The Craic Is in Cuba: A Live Community Chat With John McAuliff of Cuba/US People to People Partnership

The  following is a transcript from the LIVE Community Chat held here at on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 with John McAuliff of the Cuba/U.S. People to People Partnership.  Some editing has been applied for clarity.  John has started a members' group here on The Wild Geese called Irish and Celtic Cuba, so head over and join that if the theme of the Irish influence in Cuba piques your interest.

The Wild Geese:  Céad míle fáilte, a chairde! So glad to see each one of you who have stopped by for today’s LIVE community chat with John McAuliff of Cuba/US People to People Partnership. John and his organization are leading two exceptional journeys to explore the cultural links between the Irish diaspora and Cuba  My name is Gerry Regan, and I’ll be the moderator for today’s chat.  We’ll now turn it over for the next 30-40 minutes to fascinating cultural exchanges between the Irish diaspora and Cuba.

Ryan O’Rourke:  

Hello, John!

Irish in Cuba:

  Hi Ryan.

The Wild Geese:

  Tá fáilte roimh!

Ryan O'Rourke:

  John, please tell us about the passport permissions your group has to visit Cuba from the U.S.

Irish in Cuba:

  Under current regulations travel must be purposeful, i.e. you can't go to enjoy the beach for a week. The Office of Foreign Assets Control issues licenses for people to people trips involving engagement with Cubans.

Irish in Cuba:

  To TWG, I worked for many years to bring about normalization of relations with postwar Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. When President Clinton did that, I shifted to Cuba in the late 90s. In a sense a generational agenda.

The Irish dimension came into it by accident. I met Killian Kennedy when he was teaching in the US. He was a founder of CeltFest Cuba five years ago. I was very active in the Philadelphia Ceili Group and the Irish Edition.

Patricia A. McAuliffe:
  Okay, so tell us what the Irish in Cuba are up to and how they keep up with their culture. It's had to guess at why Irish people would be attracted to life in Cuba.

Irish in Cuba:

  Patricia, the Irish presence was 16th to 19th century. Some Irish names in Cuba, and perhaps some individuals, but no embassy. Covered from Mexico. The current presence is Celtic. Two Spanish provinces, Asturia and Galicia, sent many people to Cuba. Their societies have maintained traditional music and dance the way Irish county societies do in the U.S.

Belinda Evangelista: Are you familiar with this fest John?  Our own member Jim Fitzpatrick is involved in it.

Irish in Cuba:  Belinda, I don't know the festival but will look at the web page when this is over

The Wild Geese:
 John, a question from our colleague Liam Murphy, who is here with me in O'Lunney's Times Square Pub in Manhattan. Was there an Irish role in the Cuban liberation movement in the 19th century, and if so, can tour-goers reprise that history with on-the-scene visit(s)?

Irish in Cuba:

  There are two pieces. Some Irish republican families migrated to Cuba in the 19th and early 20th centuries and transferred their activism.

More significant are Irish-Americans who came as railroad workers and organized the first industrial action / strike. Other Irish-Americans directly supported Cuban nationalists against Spain and were imprisoned and executed.

The Wild Geese:

  John, share with us the highlights of the upcoming, April 21-27 tour. What can a tour-goer expect during that week?

Irish in Cuba:
  Two things:

1) We will travel east and west of Havana to visit places associated with the Irish-Spanish families that came in the 17th and 18th centuries. Similar opportunities in Havana itself, including the former mansion of the O Farrill family, now a hotel.

2) On one of the trips outside we will visit the place that the father of President Eamon de Valera was apparently born. One of our colleagues in Cuba is trying to access the church records to prove his birthplace.

We are keeping the price as low as possible. As a not for profit organization, our goal is to expand contact as much as possible.

The Wild Geese:  

The cost seems quite low, considering the distance traveled and the adventure on offer. If someone wanted to join the April tour, what do they need to do and by when?

Irish in Cuba:

  If someone wants to go on this trip, they should send me an email today or tomorrow so we can get the process started. We can work with people next week, but flights to Grand Cayman from NY or other places will probably go up.

The Wild Geese:  

I think you mentioned roughly $1,700, John, in U.S. currency. Is that right?

Irish in Cuba:

It is $1,700 from Grand Cayman. $2,200 from NY because on return an overnight is necessary. November is twice as expensive.

The Wild Geese:

  By the way, gang, you can read more about the 2014 tours on the 'Irish in Cuba' page on The Wild Geese, at

The price is low enough to tempt people to be a bit impulsive, I'd say, and 'Go for it! How do you say THAT in Spanish (or Irish)?

It seems the kind of experience that would provide experiences and memories that would endure. Extraordinary!

Patricia A. McAuliffe:

  Why go to Cuba for Celtic Culture? In what ways have the two cultures interacted and what would interest an Irish American?

Irish in Cuba:

  The primary reason to go is Cuba. The Irish history and current Celtic culture offer a special window and could add to perspective on the diaspora.

Patricia A. McAuliffe
  Thanks, John. I will have to share info with you on the McAuliffe Clan Rallies held in Newmarket, Co. Cork!

The Wild Geese:
  Tell us a bit about Niall O'Leary's troupe, and what that shared experience is like, dancing with Cuban troupes.  Here's some info from the Partnership's site, with a nice pic of Niall and one of the Cuban dancers.

Irish in Cuba:  

Niall is a world champion dancer. He has schools in several U.S. cities and Mexico. Last year he taught three professional groups of Cuban dancers Irish steps. This year he will work with them and others and people on the trip will be able to watch and enjoy.

The Wild Geese:

  Any final questions, lads and lasses? We need to wind down. Cheers from O'Lunney's Times Square Pub, BTW!

Irish in Cuba:  

I realized I never said what CeltFest is. This is an opportunity for the Bandas de Gaitas (like the uillean pipes but blown) to mix with Irish traditional musicians. Unfortunately budget constraints in Culture Ireland meant no one is coming except the piper Gay McKeon so far.  Plus Niall, who also plays the accordion and spoons

The Wild Geese:

  Keep on persevering, John and supporters. The walls are coming down, slowly but surely, just as in Northern Ireland.  Speaking of NI, there is a memorial to the hunger strikers in Havana.

Irish in Cuba:  

If you go to The Wild Geese page you will find links to longer descriptions of the trips and the history.  Hope some readers are intrigued and can join us. I guarantee it will be a great experience. Just under U.S. regs, not much of a chance to swim.

The Wild Geese:

  Gang, I guess that's a wrap then! Go raibh míle maith agaibh for stopping by. We'll be posting the transcript shortly! Please share that with any and all who may with us want to explore and celebrate the epic heritage of the Irish in Cuba! Salud!

Fran Reddy:

  Thanks, John.                     

The Wild Geese:

  Thank you, John, for sharing these insights with us! Slan libh!

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Tags: Americas, Cuba, Dance, Diaspora History, Latin America, Traditional Music, Travel


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