The Consulate General of Ireland’s Atlanta location is the first new Irish consulate to open in the U.S. since the 1930s. It serves the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and the Carolinas. In addition to aiding Irish citizens abroad, the consulate fosters and facilitates trade relations be-tween Ireland, and the U.S. Consul General of Ireland Paul Gleeson has served in that capacity, and made Atlanta his home, for more than three years. We spoke at the Consulate’s Buckhead office.
Q: Why Atlanta?
Gleeson: First, over one million people in Georgia claim Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry. It is a transportation hub with many large companies headquartered here. One of the biggest Irish companies, Oldcastle, employs 35,000 people and has an office in Alpharetta.
Q: What are some of the services the consulate offers?
Gleeson: It is varied. We do a lot of promotional work related to trade. There is actually an Irish Chamber of Commerce in Georgia. We facilitate tourism and work with Irish citizens on travel issues. We don’t process passports, visas or citizenship applications. That is done through the New York office.
Q: What are some extraordinary services you have been called upon to perform?
Gleeson: I’ve become a huge baseball fan, and I was asked to officiate at the exchange of line-ups prior to a Braves’ game. I also have the pleasure of offering support to many of the Irish musicians passing through Atlanta.
Q: What was your reaction to your first American St. Patrick’s Day celebration?
Gleeson: It was in Savannah, and I was dumbstruck by the sheer scale of it. I was also served green grits, which I can’t say I enjoyed! I participate in Atlanta’s parade each year and am constantly amazed by its growth. Ireland is the only country to inspire a U.S. celebration of that scale, and it’s a great opportunity to promote co-operation between our two countries.
Q: What does your hometown in Ireland have that Atlanta needs more of?
Gleeson: I grew up in Dublin, which is a very similar metropolitan area. We do have a better public transit system, and Dublin is a more walk-able city. Having said that, I have three children and am impressed by how family-friendly Atlanta is. And I love the variety of restaurants here.
Q: How is Ireland doing?
Gleeson: We were hit hard by the economic crisis, but are emerging faster than most other European countries. Banks are being capitalized again, and we just had our best year for new foreign investment in a decade. Property values in Dublin are on the rise. However, unemployment remains high and there have been deep cuts in government spending. Public sector employees have taken painful pay cuts, as I can personally attest.
Learn more at www.consulateofirelandatlanta.com.
– Steve Kilbride