Remarks at an Irish Community Reception
Mexico City, 21st October 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ambassador Hyland and Patrick Scott,
Ambassador García de Alba,
Honorary Consul Leeman,
A cháirde Gael agus cáirde na hÉireann,
Go raibh míle maith agaibh as an bhfáilte chaoin, chroíul a chur sibh rómham fhéin agus roimh mo bhean chéile Sabina.
I am truly delighted to be here this evening in this great and historic city of Mexico, and to have this opportunity, as President of Ireland, to meet so many representatives of the Irish community and so many friends of Ireland in Mexico.
Muchas gracias a todos ustedes por su presencia aquí esta noche. Gracias por la cálida bienvenida que nos han brindado a mi esposa Sabina y a mí.
[Many thanks to all of you for your presence here this evening and for the warm welcome that you have given my wife Sabina and I.]
En primer lugar, una cosa muy importante: I would like to express my deep regret on behalf of the Irish people for the great loss of life and damage which has been caused by Hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid and to wish all those working in the recovery effort every best wish for their endeavours.
I know that many of you have travelled some distance to be here this evening, from as far away as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Coahuila, Jalisco, Queretero, Tamaulipas, Morelos, Guanajuato and Quintana Roo. I welcome what these journeys and commitments signify – that Mexico continues to offer widespread possibilities and opportunities to Irish people, and that Irish people, in turn, are keen and happy to contribute to Mexico in so many different ways. So thank you all for taking the time to join us here this evening.
I would also like to thank our Honorary Consul in Cancun, Anthony Leeman, for all his invaluable and tireless assistance to our Irish community and visitors to Cancun over the years.
This is not my first visit to Mexico. I came here for the first time in the spring of 1967 when I was a post-graduate 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.
I am touched that Roberto’s wife, Anne Bauer and his sons Mateo and Anatole have travelled all the way from Texas to be here with us tonight. Thank you Anne for the unforgettable introduction that you and Roberto gave me to Mexican culture and hospitality. I have never forgotten it and the memory has accompanied me throughout forty-six fascinating and rewarding years. To have the opportunity now to return to Mexico as President of Ireland moves me greatly.
Whether in 1967 – or now again in 2013 – 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 of. Since we arrived, Sabina and I have had the wonderful opportunity to get a taste of this fascinating story of cultural mingling.
The Irish, like the Mexicans, are a migratory people, informed by the experience of exile, 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.
Many Irish came to this country during colonial times, having first established roots or perhaps gained position in the Spanish royal service. Sometimes their efforts were emancipatory – while perhaps not often enough – and on occasion some distinguished themselves on the wrong side of the struggle against empire. Others came later, attracted by Mexico’s fight for independence and revolutionary ethos. 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.
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 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 the story 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.
I was greatly moved to have the opportunity yesterday afternoon, in the company of Secretario Meade, to pay tribute personally to the memory and heroism of the San Patricios. The appeal by the Mexican Government to the Irish who were serving in the US army invoked Daniel O’Connell and a shared religious belief. The story of these brave men still resonates strongly with us today, forming an essential element in the rich tapestry of people, culture and history which joins us.
The gallant Battalion is also commemorated by the Banda de Gaitas del Batallón de San Patricio [the St Patrick’s Battalion Pipe Band] who have entertained us here this evening. I would like to thank them very much for their contribution to celebrating the link between our two countries.
Other names who have played their part in this powerful mix include one of Mexico’s most famous architects, Juan O’Gorman, who has left such a memorable built legacy to this great city of Mexico; the late artists, Phil Kelly and Leonora Carrington, whose remarkable work is being rediscovered by Irish audiences through the exhibition currently being hosted at the Irish Museum of Modern Art; as well as the remarkable literary collaborations between Nobel laureates Octavio Paz and Samuel Beckett, and the more contemporary poetic creativity shared by Séamus Heaney and Pura López-Colomé. Artist Brian Maguire also is continuing this collaborative tradition with his powerful work currently on display here in Mexico City – a work that examines contemporary lives, including those of women and families in Juarez and elsewhere.
Tonight I am happy to have this opportunity to meet and pay tribute to our modern Irish diaspora in Mexico. In a year when, through the Gathering, we in Ireland are marking in a special way our connections to our diaspora, I am delighted to take part in this gathering here this evening, of the Irish community and the friends of Ireland in Mexico.
