The Irish Embassy played host to Irish missionaries working in Kenya yesterday to celebrate their contribution to the development of the East African country.
The contribution of Irish Missionaries and Non Governmental Organisations to Kenyan society over many years has helped build the strong reputation Ireland enjoys in the country today.
The Embassy itself supports and oversees Irish Aid funds (amounting to around € 7 million per annum) which are directed through missionary and Non Governmental Organisations to deliver programmes that benefit the disadvantaged in Kenyan society.
Among the many stories about Irish missionaries in Kenya are the flying nuns of Turkana during the 1960s.
The Medical Missionaries of Mary Sisters used to pilot flimsy two-seater aircraft over a desert of 51,000sq km. These brave Irish women brought the only available medical assistance to famine-stricken areas, flying in an aircraft with a fuselage wrapped in Irish linen.
Another well known Irish missionary is 68-year-old Brother Colm O’Connell, an athletics coach who known as “the Godfather of Kenyan running”.
O’Connell, originally from Caherduggan in County Cork, joined the Patrician Brothers at the age of 14. He left Ireland for the Great Rift Valley in Kenya in 1976 to teach geography at Iten’s St. Patrick’s High School in the Rift Valley Province.
He had the idea to create Iten’s first training camp in 1989 and is now viewed as the catalyst that transformed the village into a global track and field hub.
During his 36 years in Iten, he has trained 25 world champions and four Olympic gold medallists during his 36 years in Iten including 800 metres world record holder David Rudisha.