FOR millennia Irish people have been leaving their homeland to travel the world.
Missionaries, military commanders, ordinary soldiers, explorers, soldiers, sailors, entrepreneurs, nurses, doctors, fishermen and labourers scattered to the corners of the globe for myriad reasons.
Wherever they went, they left their mark.
In Europe, Irish dynasties such as the Hennessys, unable to conduct business in Ireland because of being Catholic, headed for the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries.
These “Wine Geese” revolutionised the spirits and wine trade, from Bordeaux and the Cognac region of France down to Jerez, and west to Madeira. These wine experts also set up shop in New Zealand, Australia, California, Mexico and South Africa.
In America, the Irish became the backbone of society in areas such as Boston, New York and Chicago, and eventually became powerful voices in politics.
In Australia they flourished in every sector from sheep-farming to mining, with all stops in between.
One of the oldest wine-producing regions in Australia is the Clare Valley, South Australia, named after the home county of Irish immigrant Edward Gleeson.
In Britain the Irish ultimately worked their way up from the factory floor, from the building sites and down tunnels, to reach the boardrooms.
Some Irish became elevated members of British academia — Swift, Sheridan, O’Casey, Stoker and Shaw are only a few of the writers who made Britain their home across the centuries; Oscar Wilde was even made welcome at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Reading Gaol.
Samuel Beckett went further afield.
Based in Paris, at one time he earned his living by translating Mexican poetry from Spanish into English.
This extraordinarily gifted Dublin man — educated in Fermanagh — then wrote one of the gems of world literature originally in French: Waiting for Godot.
Other Irish people did spectacularly well — Arthur Wellesley from Dublin became British prime minister, after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo.
As the Duke of Wellington, he became one of the most famous Irishmen in Britain.
And there is absolutely no evidence that he uttered the meme “being born in a stable does not make a man a horse”. On the contrary, he appears to have been a proud Irishman.
Today, the influence of Irish people has continued to flourish, and it gives hope for a settled future in the post-pandemic era.
It has been a tough twelve months, and even apart from Covid-19 and its many variants, the world faces some severe challenges.
But Irish people are in the vanguard of trying to unpick these problems.
Former president Mary Robinson is at the forefront of the efforts of championing human rights globally, and in tackling the problems of the climate change emergency and the humanitarian crisis of refugees in the world’s most benighted places.
Samantha Power from Castleknock, Dublin served as US Ambassador to the United Nations 2013-2017 and is currently Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
Under newly elected President Joe Biden the US will be once again helping international organisations to tackle the world’s most severe problems.
In the world of culture and entertainment, Ireland has always punched above its weight.
In London, one of the most prestigious posts in classical music is held by Limerick man John Gilhooly from Castleconnell.
Mr Gilhooly OBE, is the Artistic and Executive Director of Wigmore Hall, a central London chamber music venue.
When he became Artistic Director in 2005, he was "the youngest director of an internationally acclaimed concert hall".
Airlines have long benefited from the expertise of Irish people at the controls.
Last year, Willie Walsh stood down after a long career as CEO of International Airlines Group — one of the world’s largest airline groups which includes British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus.
The CEO of British Airways today is another Irishman, Sean Doyle from Co. Cork.
In Australia, Qantas — regularly voted the best airline in the world — has had Dublin man Alan Joyce as its CEO since 2003.
Supplying many of them with oil is BP, whose boss today is Bernard Looney from Co. Kerry.
On a different track, Trainline — one of the biggest independent digital rail and coach ticketing platforms in Europe — is run by Dublin woman Clare Gilmartin, the CEO.
Hilary McGrady, from Lisburn in Northern Ireland, is the Director General of the National Trust, one of the biggest conservation and environmental agencies in the world.
Dr Gillian Tully, from Northern Ireland, is Forensic Science Regulator in the UK on behalf of the British government,and is responsible for setting standards in forensic science.
Her work has included provision of expert evidence to courts in the UK and overseas, and extensive collaborative working with forensic practitioners around the world.
In health matters Dr Michael Ryan is executive director of the World Health Organisation in Switzerland, while in Scotland Belfast woman Dr Philippa Whitford is the MP for Central Ayrshire and, as a surgeon, the SNP Health spokesperson in the House of Commons.
In England, Irishwoman Dr Susan Hopkins is Healthcare Epidemiologist Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Public Health England, and Dublin woman Yvonne Doyle is Regional Director for London at Public Health England.
Both have been extraordinarily busy since March last year.
Further afield, and we move on to the most powerful person on the planet.
There have been many US presidents with Irish origins, although all were born in the US. Joe Biden is the latest, with roots in both Co. Mayo and Co. Louth.
Australia, like the USA, has had several heads of government of Irish descent, as has Chile (Bernardo O’Higgins) and Mexico (Vincente Fox).
Only New Zealand and the United Kingdom have had Irish-born prime ministers.
New Zealand’s three Irish premiers were Daniel Pollen from Dublin, John Ballance from Glenavy in Co. Antrim and William Massey from Co. Derry.
The UK’s only Irish-born prime minister remains Dublin-born Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, although Prime Minister George Canning described himself as "an Irishman born in London".