I know that some of our long established Irish-Mexican community here this evening came to Mexico, in the spirit of St Brendan, as part of that admirable Irish missionary tradition of supporting the needy and empowering the vulnerable, and I want to pay tribute here to your contribution to the communities which you continue to serve today.
Others have come more recently and are pursuing the economic opportunities offered by modern Mexico, investing in partnerships and founding companies, providing employment and developing the skills and technologies which are needed in today’s world. I am also delighted to see the development of links between our university sectors and very pleased that so many of Ireland’s higher education institutions have accompanied me on this visit and are furthering their cooperation with third level institutions here in Mexico.
I know that others amongst you have been drawn to Mexico because of your connections of a more personal nature with Mexican partners. While you are in a sense far from your homeland, you have created another home here, where you have been embraced by your Mexican family; an experience, I am told, that is not unlike the embrace of an Irish family – marked by conviviality, inter-generational gatherings and a celebration of the importance of music, dance and song.
Whether in delivering peace in Northern Ireland, helping to maintain peace in conflict zones, supporting the poorest of the poor, spurring economic development, raising awareness of our culture or creating a positive name for Ireland in their adopted homes, we are fortunate to possess an Irish diaspora network of such breadth and depth; one that creates such a sense of generous Irishness and makes a contribution with integrity, competence and compassion.
Globalisation and communications technology have changed, in a significant way, the nature of the debate surrounding diaspora engagement. I am delighted that the narrative has evolved from what it was in the past, when those who left were lost. Our people abroad are no longer considered a lost generation. International discussion today revolves around building mutually beneficial partnerships with these communities, of a diverse kind and in global settings.
Irish people pertaining of this new diaspora are creating partnerships which address their needs in the new homes, but they are also offering their experience and goodwill in support of economic and cultural agendas in their spiritual homes. For that we are grateful, and future generations will also be the beneficiaries.
This morning I had meetings with President Peña Nieto, and, with Minister Costello, we witnessed the signature of many new contracts and agreements between Irish and Mexican companies, and Irish and Mexican Higher Education Institutes, marking a new step forward in the development of Ireland and Mexico’s relationship as we move forward together in the twenty-first century. Already over 1,600 Mexican students are studying in Ireland, every one of them a precious link in the connections between us. I look forward very much to this number growing, and also to encouraging more Irish students to discover how much Mexico has to offer them.
El Presidente Peña Nieto y yo comentamos particularmente la oportunidad que se presenta con la conmemoración del 40° [Cuadragésimo] Aniversario de las Relaciones Diplomáticas entre México e Irlanda en el año 2015 para profundizar nuestros lazos culturales, académicos y económicos. Sé que tanto nuestra Embajada aquí en México como la Embajada de México en Dublín estarán trabajando con muchos de ustedes en el desarrollo de un programa para 2015 que celebre y fortalezca la diversidad y la vitalidad de nuestra relación.
[President Peña Nieto and I noted in particular the opportunity provided by the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Ireland in 2015 to further deepen our cultural, academic and economic ties. I know that both our embassy here in Mexico City and the Mexican embassy in Dublin will be working with many of you here tonight to develop a programme for 2015 that celebrates and strengthens the diversity and the vibrancy of the relationship.]
Distinguished guests, Friends of Ireland and of Mexico
Ireland has experienced difficult times in recent years. As many of you know, the cost of the banking collapse has been borne largely by our citizens, who have experienced great personal hardship. Yet we have also found great strength in adversity and recovery is now, finally, in sight. This has been made possible through determination, solidarity, creativity and hard work.
It has also been made possible through our continued outward looking and internationalist policies, as we seek, through cooperation with our friends and partner countries abroad, and with our diaspora, to build key relationships and networks. These will serve us well in the future as we continue to rebuild our economy on the basis of the real values of work and innovation, and driven forward by our creative, dynamic and well-educated people.
I look forward to a continued development and deepening of Ireland’s relationship with Mexico, to which those present this evening have personally contributed so much, and I salute our two great countries, the strong bonds that we have in common, and our shared future.
Thank you, Muchísimas Gracias