Cead Mile Failte Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ambassador of Ireland to the USA


Cead Mile Failte Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ambassador of Ireland to the USA!

Cead mile failte is Gaelic for “a hundred thousand welcomes.” These words capture the welcoming heart and hospitality of the Irish people!

It was my honor to interview Ambassador Geraldine Bryne Nason. She is currently the Irish Ambassador to the United States and for five years served as Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, most recently during Ireland’s term serving on the Security Council as an elected member, working for international peace and security. Additionally, she chaired the 62nd and 63rd sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In 2022 she received Concern Worldwide’s annual Women of Concern Award “in recognition of her outstanding career as a female leader within the diplomatic and civil service and her unwavering dedication to advocating for women’s rights at home and abroad.” Join me in warmly welcoming Ambassador Nason, a true advocate for diplomacy and a beacon of hope in an ever-evolving global landscape.

Ambassador Bryne Nason and Lisa Niver, June 28, 2023


Lisa Niver:

Ambassador Byrne Nason, thank you so much for making the time to speak with me on this show and for your many incredible years of service. Previous to being the Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, you were Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations and secured the seat on the Security Council for Ireland, working for international peace and security.

It was my great honor to be invited twice to the United Nations as a journalist for the Champions of Humanity Project and to represent Ms. Magazine during the UN General Assembly and Gates Foundation Conference. Can you share with my listeners one of your most memorable days working with the UN Security Council and / or what you’re most proud of during your time in that position?

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason on her last day on the U.N. Security Council.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Thank you. So great to speak with you, and you’re right. I’ve just come from a job, a privileged job, sitting representing my country at the Security Council. That’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

So, probably my proudest moment was to be elected. We had to fight to get to that table in a contested election, but once there, we decided we would use our representation on that body to reflect what you’ve mentioned in your introduction, humanity, and I think Irish foreign policy and the way in which we have a humanitarian vocation in there was really expressed very well during our time on the council.

If I think of the memorable moments, I certainly, in a rather negative way, remember the 24th of February last year. I sat there through the night as we learned that President Putin had invaded Ukraine. That we had the Ukrainian Ambassador sitting at the table in the Security Council that night. I was looking at him, knowing his wife, his children are back, not knowing what was happening, as Russia invaded an independent, sovereign country. We stand full square with Ukraine still.

So, that’s a moment that’s very poignant, but in a worrying way. Two other things I might say that I carry with me still, at the moment, of pride really. One is that I chaired the work on Women, Peace and Security during our tenure. Women in Northern Ireland make a critical difference to peace in our country. We tried to bring that sense of the role of women being in the room and at the table, negotiating peace for their communities, for their nations.

We hold a record for having brought more women’s voices to the Security Council table, during our presidency of the council, than any other country ever. I was absolutely dogged in my pursuit of the issues that arose around Afghan women and the deprivation and the banning of Afghan children from education, young girls. So, we did a lot to work for women’s role in peace and security, and the other thing, just to finish off, I guess, is that Ireland is unique as a UN member in having an unbroken history of service in peacekeeping.

We’re a small country. We raise our defense forces to help keep the peace across the globe, and we had a groundbreaking resolution that we brought to the council during our time there, looking at what happens when those peacekeepers move on. How do we populate that space when the good work of peacekeepers is done? So, that’s just a flavor of what I was doing as Ireland’s Ambassador at the Security Council.

Lisa Niver:

That is so incredible. Last night, I was at the Ms. Magazine awards, and Nancy Pelosi was speaking, and they were talking about using the term gender apartheid, and it sounds like that’s some of the work you were doing, is recognizing how essential women’s roles and women’s voices and women’s choices are.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Completely. I mean, that was absolutely the case of the security council, and when I arrived at the UN, I was elected as the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. That’s the only norm-setting body globally, anywhere in the world, and for two years, through some of the most toxic debates, remarkably, that you can imagine at the UN, we debated and came up with, to my credit, I will say, agreed conclusions on working on women and their access to public services, and that included reproductive healthcare. It included access to social welfare support, access to education, which, of course, is usually a public service.

Another year, we looked at women’s access to legal support frameworks. For some of us, we may think it’s quite normal that we can open a bank account in our name, that a woman can sit on a jury, or indeed, that a woman who works the fields, typically in Africa or in Asia, would have land right entitlements. None of those things are universal, so we worked on those. So, the UN does an incredible amount of that good, hard work in terms of establishment of norms and rights that goes unnoticed, but certainly, I felt that I tried to play my part in that respect with regard to women while I was there.

Lisa Niver:

It’s so inspiring, and for myself, I’ve been really fortunate to travel to Ireland multiple times, and I love the incredible history. I always tell people about how I visited Newgrange, which is a thousand years older than the pyramids, and in Kilkenny, I was so lucky. I had a lesson in hurling. They said I was good, but I don’t think that was true, but I tried. It’s the oldest sport, they told me, and there’s just so many iconic places to visit in Ireland. I’m sure people always ask you, what should I see? But do you have a secret favorite spot or maybe where your family is from?

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Well, you just touched on the important matter there. I’m from County Louth, which is, in fact, the neighborhood of Newgrange, which I think is one of the most remarkable cultural assets that Ireland has to offer. It’s stunning, but a little-known secret, that next door, in the same district, are two other great tumuli, two other great burial chambers, one at Dowth and one at Knowth. So, it was a sort of a triangle of habitation and of course, of burial then, as the Newgrange Chamber is a burial chamber.

