Saturday 20 January 2018

Future holds no fears for a nation that beat war, famine Importance of shared heritage highlighted in Obama's address

US President Barack Obama last night delivered a rallying call to over 40,000 people, insisting Ireland's best days are still ahead and its greatest triumphs yet to come.

Mr Obama topped off his short trip to Ireland with an outdoor 20-minute speech that focused on the Northern Ireland peace process, his Irish heritage, the relationship between Ireland and America and our shared economic difficulties.

His parting words to the tens of thousands of people that thronged Dame Street and College Green in Dublin city centre featured his now famous creed: "Is Feidir Linn. Yes We Can."

"Your best days are still ahead. Our greatest triumphs, in America and Ireland alike, are still to come. If anybody ever says otherwise, that your problems are too big, think about all we've done together . . . and respond with a simple creed: Is Feidir Linn! Yes We Can!" Mr Obama said to loud applause and cheers.

Both America and Ireland had faced "great trials" in recent years, including a recession so severe that many people were still trying to fight their way out, Mr Obama said.

These difficult times have posed major questions in Ireland, a country marked by the "hardest of trials and deepest of sorrows".

"But it is also a nation that overcame repression and famine and beat all the odds. I know that our future is still as big and as bright as our children expect it to be. I know that because I know it is precisely at times like these, at times of great challenge and times of great change, when we remember who we truly are," Mr Obama said, after becoming the sixth serving US president to visit Ireland.

He was speaking at yesterday evening's public celebration in Dublin city centre, which was titled "Yes We Can -- Is Feidir Linn".

In his opening remarks, Mr Obama spoke in Irish -- just as Queen Elizabeth did last week -- and drew loud applause when he declared he was happy to be in Ireland.

He introduced himself by saying his name was 'Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas".

"Someone once said broken Irish is better than clever English. So here goes: Ta athas orm le bheith in Eireann -- I am happy to be in Ireland," he said.

Mr Obama, who addressed the crowds from where US President Bill Clinton stood in 1995, said his reception in Ireland had felt like a hundred, thousand welcomes.

"And I feel even more welcome after that pint that I had. I feel even warmer," he said, in reference to his earlier visit to a pub in Moneygall, Co Offaly.

"And I want to pass on the greetings of tens of millions of Irish-Americans. I knew I had roots on this side of the Atlantic, but until recently I did not know I had Irish roots. But now, if you ask the Corrigan brothers, there is no one more Irish than me. So I want to thank the genealogists."

He paid tribute to the enduring and centuries-old relationship between Ireland and America, saying the two countries were bound by history, friendship and shared values.

Mr Obama recalled how a young shoemaker, Falmouth Kearney, his great-great-great grandfather, had lived in Moneygall before leaving for a new life in the United States.

He married an "American girl" from Ohio and later settled in the Midwest -- a familiar story known by Americans of all backgrounds, Mr Obama said.

"It's part of who we are, a nation of immigrants from all over the world. But, as I was standing in Moneygall, I thought how heart-breaking it must have been for all those people, leaving Dingle cliffs and Donegal homes, in the hope that a better life was possible, supported by nothing more than faith -- faith in the almighty, faith in the idea of America," he said.

"And they passed on that faith to their children, and to their children's children, and to their great-great-great grandchildren like me. They call it the American dream."

The American dream, he said, had been carried through stormy waters, sometimes at great cost, for more than two centuries.

"But we're grateful that they did take those chances, because otherwise someone else would be speaking to you right now," Mr Obama said.

"We're grateful to you, because no other nation so small has inspired so much. Irish signatures are on our founding documents, Irish blood has been spilled on our battlefields, Irish sweat has built our cities."

Ireland inspired the world by building a lasting peace and voting for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Mr Obama said.

And he added that America would always "stand by Ireland in pursuit of peace".

"You must understand, Ireland, that you have already so surpassed the world's highest hopes," he said.

"What was remarkable about the Northern Ireland elections was that they didn't attract that much attention -- not because the world has lost interest, but because that once unlikely thing has become real."

He also offered his condolences to the family of former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, whose state funeral took place just hours before Mr Obama's arrival in Ireland.

Mr FitzGerald, he said, was someone who believed in the power of education, in the potential of youth, in the power of peace, and who lived to see that peace realised.

Irish Independent Supplement

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