Greater Boston Irish Pubs,
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Consul General of Ireland David Barry
had never visited Boston before he took his present assignment in 2005,
but with its strong ties to his homeland, he felt immediately at home
in the city.
“You already have a head start when you come here,” Barry said. “Boston
is perhaps like no other place in terms of openness and camaraderie.”
More than anything else, though, it was the city’s friendly nature that
struck Barry. “Everyone was quick to invite me to an event
and welcome me,” he said. “When you arrive here, for a couple of months
you really think you’re a truly wonderful person who hasn’t been recognized
before, but you get over that.”
Born in 1954, Barry was raised and attended primary and secondary school
85 miles southwest of Dublin in County Tipperary. He earned a bachelor
of commerce degree from University College Dublin in 1978 and completed
his MBA at Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick in the
United Kingdom 17 years later. In 1978, Barry was accepted into Ireland’s
Diplomatic Corps as a full-time civil servant and diplomat. His overseas
assignments brought him to locales including London, Belfast, Austria
and Ethiopia, but it was the time he spent in South Africa that made
perhaps the most profound impression on Barry.
Between 1986 and 1990, Barry served as the head of the consul in Lesotho,
a land-locked country entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa,
and saw firsthand the disintegration of apartheid during this time.
“The whole transformation happened without there being any great violence,”
he said. “As a bureaucrat, I just sat back and admired it.”
Prior to being named Consul General, Barry served as the temporary secondment
to the Department of Trade, Enterprise & Employment in Dublin from 1991
to 1995. In this role, he handled the Economic Migration Policy – a
course of action pertaining to the financial consequences of migration
to and from Ireland – and was subsequently responsible for the Employment
and Training Strategy Policy.
Now, as Consul General to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine
and New Hampshire, Barry remains committed to fostering Ireland’s economy,
as well as helping Irish companies that hope to break into business
in the U.S. Through Enterprise Ireland, the country’s agency committed
to industrial growth, Barry helps advise new Irish businesses in Boston
on what sells and what steps need to be taken before entering the local
marketplace. He can even provide them with office space at Enterprise
Ireland’s Milk Street location.
Barry is also the primary contact for Irish immigrants in Boston and
visitors to his homeland. His responsibilities range from helping newcomers
to the country understand a local train schedule to assisting Irish
immigrants who have legal problems to recommending hotels in Ireland
to tourists. He also refers people in need of assistance to the area’s
two Irish immigration centers.
But these days, the duty that consumes much of Barry’s time also brings
him the most grief: issuing the new electronic passports to Irish citizens.
With the new system that was introduced last fall, finding compatible
passport photographs s a painstaking task, as many applicants discovered
after their images were repeatedly rejected.
“The amount of effort producing a similar amount of passports today
is out of proportion from where it was six months ago,” Barry said.
“It’s just turned out to be a frustration for a number of people. It’s
a frustration for us and a frustration for them in particular.”
While Barry and his wife Norma live a short walk from his Boylston Street
office on Commonwealth Avenue, his work brings him to events throughout
the region. (The couple children – David, 18, Kevin, 19, and Andrew,
24 – still live in Ireland but visit Boston frequently).
The weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day meant that Barry’s presence
was requested at an event nearly every night, and his appearances included
Tom Flatley’s 21st Annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner at the Shrafft Center.
Barry was particularly honored to be a guest of Flatley, who came penniless
to the U.S. and today, as president of the Flatley Company, is undoubtedly
one of Massachusetts’ great success stories. “Flatley is a classic example
of the American Dream,” Barry said.
As for what lies ahead, Barry said Ireland and the Irish people are
returning to the core issues.
He points to how Ireland is emerging as a real contender in the global
economic landscape, adding that the U.S. edged out the United Kingdom
as Ireland’s largest export market in recent years “Whatever happens,
our presence here is important,” he said.
Another issue at the forefront is a reform bill for undocumented illegal
aliens being championed by Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“Can you find a way moving forward to accommodate some of these people
including the Irish?” Barry asked, adding that regardless of the outcome,
it would be a victory for illegal Irish immigrants who are currently
in limbo. “Whatever emerges in terms of legislation will help people
work freely and come out of the shadows and travel to and from Ireland,”
And Barry can’t help but be reminded of the transformation of South
Africa that he witnessed as a young delegate in light of this week’s
agreement between Ian Paisley, a political and religious leader from
North Ireland, and President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, that would grant
Northern Ireland its independence from British rule.
“We’ve spent many years trying to put it back together again,” he said.