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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Punjabis are the Irish of India, says envoy

Irish ambassador to India holds forth on Brexit blues, the return of Irish whisky, and the growing number of Indians in Ireland.

punjab Updated: Dec 01, 2017 09:51 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Irish ambassador Brian McElduff is on a mission to promote Ireland in City Beautiful.
Irish ambassador Brian McElduff is on a mission to promote Ireland in City Beautiful.(Sikander Singh/HT)

The tall Brian McElduff, the Irish ambassador to India, beams as he spies a table laden with whisky. It’s not just any whisky, it’s Irish whisky, the fastest growing category of spirits in the world, McElduff explains the gleam in his eyes.

It’s a gleam that any spirited Punjabi will understand. The ambassador, who is on a mission to promote Ireland in City Beautiful, is well aware of the comparisons people of this state make with the Irish. Tell him how Irish are dubbed the Punjabis of Britain, and he shoots back, “Then, the Punjabis are the Irish of India.”

Be it their nomadic nature, their love for spirits, or their dedication to their roots, there are many similarities the Irish share with Punjabis. Cork in Ireland is home to a shrine dedicated to the victims of the Air India flight Kanishka bombing in 1983. Then there is the legendary friendship between Irish national poet WB Yeats and Rabindra Nath Tagore. “We have a bust of Tagore in central Dublin,” says McElduff, himself a Dubliner.

“The Irish may be very small in number, but they have a global presence as 50% of them migrated in the 19th century. They introduced both the St Patrick’s festival and even Halloween in the US; in India, they came as teachers,” says McElduff.


With changing times, Irish nuns and brothers in missionary schools are being replaced with e-learning portals. Ireland, says McElduff, is also becoming a go-to destination for higher studies. “As of now, we have more than 20,000 students from India.” The biggest advantage that education in Ireland gives Indians is that they are allowed to work there for two years, he adds.

The last 40 years have seen Ireland transform itself from a primarily agrarian economy to one heavy on information technology, aviation and service sector. McElduff claims the Indian budget airlines are a takeaway from the Ryan Airways, the low-cost airline that made travelling across Europe a child’s play. “Ireland also introduced the world to aircraft leasing,” he says, telling you how most Indian aircraft are on lease from Ireland.

The ambassador says at present Ireland is home to 25,000 Indians. “They are mostly educated professionals. IT giants such as Facebook and Google are headquartered in Dublin, and I often see many Indians there,” he adds.


Brexit, he agrees, is a bummer. “As per the Good Friday agreement, there is complete freedom of movement between Ireland and Britain, the border is only political,” says McElduff. But this was predicated to the two countries remaining in the European Union (EU). With Britain deciding to quit EU, there is a question mark on the porous border. “The EU was beneficial for peace in Ireland. It created prosperity and facilitated the movement of people. Now we are worried about the trade barriers and the divisions,” he says.

But Brexit, he says, is also pushing many Indians, who favour free movement within EU, to Ireland.

This will perhaps give another boost to Irish whisky. “Hundred years ago, most whisky was Irish. But it declined after Ireland became independent, and US gained ascendance. Also, Indians took to Scotch after their soldiers tasted it during World War II. But it’s regaining its sheen,” says McElduff.

Irish whisky is strong, just the way Punjabis like it, tells McElduff. “I hope they will enjoy it and drink responsibly.” Cheers to that.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 16:23 IST