Monday 27 February 2017

Taoiseach pays tribute to Ireland's emigrants

Lise Hand

After a year which has seen 60,000 Irish people leave the country, Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night spoke eloquently on the subject of emigration as he launched a book on the experience of one Irish emigrant in America, Niall O'Dowd.

Speaking at the launch of 'An Irish Voice' by the construction worker-turned-peace broker who played a crucial role in the North's peace process, the Taoiseach -- who spent some time working in New York -- praised the book.

"It reminded me of what it was like to be an emigrant in the late Seventies. Jimmy Carter was President, Ed Koch was Mayor of New York and there wasn't an Irishman in sight, unless you went up to the Bronx on Sunday morning and played football," he recalled.

He spoke of the difficulties that emigrants are faced with when they are transplanted to a large city like New York.

"You try and find some sense of connection in a very big city, on one hand trying to maintain your Irish connection, on the other hand not being imprisoned by it and enjoy a different life," he said.

"And that can create its own confusions and its own difficulties for people as they try to figure out where they are and more importantly where they're going," he added.

However the Taoiseach, who is heading to the US next week in advance of his visit to the White House on St Patrick's Day, paid tribute to the can-do attitude of its citizens.

"When I go to America and meet Irish-America in all its manifestations, I think what we need to take from there is that sense of 'yes of course there's a crisis, but there's opportunity'," he said.

"We need to have the resilience and self-belief to recognise that we are not alone in this. One of the great things about America for all its faults is the idea that there is a new day, there is another tomorrow, there is a way forward. That has always been something we've always had to learn from America, that it is OK to fail".

Attitude

He acknowledged that "there is no family unaffected by the reality of emigration, no family that I know of, who don't have some members who are 'on the other side' as they say," before criticising the attitude of some natives towards Irish-America.

"I've always felt that there was an element in this country that looked over at the diaspora in a rather patronising way, as the shillelagh and the Aran jumper brigade".

Praising the "authenticity and integrity" of the author, he concluded: "Niall O'Dowd is an articulate exponent of what it is to be Irish elsewhere and how being elsewhere you can still be at home."

Irish Independent

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