Irish warmth and rich culturePublished on November 7, 2011

  • The grand entry of the Irish Ambassador's residence maintains the character of the circa 1942 original stone house that has been extensively renovated and refurbished. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

  • Ray Bassett, Ireland's ambassador to Canada. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

  • Nicholas Caragianis Architects did a remarkable job to maintain the original feel of the Rockcliffe Park home. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

  • The detailed features stand out in this award-winning home, which earned a certificate of merit in 2011 in the annual Ottawa Architectural Conservation Awards. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

The Irish are known for being very hospitable and placing a great importance on family life. There is an old Irish saying: "May you be blessed with warmth in your home, love in your heart, peace in your soul and joy in your life."

When you step into the magnificently renovated official residence of Ireland's current Ambassador to Canada, Dr. Ray Bassett, you are graciously welcomed to a home that is a stunning showpiece to the cultural heritage of Ireland. It highlights colourful art and exquisite home furnishings created by talented Irish artists and artisans.

This sixth generation Dubliner enjoys walking around his Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood with a guide book in hand to learn about the history of the leafy old village, which has many residents of Irish descent. Missing his five children and wife Patricia Howe, who remains in Ireland while their youngest son finishes his final year of high school, the ambassador has become an active part of the village community and is looking forward to enjoying his first Canadian Christmas.

Preparing for the Christmas holidays in Ottawa is not so different than celebrating back home, and many of the outdoor trees at the residence will be lit up to create a warm welcome for his family who are joining him for the holidays. The Irish ambassador's favourite tradition is to light a candle in the window and he and his wife have done this no matter where they have been posted.

This year, the residence will have professional decorating help from Bloomfields Flowers, who are adorning the official entertaining area for the 9th Annual Tour of Homes for the Holidays. Ambassador Bassett said he and his wife are proud to be part of the fundraising tour and he couldn't think of a better organization to assist than The Hospice at May Court.

What did you want to be when you grew up? My parents taught me the value of hard work and they believed that education shall make you free. As a child, I dreamed that I would be a sports star. I studied biochemistry at university and learned fairly soon that it didn't suit me. I got my Ph.D. in medical research, but I wasn't totally happy as it was quite isolating working as a research scientist. I took the job in the Department of Foreign Affairs to test myself, not really expecting that 33 years later I would still be at it.

What inspires you? Compassion and the nobility of ordinary people in the face of suffering. Their ability to transcend hatreds and prejudices, and reach out as one human being to another, truly inspires me.

What's the most challenging part of your job as an ambassador? It's difficult just being myself when I am in the spotlight, and giving everyone the attention they deserve when I'm on show in front of so many people. You learn to step outside yourself and concentrate - and it's only later that you can close the door and re-gain yourself. Anonymity is a great, great gift. You can't just say you're tired and go home. With the privileges and the special treatment you receive, there are the demands.

How will you improve relations between Canada and Ireland? Four million Canadians are of Irish descent and we enjoy meeting Irish and non-Irish Canadians at the many events at the residence and travelling across Canada representing Ireland. Canada/Ireland relations are based on people - that is the huge connection. The Irish have family in Canada and Canadians have friends and family in Ireland. Ireland's economic problems have come home to them. We need our friends and shouldn't take them for granted. I want to re-invigorate our very good relationship with Canada. We are re-assessing our position and coming to a lot of our old friends like Australia, New Zealand and Canada - the old Dominions.

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