Meet James Sharkey: he is the Irish ambassador to Switzerland--home to an estimated 4,000 Irish nationals--and a historian with a passion to let Swiss and Irish know about events that link both countries.

Author:White, Dermot


His voice was unmistakably forged in the Derry air, and has lost none of its strength despite his nomadic existence as part of the Irish diplomatic corps over the past four decades. Swiss News spoke with this genial man whose erudite yet conversational style retains more than just a touch of his previous career as a teacher.

As a boy, James Sharkey attended St. Columb's in Derry--a school that counts two Nobel Prize recipients in John Hume and Seamus Heaney among its Alumni Illustrissimi.

His interest in the past led him to train as a history teacher, and it was not a quantum leap from there to sitting the diplomatic service exam in 1970.

"I had the honour very early in my career of being the first Irish representative in Moscow. I was Charge d'Affaires and I will never forget the feeling of turning the key in the door that first day, of starting something completely new."

Sharkey presented his papers as the Irish ambassador to Switzerland in September 2007. But this is not his first opportunity to live here, thanks to his work--prior to his Moscow assignment--with the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Geneva in the early 1970s.

What are the biggest changes he's noticed since his last Swiss sojourn? "The country has become more diverse and is even more developed."

He hopes to bring something unique to Switzerland during his time here--namely a foundation to celebrate the connections between Swiss and Irish.

"I regard myself as someone who always leaves behind something special. In Tokyo I helped organise the first ever St. Patrick's Day parade. There are now many such parades throughout Japan. In Scandinavia I was involved in a project that led to the construction of a replica of an actual Viking ship which successfully sailed back to Ireland last summer.

"In Switzerland I would like to develop a foundation to celebrate the historic connections between the two countries, but one which would allow contemporary cultural, academic and artistic exchanges to take place."

A big part of forging those connections is his latest project, marking the flight of the last of the Irish princes.

The Earls in Switzerland

The Irish earls were forced to flee their lands in Ulster in 1607 as a consequence of losing the Battle of Kinsale against the English. They always hoped to return with foreign allies to reclaim what was theirs, and as part of their journey they crossed the Swiss Alps bound for Italy. It is this...

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