Speech on Board the Tall Ship Cuauhtémoc
Dublin Port, Thursday 5th September 2019
Qué gran placer es estar a bordo de este magnífico barco. Sabina y yo deseamos agradecer al Embajador Miguel Malfavón y al Comandante Capitán Carlos Gorraez por la invitación a almorzar en el Cuauhtémoc mientras emprende su gira por el norte de Europa.
What a great pleasure it is to be aboard this magnificent ship. Sabina and I wish to thank Ambassador Miguel Malfavón and Commander Captain Carlos Gorraez for the invitation to lunch on the Cuauhtémoc as it undertakes its Northern European tour.
Mexico and Ireland, both seafaring nations, are landmasses with significant coastlines – Mexico with 9,330km to Ireland’s 3,171km – so it is not surprising that the sea and the oceans have played a key role in our nations’ histories.
Mexico and Ireland share a long history and, into the contemporary period, a relationship of deep friendship, built with not only a strong shared and, may I say, fascinating history, but on values that have brought us close in every generation.
During Spanish colonisation of Mexico, several Spanish Viceroys were of Irish descent, such as Juan O’Donojú who was the last Spanish Viceroy. Since Mexican independence, many Irish have immigrated to Mexico and have contributed to its culture and development.
During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), many Irish immigrants in the United States abandoned their posts and joined Mexican forces because of discrimination and persecution of their Catholic faith by non-Catholic Americans. One of the most popular Irish battalions during the war was that of the St Patrick’s Battalion which fought on the Mexican side during the Battle of Buena Vista and Battle of Churubusco in 1847, among others. These events are celebrated every year in Clifden in the West of Ireland from where the leader of the battalion came John Riley.
I have a close relationship with Mexico. It was the first Central American country I visited when I was studying in the United States. On the last occasion a vessel like this was visited by me. I was accompanied by my Mexican godchild Mateo and his family.
On 10 January 1974, both nations established diplomatic relations. In 1990 both nations agreed to open resident diplomatic missions, and in June 1991 Mexico opened its embassy in Dublin, with Ireland following suit by opening its embassy in Mexico City in September 1999.
I met with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Rome on 20th March 2013, the day after the papal inauguration of Pope Francis. President Peña Nieto invited me subsequently to visit Mexico, an offer I accepted, and I travelled to Mexico on 19th October 2013 for a four-day official visit as part of a three-nation trip to Central America. I had the opportunity of visiting again Guadalajara in addition to valuable meetings in Mexico City.
As I have said, that official visit was not my first visit to Mexico, having travelled there in the spring of 1967 when I was a postgraduate student at Indiana University. As some of my fellow students were heading on Spring break for Fort Lauderdale, I was brought to this country by Mexican friends Roberto Barnstone and Ricardo de Anda; thus began my connection to a world that has remained close to my heart over the years.
Whether in 1967 – or now again in 2019 – I have been struck by Mexico’s warmth and vibrancy, the intensity of its welcome, and the immense richness of its culture. Indeed, it has many cultures – pre-Columbian, colonial, classical and modern cultures – no one of which can on their own explain contemporary Mexico. All of these sources are vital and impressive in their mythic, spiritual, theological, social and even military influences, as the scholarship of Octavio Paz has made us aware.
The Irish, like the Mexicans, are a migratory people, informed by the experience of exile and migration – both chosen and enforced. They are accustomed to finding themselves in distant lands. People from Ireland and of Irish descent have long come to the Americas, either fleeing from hardship and persecution at home, or simply imbued with a spirit of adventure and eager to explore new worlds and seek a new life elsewhere.
Irish immigration to Mexico makes an interesting story, dating back to at least the colonial era. Notable among them were Governor of Yucatán and Texas Hugo Ó Conór, and the last Viceroy of New Spain, Juan O’Donojú.
A few Mexican-Irish communities existed in what was Mexican territory, later to become Texas, before the Texas Revolution. In that event, many Irish sided with Catholic Mexico against Protestant pro-US elements. Then, too, they felt that Irish Catholics were being mistreated in US Battalions that had a particularly virulent anti-Catholic bias. The Batallón de San Patricio was a largely Irish battalion of US troops who deserted and fought alongside the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. In some cases, Irish immigrants or Irish-Americans left from California (the Irish Confederate army of Fort Yuma, Arizona during the American Civil War in 1861) and chose to blend into Mexican society.
