Tuesday 22 May 2018

Leo Varadkar to visit Choctaw nation during St Patrick’s Day visit to US

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will visit the Choctaw nation in Oklahoma during his St Patrick’s Day visit to the US and thank the tribe for the financial support they provided to the Irish people during the great famine.

In March 1847, while the tribe was living in the grips of poverty, the Choctaw people raised $170, which is the equivalent of several thousand dollars today, for famine relief in Ireland.

At the time, the Choctaw people had been forced to leave their ancestral homes in Mississippi and told to move west by American settlers. The trek to the western territory designated to tribe by settlers had a devastating affect on their people

On Monday, as part of his visit to the US, the Taoiseach will travel to Durant, in Oklahoma to thank the Choctaw nation and recognise the solidarity they showed the Irish people during the famine.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr Varadkar said: “I am captivated by the story of the Choctaws. They were expelled from their ancestral lands in Mississippi, and lost many members of their tribe on the Trail of Tears.

“Many starved to death or died from exhaustion during their journey on foot to the reservation in Oklahoma.

“A few years later, the Choctaw heard of the Irish famine, and of the suffering of our people. Even though some of the people who took their lands were Irish, the Choctaw understood our pain and felt kinship with us, because they had experienced it themselves.

“This is one of the oldest connections we have with America, and it’s a kinship I wish to renew through my visit,” he added.

While in Oklahoma, The Taoiseach will personally thank Choctaw Chief Gary Batton for the contribution made by his ancestors and will make a presentation to the entire Choctaw nation.

In return, the Choctaw nation will present traditional cultural and sporting performances.

Last June, Chief Batton marked the ongoing ties between Ireland and the Choctaw nation with a visit to Midleton in Co. Cork, to unveil a statue entitled Kindred Spirits, which commemorates the donation. 

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