. His love of our culture and literature is palpable and he spoke so warmly about his admiration for Seamus Heaney, especially acknowledging Marie and her daughter Catherine in his speech. It was a wonderful evening, with great conversation, fabulous Irish food and music. As Cheltenham Festival was coming up the following week, Chanelle McCoy, wife of legendary jockey AP McCoy and I discussed weather and course conditions for the week ahead with The Duchess of Cornwall. Of course, we also discussed what to wear!

International Women’s Day was a week-long event this year and we marvelled at the breadth of events which took place all over the world, reflecting all sorts of interest groups and initiatives. It is up to women, course, to recognise our own strengths and also consider how we can support another woman who needs it, or a group of women trying to be agents of change, or younger women as they try to find their paths. Being strong, kind and supportive at the same time as we advocate for change where it is most drastically needed, is key.