Others, still, came to paint, design and write, finding in Mexico that vivid cultural life which nurtured so many of the world’s great creative talents: Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes; any country could be proud to claim even one of these great artists.
Álvaro Obregón (O’Brien) was President of Mexico during 1920–1924, and Ciudad Obregón and its airport are named in his honour. Actor Anthony Quinn is another famous Mexican of Irish descent. There are also monuments in Mexico City paying tribute to those Irish who fought for Mexico in the 1800s.
In the 2015 Census, some 446 residents born in Ireland were of Mexican descent. The numbers of Mexico-born residents of Irish descent is unknown but is likely to be considerably higher. Mexico continues to offer widespread possibilities and opportunities to Irish people, and I am so glad that Ireland has become home to many Mexicans in recent years. Irish innovators have become involved in such areas as aviation and the film and audio-visual industry. These immigrants contribute to Ireland and Irish culture in so many different ways.
Irish people, too, have left their mark on this rich tapestry of Mexican history and culture, and at an even earlier stage than is usually acknowledged. Many are aware of the adventurous story of Wexford-born Guillém de Lamport who was the author of the first declaration of independence in what were then the Spanish Indies. Some even speculate that Lamport was the original model for the legend of “El Zorro”.
But there is a further, perhaps tenuous, but undoubtedly interesting Irish-Mexican legend which relates to St Brendan the Navigator of Clonfert in Galway, who left Ireland sometime in the mid-sixth century and set sail west across the Atlantic Ocean to find “the isles of the blessed”.
There are many who believe the St Brendan story actually reflects early exploration of the North American coast by Europeans – and more specifically Irish people. But who knows whether the Toltec legend of an old man with fair skin and blonde beard who brought teaching in new ways of cultivating the land and working metal to ancient Mexico may not be another echo down through the years of this venerable Irish legend?
What is not mythical is the strong Irish thread which runs through Mexican history and culture. This bond is expressed most strongly in such stories as that of the Batallón de San Patricio, whose sacrifice continues to be celebrated today in San Ángel and Coyoacán, in Monterrey and in Saltillo, and also in the Irish town of Clifden, in my home county of Galway, where the battalion’s leader, John Riley, was born.
On matters of cooperation, both Ireland and Mexico have signed several bilateral agreements such as an Agreement on the Avoidance of Double-Taxation and Tax Evasion (in 1998), the Agreement on Educational and Cultural Cooperation (in 1999), the Memorandum of Understanding for the Establishment of a Mechanism of Consultation in Matters of Mutual Interest (in 2006), the Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation between the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and Trinity College Dublin (in 2003), and an Agreement of Cooperation between Dublin and Mexico City (in 2015).
In 1997 Mexico signed a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. Mexico remains an important export market for Ireland. In 2017, two-way trade between both nations amounted to $2 billion. Ireland’s main exports to Mexico include: pharmaceutical and health products, such as medicines, machines and chemicals, milk-based products and electronics, while Mexico’s main exports to Ireland include: artery and veins prosthetics, alcohol, lemons, airplane parts and circuits.
In 2008, the Irish Government opened an Enterprise Ireland office in Mexico. Irish multinational companies such as Kerry Group, Ryanair and Smurfit Kappa operate in Mexico. Mexican multinational company Cemex operates in Ireland. We are, indeed, deeply connected on matters of economics and trade.
En 2015, nuestras dos naciones celebraron 40 años desde el establecimiento de relaciones diplomáticas entre ambos países. Deseo mucho que esta excelente relación de amistad continúe y prospere, y espero con ansias un desarrollo continuo y una profundización de la relación de Irlanda con México, a lo que muchos de los presentes esta tarde han contribuido personalmente tanto, y saludo a nuestros dos Grandes países, los fuertes lazos que tenemos en común y nuestro futuro compartido.
[In 2015, both our nations celebrated 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries. I do very much wish that this excellent relationship of friendship continues and prospers, and I look forward to a continued development and deepening of Ireland’s relationship with Mexico, to which many of those present this afternoon have personally contributed so much, and I salute our two great countries, the strong bonds that we have in common, and our shared future.]
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir