Have you ever witnessed the natural phenomenon that is the Victoria falls when it is full and bursting at the seams with water? The smell much like before the rain, the feeling of the water spraying gently onto your skin? It is quite an experience and the only thing to beat that is the picturesque sight of it as the sunsets and it becomes night, and the falls are lit green in celebration of Global Greening, a worldwide event in celebration that connects the people of Ireland and honours St Patricks Day. This year the global event with Tourism Ireland aims to put Northern Ireland in the forefront of people’s minds for those who wish to travel and visit when it is safe to. Zambia joins Kenya, South Africa and a host of other countries that will celebrate Ireland and light up their national heritage sites green.

Zambia has a rich history and connection with the people of Ireland that dates back to the missionaries who came to spread the gospel and to provide healthcare and education in what was then known as Northern Rhodesia. Post-independence the relations between Zambia and Ireland have grown from strength to strength with Ireland opening a diplomatic mission in Lusaka in 1982. Since the diplomatic relations were established Zambia has seen many milestones of growth in terms of the relationship between the two countries. It only makes sense that that the Irish Embassy would want to host their third annual global greening event at Livingstone at the Victoria falls locally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, one of the most recognisable tourist attractions in the world.

This year’s eleventh anniversary of global greening marks the third time the Irish Embassy in Zambia has participated. Typically held around the world at national heritage sites, the first Zambian Greening 2019 event was held at the Victoria falls, the second at the Kariba Dam in 2020 and now in 2021 the return to the majestic falls in Livingstone. The greening would not have been possible without the support of government stakeholders, His Royal Highness Chief Mukuni of Livingstone as well as technical lighting support from R and G Zambia in collaboration with Zesco. Irish Embassy Head of Mission Pronch Murray explains, “the global greening is an annual event, it’s something that happens in nearly five hundred locations all around the world, where we have embassies and even where we don’t have embassies. It began as an initiative to serve and to mark, St. Patrick’s Day, which is the National Day for Ireland and has become a way to unite Irish people around the world.”

As a small country in the northwest of Europe, Ireland is made up of roughly 4.9 million people with a diaspora community of eighty-million people. These eightymillion people around the world who in some way claim Irish heritage through their parents or grandparents. Murray shares, “Ireland traditionally was a country that exported people, I grew up at a time when all my brothers and sisters left Ireland. It is only in recent decades that Ireland has started to economically develop, as well as socially and politically develop to join with the rest of Europe. The Greening is about unity, it is a moment of reflection a chance for Irish people to gather around and remember who they are and what their heritage is.” This moment is even more deeply felt after the circumstances of the last year with a global pandemic which has left many communities isolated and disconnected.

Murray enthuses, “I think the greening this year accentuates the falls especially as we have a particularly good year this year, in terms of rainfall and the falls are absolutely booming. It is incredible to be able to enjoy this natural phenomenon up close and also to reflect something of Ireland on to it at the same time.”

The choice to revisit the falls this year was one that took careful consideration, Murray explains, “There are a number of reasons for me the main reason is that we wanted something iconic for this year, I, this has been a tough year for people. People we won’t be able to get together like we normally would around St Patrick’s Day. Typically, the ambassador would have a reception for the local Irish community were they would be invited to the residence. The Wild Geese, an association of Irish people who live in Zambia would also have the Irish Ball and other activities. Given that the pandemic has made it so we won’t have the opportunity to do that this year, we wanted something big and there’s nothing bigger in Zambia, in Africa and around the world than the Victoria Falls. It is an iconic image that we are grateful to have the privilege to be allowed to green the falls and share it with Zambia and the world.”

Murray shares that in more recent times the number of missionaries left in Zambia are becoming less and less compared to the hundreds that lived in Zambia. The community has become older and with COVID they’ve been very isolated. The hope is that events like the Greening of the falls as well as their Virtual St Patricks Day reception will connect these people. He explains, “It’s been a tough time for people here we’ve had a number of people who have died in recent months and over the last few years. One person I would to highlight is Father Michael Kelly, he was an icon among the missionaries here and he did an awful lot of work around HIV, sadly he died in January of COVID and it’s a huge loss to Zambia and to Ireland. So, the work we are doing with the greening and virtual reception is about bringing people together and offering a message of hope.”

Coincidentally the Greening took place over International Women’s Day long weekend and quite a number of families had travelled to Livingstone to vacation. Thus, opening up the Greening experience to tourists, an opportunity to see the falls at night, lit green in honour of Ireland and St Patrick’s day. The hope over the next few years is to expand to other heritage sites throughout Zambia and highlight the beauty that Zambia has to offer as well as connect Irish communities the world over. The Greening of the falls was truly a sight to behold and a memory to treasure as it not only celebrated Ireland and its relationship with Zambia but it also signified hope. A hope that not long from now we will be able to come together again to celebrate life and each other when the pandemic is no more.

“…we wanted something big and there’s nothing bigger in Zambia, in Africa and around the world than the Victoria Falls.”

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