If I were to ask how many people of Sri Lankan origin live in Ireland at present, could you answer without doing an online search? Alternatively, if I were to ask you to tell me all you know about Sri Lanka, could you talk on the topic for any more than two minutes?
On Thursday 2nd November last, The Shamrock Lodge Hotel hosted the first major event in Ireland to celebrate Sri Lankan culture and its people. Members of the Sri Lankan Irish Forum from the four corners of our island arrived in Athlone ready to show off their wealth of culture and music and to experience giants of the Sri Lankan music scene, Sanidhapa. The band are far from being a household name in Ireland but their following in their home country would easily rival One Direction or even, dare I say it, Justin Bieber. To have a group of this calibre playing in Ireland was quite a big deal. The group are comprised of nine members and as a result, every single inch of space on-stage was used to accommodate the band.
While the music and the band may have seemed like they were the focal point of the night, it was much more important than that. To capture why this event was of such significance to the growing diaspora from Sri Lanka, The Galway Eye spoke to two of the main organisers, Kandeepan Somasuriyasingham of Athlone and Chaminda Bowatte of Loughrea, who was first to comment:
"It brings people together and it is important to note that many of us are the first generation of Sri Lankan in Ireland., When we look at the United Kingdom we will have seen Sri Lankan’s arrive there as early as the 1960’s whereas in Ireland it is far more recent. Perhaps in the 1980’s, in fact, I know of only one lady who has been here for 40 years. It was more towards the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that we would have seen more Sri Lankan people arrive. Since then we have had more arrive but as well as that, we now see the emergence of a second generation. Take, for instance, my own daughter. For this reason, it is important to have these events so that we don’t lose touch with our rich culture, especially for the growing second generation."
Adding to this, Kandee stated that, “Another reason we organised this was that we also have to integrate into Irish society and in doing so we want to be able to share our vast heritage and cultural values, as well as our music and dance. Other countries’ diaspora living here are doing the same, For example, the Indian culture organise such events on an annual basis. We felt that now was the time to do it and if we were going to do it, we would do it big. We had people from all over Ireland come to the event, so to us, that was what was important.”
Will we be seeing more events like this across the country?
"We have ideas and we will aim to do something even bigger but it is not the easiest of processes. It can be difficult, even for musical acts from Sri Lankan to get travel visas. Sri Lanka is viewed as a 3rd world country so it could be seen that Sri Lankans wanting to come to Ireland might not go back home. Even when we were organising this event, people were surprised as they questioned how will eleven people from Sri Lanka even get clearance to get here?"
Shall we see another event such as this in 2018? I sincerely hope so! I went in with my usual cynical head, without any great expectation, and was utterly blown away as I am sure most of our readers would be – and hopefully will be in the not too distant future.
But back to my initial question. How many people of Sri Lankan origin live in Ireland at present? According to the CSO, it is just below 2,000 (thank you Google), and could you or I talk on the topic of Sri Lanka for any more than two minutes? Yes, I now can – but that’s nowhere near enough. I’d like to be able to talk for 2 hours on the culture.
The cultural night in Athlone gave many of us a taster and we’re ready for the main course now. As the Sri Lankan idiom goes, “desire never stops, it increases even after satisfaction”.