A Taoiseach and a President

Published on Monday 23rd May 2011

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speech to introduce President Barack Obama at College Green, Dublin


If there’s anyone out there who still doubts that Ireland is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our ancestors is alive in our time; who still questions our capacity to restore ourselves, reinvent ourselves and prosper…..

Today… is your answer.

Because… today….on this day….the President of the United States, Barack Obama, comes to visit.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

To show he believes in Ireland…..

To make that precious connection with his Irish family, his Irish roots, as thousands before him have done.

Today….. the 44th American President….. comes  HOME.

When Falmouth Kearney started out on the long Atlantic crossing……

He might have dreamed…….but hardly imagined……

That, one day, his great-great-great grandson would return as the President of the United States.

That boy said goodbye to a ravaged island.

Millions had died.

Or were leaving.

Packing their hopes and dreams…. in beside the remnants of a life….

Stepping onto ships…..

Which, for some…. was like stepping into space.

Every one of them…..and all their people……are our people…..ár muintir féin.

Their past is our past.

Their story is our story.

This evening, my call is directly to those 40-million Irish-Americans…..

Whether you’re listening or watching in New York or New Haven… or in San Diego or St Louis…

Whether you’re Irish by blood, or by marriage, or by desire….

We…..your Irish family… are right here…….

To welcome you.

To follow your President home.

Last week, Queen Elizabeth came…

And bowed to our dead….

The Irish harp glittered above the heart of the English Queen…

With pride and happiness, and two words of Irish … we closed a circle of our history.

A cháirde

Today, with President Obama…..we draw another circle.

One in which we tell the world of our unique, untouchable wealth.

Wealth that can never be accumulated in banks, or measured by the markets or traded on the stock exchange.

Because it remains intact and alive….deep inside our people.

In the heart-stopping beauty of our country.

In the transforming currency of the Irish heart, imagination and soul.

This is our Uaisleacht….. it has sustained us over the centuries.

We pass from mother to daughter, father to son…

In our dreams and imagining….

In our love for our country…. our pride in who we are..

Long into what must be….and will be…. a brighter and more prosperous future .

President Obama is part of that proud past….. part of that prouder future.

In 1963, the 35nd President of the United States stirred our hearts.

In 1995 the 42nd President lifted our country’s spirits.

But the 44th President is different.

He doesn’t just speak about the American dream.

He is the American dream….

The American dream…… come home….

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m honoured to introduce….. the President of the United States….. Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama.


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 23, 2011

Remarks by the President at Irish Celebration in Dublin, Ireland

College Green, Dublin, Ireland

5:55 P.M. IST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you!  (Applause.)  Hello, Dublin!  (Applause.)  Hello, Ireland!  (Applause.)  My name is Barack Obama — (applause — of the Moneygall Obamas.  (Applause.)  And I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.  (Laughter and applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I’ve got it here!

THE PRESIDENT:  Is that where it is?  (Laughter.)

Some wise Irish man or woman once said that broken Irish is better than clever English.  (Applause.)  So here goes:  Tá áthas orm bheith in Éirinn — I am happy to be in Ireland!  (Applause.) I’m happy to be with so many á cairde.  (Applause.)

I want to thank my extraordinary hosts — first of all, Taoiseach Kenny — (applause) — his lovely wife, Fionnuala — (applause) — President McAleese and her husband, Martin — (applause) — for welcoming me earlier today.  Thank you, Lord Mayor Gerry Breen and the Gardai for allowing me to crash this celebration.  (Applause.)

Let me also express my condolences on the recent passing of former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald — (applause) — someone who believed in the power of education, someone who believed in the potential of youth, most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realized.

And most of all, thank you to the citizens of Dublin and the people of Ireland for the warm and generous hospitality you’ve shown me and Michelle.  (Applause.)  It certainly feels like 100,000 welcomes.  (Applause.)  We feel very much at home.  I feel even more at home after that pint that I had.  (Laughter.)  Feel even warmer.  (Laughter.)

In return let me offer the hearty greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans who proudly trace their heritage to this small island.  (Applause.)  They say hello.

Now, I knew that I had some roots across the Atlantic, but until recently I could not unequivocally claim that I was one of those Irish Americans.  But now if you believe the Corrigan Brothers, there’s no one more Irish than me.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I want to thank the genealogists who traced my family tree.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  — right here!

THE PRESIDENT:  Right here?  Thank you.  (Applause.)  It turns out that people take a lot of interest in you when you’re running for President.  (Laughter.)  They look into your past.  They check out your place of birth.  (Laughter.)  Things like that.  (Laughter.)  Now, I do wish somebody had provided me all this evidence earlier because it would have come in handy back when I was first running in my hometown of Chicago — (applause) — because Chicago is the Irish capital of the Midwest.  (Applause.)  A city where it was once said you could stand on 79th Street and hear the brogue of every county in Ireland.  (Applause.)

