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A Cháirde,

Tá áthas mór orm bheith sa bPólainn.

Bardzo się cieszę, że jestem w Polsce.

It is a great pleasure to be with you this evening on the eve of my State Visit to Poland, which officially begins tomorrow. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Irish community and with Polish friends of Ireland. A function of this kind allows me to acknowledge the crucial role played by expatriate Irish communities as unofficial but powerful ambassadors for Ireland. You are the people who create the network of friendships and business links that freshen the bonds between Poland and Ireland from generation to generation. Through you, the Polish people get to know Ireland, her people, her culture, her character and her opportunities. It is in and through your lived lives that Poland and Ireland come to see themselves as great friends and it is encouraging that back in Ireland there is a growing young Polish community which is not only contributing to the Irish economy but enriching our culture by bringing the story of Poland deeply into Irish life.

That story is a fascinating one of tragedy and courage, of endurance and transformation. My generation watched with huge respect as Solidarity changed not only Poland but Europe, championing democracy and bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end. The twentieth century brought outrageous turbulence to Europe but also remarkable stability. The waste of war gave way to the prosperity of partnership as the European Union set a new agenda of hope for the 21st century. Next May, in Dublin, during the Irish presidency of the EU up to ten new member states, Poland possibly among them, will be welcomed into this great family of European nations. The people of Poland will make their decision soon but whatever the outcome we will need your work, your love of both Poland and Ireland to ensure that we can, together, make the best of futures for our peoples.

It is almost impossible for an Irish person of our generation to be the first Irish person anywhere in the world. We have always been wanderers and so it is no surprise that despite being at different ends of Europe the links between Ireland and Poland reach back through the centuries. Long before the Irish and the Poles met as emigrants in the great cities of North America, a seventeenth century Irishman, Bernard Connor, author of the first history of Poland in English, was physician to the Polish King, Jan III Sobieski. As the King lived from 1629 to 1696, Dr. Connor must have been fairly good at his job! And of course one of the seminal events in modern Irish history the Easter Rising of 1916, has its own Polish link through Countess Markiewicz who is commemorated in Warsaw by a school named after her.

However, it is the modern ties between Poland and Ireland, as represented here in this room that I particularly wish to emphasise this evening. So much has changed for both countries over the last 15 years. The successful end to Poland’s long struggle to regain its sovereignty, and its re-emergence as an independent democratic state has coincided in Ireland with the economic miracle of the so-called Celtic Tiger.

Out of these changed times came new possibilities and the growth of fresh, contemporary links between Ireland and Poland. Investments made by leading Irish companies, particularly AIB and CRH, have grown and prospered. These have been joined by over thirty other Irish companies active in areas ranging from engineering and electronics, to paper manufacturing, personnel recruitment and project and financial management. Those involved have invested in Poland and Ireland’s common future.

Irish people have come to Poland in recent years for a variety of reasons. Some came in the early 1990s as teachers sponsored by the Irish agency APSO. Others came for short periods, and have found themselves years later happily settled in Poland. Together they have formed the nucleus of a small but vibrant Irish community. They have created very personal ties between our two countries, they have married here, and are raising a whole new generation of children who will share the traditions of both countries and whose achievements will generate a pride shared by both Ireland and Poland.

Among the things, which make us proud, is Irish generosity and Irish celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Warsaw both are honoured well for I know that members of the Irish community in Warsaw organise an annual St. Patrick’s Ball and donate the proceeds to local charities, in acknowledgement of the kindness and hospitality shown to them by Polish people. It is a matter of great national pride that one of the beneficiaries, a hospice, was renamed St. Patrick’s Hospice earlier this year, as a gesture of appreciation for the generosity of the Warsaw Irish community.

Ireland now has thirty years of experience of EU membership and we are anxious to share that experience with the accession countries. The most ambitious of these efforts at sharing experience has been the programme to place graduates of the Polish National School of Public Administration for on-the-job training in Irish Government Departments. Over the last ten years, training has been provided for 220 young people and I believe some of them are with us here this evening. I would like to bid them a particular welcome. Another extremely innovative programme is operated by CERT, the Irish Government Tourism Training Authority, in cooperation with the Polish Ministry of Labour. So far this has provided training for over 200 young Poles in the Irish hospitality industry and we hope they will make a big contribution to developing the Polish tourism industry.

We talk of the luck of the Irish and we are very lucky indeed that the people of Poland like Ireland take a keen interest in Irish life and culture. There is a growing number of Polish-Irish societies which provide an important bridge of understanding between our two countries through their many activities designed to promote knowledge of Ireland’s history, literature, culture and contemporary life. Our luck is of course man-made much of it spearheaded by Krzysztof Schramm, of the Polish-Irish Society in Poznan and I congratulate him on a job well done. It is important that I acknowledge this evening how much we appreciate this voluntary contribution made by Krzysztof and his associates. Long may they continue to flourish! Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of Dr Jacek Kseń, who as Honorary Consul of Ireland for the past five years, as well as President of Bank Zachodni/WBK, has played an important part in promoting Ireland in Poland. I know that his work is greatly valued by the Embassy and the Government of Ireland.

We have had an opportunity this evening to listen to one of the greatest Irish traditional musicians, Martin Hayes along with the very talented Dennis Cahill and Helen Hayes. Irish traditional music has inspired many Polish musicians to learn to play it themselves and of course with the help of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, access to our music and dance is getting easier all the time. I hear there are even plans for a Warsaw Féis later this year. I am only sorry these exotic venues were not around when I was learning Irish dancing!

Later this week I will visit the Catholic University of Lublin where the Celtic Department has offered an Irish language course to students for more than ten years. Ta sibh go h-iontach ar fad. Poland’s care for our language is a remarkable and wonderful example of the friendship we are privileged to share and the calibre of the friends who have created and sustained it.

Among those friends are some great champions of Irish literature and drama. Ernest Bryll, the distinguished poet and translator, and former Ambassador of Poland to Ireland, together with his wife, Małgorzata, are to be commended for their many translations, particularly their pioneering translations of early Irish poetry. As we head towards the hundredth anniversary of the action of Ulysses, it is encouraging to learn that there is an excellent Polish translation of that great novel - not to mention translation into Polish of Finnegans Wake with its strange backward glance to ‘the once kingdom of Poland’.

I have only touched on a few of the threads that link our two countries. There are many, many more and each contains something of value for both Ireland and Poland. These are gifts to be cherished and built upon. Europe is our common homeland and the story of Europe cannot be told without the story of Poland and the story of Ireland. You make those stories overlap and give us all great hope for a future to be proud of.

Go raibh mait agaibh go léir.

“Dziękuję bardzo”.