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Speech at visit to the “Circle of Life” Commemorative Garden to Organ Donors

Quincentennial Park, Salthill, Galway, 27th September 2014

We are gathered here today, in this beautiful garden overlooking Galway bay, to share in a moment of reflection dedicated to those people who, in their deaths, gave life to others, through the powerful gesture of organ donation.

May I start by saluting the spirit of Martina and Denis Goggin, who from the personal tragedy of the loss of their only child, Éamonn, have drawn the generous vision which we see materialised in this public garden. Thank you, Martina and Denis, for having created something that will inspire and give solace to both those who have been touched by tragedy and those who have benefited from the selflessness of donors.

I also want to thank all the people involved with Strange Boat Donor Foundation for bringing this commendable project to fruition. I had the pleasure, during my official visit to Chicago, last May, to meet with representatives of the Galway Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, an organisation which generously contributed to funding this project. When I met them, several of the Committee’s members had just returned from a visit to Galway during which they had attended the official opening of this national commemorative garden.

Organ donation is an action of incredible solidarity. It is also a very sensitive and emotional question, intimately connected as it is to matters of life and death. Indeed the issue of organ donation and transplantation is entangled with feeling of loss and bereavement. Yet, in a deeply emotional and paradoxical way, it ties into notions of life renewed and continued – for, in the gesture of donating their organs or tissues, donors give to others, whom they do not know, the most precious of gifts, the gift of life itself.

However sensitive the issue may be, it is important, I believe, that we do not, as a society, avoid discussing the fundamental questions raised by organ donation. Some of these questions are of a moral, ethical kind. Indeed the technologies and practices of organ donation and transplant surgery have a profound influence on the ways in which we conceptualise the human body, on how we relate body parts to the whole – to the person.

Other questions have to do with the manner in which each society organises and regulates organ donations. As most of you here know very well, while these donations are so essential to the treatment of certain illnesses, and while transplantation is now a commonplace technique in Ireland, too many people die each year waiting for transplants that cannot take place because of the shortage of donated organs.

This shortage of donated organs also has, of course, very grave social and ethical implications, when organs are illegally removed from the body for the purpose of commercial transactions. The World Health Organisation has recently issued most disquieting warnings on the scale of the contemporary global trade in body parts, of which the poorer of this world are the primary victims.

For all these reasons, it seems to me important that we have spaces such as this one, which invite appropriate reflection on the significant contemporary issue of organ donation. This garden, with its powerful symbolism and its suggestive name – “The Circle of Life” – is indeed a particularly fitting site for such a meditation.

Its location in Salthill strikes me as most appropriate given Éamonn’s fondness for the Waterboys and their repertoire of songs, capturing the energy and vitality of the sea, a reflection perhaps of the life conferred through the generous act of organ donation.

Then of course the overall shape of this space – designed as a circle – conveys connotations of inclusiveness, sharing, and cyclical renewal. These connotations are present in many other features of the garden.

The stone standing at the centre of the garden, dedicated to organ donors, was brought, I was told, from the region of Clonmacnoise, one of the spiritual centres of Ireland. This stone points to the spiritual nature of this place itself – which invites us to slacken our pace, to pause and reflect.

Each of the five tall stones that delimit the circular centre of the garden bears a carving invoking the inherent connectivity and interdependence of human life. There are five other stones which come from an emblematic site in each of the world’s five continents, evoking various aspects of the “journey of mankind” and symbolising the universality of life itself.

May I, once again, express my admiration and appreciation to Martina and Denis Goggin, and to all those involved with Strange Boat Foundation, for giving us such an inspiring space. This garden is, in Denis’s words, “a place of commemoration” to remember and celebrate the gift of life given to others by organ donors.

It is “a place of thanksgiving and reflection” for those who receive this most precious of gifts, and are thus enabled to live a full and healthy life.

It is “a place of comfort and support” for the families and friends of those who have passed away.

It is “a place of inspiration and hope” for all of us, inviting us to contemplate the generosity of human nature and to meditate on the place of our individual existences in the great cycles of life and death.

Thank you for having given us such a place.