So naturally a politician like me craved a slot in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  The problem was not many people knew me or could even pronounce my name.  I told them it was a Gaelic name. They didn’t believe me.  (Laughter.)

So one year a few volunteers and I did make it into the parade, but we were literally the last marchers.  After two hours, finally it was our turn.  And while we rode the route and we smiled and we waved, the city workers were right behind us cleaning up the garbage.  (Laughter.)  It was a little depressing.  But I’ll bet those parade organizers are watching TV today and feeling kind of bad — (applause) — because this is a pretty good parade right here.  (Applause.)


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Go Bulls — I like that.  (Laughter.)  We got some Bulls fans here.

Now, of course, an American doesn’t really require Irish blood to understand that ours is a proud, enduring, centuries-old relationship; that we are bound by history and friendship and shared values.  And that’s why I’ve come here today, as an American President, to reaffirm those bonds of affection.  (Applause.)

Earlier today Michelle and I visited Moneygall where we saw my ancestral home and dropped by the local pub.  (Applause.)  And we received a very warm welcome from all the people there, including my long-lost eighth cousin, Henry.  (Laughter.)  Henry now is affectionately known as Henry VIII.  (Laughter.)  And it was remarkable to see the small town where a young shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, my great-great-great grandfather, my grandfather’s grandfather, lived his early life.  And I was the shown the records from the parish recording his birth.  And we saw the home where he lived.

And he left during the Great Hunger, as so many Irish did, to seek a new life in the New World.  He traveled by ship to New York, where he entered himself into the records as a laborer.  He married an American girl from Ohio.  They settled in the Midwest. They started a family.

It’s a familiar story because it’s one lived and cherished by Americans of all backgrounds.  It’s integral to our national identity.  It’s who we are, a nation of immigrants from all around the world.

But standing there in Moneygall, I couldn’t help but think how heartbreaking it must have been for that great-great-great grandfather of mine, and so many others, to part.  To watch Donegal coasts and Dingle cliffs recede.  To leave behind all they knew in hopes that something better lay over the horizon.

When people like Falmouth boarded those ships, they often did so with no family, no friends, no money, nothing to sustain their journey but faith — faith in the Almighty; faith in the idea of America; faith that it was a place where you could be prosperous, you could be free, you could think and talk and worship as you pleased, a place where you could make it if you tried.

And as they worked and struggled and sacrificed and sometimes experienced great discrimination, to build that better life for the next generation, they passed on that faith to their children and to their children’s children — an inheritance that their great-great-great grandchildren like me still carry with them.  We call it the America Dream.  (Applause.)

It’s the dream that Falmouth Kearney was attracted to when he went to America.  It’s the dream that drew my own father to America from a small village in Africa.  It’s a dream that we’ve carried forward — sometimes through stormy waters, sometimes at great cost — for more than two centuries.  And for my own sake, I’m grateful they made those journeys because if they hadn’t you’d be listening to somebody else speak right now.  (Laughter.)

And for America’s sake, we’re grateful so many others from this land took that chance, as well.  After all, never has a nation so small inspired so much in another.  (Applause.)

Irish signatures are on our founding documents.  Irish blood was spilled on our battlefields.  Irish sweat built our great cities.  Our spirit is eternally refreshed by Irish story and Irish song; our public life by the humor and heart and dedication of servants with names like Kennedy and Reagan, O’Neill and Moynihan.  So you could say there’s always been a little green behind the red, white and blue.  (Applause.)

When the father of our country, George Washington, needed an army, it was the fierce fighting of your sons that caused the British official to lament, “We have lost America through the Irish.”  (Applause.)  And as George Washington said himself, “When our friendless standards were first unfurled, who were the strangers who first mustered around our staff?  And when it reeled in the light, who more brilliantly sustained it than Erin’s generous sons?”

When we strove to blot out the stain of slavery and advance the rights of man, we found common cause with your struggles against oppression.  Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and our great abolitionist, forged an unlikely friendship right here in Dublin with your great liberator, Daniel O’Connell.  (Applause.) His time here, Frederick Douglass said, defined him not as a color but as a man.  And it strengthened the non-violent campaign he would return home to wage.

Recently, some of their descendents met here in Dublin to commemorate and continue that friendship between Douglass and O’Connell.

When Abraham Lincoln struggled to preserve our young union, more than 100,000 Irish and Irish Americans joined the cause, with units like the Irish Brigade charging into battle — green flags with gold harp waving alongside our star-spangled banner.

When depression gripped America, Ireland sent tens of thousands of packages of shamrocks to cheer up its countrymen, saying, “May the message of Erin shamrocks bring joy to those away.”

