Leabharlann na Meán


Formal Welcome Remarks

Lisbon Town Hall, Portugal, 9th December 2015

Your Excellencies,
Mayor Medina,
Members of the Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured indeed to be here today to receive the key of Lisbon, one of Europe’s oldest and most historic cities, founded, as myth has it, by Ulysses himself, whose name is so closely linked with our own capital city, Dublin, through the writings of James Joyce.

This is a highlight of my State Visit to your beautiful country, a country which has contributed so much to the enrichment of European history and culture. This ceremony today is a testament to the importance of the Irish-Portuguese relationship and is deeply appreciated by me, and by the Irish people.

Lisbon has always been at the heart of that relationship. This fine city is auspiciously positioned at the mouth of a great river and, with a large and safe port, has its face firmly set to the powerful Atlantic Ocean.  Lisbon has always been a springboard to the wider world beyond - a place of imagination and endeavour.

The Irish have been welcomed in Lisbon for centuries. The earliest Irish names are recorded as soldiers in the garrison of the Castelo São Jorge. During a terrible time in Ireland’s history, when Catholics were prevented from participating in the institutional structures of Irish society, an Irish College was founded here, to educate Irish men, including those preparing for the priesthood. The Irish College operated for two hundred and forty four (244) years, and the building still stands today, a testament to the sanctuary found here by our countrymen.

As we face the global refugee crisis of the present day, it is well to remember that most communities share a history of exile at some stage. Indeed at a different time it was Ireland who welcomed those seeking refuge from Portugal.

In the late fifteenth century, Marrano Jews from Portugal settled on Ireland's south coast. One of them, William Annyas, was elected as Mayor of Youghal, County Cork, in 1555 – the first Jew to hold public office in Ireland. Another, Francis Annyas, became Mayor of Youghal in 1569. Similarly, many of the Irish families who came to Lisbon, as refugees or as merchants, integrated fully into society here, rising to positions of the highest respect.

One thread of the Irish migrant story is still very much visible in Lisbon in the shape of the Convent of Bom Sucesso at Belém, which has been in continuous use as a convent for three hundred and seventy six (376) years and which still houses Irish sisters today. They continue their work with the communities of Lisbon, from the same location in Belém. Their convent stands near the port from which some of the most significant Portuguese voyages of discovery set out. From this port too, generations of fishermen set out having prayed in the chapel of the convent before sailing for the cod fisheries of Newfoundland.

In the early 20th century, Lisbon was also home for a time to Roger Casement, Irish nationalist and humanitarian, who was an early and strong advocate for the universal values of respect for human dignity and individual rights, as well as to the development of humane working conditions for all. He stressed the absolute need for commercial enterprises to be conducted in a manner consistent with human dignity and respect for workers’ rights. These issues, of course, remain current and central to our contemporary debate.

I was fortunate to spend some personal time in Lisbon and its region last Summer. This is a vivacious capital city energised by a vibrant youth, with so much of cultural and heritage significance overflowing from your many magnificent museums into your mosaic stone streets.  Mr. Mayor, I congratulate you and your city assembly on your cultural programme. I am impressed in particular by your initiative to bring works of art to everyone in the city. We in Ireland are of course proud too that Lisbon is among the cities which participates in the Greening for St Patrick’s Day, and are eager to build on this to bring more of our culture and traditions to Lisbon’s residents and visitors.

Just as Irish voices can now be heard ever more frequently in the streets of Lisbon, I look forward, as do all Irish people in the different regions of Ireland, to even more Portuguese visiting us in Ireland. They can always be sure of a warm welcome.

Thank you again for the honour you bestow on me and Ireland today.

Go raibh míle maith agat.