CLEVELAND, Ohio–Many Clevelanders know Ireland and, especially, its rugged west coast for the rolling green hills, lively pubs and names that ring familiar.
There are countless O’Malleys, Kilbanes and Sweeneys on both sides of the Atlantic, as most Irish Clevelanders trace their roots to County Mayo.
It’s a connection that inspires more than a tourist trade, as an uncommon convention this week will demonstrate. When the 2014 World Convention of Mayo Societies unfolds in that most May-o of American cities, leaders in business and medicine will command much of the attention.
Experts, many with an apostrophe to their name, will lead panels exploring the newest areas of collaboration and innovation between the two lands.
The Ohio Third Frontier will be represented at the gathering at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cleveland, as will entrepreneurs and manufacturers from the ould sod. Breakout sessions will have serious if intriguing-sounding names, like “Gathering of the Mayo Genes Project.”
Not to say Irish Americans have lost the Irish knack for good craic, as in fun.
There’s Irish whiskey to be sampled at Friday night’s networking event and Irish dancers will take the stage at Saturday’s grand ball.
But in between Thursday’s opening reception and Sunday’s mass is the stuff of a business symposium, one that recognizes the power of a migration chain.
“Ireland has generated an awful lot of American businesses,” said Gerry Quinn, the host of Cleveland’s “Gerry Quinn Irish Radio Show” and the convention organizer. “It’s just natural for us to say, ‘Why not tie the two together?'”
Some of the more interesting encounters may unfold at panel discussions of experts from related trades worlds apart. For example:
- A tourism panel will offer insight into the Cleveland Metroparks, the Towpath Trail and the “Wild Atlantic Way” trail along Ireland’s west coast.
- A business panel moderated by Sean Hennessy, the chief financial officer of Sherwin-Williams, will bring together Dan Walsh, the regional president of Huntington Bank, and Tommy Griffith, an Irish entrepreneur who founded the leading manufacturer of recycling equipment in the United Kingdom.
- A healthcare panel will hear from Dr. Thomas Graham, the chairman of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and the top executive of a company that manufactures medical devices in Mayo.
“It’s working both ways,” Quinn said of the business trade. But the commerce could always be stronger, he said. He thinks a convention like this could lead to new ties and new ventures.
He speaks from experience.
Quinn, an immigrant from Garracloon, County Mayo, helped found the Mayo Society of Cleveland 10 years ago. He said he wanted to recognize the Mayo legacy and strengthen business and cultural contacts between the communities.
Two years ago, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny addressed the Mayo Society ball.
Held annually, the ball raises money for Mayo-related charities, supports a college scholarship program between Cleveland and Ireland, and typically honors a Mayo Clevelander, often a business executive.
This year’s ball, to be held as part of the convention, will honor Edward Crawford, the chief executive and chairman of Park-Ohio Holdings Corp.
While a descendant of immigrants from County Cork–a Corkman–Crawford is more than deserving of honorary Mayo status, Quinn argues. His Cleveland-based company generates about $1.4 billion in annual revenues worldwide and Crawford is largely responsible for the rejuvenation of the Irish Cultural Garden.
The success of the local Mayo Society led to an opportunity to host the global convention, which Quinn seized upon. The Mayo societies have never mustered in Cleveland and they arrive at an auspicious time.
Last year, a genetics team connected to the National Geographic Society visited Mayo to begin to trace the lineage of an ancient and far-flung people. Researchers found connections to saints, Vikings and legendary Irish kings like Niall of the Nine hostages.
Genographic Project director Spencer Wells is bringing his Q-tips to Cleveland, where he’ll be asking Mayo Clevelanders for a swab of saliva.
“God knows what we’ll find out about ourselves,” Quinn said. “It’s an interesting convention.”
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