Maria Kiernan founded the Russian Irish Cultural Association and is the association’s director, however she is an architect by trade. She first came to Russia in the early 1990s when she went on an exchange program with a number of other Irish professionals in order to teach her Russian colleagues how things were done in the West.
“The purpose of the exchange program was to teach senior architects from all over the CIS about building procurement and the process of actually building a building,” Maria Kiernan explains. “In the Soviet system architects were very disconnected from that process. They had terrific ideas, but once they produced the ideas they handed them over to contractors who would decide what would get built. Often it would be the easiest projects which ended up getting built. In the early 90s foreign companies started to invest in Russia, but they weren’t giving Russian architects a chance because they didn’t have this experience. So they were bringing in foreign architects”.
The exchange program was very successful and some of the Russian architects who took part in it went on to build glittering careers. Maria was living in a Russian colleague’s apartment and by the end of the program she had made plenty of Russian friends. She still counts many of them among her best friends. When she came back to Ireland Maria decided to learn Russian and since then she has never lost contact with the country.
A specialist in interior design, Maria Kiernan took part in several construction projects in Russia. For example, she built a women’s club on Bolshaya Ordinka Street in Moscow in mid-1990s and in 2011 a friend from the Tver region requested that Maria build a chapel in memory of her deceased mother.
Maria Kiernan founded the Russian Irish Cultural Association in 2004. The idea was suggested to her almost simultaneously by two diplomats – the former ambassador of Ireland to Russia, Justin Harman and the former Russian ambassador to Ireland, Vladimir Rakhmanin.
“I brought in people from different areas to help me found the association – journalism, the army, culture, business,” says Maria. “The main purpose of the organisation is to be a sort of an umbrella group for all the cultural activities between Russia and Ireland”.
Not just Irish people, but also a lot of Russians are involved in the organisation’s activities. Conductor Alexander Anissimov, architect Yuri Nedovsky and the director of the Russian state library of foreign literature, Yekaterina Geniyeva, among others, have all contributed to the work of the association.
The Russian Irish Cultural Association has organised several exhibitions and other cultural events. It also helped organize Dublin’s Russian Festival. But the body’s main work is in helping people find each other and in maintaining the many historical and cultural links that exist between Russia and Ireland. Maria Kiernan is a great match for the job.