– a cultural centre for Ireland in Finland
Finland is a country for societies. It seems that every Finn is a member of several of them. One form of societies is friendship societies, whose aim is to promote another country in Finland and vice versa. One of the most active of these societies is the Finnish-Irish Society.
The Society was founded in 1954 by a group of Finns, who had a love for Ireland and an aim to tell about this country to their fellow Finns. The First chairman was the Consul of Ireland Carl C. Slotte and other founder members were e.g. poet Aale Tynni and folklorist Kustaa Vilkuna. The society was quite small in the beginning, but did a good job in promoting Ireland in Finland. In the beginning of 60’s it arranged a visit by Micheal MacLiammoir, who performed his famous show, The Importance of Being Oscar, in Helsinki.
The Society started getting bigger in the 70’s after more Finns had made trips to Ireland in their holidays and the influence of Irish traditional music and literature was the reason to join for many. A younger generation joined in the 80’s, especially because they loved U2 and wanted to know more about their home country. Another reason to join was the Finnish top band Dingo, whose singer Neumann has a great love for Ireland and always mentioned it in his interviews.
The new era for the Finnish-Irish Society started, when it arranged the first Irish Festival in Finland in September 1986. The idea came from a Dublin-man based in Helsinki, Harry Bent, who is an architect and a musician. He had been in Irish Festivals in Stockholm and Copenhagen and suggested to arrange one in Finland.
From a modest beginning of two small concerts and sessions in Helsinki and two concerts in other cities, the festival has grown into probably the biggest of its kind in Europe outside Ireland and the U.K. In 1999 the festival had 50 concerts in 20 towns and cities all over Finland. The festival is also widely covered in the media and well- known Irish artists are very willing to perform on it. The festival is mainly concentrating on Irish music, especially traditional, but it has also featured exhibitions on art, architecture and folklore and in 1991 Eamon Morrissey performed his Joyce men -show in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere.
The artists who, have performed on the festival include Dé Dannan, Mary Bergin, The Chieftains, Patrick Street, The Dubliners, Donal Lunny & Liam O’Flynn, Altan, Something Happens!, Christy Moore, Davy Spillane Band, Arcady, Meristem, Mary Black, Kieran Halpin, Sharon Shannon, Four Men and a Dog, Vinnie Kilduff & Gerry O’Connor, Reeltime, The Pale, Jimmy MacCarthy,The Chanting House, Dervish, Darthan, The Bringing It All Back Home Tour, Speranza, Flax in Bloom, Seán Keane, Paul Tiernan, Anam, Clár Bog Déil, The Screaming Orphans, Nomos, Liam O’Flynn and the Given Note Band, Susan McKeown and the Chanting House, Gerry O’Connor & Manus Lunny, Puca, Planxty O’Rourke, Leslie Dowdall, Samhain, Calando, Maire Breatnach, Mary Coughlan, Ronnie Drew, Eleanor Shanley and Shinook.
Apart from artists from Ireland, the festival has also featured groups from Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. The festival program has also included workshops and school concerts.
The Finnish Irish Society has also hosted many well known Irishmen including Tim Pat Coogan and Roddy Doyle. The Finnish-Irish Society has arranged three Irish Film Festivals in 1990, 1991 and 1994. These festivals have been visited by film directors Jim Sheridan, Pat O’Connor and Joe Comerford. The Finnish-Irish Society also publishes a magazine called Shamrock, which comes out 2-4 times a year. The Society also arranges trips to Ireland, workshops on Irish dancing and tin whistle playing and many other activities.
The Society has at the moment ca. 300 members and new members are joining almost daily. TheSociety is also in contact with Irish-Finnish Society in Dublin and it is very much involved with arranging the Irish Festival. The activities of the Finnish-Irish Society have been recognized in the Cultural agreement between Finland and Ireland and it has received grants from the Cultural Relations Committee of The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs in and the Finnish Ministry of Education.