The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Luncheon at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Malta Independent Sunday, 14 September 2014, 10:03 Last update: about 7 years ago

This was my first luncheon at Palazzo Parisio in Merchants Street, made famous by Napoleon Bonaparte for it is where he had stayed for seven days of action, upon his arrival in Malta on that historic day of 13th June, 1798. I’ve been to talks and receptions at this palazzo and a concert in the courtyard but never there for a meal. It is a distinguished Palazzo, beautifully maintained, with it’s sweeping staircase, its antiques, old paintings and elegant architecture.  

The Maltese, always conservative and hating change, did not approve of the way Bonaparte transformed Malta’s ancient legal and administrative structures into the Republican ‘Code Napoleon’ which we have to this day. Some turned against him and got rid of him, to put it mildly. He then embarked on his Egyptian campaign.  

The Maltese have hung on to the idea that Napoleon did little but cause harm during his stay which of course is far from the truth. Sheer propaganda. Perhaps they were afraid that the next thing he would do is separate church and state. Charles Xuereb (the broadcaster who wants us to get rid of Queen Victoria’s statue in Valletta and the George Cross from our flag) has now written what promises to be a highly interesting (and probably controversial) book about the French in Malta in which he bases his theories on research, not fiction or urban myths. It is soon to be published and I look forward to reading it.

Mr Garvin Keating, Mr Hennessy, Minister Vella, Ms Catherine Halpin and Mr Matthew Mullen

But back to the luncheon which was to bid farewell to H.E. the Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to Malta, Mr Jim Hennessy. It was a small party hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mrs Vella. I have to mention here, that the last time I saw Dr Vella was in action as a caring medical doctor, at the Spanish residence at the farewell party hosted by the then ambassador, Felipe de la Morena Casada and his consort whose successful stay in Malta only lasted for two years.  That evening a friend of mine collapsed, mostly from the heat, and Dr Vella, a much respected medical doctor with long experience, immediately came to her aid and told everyone what to do and how to make her comfortable. I was most impressed with the way he took charge of the situation and saw that his unexpected patient got over her fainting and was taken home safely.


As one might have expected, a handful of guests at the luncheon were Irish. I looked around yes, Matthew Mullen, GM of Hilton Malta, Garvin Keating, a country profiler  whose wife had just given birth to a baby boy, Maurice O’Scanaill, the vet and author, a young lady called Catherine Halpin who is an engineer with Enemalta but could easily be a model, are all Irish. 

Like the Maltese it is a race that never seems stuck for something to say, so conversation during pre-prandial drinks and canapés as well as around the table flowed lively and continuous, without even one pause – except of course when Minister Vella said a few words and wished bon voyage to His Excellency. Mr Hennessy replied graciously saying how much his family too, had enjoyed their stay in Malta. Mrs Monica Hennessy had left for Ireland in August to settle their two boys at their new school for during the last three years they had done their schooling in Malta.   But as soon as the not so formal speeches were over, the buzz began again.  


I was seated across from Maurice O’Scanaill, an author and a retired vet who once worked in Malta and now lives here full time with his Maltese wife.  As it happens, life’s rich tapestry had dictated that in the Cotswolds, a couple of weeks before the luncheon,  I got to meet Joe and Antoinette, Joe being Maurice’s brother-in-law. Such a small world. Joe had mentioned his sister in Malta and showed me a photo of his aunt, a nun,  with Haile Selassie, once emperor of Ethiopia. 

Maurice has had a fascinating career: After Malta, he spent nearly eight years in the Gulf where he was Head Vet at the Stud Section of the Royal Stables of Oman.  During his time there, he also had three thrillers published by Random House, London.  And, as if that weren’t  enough, he compiles cryptic crosswords for a large national magazine in Ireland.  Maurice tells me that he has resumed his writing career now that he has retired and has, in fact, just finished a police thriller set in Malta which ought to be available shortly – watch this space.  Now that I have met the author, I, for one, am looking forward to reading it.  His other books are Playing Dead, Outbreak and Malpractice and they are available on Amazon, iTunes, etc.  His pen name is Rory McCormac, after his children, Rory and Cormac.


The table, as expected, was beautifully laid. We started with Smoked Salmon Paupiettes, rolls of smoked salmon filled with mascarpone, shrimps and chives. After such events I always mean to try some of these dishes at home but never seem to find the time. The main course was Pagru with lemon and caper butter, eggplant, roasted mushrooms and pommes gratin. A delicious seabream made tastier with the lemon and caper butter. It made a change from the salsa verde I like making to lift the taste of plainly cooked meat and fish.  I was so glad the main course wasn’t some thick piece of meat, pink inside which I would have had to swirl politely  around the plate and pretend to enjoy. There is nothing I dislike more than pink meat. Dessert was Tiramisu with Irish Cream. Very Yummy. Maurice in front of me, finished his fairly quickly. I did too, but Dr Mangion, to my left, only ate half, slowly and deliberately enjoying every morsel. Charles Mangion, always very dapper, I know, is a keen jogger for I had done a piece about his jogging some years back. I remarked on his self-discipline. Well, after getting up early to run in order to keep his trim body, he was not going to consume some 300 calories (at least) all at one go he told me. I admire such self control. I only have it after I have eaten. That is when I resolve to go on diet and of course, jogging in the early morning or indeed, at any time, is not for me. I am an indoor girl.

We were well served by a young male and female who were smartly dressed. Who were the caterers I wanted to know. This time it was Osborne Caterers. But the Ministry uses the services of various outside caterers when hosting lunches or dinners on the occasion of official visits by foreign dignitaries to Malta, outgoing resident ambassadors and so on. This seems very fair to all. 

Minister Vella then signed the book of condolences for the former Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, who had made an important contribution to the development of the peace process in Ireland which eventually lead to the Good Friday Agreement.

I was sorry to see the Irish ambassador and Mrs Hennessy go. They have both worked tirelessly during their three year stay in Malta organising one event after another, encouraging local musicians and bringing out their own gifted ones to delight us. Mr Hennessy has now returned to Headquarters in Ireland. The new ambassador H.E. Paddraig Mac Coscair and his wife Ann Kieran have arrived. We wish them well and welcome them to our islands.


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