And when an Iron Curtain fell across this continent and our way of life was challenged, it was our first Irish President — our first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, who made us believe 50 years ago this week — (applause) — that mankind could do something big and bold and ambitious as walk on the moon.  He made us dream again.

That is the story of America and Ireland.  That’s the tale of our brawn and our blood, side by side, in making and remaking a nation, pulling it westward, pulling it skyward, moving it forward again and again and again.  And that is our task again today.

I think we all realize that both of our nations have faced great trials in recent years, including recessions so severe that many of our people are still trying to fight their way out.  And naturally our concern turns to our families, our friends and our neighbors.  And some in this enormous audience are thinking about their own prospects and their own futures.  Those of us who are parents wonder what it will mean for our children and young people like so many who are here today.  Will you see the same progress we’ve seen since we were your age?  Will you inherit futures as big and as bright as the ones that we inherited?  Will your dreams remain alive in our time?

This nation has faced those questions before:  When your land couldn’t feed those who tilled it; when the boats leaving these shores held some of your brightest minds; when brother fought against brother.  Yours is a history frequently marked by the greatest of trials and the deepest of sorrow.  But yours is also a history of proud and defiant endurance.  Of a nation that kept alive the flame of knowledge in dark ages; that overcame occupation and outlived fallow fields; that triumphed over its Troubles –- of a resilient people who beat all the odds.  (Applause.)
And, Ireland, as trying as these times are, I know our future is still as big and as bright as our children expect it to be.  (Applause.)  I know that because I know it is precisely in times like these –- in times of great challenge, in times of great change -– when we remember who we truly are.  We’re people, the Irish and Americans, who never stop imagining a brighter future, even in bitter times.  We’re people who make that future happen through hard work, and through sacrifice, through investing in those things that matter most, like family and community.
We remember, in the words made famous by one of your greatest poets that “in dreams begins responsibility.”
This is a nation that met that responsibility by choosing, like your ancestors did, to keep alight the flame of knowledge and invest in a world-class education for your young people.  And today, Ireland’s youth, and those who’ve come back to build a new Ireland, are now among the best-educated, most entrepreneurial in the world.  And I see those young people here today.  And I know that Ireland will succeed.  (Applause.)

This is a nation that met its responsibilities by choosing to apply the lessons of your own past to assume a heavier burden of responsibility on the world stage.  And today, a people who once knew the pain of an empty stomach now feed those who hunger abroad.  Ireland is working hand in hand with the United States to make sure that hungry mouths are fed around the world — because we remember those times.  We know what crippling poverty can be like, and we want to make sure we’re helping others.

You’re a people who modernized and can now stand up for those who can’t yet stand up for themselves.  And this is a nation that met its responsibilities -– and inspired the entire world -– by choosing to see past the scars of violence and mistrust to forge a lasting peace on this island.

When President Clinton said on this very spot 15 years ago, waging peace is risky, I think those who were involved understood the risks they were taking.  But you, the Irish people, persevered.  And you cast your votes and you made your voices heard for that peace.  (Applause.)  And you responded heroically when it was challenged.  And you did it because, as President McAleese has written, “For all the apparent intractability of our problems, the irrepressible human impulse to love kept nagging and nudging us towards reconciliation.”

Whenever peace is challenged, you will have to sustain that irrepressible impulse.  And America will stand by you — always. (Applause.)  America will stand by you always in your pursuit of peace.  (Applause.)

And, Ireland, you need to understand that you’ve already so surpassed the world’s highest hopes that what was notable about the Northern Ireland elections two weeks ago was that they came and went without much attention.  It’s not because the world has forgotten.  It’s because this once unlikely dream has become that most extraordinary thing of things:  It has become real.  A dream has turned to reality because of the work of this nation.  (Applause.)

In dreams begin responsibility.  And embracing that responsibility, working toward it, overcoming the cynics and the naysayers and those who say “you can’t” — that’s what makes dreams real.  That’s what Falmouth Kearney did when he got on that boat, and that’s what so many generations of Irish men and women have done here in this spectacular country.  That is something we can point to and show our children, Irish and American alike.  That is something we can teach them as they grow up together in a new century, side by side, as it has been since our beginnings.

This little country, that inspires the biggest things — your best days are still ahead.  (Applause.)  Our greatest triumphs — in America and Ireland alike — are still to come.  And, Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, or your challenges are too great, that we can’t do something, that we shouldn’t even try — think about all that we’ve done together.  Remember that whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner.  And if they keep on arguing with you, just respond with a simple creed:  Is féidir linn.  Yes, we can. Yes, we can.  Is féidir linn.  (Applause.)

For all you’ve contributed to the character of the United States of America and the spirit of the world, thank you.  And may God bless the eternal friendship between our two great nations.

Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you, Dublin.  Thank you, Ireland.  (Applause.)

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House. And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics – you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you’ve sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends… though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.


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