Sunday 23 September 2018

Taoiseach announces new scholarship programme as St Patrick's Day US trip continues

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is interviewed by Evan Smith, CEO of Texas Tribune at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas at the beginning of his week long visit to the United States of America. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is interviewed by Evan Smith, CEO of Texas Tribune at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas at the beginning of his week long visit to the United States of America. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced a new scholarship programme which will allow people from the Choctaw Nation study in Ireland.

The Taoiseach made the announcement during an official visit to the Choctaw territory in Oklahoma.

Mr Varadkar, who is the first Taoiseach to visit the Choctaws, thanked the community for the support they provided to the Irish people during the Great Famine.

The Choctaw nation raised $170, which equates to thousands of dollars in modern currency, and sent it to Ireland in 1847.

The Taoiseach paid special tribute to the current Choctaw Chief Gary Batton and said the story of the community’s charity “symbolises the spirit of St Patrick better than anything else”.

“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,” Mr Varadkar said.

“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,” he added.

Mr Varadkar presented Chief Batton with a hurl and a copy of The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine.

Former President Mary McAleese previously visited the the reservation during her tenure and Minister of State for Trade Pat Breen met with Choctaw leaders last year.

During the infamous Trail of Tears almost half of the Choctaw nation perished due to starvation when they were forced to relocate by American settlers.

Now, the nation lives on prosperous reservation which generates income from a thriving casino business.

Later today, two Irish-American twins, Ireland and Declan Harber will play a bodhrán and sing traditional songs.

The Taoiseach will also meet with children from the Choctaw Nation Child Development Center.

Mr Varadkar also spoke to Governor of Oklahoma Mary Fallin before the ceremony.

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