It is now called the Cervantes Institute and its base is still in Dublin but on 11th February in 1974 the Spanish Cultural Institute was officially opened.
It was the culmination of a lot of dedication and hard work by Spaniard José Antonio Sierra who came to Ireland from Spain via France and England to work as a language assistant in the Spanish Department of Trinity College in 1968. Upon arrival Sierra set about joining the cultural dots between Ireland and Spain which went back for generations and pretty soon he realised that there was a need to introduce more things Spanish into Irish life. This was as much about informing the Irish citizens about Spain as it was about providing the small but growing population of Spanish people in Ireland.
José Antonio had arrived in Ireland at a very crucial time in both Irish and Spanish history. In Spain there was the Franco regime which was very much in control but resistance was certainly growing as the global media connected more and more with those inside leading the resistance. Ireland was just seeing the start of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and again the global media was shining a light on events there.
In an effort to gain knowledge of what was happening in Northern Ireland and help to further the efforts of the civil rights movement José Antonio offered his service to Diario Informaciones of Madrid and the Spanish News Agency EFE. Soon after that he was appointed as correspondent for the paper covering events in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Sierra comments “in the late 1960’s there were only about 300 Spanish people in Ireland but they were badly serviced in relation to access to Spanish documentation like daily newspapers, periodicals and literature. I decided, with the assistance of Noelle Cleary and Mary Towers who were directors of the Language Centre of Ireland which was one of the leading schools in the country teaching English to foreigners, to establish a Documentation Centre in 1969.
This Documentation Centre provided daily Spanish newspapers, magazines and information on many parts of Spain at various levels across much of Spanish society. The official address of the centre was at the Language Centre of Ireland.”
As time marched on the idea of a Cultural Institute came to mind as there was a greater need to provide opportunities for a greater understanding of the culture of Spain. The number of Spaniards in Ireland was growing. The number of people becoming interested in Spain (and other countries) among Irish people was growing, possibly through travel and possibly through the upsurge in news agencies and the easier flow of information about other countries. With this, came a greater interest in learning Spanish and so José Antonio Sierra began lobbying both Spanish and Irish political figures in both political systems and embassies to gather support for his idea.
Mr. Sierra says that at first he was not taken very seriously in Spain but as he mentioned “I used all my holiday time to travel to Spain and sit in the offices of the various ministers until somebody would listen to me. At once I got a hearing I had to convince them of how it would work. Luckily things were starting to change in Spain and it was becoming easier to gather traction for progressive ideas, particularly one that would further the spread of our culture in a foreign country.
His time as a journalist in Ireland had brought him into contact with many Irish politicians and fellow journalists and it wasn’t long until, with the assistance of the Spanish Ambassador in Ireland Juan José Pradera Ortega and the Embassy staff, that his idea started to attract support from many quarters.
The Spanish Cultural Institute in Dublin was established in 1971 and the first course was launched in 1972. The official opening of the facility at 15 Northumberland Road in Dublin was on the 11th February 1974 and Minister for Education Richard Burke was on hand to conduct the ceremony. Also present on the day was Joaquin Juste Cestino who was the new Spanish Ambassador in Ireland. Mr. Cestino was from Malaga and he loved Ireland and his time there. Only a year after he attended the opening of the Spanish Cultural Institute he died suddenly in office. The official opening was also attended by José Luís Messía , Marqués de Busianos and Fermín Celada Jurado, Secretary of the Embassy and later Ambassador of Spain in Dublin. During the attached interview with Ger Sweeney, José Antonio talks through other people who attended on the day and the work that was undertaken in the intervening years.
Now, 45 years on, Mr. Sierra sits in Malaga and mentions his interest in the ongoing work of the Institute, now called the Cervantes Institute and he speaks of the pleasure he gets from having being involved in its establishment. His gratitude to those who helped him along the way is very obvious and something that he is delighted to acknowledge.
The ongoing work of the Cervantes Institute can be followed HERE and below is the interview between José Antonio Sierra and Ger Sweeney, recorded on 7th February 2019.