The Irish have shaped the landscape of Dubai like few other nationalities.
Back in the 1980s, Dubai was a blank canvas, ready to be painted by the kingdom’s ruling family, the Maktoums. Since then, the city has become one of the most metropolitan places in the world, with Irish pockets dotted around every corner.
Walking around the Irish village next to Dubai’s Aviation Club, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Ireland, if it were not for the blazing sun.
The cobblestones in the area are every bit as Irish as those in Temple Bar, Dublin, having been specially imported. The shop fronts look as authentic as those in villages here, with the frontage of “Ballinasloe Post Office” being particularly impressive.
The Irish pub in Dubai Airport has an authentic feel, as do several other bars scattered around the region. But pubs are far from the only sign of Irish influence. The Irish Celts GAA club, formed in 1995, is another emblem of the vibrant Irish ex-pat community in Dubai.
As well as Gaelic games, each year, the club enters a Dubai Rose into the Rose of Tralee competition.
Among the most influential Irish figures in Dubai are the head of Dubai Duty Free, Colm McLoughlin, and the head of the Jumeirah Hotel Group, Gerald Lawless. Between them, McLoughlin and Lawless control two of Dubai’s most powerful companies. Dubai Duty Free owns a host of assets, ranging from pubs and restaurants to Dubai’s tennis tournament, while the Jumeirah Hotel Group employs 11,000 people, 10,000 of whom are based in Dubai, and has assets believed to be in excess of €1 billion. “When you think about it, as individuals they [McLoughlin and Lawless] really did contribute to the organisation of Dubai,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Maktoum, the uncle of Dubai’s ruler and the head of the region’s Civil Aviation Authority, which controls Dubai Airport, Dubai Duty Free and Emirates Airlines.
“I’m sure there are many others here doing lower-profile jobs who have contributed too.”
“We hope that we will be able to attract more Irish people.”
Historically, Dubai has attracted highly-qualified Irish people in sectors such as engineering and technology. More recently, however, younger people have begun flocking to its sunny climes, working in Irish pubs and bars or teaching English. Dubai has also taken off as a destination for Irish tourists, particularly since Aer Lingus launched direct flights to the city on March 28.
“Hopefully, the Aer Lingus flight to Dubai will bring more people from Dubai to Ireland, which is a beautiful place,” said al-Maktoum, who added that Emirates Airlines would soon launch flights to Ireland.
“I’m sure Emirates will start flying to Ireland,” he said. “I think we have to give Aer Lingus more chance to build up the network and to have a good operation. I think we’ll see Emirates – I hope in the very near future – flying to Dublin.”
Dubai and Ireland are also linked by investment. The Maktoums keep racehorses worth millions of euro in Ireland.
Sheikh Ahmed said he expected Dubai investment in Ireland to grow.
“The Dubai people will always look for opportunities, but we need to do more in Dubai to tell them what’s happening in Ireland,” he said. “I’m sure there will be some opportunities for somebody to invest in Ireland.”
Irish people have also been buying up property in the city, while trade between Ireland and Dubai has been increasing, with Irish exports to Dubai increasing from €155million in 1991, to over €600 million in 2004. A regional Enterprise Ireland office was set up in Dubai in 2002. Junior minister for Labour Affairs Tony Killeen led a delegation there last year, which was aimed at strengthening trade links.