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Speech at a Reception for the Mexican Pipers’ Band “Batallón San Patricio”

Áras an Uachtaráin, 18th March 2015



Dear Members of the Batallón San Patricio Pipers’ Band,

Amigas y Amigos,

Is cúis mhór áthais dom é fáilte a fhearradh romhaibh go léir chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu.

Les agradezco su visita aquí a mi residencia esta tarde. Espero que hayan disfrutado tomar parte en el desfile de San Patricio ayer. Sabina y yo realmente disfrutamos del espectáculo de colores y música. Fue maravilloso viendo amigos de Irlanda de las cinco partes del mundo reuniéndose en el mismo día aquí en Dublin para bailar, desfilar y hacer música.

I had the great pleasure to hear you perform before, during the official visit I paid to Mexico in October 2013. I am delighted, in turn, to welcome you to Áras an Uachtaráin, my home as President of Ireland.

I hope you had a great day yesterday. This is the first time ever a Mexican band has taken part in Dublin’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, and it is wonderful that you came, alongside so many friends of Ireland from all over the world, to play and march, together, on the streets of our capital city. It is also appropriate that Mexico be represented in our 2015 Saint Patrick’s Festival, for we are, this year – as you know, Ambassador – celebrating the 40th anniversary of the opening of official relations between Mexico and Ireland.

As President of Ireland, I deeply value the historical connections and the bonds of friendship that unite our two peoples. I am very pleased to have this occasion to reaffirm the importance that we, in Ireland, attach to the strong Irish thread that is woven through the rich tapestry of Mexican history and culture.

The links between our two peoples are well and alive, as attests the presence here of representatives of the twinning between Longford and Huixquilucan. Nuestras estrechas relaciones bilaterales también han promovido y enriquecido nuestros intercambios culturales en literatura y artes visuales entre artistas mexicanos e irlandeses, tales como las colaboraciones entre Octavio Paz y Samuel Beckett, o entre Pura López-Colomé y Seamus Heaney.

[Our close bilateral relationships have also fostered and nurtured rich cultural exchanges in literature and the visual arts between Mexican and Irish artists, collaborations such as those between Octavio Paz and Samuel Beckett or between Pura López-Colomé and Seamus Heaney.]

The history of the Batallón San Patricio is, of course, an essential component in our mutual friendship. I am therefore delighted that your pipers’ band – the only such band in Mexico – chose to honour through its name the memory of those Irish men who fought as part of the Mexican Army in the war against the USA, in 1846-47. I know that you have your headquarters in Churubusco, where John Riley’s Battalion made its last stand.

During our visit to Mexico, my wife Sabina and I attended a very moving ceremony at the Memorial dedicated to the San Patricios, in plaza San Jacinto, in the neighbourhood of San Ángel, in Mexico City. It was a valuable occasion to reflect on how John Riley, who hailed from a small village on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland, Clifden, had decided to offer his services to the Mexican side in the war against the United States, acting on an empathy that he and others who joined the San Patricios felt with the Mexican people. For this choice, the San Patricios were reviled and cruelly punished by one side in the conflict, but cherished and remembered by the other.

The late Patricia Bustamante Cox, a first generation Irish-Mexican who wrote two books about the San Patricios, describing their bravery on the battlefields of Matamoros, Monterrey and Churubusco, noted that:

“México y Irlanda son tierras de santos, héroes y poetas que no necesitan acudir a la leyenda para hallar en su realidad cotidiana elementos suficientes para hacer de la vida una obra de arte, donde hay que entregarlo todo, incluso la vida”.

[Mexico and Ireland are lands of saints, heroes and poets who have no need to turn to legend to find in their everyday reality enough elements to convert life into a work of art, wherein all has to be given, even life itself]

Now, more than 150 years after that cruel war, we have moved miles away from the animosity and prejudices that underpinned it. But the identification with the Mexican cause by ‘los San Patricios’ has created an unbreakable link between our two countries.

Your presence here is testament to those enduring bonds. It is wonderful to see young Mexicans elect such an exotic instrument as the bagpipe, and learn to play it so masterfully. It is wonderful, too, that this instrument has driven you to these shores.

Indeed musical practice is a great vehicle for genuine inter-cultural encounters. I know that you have played, for example, with Galician musician Carlos Núñez Muñoz, and that, in August 2011, you performed with the Chieftains at the Festival interceltique de Lorient, in Brittany – which I myself visited last August, when Ireland was its country of honour. I wish you many more such fruitful musical encounters in the future.

Les agradezco otra vez su visita aquí hoy, y les deseo todo lo mejor por el resto de su estancia en Dublin. Seguro que vaya muy bien. Espero que podamos recibirles en Irlanda una y otra vez en el futuro. Ahora, sin embargo, me daría muchas ganas de oíros de nuevo !

[May I thank you, once again, for coming to visit me here this afternoon. I wish you all the best for the rest of your stay in Ireland, and I hope we will have the pleasure to welcome you to this country many more times in the future. For now, though, I very much look forward to hearing you play again!]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.