Havana seeks closer ties with Galway

  From left: Eddie Higgins, Nuala Keher, Cuban ambassador to Ireland, Bernardo Guanche Hernández and Cllr Níall McNelis hold the Alexander O'Reilly plaque. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

From left: Eddie Higgins, Nuala Keher, Cuban ambassador to Ireland, Bernardo Guanche Hernández and Cllr Níall McNelis hold the Alexander O'Reilly plaque. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Cuba’s ambassador to Ireland unveiled a new plaque in Galway last week celebrating historic links between the two island nations.

Ambassador Bernardo Guanche Hernández attended a meeting organised by Galway’s Friends of Cuba and Equal Ireland which commissioned the memorial celebrating Alejandro “Bloody” O’Reilly. The event followed a formal, earlier meeting between the ambassador and Mayor Eddie Hoare (FG ).

O’Reilly was an Irish-born soldier who commanded the Hibernian regiment of the Spanish army. He is credited with renovating Havana’s military defences in the eighteenth century, and initiating agricultural, economic and judicial reforms. A street in the Cuban capital, ‘Calle O’Reilly,’ is named after him, as is a street in Cadiz, Spain.

Subject to final approval from Galway City Council, the plaque is expected to be located close to Galway Cathedral.

Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, the ambassador said forging economic and cultural links were his priorities. He said he was keen to make connections in Galway concerning biotechnology, agricultural research, sport – especially boxing - and tourism.

Four years ago Cuba’s communist government opened up most areas of its centrally planned economy to private sector investment, including foreign capital.

“We have solidarity with the Irish people. Irish people have contributed to Cuba’s history, and in modern times supported the [Cuban] revolution during difficult times.”

In January 2021, during the final days of his presidency, Donald Trump reversed a 2015 decision by Barack Obama to remove Cuba from a list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. This complicated efforts by Irish companies to do business in Cuba out of fear it may affect their employees’ eligibility for US tourism and trade visas.

Cuba’s world-renowned health system has a tradition of sending medics abroad. More than 600,000 Cuban doctors are thought to work in more than 50 countries.

“If the Irish authorities want to communicate with us about [visas] for doctors and nurses then the government of Cuba is ready to cooperate,” said Ambassador Hernández.

City councillor Níall McNelis (Lab ) presented the Cuban representative with a Claíomh Solais (sword of light ) badge designed for the 1966 anniversary of the 1916 Rising. In a short speech, he mentioned president of Ireland Michael D Higgins’ efforts to forge ties with Cuba when a Galway West TD, and the Galwegian ancestry of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, whose father’s name was Lynch.

A sizeable number of Irish people emigrated to Cuba in the early nineteenth century, especially to work there on Latin America’s first steam railway.

Ambassador Hernández said many west of Ireland surnames are prevalent in Cuba, especially Burke, O’Farrell, O’Halloran, O’Neill, O’Kelly and O’Reilly.

Equal Ireland is a not-for-profit trust which brings third-level education to adults who missed the opportunity to study at university.

 

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