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An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar at Choctaw Nation event Durant, Oklahoma

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today traveled to the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma to commemorate the relief the Tribe provided to Ireland during the Great Famine. 


An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting Choctaw Nation in Durant Oklahoma, USA

An Taoiseach said

It is an honour to be here on my first St. Patrick’s Day trip to the United States as Taoiseach – the Irish word for Chieftan - head of the Irish Government.

For me, the story of our two peoples symbolises the spirit of St. Patrick better than anything else.


An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar playing stickball in Durant, Oklahoma, USA

Back in the nineteenth century, when the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected and degraded by our colonial master, at our lowest, your spirit of generosity was at its highest.  You showed compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands, or about to embark on our own ‘Trail of Tears’ across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a new life in Canada or the United States. 

A few years ago, on a visit to Ireland, a representative of the Choctaw Nation called your support for us ‘a sacred memory’.  It is that and more.  It is a sacred bond, which has joined our peoples together for all time. 

Its impact was more than the lives that were saved 171 years ago. 

It is seen in the way it made us think of our fellow human beings when they are suffering and in distress. To always look outwards as a nation.

It reminded us of the value of compassion, and encouraged us to try to become a beacon of hope around the world.  Those principles guide our foreign policy today, whether it’s our peacekeepers serving with the United Nations, or the work of our aid agencies. 

Your act of kinship, love and generosity almost two centuries ago is memorialised in Ireland’s history books and has been commemorated on many occasions. 

So, I am delighted to announce today a new scholarship programme, a partnership between the Government of Ireland and the Choctaw Nation, for Choctaw students to study in Ireland.  This is an opportunity for us to learn from you and from your culture, and you from ours, in a sharing of knowledge that will enrich both our peoples. 

The first scholarship will commence in the Fall of 2019 and will add a new dimension to the relationship between us.

You can sometimes tell the history of a people by tracing its tears and its blood.  I hope that in the future it will be possible to do the same thing by looking for the sounds of laughter, and music, and the sharing of ideas 

As you know, just last year Chief Batton led a Choctaw delegation to Ireland for the unveiling of the powerful and poignant memorial in Midleton, Co. Cork: a beautiful sculpture called ‘Kindred Spirits’.

This is our way of saying that your act of kindness has never been, and never will be, forgotten in Ireland.

Tomorrow, the Taoiseach travels to Washington D.C. where he will deliver a foreign policy address to the Brookings Institution.

Read the full speech here.