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SNAPPY 7 – Irish Ambassador: For me its Nyama Choma and Tusker here in Kenya

Dr Vincent O’Neill is the first resident Irish Ambassador in Kenya in 26 years after Ireland closed its doors in 1998 during the financial crisis that hit the world.

He has been busy rebuilding and making sure everything is back to what it used to be between Kenya and Ireland. He gave Nairobi News a glimpse of who he is and what he loves about Kenya.

1. Who is Ambassador Vincent O’Neil – We have a few similarities between Kenya and Ireland. We both have big families. I come from a big family of eight children. Four girls and four boys. My career started here in Africa, after finishing my science degree I traveled to West Africa were I taught. Later, I went back and decided I wanted to do medicine so I became a doctor.

After my post graduate training, I worked in emergency medicine, in obstetrics, pediatrics and infectious diseases for a number of years.

I went to Uganda as a medical doctor in the mid 90’s when HIV was at its highest and there was nothing like antiviral medicine. It was very distressing because a lot of young people were getting ill from blood transfusion so we had to provide a lot of care.

I was also there during the time of Rwanda genocide and was involved in cleaning up when the bodies of the victims of genocide came into Lake Victoria.

2. Why Diplomacy – It is something that happened in my life, I was always interested in international development in different forms of assistants. I started my life as a volunteer in Africa so I was always interested in that.

My reason for entering medicine was very much linked to that broader interest in development. It brought me in a path away from clinical medicine into a more policy engagement internationally.

After my job in Uganda I got a job at the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ireland to work as their public health representative globally. After that I was deployed to Malawi after we opened our embassy there. After four wonderful years I went back to Ireland for three more years and then they said they were re-opening the embassy in Kenya and asked me if I would be interested to come here. For me they didn’t need to ask.

3. Are you active on social media – Yes I am, my two children laugh at me and question my abilities to be on social media. Professionally, we are asked to have a Twitter account as an ambassador. I also use Facebook too, my wife tells me that I’m using it too much and I find it very useful, but I haven’t started using Instagram yet.

4. Has being a frequent traveler infringed on your family and how do they cope with it – I have two children who are twins aged 21 years old. They are both girls and were born in Uganda, so they spent their first year in Africa. They grew up with the notion that we as a family are very much outward focused by necessity.

They came with us to Malawi and spent four years there. The first few months they hated it and told me I was ruining their life. But after six months they never wanted to move from that place.

Irish Ambassador to Kenya Dr Vincent O'Neill and his wife during St Patrick's Day Irish ball in Nairobi. PHOTO | FRANSOIR NDERITU
Irish Ambassador to Kenya Dr Vincent O’Neill and his wife during St Patrick’s Day Irish ball in Nairobi. PHOTO | FRANSOIR NDERITU

5. Can you cook ugali? What Kenyan food do you like – I can’t say yes because my wife will say I’m telling lies, but I do cook. There is nothing more I like than to sit down on weekends over a barbeque with good friends.

There is an Irish bread that we call brown bread which I love. I also like to catch fish and I can cook it too but don’t ask me to do anything complicated.

For me, Kenyan food has to be nyama choma; when you are having a Tusker and nyama choma, what else do you want?

6. How do you unwind – I swim every morning. I like to wake up at six in the morning and swim for about 20 minutes. I also like to walk. We have dogs here and we always take them for a walk. My other passion is photography and I also read a lot. I used to run a lot but I can’t keep up with Rudisha (David). I like to stay fit. In Ireland I used to cycle to work every day.

7. Can you remember when and where you met your wife – Yes I can. I first knew my wife’s brother who is a good friend of mine. He invited me for a party and I met her there and we didn’t see each other for a number of years. Then we bumped into each other in Dublin and started seeing each other. We were married two years later.

We both took our time in getting married and both our parents were wondering if it was ever going to happen. It eventually did and we have been together now for almost 25 years. She had worked oversee before we met and she is also very much interested in working in international development.