The extraordinary links between Ireland and Ukraine
The links between Ireland and Ukraine are manifold. Constance Markiewicz’s husband, who ran a stud farm in Zywotówka in central Ukraine, is just one example.
Another is Sophie Raffalovich of Odessa, who married Irish land reform champion William O’Brien. When the O’Briens retreated to Westport, Co Mayo in the early 1900s, they pioneered the use of copper sulphate spray to control potato blight and provided financial support to improve local fisheries. Sophie helped local nuns set up Westport’s lace industry.
A century later, Clew Bay is home to another remarkable woman of Ukrainian descent. Settled on the west coast of County Mayo in 2008, Daria Blackwell, born to Ukrainian immigrants, is a sailor, former scientist and expert in medical marketing.
The Ukrainian-American-Irish has a long-standing interest in Irish-Ukrainian ties. Now more than ever, as Ireland welcomes the first Ukrainian refugees, it wants to deepen the bond between the two countries.
“My mother fled the border region between Ukraine and Poland during the Second World War,” says Daria. “She used to say, ‘What’s not to like about the Irish? Ukrainians love potatoes; the Irish love potatoes. Ukrainians love to sing and dance; the Irish love to sing and dance. Ukrainians love vodka; the Irish love whisky.
“Arriving in Ireland I was struck by how at home I felt, perhaps because of the parallels between Ukrainian and Irish cultures. Ukrainians are gentle and peaceful. Traditional music and dance are at the heart of their education, as is sport.
“Traditionally, agriculture was the central way of life, grain growing and animal husbandry. The Malanka celebration in Ukraine is a folk holiday on January 13, which is New Year’s Eve according to the Julian calendar, and people dressed in straw costumes – ring a bell? It’s like the cave boys in Ireland who dressed up in straw suits and went door to door reciting verses for money.
“For me, the Ukrainian and Irish languages have a similar feel, with a very sweet lyrical quality to both. Ukrainian and Russian may share a similar alphabet, Cyrillic, but they are two different languages.
“Understanding the complexities of Ukrainian society will take some time, but whether they speak Ukrainian or Russian, those who have arrived on our shores are fully Ukrainian by conviction. “
“I think the Irish will enjoy learning the Byzantine Rite (or Eastern Rite) and the Orthodox Christian religions. Religion is important to Ukrainians, who are mostly Orthodox Christians and Byzantine Rite Catholics. While ritually the Byzantine Rite is somewhat different from Roman Catholic, in practice it is entirely Catholic.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that Trinity scientists analyzed the DNA of the remains of Celtic people in Ireland and found that their DNA matched that of people from the steppes of Ukraine.
“The Vikings also had a significant influence in both countries; being the founders of Kiev and Dublin. So we have a mixture of Celtic and Viking influence on both societies. Even Ukraine’s national symbol, the Tryzub or Trident, may have its roots in Scandinavian falconry, shared with that of a Viking king from Dublin.
“Another striking similarity is that both nations suffered devastating famines, a trauma that lives on in people’s collective memory. In Ukraine, it is known as Holodomor, which means “Terror Famine”. It was orchestrated by Stalin in 1932 and resulted in the deaths of millions of people.
“Ukrainians are a stoic but warm people, consumed by their thirst for freedom. Now that they have tasted it, having won their independence quite recently, they will not give it up.
“The Irish people have already given an extremely warm welcome to the first arrivals. Helping them integrate safely into our society should be our first priority. Many will be traumatized, but our kindness will help them heal.
Daria Blackwell’s blog is at: https://beingukrainian.blogspot.com/