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    L.E. Niamh celebrates Irish-Latin American links

    By Noreen Bowden | May 5, 2010

    An Irish Navy ship is setting sail on a ten-week mission to enhance trade links and ties with the Irish diaspora in Latin America. The L.E. Niamh has left today, with 47 crew men and women led by their captain, Lt Com Ken Minehane. The trip comes as many Latin American countries are celebrating the bicentennial anniversaries of their independence, and no doubt the trip will call attention to the roles played by Irish people in Latin American history.

    L.E. Niamh

    The L.E. Niamh will circumnavigate South America.

    The ship will circumnavigate South America, arriving in the following ports:

    Rio De Janerio – 15 May

    Activities will be partly aimed at strengthening ties between Brazil and Ireland and enhancing trade links. The Irish Government is also sponsoring the construction of a building for vulnerable  children in Sao Goncalo, and Navy personnel will help with construction work as well as bring toys, clothes and books as a donation from Ireland.

    Buenos Aires – 23 May

    The L.E. Niamh will take pride of place in a flotilla celebrating the bicentennial year of Argentina and other Latin American countries. (It was an Irishman, Admiral Brown, who founded the Argentine Navy, of course.) The Navy will also visit the Admiral Brown primary school in Loslaurolis, where in 2006 the L.E. Eithne installed a donated generator.

    Puenta Arenas, Chile – 1 June

    The L.E. Niamh will be the first Irish Naval Vessel to sail this far south; in stopping at Puenta Arenas, the ship is paying tribute to explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean of Annascaul, Co. Kerry, who played a leading role in the expedition to rescue the crew stranded on Elephant Island after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Antarctic in 1914-1916. The rescue expedition left from Puenta Arenas.

    Valparaiso, Chile – 7 June

    This visit will focus on acknowledging the role of Irishmen and women in the independence of Chile, and strengthening ties between the two nations.

    Panama Canal – 17 June

    The L.E. Niamh will be the first Irish ship to cross the Panama Canal.

    Veracruz, Mexico – 22 June

    The ship will represent Ireland in the International Tall Ship Regatta, as well as working on trade links and marketing opportunities.

    Miami, US – 1 July

    The L.E. Niamh will highlight trade and investment opportunities in the US, as well as participating in the celebrations of US independence on the 4th of July.

    The ship heads for home on July 5, and returns to Cork on the 14th.

    The trip will reportedly cost around a half-million euro and was criticised earlier this year by Fine Gael for taking resources away from patrolling the coast. The Department of Defence said that the trip had been planned for in its operational strategy for this year so it would not affect coast patrols.

    The Irish government has been putting more effort in its relationship with the Irish diaspora in Argentina in particular, having recently funded activities at several organisations there, including the Hurling Club in Buenos Aires, the Federation of Irish Argentine Societies, and the Fahy Club. The Department of Foreign Affairs introduced a working holiday programme for Argentina a few years ago, which will no doubt renew links between Ireland and Argentina into the future. The Southern Cross, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, is the longest-published newspaper of the Irish diaspora. There are about 500,000 Irish descendants in Argentina; most of the community traces its roots to those who emigrated to Argentina in the 1860s to the 1920s. There are smaller Irish communities in many other South American nations as well.

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