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REMARKS BY PRESIDENT McALEESE AT A RECEPTION FOR THE IRISH COMMUNITY AND FRIENDS OF IRELAND

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT McALEESE AT A RECEPTION FOR THE IRISH COMMUNITY AND FRIENDS OF IRELAND, BUENOS AIRES, 18 MARCH, 2004

A cháirde.  Tá mé thar a bheith sásta bheith anseo inniu agus tá mé an buíoch as an fáilte fíor-Ghaelach a chur sibh romham agus roimh mo fhear-chéile, Máirtín.

President of the Federation of Argentine Irish Societies, Mr. Kevin Farrell, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

My husband Martin and I are delighted to be with you in Buenos Aires, not quite on St. Patrick’s Day itself, but still close enough to enjoy the festivities here which I am told last a month. That gives us plenty of time to enjoy together this time of celebration for the Irish and their friends around the world - and what better place to enjoy it than in this city of Good Air!

This is my first visit to Argentina, and one I have looked forward to for a long time. But then you are used to official visitors from Ireland!  My predecessor as President, Mary Robinson paid the first State Visit to Argentina   back in 1995; An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern received a great welcome here back in July 2001, and a host of Government ministers have also been very warmly received.  In fact, official contacts between our two countries date back to as long ago as 1921, when the Provisional Government, presided over by Eamon de Valera, sent Mr. Laurence Ginnell as special envoy to Argentina to seek support for Irish independence.  Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1947 and a resident Mission was established here the following year, making the Embassy in Buenos Aires one of our oldest resident Missions.

But in truth the close friendship between Ireland and Argentina was crafted a long long time ago by the many sons and daughters of Ireland whose emigrant ships brought them to these shores. Here they established the largest and most successful Irish community in the non-English speaking world.  They put their talents, their genius and their hard work at the service of their new homeland and they brought to it the gifts of Irish music and dance, custom and tradition, history and legend. They were Ireland’s first ambassadors and today their many descendants are both proud Argentinians and proud Irish.  I am told that the most striking evidence of that long preserved Irish identity is that you can still hear the echoes of counties Westmeath, Longford or Wexford in the accents when they speak English. I am looking forward to checking that out.

Irish men and women emigrated to many countries in the world but very few gave them the welcome, the freedom and the respect, they received here.

 One of the earliest editions of the Southern Cross newspaper makes this clear:

“In no part of the world is the Irishman more esteemed and respected than in the Province of Buenos Aires, and in no part of the world, in the same space of time, have Irish settlers made such large fortunes”. (The Southern Cross, January 6th, 1875).

The contribution made to Argentina by those Irish emigrants and their successors is a source of enormous pride to me and to all Irish people, at home and abroad. It is showcased at its best in the story of that great Mayoman Admiral William Brown, who started life as a penniless cabin boy and became not just the father of the Argentinian Navy but whose heroism pave the way for this country’s independence. Many others followed his example, consolidating that independence by helping to build up Argentina’s political, social and judicial institutions as well as playing a particularly important role in the fields of religion, education and culture - a role that continues to this day. 

Wherever the Irish go in the world, no matter how great the hardships, they reach out to and support one another. Here those early settlers found a friend in people like Fr. Anthony Fahy and organisations likes the Irish Catholic Association. It was that care for one another that ensured the community would do more than just survive- that it would flourish. Today that tradition of care and of community is carried on by many Irish societies, clubs, associations and schools which keep the Irish spirit alive and well in Argentina and renew the links to Ireland in each generation. We owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude for your passionate commitment to the preservation and promotion of Irish culture. A big part of Irish culture is and always has been the failte, the welcome and I can tell from first-hand experience that you have been wonderful custodians of that tradition.  

Those who came from Ireland to Argentina came from a country ravaged by famine, poverty, war, oppression and hopelessness. They came in search of opportunity and though many never knew fame or fortune, they and their children climbed their way to the top of every sphere of civic life by dint of sheer hard work and their own genius. Their tenacity and success abroad kept a glimmer of hope alive in their tragic homeland and today a hugely successful Ireland takes righteous pride in her global family – truly her strength and her inspiration.

The celebrated Argentine poet and writer, Jorge Luis Borges once described Ireland as “that oppressed yet stubborn country”.  The description no longer fits, thankfully. Today we are a prosperous, confident, forward-looking nation, home to one of the most dynamic economies and highest standards of living in Europe. For the first time in a century and a half we have reversed the tide of emigration and now know the surge of power that comes from being a country to which people come in search of a new life.  We have transformed relationships with Great Britain and built a peace which offers a new future to Northern Ireland and to the two neighbouring but not always neighbourly islands.

If they were present with us this evening, I am sure that the hundreds of Irish settlers who came to farm in the pampas over a century ago would take deep pleasure not just in the prosperous and peaceful Ireland of today but in the solid ties that continue to bind the Irish community here in Argentina and the Irish at home.  Your resilience here in the face of huge challenges and our transcendence of the past at home in Ireland, vindicate their lives, their sacrifices and their faith.  We have both drawn on the legacy of their indomitable spirit and been strengthened by it. It is therefore my especially warm wish that through this visit, the two countries they loved best in the world will continue to freshen the bonds of kinship and grow in happy friendship.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taithneamh as an ócáid speisialta seo.