So, if you go to Newgrange, don’t forget that there are, in the district, two other UNESCO-recognized, remarkable burial sites just within miles of each other. The not-so-secret, but my favorite stop-off in Dublin, and I think I could give the tour myself, is Kilmainham Jail. It’s the jail that is so poignant, atmospheric, and still speaks to the Irish spirit of independence. It’s a jail where, famously, infamously, the 1916 leaders were executed as they fought for Irish independence and sovereignty.

And because, of course, I dedicated my life to the service of Ireland and I would hope, in some small way, what I do reinforces Ireland’s own sense of independence and sovereignty on the global stage. I like to go back, and that’s a touchstone for me, because sacrifices that were made in that jail by men who were executed, but there were many women who were imprisoned, and Cumann na mBan was the group of Irish women who supported the revolution or the liberation effort in Ireland, and a number of them were badly treated and imprisoned also in Kilmainham.

So, and finally, I’d say, in Kilmainham, what’s very moving is that many of the men saw their sisters, their mothers, their wives for the last time there. So, it’s a sort of pilgrimage thing I do when I go to Ireland, and if people can pick that up in their tour, it tells you a bit of where we’ve come from, as you arrive in a very 21st century Dublin and see what we’ve become, thanks to those who fought for that independence.

Lisa Niver:

It is a really moving place to visit, and when I was there, maybe not that surprisingly, it was raining, and that sort of added to the atmosphere.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Well, as you know, the 1916 rising was at Easter. It’s known as the Easter Rising, and the weather was not sunny and bright, neither metaphorically nor in reality. So, visiting it in the rain is probably very appropriate.

Lisa Niver:

My recent visit was almost completely sunshine, but one of the things you touched on today and what brought us here together today was that 30 million Americans claim Irish heritage. Huge numbers of people cross from the United States across the Atlantic on Aer Lingus, and that you have this new, incredible partnership with Due West and Aer Lingus, celebrating Irish artists. I know the programming is going to be available across the internet and also on the flights. When I was in Ireland, we heard amazing music. I heard Lisa Hannigan sing, who sung for the president, and today’s celebration is a way to discover more performers. Are there other ways that you’re working here in the US with your new position to promote all the incredible cultural heritage of Ireland?

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Thank you for recognizing the incredible cultural heritage, and you mention one of my favorite Irish singers, Lisa Hannigan. When I was on the Security Council, she sang for us before we went to that big vote at the UN. It was all virtual at the time, but so many international people have asked me about her since. What we’re doing here now, in the United States, and particularly here on the west coast and with our Consulate General of Ireland, Marcella Smyth at the head of this.

They just produced a wonderful Spotify playlist for pride month. It celebrates Irish LGBTQ+ artists, friends, wonderful music and you can access that, and there’s more to come. I know that the consulate here locally, for those who are listening locally, is doing amazing live work on the ground at the Hotel Café and Winston House with new favorite Irish voices, artists, and in a series called Irish Friends.

A few names I’ll mention straight away: Levi Evans, Lenii, Eliza, Jay Pryor, Emer Kinsella, who we just heard play a violin in the most exceptional, inspirational way, and of course, many of your listeners will recognize one of our big stars in the series, Hozier, who will be back in LA playing, rounding up the series at the Hollywood Bowl on the 4th of November.

Follow us at @IrelandInLA, and you can keep up to speed there on artists that are touring through the region and playing at those venues. Hotel Café, the Peppermint. Winston House, Largo, and the Troubadour. As I’m Ambassador to the United States, my parishes are right across the country.

Cultural Ireland is working on showcases in other venues including South By Southwest in Austin and Folk Alliance in Kansas. There’s a huge opportunity for your listeners to check in on the work we’re doing elsewhere, and a good way to stay abreast of all of the dynamic work we’re doing in the cultural sphere is to sign up to a really excellent cultural newsletter we have, which is called Green Light which gives up-to-date information on all Irish cultural events happening across the United States. For your listeners who may travel, and they may like to check in wherever they are with what might be happening locally, and our consulate in New York takes signups for that. You can also follow the Twitter of the Consulate New York and get more details there, as it’s a real resource.

Lisa Niver:

Those are fantastic resources, and we’ll put those in the listener notes so people can easily find them. I feel so fortunate to be in your presence. You have committed your work life to politics and making the planet better, and myself, I’ve loved, loved, loved all my time in Ireland, from participating in the ancient sports of hurling or falconry at Ashford Castle. Thank you for your time and for sharing this great information with my listeners.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason:

Well, it’s been a pleasure, Lisa, and I can say, any woman who has survived a hurling expedition in Ireland deserves huge respect. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and I hope that we can continue the conversation another time.

Lisa Niver:

Thank you so much.

At the end of our interview, you can hear a performance by Lisa Hannigan who I recorded at the Travel Classics Ireland 2023 conference at The Lodge at Ashford Castle.


Lisa’s book, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty, includes her visits to Dublin to be in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Kilkenny to learn hurling and Ashford Castle to walk with hawks!

My Irish Adventures:

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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