Media Library


Speech at State Banquet

Ajuda Palace, Lisbon, Portugal, 9th December 2015

Mr. President, Mrs. Cavaco Silva, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A Chairde uile,

Firstly I would like to thank you on my own behalf, and on behalf of my wife Sabina, for your very courteous and warm welcome.

It is a great pleasure to be here, in this splendid setting, to have the opportunity of celebrating the centuries of friendship that exist between our peoples, and to look forward to our further sharing of ideas and friendship, far into the future.

The relationship between our two countries has a long and rich history. Our peoples have shared a relationship with the sea, and indeed Irish mythology speaks of the arrival in our country by a group called the Milesians, who it is believed came from the Iberian Peninsula. These contacts, recent science tells us, may have been closer than we once knew – DNA evidence indicates that the Portuguese-Iberian people may have been ancestors to the Gaelic Irish. We are glad to be among family tonight.

Links between our countries continued through the medieval period and into the early modern period, when the flowering of our respective literatures reflected shared preoccupations with themes such as exile, with its multiple perspectives, and the reclamation and the cultural projects of reclamation and rejuvenation of a native language.

This morning I was moved and honoured to lay a wreath at the tomb of one of Portugal’s greatest literary sons, Luís Vaz de Camões. I appreciated greatly the fact that this ceremonial moment in a State Visit takes place at the tomb, not of a soldier or a King, but of a writer.

There is a very strong cultural connection between our two peoples, who are both known for a deeply felt appreciation of art and literature, music and song.

What Irish heart is not moved by the cadences of the Fado, whose plaintive melodies speak to our soul in a similar way to our own Sean Nós tradition. I am aware that the Portuguese believe that your language alone can reflect the concept of “Saudade”. We may not have one word to translate it, but I assure you that the Irish heart experiences it just as you do.

Tomorrow I will visit the site of the most tangible manifestation of the long tradition of our Irish people being welcomed in Portugal and becoming part of Portuguese life - the Dominican Convent of Bom Sucesso.

The Convent, founded by Irishman Father Dominic O’Daly in 1639, and in continuous operation ever since, is a reminder of the endurance of the relationship between Ireland and Portugal, through both turbulent and more peaceful times.

In recent decades Ireland and Portugal have drawn closer, sharing many experiences in the international arena, for example joining the UN on the same day, 60 years ago this very week. Our membership of the European Union has also brought us closer, facing together global political and economic challenges.

Our shared membership has greatly increased the movement of people between our countries. About 750,000 visits are made to Portugal every year by Irish people, and with better air connections that figure is likely to grow. We also welcome many Portuguese visitors to Ireland - not quite as many as 750,000, but we are always ready to welcome more!

Mr. President, as two nations at the periphery of Europe facing the Atlantic, we are both proud nations possessed of a rich cultural heritage that has stood distinct and separate from large powerful neighbours over the centuries.  Ireland and Portugal have both made a deep impact on global affairs – and will continue to do so in partnership into the future.

Our history and the deep-felt values of our peoples inform our perspectives on the great challenges of the contemporary moment, including the promise of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, addressing climate change adequately, and achieving equality.

Portugal and Ireland understand at a profound level the distinction between a civilisation of sufficiency and a consumption without responsibility, between hunger and plenty. We understand too the importance of providing a sustainable future with prospects for fulfilment for all of our young people, who are our greatest resource.

As we strive to construct a version of Europe that might be built on providing opportunity and hope to all of the people of Europe, we have the opportunity to do so together and with common purpose.

It remains only for me to invite you all to join me in a toast. To you, Mr. President and Mrs. Cavaco Silva, and to the people of Portugal, I offer my thanks and sincerest good wishes, and invite the company to raise your glasses with an Irish wish for good health – Sláinte!