Phil Hogan, Ireland’s Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government (second from right), Patrick Hennessy, Irish Ambassador to the UAE (left) ) at the opening of the Irish Corner at Al Hosn University Abu Dhabi yesterday. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/ Gulf News

Dubai; There’s more to celebrating all things Irish than simply raising a glass on St Patrick’s Day. With a growing expatriate presence in the UAE, there are close and historic ties between Dublin and Dubai.

Officially, there are some 6,000 Irish citizens registered with its embassy in Abu Dhabi — but that’s a figure that’s significantly greater when the unregistered are accounted for.

Between 2012 and 2013 alone, some 89,000 Irish left their homeland to set up new lives overseas — with the UAE being a destination of choice for many. And, according to Tourism Ireland, a push for development and innovation of Irish businesses in the UAE also brings expats to the region.

Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, holds a 2.9 per cent stake in Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national carrier, and both UAE airlines have increased their seat capacity and flight frequency between Dublin, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the past year.

Patrick Hennessy, Ireland’s ambassador to the UAE, believes that there’s even more opportunity for growth.

“The significantly increased interaction between the UAE and Ireland in the economic area, including the recent exchange of visits and trade missions, reflects the recognition by UAE businesses that Irish companies provide top quality, innovative goods and services to the highest level, while also offering a partnership approach which aligns well with UAE priorities,” Hennessy told Gulf News. “We are also seeing more interest in the educational and training opportunities in Ireland, while tourism from the UAE, helped by excellent flight connections with Emirates and Etihad, is growing rapidly as visitors discover what a wonderful place Ireland is for a relaxing and unique holiday.”

Sean Staunton is chairman of the Dubai Irish Society and president of the Dubai Celts — a club that promotes and organises Irish games such as Gaelic football and hurling. Staunton has been living in Dubai for 14 years and can attest to the rapid growth of the community.

Dubai Irish Society holds a number of events throughout the year including Irish socials, Ciorcal Comhra Dubai (an Irish-speaking group), coffee mornings twice a month, and play groups.

“We are quite an old society,” Staunton said. It will be hosting its 40th St Patrick’s Day ball which will be held on Friday at Dubai’s Conrad Hotel.

Paddy Darcy, a former chairman for the Dubai Celts, has been living in Dubai for the past nine years.

“Every St Patrick’s Day gives people a chance to be Irish, or celebrate like the Irish,” Darcy said. “Playing Gaelic football and hurling are an essential part of this. These games are unique to Ireland — with hurling being the fastest ball sport in the world. Dubai Celts would like to welcome anyone interested in playing these great sports in Dubai.”

On March 28, the club will be hosting the Gulf Gaelic Games, with hurling and football teams from around the Middle East, Ireland and the rest of the world taking part. And it’s also a perfect social occasion as well.

Bernard Creed has been living in Dubai for a total of 10 years — he’s the chairman of the Irish Business Network (IBN) and vice-president of finance at Dubai Duty Free. Creed’s work at IBN is to facilitate business for Irish nationals, creating a database of resources for the large amount of skilled and educated citizens that come from Ireland looking for work.

With 90 per cent of the food consumed in the UAE being imported, trade relations are pushing for businesses to explore agricultural markets in Ireland.

“Most dairy [product] in the UAE comes from Ireland,” explains Colette Shannon, the communications manager of Spinneys.

She has been living in Dubai for over seven years, making this her eighth St Patrick’s Day in the UAE.

Ireland is able to produce dairy products with interesting and unique flavours due to its temperate climate that makes for perfect conditions for growing grass — and feeding cows. Ireland exports over a hundred different kinds of farmhouse cheese.

Shannon is also the chairwoman for the Green Box competition — a culinary challenge for restaurants and hotels to come up with unique and exciting dishes using some of Ireland’s finest ingredients.

— The writer is an intern at Gulf News