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Shamrocking Shanghai

A deep shade of green ran through a Chinese metropolis for Féile Shanghai last week. Festival Director Eoin Murphy takes us through its highlights

NOW in its sixth year, the Shanghai St Patrick’s celebration – Féile Shanghai – is a firm fixture in the Shanghai cultural calendar. This year’s week-long event was more ambitious than ever and included a Food Festival, Music Festival, Cultural Festival and an open-air family day at the popular Huaihai Park.

The voluntary group that organises Féile Shanghai worked closely with the Irish Consulate and the State agencies using Irish culture to promote Ireland to the Chinese as a place to visit, to study and to do business. The many events organised have generated significant press and public interest in this dynamic city of 25 million people.

The opening event on Saturday, March 10, was held under a warm sunny sky at the Shanghai Rugby Football Club, home of the growing Shanghai GAA Club. A large group of players and supporters attended the opening ceremony, at which Ireland’s Consul General, Austin Gormley, presented the first-ever Chinese President of the Shanghai GAA, Michelle Surlis (whose husband Declan hails from Sligo) with a framed photograph of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's recent visit to Croke Park.

After the formalities, there was a demonstration of Gaelic Football skills with kids and adults all joining in and later the crowd retired to the club house, where the Galway group Fling, who had flown in specially for the week, performed the first of many sessions for Féile Shanghai.


On Sunday, March 11, Celebrity Chef, Siobhán Gough, head chef at the boutique URBN Hotel and native of Kilkenny opened the Irish Food Festival with a display of her amazing culinary skills, creating contemporary Irish Food with a twist. Later in the day, Irish Artist Rory Perrott, native of Cóbh in Co Cork but now resident in China opened his art exhibition, ‘On The Surface’, with the ceremony conducted by Mr Gormley, who by now realised that this was going to be a pretty busy week.

Fudan University, one of Shanghai's best-known and most respected universities, has long had a relationship with Ireland and runs a joint programme with UCD’s Software School. On Tuesday March 13, Mr Gormley and the President of Fudan University opened Fudan’s Ireland Week and following the presentation of awards for outstanding software projects, the audience was treated to a display of Irish Dancing by the Fudan University Irish Dance Troupe. Later that evening, a classical music concert was performed at Fudan University by musicians from the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Wednesday saw the opening of an extensive exhibition of drawings, paintings and digital images by John Short, Tom Kelly and Yijia Wang at the prestigious M50 Art Gallery. The result of a collaboration between the Dublin Institute of Technology School of Art and Design and the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts at Fudan University, the exhibition opening was well-attended with Mr Austin Gormley performing the honours and Fling providing a backdrop of wonderfully atmospheric music.


On Thursday the 15th, it was the turn of the Irish business community here in Shanghai and the Irish Chamber of Commerce in China hosted a very stimulating seminar on Corporate Social Responsibility. Attendees gasped when they heard that 20,000 Chinese school children have learned how to play Gaelic Football in the past year alone through a not-for profit group called Sports for Life. No wonder Vice President Xi Jinping has such a good right foot!

On Friday events moved to the Treasury China Trust Irish Centre, where curator Fion Gunn opened a mixed media exhibition of Irish and Chinese artists titled ‘Telling Tales’.

And after all that we still had to get through the big event – the Féile Family Day at Huaihai Park. This is one of the largest non-ticketed public events in Shanghai and grows bigger and more impressive every year. Once again, the weather Gods smiled on us and despite a forecast of rain we awoke to clear blue skies. A large crowd of curious Chinese and expectant Irish and friends of the Irish Community gathered at Huaihai Park, which is on Shanghai's premier shopping street, Huaihai Road.

An impressive stage had been erected overnight and now it was the turn of performers to bring it alive. Shattering the peace with an 80 piece marching band, the event ran for over two hours and included dancing and singing by the children of the Irish Community – the Le Chéile Kids – who had been practising over the previous six weeks. Irish traditional music group Fling from Galway were enthusiastically welcomed and got the crowd tapping their toes.

They were followed by local Irish group, Boxty Rebellion and blue grass group Michael Quinn and the Bourbon Kings. Among the highlights of the day were the dancing displays of Celtic Storm, a Shanghai Troupe of Irish dancers which had recently performed with Davy Spillane at the Beijing Forbidden City Concert Hall in a great example of Irish Culture being embedded in China.

The only disappointment was that Training and Skills Minister Ciaran Cannon had been delayed in Beijing due to fog, but the formal ceremony went ahead with a piper proceeding the dignitaries to the stage. Following the Chinese national anthem, the Le Chéile Kids sang Amhrán Na bhFiann bringing a tear to many parents eyes. In a moving speech, Deputy Secretary of the Shanghai Municipal People's Government, Dr Sha Hailin, talked of the “deep and sincere friendship between Ireland and China” and said that he hoped that “Shanghai would provide a home away from home for the Irish living here”. Following the ceremony, Dr Sha and the Vice Mayor of the District were each presented with a Tipperary Crystal bowl of Shanghai-grown shamrock.

The day concluded with the Shanghai St Patrick’s Charity Ball, where nearly 800 people attended the now legendary event. In recognition of his significant contribution to charity and to the Irish Community in Shanghai, Mr Cannon presented the organiser, Brendan Brophy, with a special award. Fling once again provided entertainment and despite the disappointment of a poor rugby result, the general view was that this was the best Ball ever.

The final event on Féile Shanghai took place yesterday, when two poets, Eileen Sheehan and John Sexton, read from their collections. A large group of mainly Chinese (many of whom had studied in Ireland) attended the event and it was a fitting conclusion to the most ambitious and successful Féile Shanghai so far.

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