Ireland will use Expo 2020 Dubai as an opportunity to re-engage with a world that is continuing to slowly emerge from the pandemic.
The event will also be an opportunity to showcase Irish creativity, technology and hospitality, particularly as it looks to get its tourism back on track, Pat Hennessy, Ireland Expo 2020 commissioner general told The National.
“This is the first large scale, in person, global event post-pandemic and I think for the world, for Dubai and for Ireland, it's an occasion of renewal that I think we will all come to it with that very positive spirit, full of enthusiasm and full of ambition. That provides a great backdrop for a successful Expo,” said Mr Hennessy.
The commissioner general will be familiar to Irish residents in the UAE, having spent four years as ambassador before handing over to the incumbent, Aidan Cronin.
After successive lockdowns, Ireland is starting to slowly unwind its Covid-19 related restrictions, which include opening its borders to visitors from July 17. It marks the start of what the government hopes will be a recovery in its domestic economy.
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was in the UAE on Tuesday and met Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.
In addition to the high-level talks in Abu Dhabi, Mr Coveney travelled to Dubai to visit the Expo 2020 site, view the pavilion and meet with Irish officials who will oversee the country’s participation in the six-month event.
“For us, as with the world at large, this is a very timely and welcome opportunity to reengage with the world,” Mr Hennessy said.
“So the timing could not be better from our point of view and I suspect that's also true for all of the other participants. [Mr Coveney’s visit] was a very strong message of support for Expo and of the determination of the Irish government to participate actively and fully across the full breadth of activities within Expo.”
There has been strong growth in the Irish population in the UAE, and the country is now home to more than 10,000 Irish nationals.
The two countries are both set to surpass some significant milestones this year.
The UAE will celebrate its jubilee year on National Day, December 2. Four days later, Ireland will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the State on December 6.
While there’s nothing planned to mark the date at the Irish pavilion at Expo, Mr Hennessy said there’s a shared experience between the countries.
“We're ancient nations with relatively new states so we kind of understand each other in the task of nation building and all of the great things that go into taking your place on the world stage,” he said.
“There's also the fact that next year, and this is quite unique, both Ireland and the UAE will be together on the United Nations Security Council.”
Fusion of Irish and Arab influences
Ireland, Mr Hennessy proudly pointed out, was the first country to complete its Expo pavilion structure, which was inspired by the megalithic Newgrange light box.
Newgrange, a world heritage site, is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, 8km west of Drogheda.
The ancient passage tomb, which dates back 5,000 years, is lit up completely once a year at the time of winter solstice when the sun shines through a 'roofbox' and floods the inner chamber.
The Ireland Expo pavilion has a distinctive cone-shaped funnel based on the Newgrange light box.
The sun will enter through the skylight at the top of the cone, lighting up the main exhibition space called Oculus, where the seating is based on basalt columns found at the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim – a Unesco heritage site.
“Our pavilion is a fusion of Irish and Arab influences,” said Mr Hennessy.
“We have our Oculus, or our permanent exhibition space, which very much evokes the Newgrange site that’s a reminder of the creativity of our ancestors 5,000 years ago as they attracted the light of the sun.
“It's a living reminder of the genius of those people 5,000 years ago. It links very much to our theme of creativity.
“Alongside that, we have some very fine Arab influences. We have our garden of ideas, which is a cloistered courtyard quite reminiscent of the traditional Arab garden.”
Mr Hennessy said the panels that surround the pavilion reflect the rock art from Knowth, which is another ancient site in Ireland, close to Newgrange.
“In terms of the aesthetics of the pavilion it's imbued very much with both Arab and Irish symbolism,” he said.
“For us, that evokes the very warm relationship there is between Ireland and the Arab world, and we see the Expo and our participation in the Expo, as contributing to strengthening that still further.”
He said visitors to the pavilion will receive “a warm Irish welcome”.
The ‘Garden’ area is a multipurpose event and performance space that will be used for the majority of Ireland’s programme in the pavilion, including regular Irish music events.
The pavilion also includes an ‘Innovation Hub’ that will host most of the pavilion’s schools programme, including the Coder Dojo workshops that teach computer programming to schoolchildren.
On a larger scale, Mr Hennessy said they were working with Expo authorities on events at the adjacent Jubilee Park venue, which has a capacity of 15,000 (pre-Covid).
The planned events are around Halloween, the New Year and St Patrick’s Day, with Irish artists expected to come to Dubai.
“There will be a strong Irish presence on stage and around those periods,” said Mr Hennessy.
Given that St. Patrick’s Day falls within the six months of Expo, he said the celebrations will be extra special.
"It will be a great Irish occasion. We have plans to have an amazing Irish celebration to which the world is invited."