On Friday we broke from the Brexit brouhaha in a snowbound Belfast to launch an ambitious 2018 calendar of events for the resurgent city.
Events which unite and uplift the changing Belfast and connect its people to the ever-faithful Diaspora. The New York-New Belfast conference in June, of course, Boston’s Golden Bridges extravaganza for sure, and the fourth annualBelfast International Homecoming are all on our 2018 radar.
As is a unique series of media features and events marking 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement under the uniting theme of ‘A Brand New Day’. The two decade milestone gives us an opportunity to hear from the newcomers to Belfast and from often-unheard from sectors of our community as they tell us what the peace means to them.
We brought together a business audience in the boardroom of the spanking new Concentrix offices at Maysfield to unveil next year’s programme and to hear from one of the country’s most extraordinary leaders.
Pádraig Ó Céidigh, teacher turned founder of Aer Arann — at one point Europe’s most successful regional airline — has a unique perspective on Ireland’s small businesses because for almost 20 years he was the chair of the Entrepreneur of the Year judging panel. Latterly, he has turned his hand to politics as an Independent member of Seanad Éireann.
I first met Padraig when Aer Arann was in its pomp. Our meetings usually took place on the flight from Galway to Dublin (I was heading to TG4 to record 7 Lá) but we also took some time out in the Inismore half-marathon he founded (and which has now raised over €15m for children’s charities). “There is no difference between running down Fifth Avenue in the New York marathon and running down the main street in Kilronan except there are no traffic lights in Cill Rónáin,” explains Padraig.
I had asked Padraig to make the journey from Conamara to address our guests on the role of entrepreneurship in our transforming Europe and, though temperatures plummeted and road conditions became treacherous, he drove across country to keep his appointment.
In a deeply-personal and unscripted address which looked back on his own entrepreneurial adventures but also forward to future challenges, my fave ‘takeaway’ was the tale of Fat Freddy’s pizza.
This took place during an oft-reported encounter with Irish airline mogul Michael O’Leary when Padraig was moved to explain what wealth means to a Conamara man. “When you go to Fat Freddy’s pizzeria,” he told Mr O’Leary, referring to Galway city’s famous eatery of which his rival knew nought, “your pizza would be delivered in one piece and represents wealth as money. But my pizza has six or seven slices. Of course money is one piece, but there’s other wealth as well: a slice for family, for health, for community and much more.”
On my rare visits to Galway, I try to steal some time in Padraig’s busy diary — he’s also visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship in Galway university, sits on the board of Croke Park and runs a a variety of businesses including a slimmed-down Aer Arann which continues to serve the Arann islands, despite closure threats from shortsighted mandarins in Dublin — to have a fish supper in McDonagh’s chippie. He has a great line, which I have stolen from him and recycled, to everyone we meet in there. “This is Máirtín, we went to school together. He was a teacher.”
But of course, it’s Padraig who was and is the teacher and his address to our assembled business leaders — before he made a lightning visit to St George’s Market and then set out for home — was a class lesson in the reason we do the things we do.