As we celebrate Saint Patrick Day (St. Paddy) honoring Irish contributions to the world. There is a place in one corner of the world that Irish catholic priests and sisters touched and their legacies are still with us. The place is in the eastern part of Nigeria where majority of residents are Igbo people, Ijaw, Efiki, Ibibio and many related people,
Irish missionaries built schools and hospitals in Igboland. The most famous among them was His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Charles Heerey, C.S.Sp, of blessed memory, the then Archbishop of Onitsha founded these famous schools – Christ the King College (CKC), College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC) and Queen of the Rosary College (QRC), Onitsha .
Writing in Vanguard Newspaper, Chike MADUEKWE wrote:
“Father Lutz, Bishop Joseph Shannahan, Bishop Joseph Heery and other early missionaries are a perfect example of what the Bible calls agape love, or sacrificial love. May their souls rest in the bosom of the Lord. These authentic men of God did not just bring us the Gospel. They spearheaded the abolition of improper cultural practices like the killing of twins and the”osu” and “ohu” caste system. They brought us modern healthcare. The impressive hospitals they established in places like Onitsha, Ihiala and Adazi, all in Anambra State, several decades ago still provide our people with quality services. The Holy Rosary Hospital at Emekuku, Imo State, and St Luke’s Hospital, Anua, Akwa Ibom State, are among the numerous medical facilities established by the Church in Eastern Nigeria which have been of immense benefit to our people. Many people abandoned by their families and communities because they were afflicted by diseases like leprosy were treated in hospitals like these ones free of charge.”
He continued, “The contribution of the Church to the educational development of Eastern Nigeria remain unparalleled. The missionaries used their limited resources to build schools all over the place, and products of these schools were competing favourably with their counterparts anywhere in the world. Generations of our best teachers, professors, lawyers, medical doctors and other professionals were trained in places like Christ the King College, Onitsha. I am a proud Old Boy of the great CKC.”
George C E Enyoazu, President-General, Igbo Council of Europe (ICE) also wrote:
“One common feature between the Irish and Igbo nations is their embrace of Christianity. In fact, the Irish were instrumental in the evangelization of Igboland, courtesy of the Irish missionaries. Our common Christian heritage enhanced our love for education. The Irish (Holy Ghost Fathers) established the Catholic mission schools in all the nooks and crannies of Igboland. The Igbo Catholic Churches and educational institutions were previously run by the Irish, making Igbo school calendar to be exactly the same with the Irish. In those days, the Igbo school system was exactly the same with the Irish. Igboland operated the primary system as opposed to the elementary system. We had the best and qualitative education system. During the era, before a school pupil goes through junior infants, senior infants, first class (standard one), second class (standard two), and third class (standard three), they had already acquired a basic education which opened a world of possibilities for them. And by the time a pupil completes standard six, they were already headed for great things in life. It’s said that the Yoruba nation embraced Western education about sixty years before the Igbo nation did. Commending the meteoritic rise of the Igbo people, Stafford, Michael R., United States Army Major notes:”
He emphasized how the Irish Catholic helped to feed Igbo people during civil war: “The Irish Holy Ghost Fathers who worked in Igboland, together with other Christian missionaries rallied round us and created the Jesus Christ Airlines which brought food and other relief materials to save millions of threatened Igbo people. Furthermore, in reaction to the crisis, a combined team of responsive Irish people formed the charity, Africa Concern, which later metamorphosed into Concern International as we know it today. This act of kindness did immensely cushion the effects of the war on the dying Igbo people.”
Therefore Nigerians especially the people of eastern Nigeria and Igbo in particular wear you green proudly and make a toast to the Irish.