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    President McAleese pays tribute to emigrant heritage in speech to British Council

    By admin | March 15, 2007

    President Mary McAleese has paid tribute to Ireland’s emigrants and immigrants in a speech to the British Council, entitled “The Changing Faces of Ireland – Migration and Multiculturalism”.

    In her speech she noted the contribution of Ireland’s emigrants, from the past through to today:

    The Irish know better than many other races how valuable the emigrants to our shores are. We know these things because of our own extensive history of being emigrants. We are proud of the contribution our emigrants made wherever they went and though the Irish word for exile ‘deoraíocht’ comes from the Irish word for tears, we have lived long enough to see our emigrants and their offspring power their way into every sphere of civic life around the world, first-rate ambassadors for Ireland and effective bridges between Ireland and so many countries and peoples. The success of our emigrants in politics, business, education and the arts inspired our self-belief at home through very fallow periods and their remittances of hard-earned shillings and dollars helped lift the quality of life of their families left at home. In every generation they too have filled the wells of Ireland’s cultural heritage, bringing huge dynamism and fresh imagination – in this generation I think of Thomas Kenneally in Australia, author of Schindler’s List, Tony award-winning playwright Martin Mc Donagh in London, dancer-choreographer extraordinaire Michael Flatley in Chicago and a list that would wrap itself around Ireland several times.

    President McAleese also noted the challenges inherent in developing a vision for a diverse society, but noted that Ireland’s heritage as an emigrant nation would be an asset:

    As one of the world’s great exporters of people, as a culture steeped in the emigrant experience, we have both the challenge now, and the chance, to make the emigrant experience in Ireland something to be truly proud of. We have a written constitution which pledges us to assure the dignity and freedom of the individual. It guides and informs us in formulating the vision we have for our country, a place where it is possible to love Poland, China, Latvia, Nigeria, Somalia and to love Ireland too, to be at home though far from home, to live comfortably within Irish culture and yet be free to showcase and express your own culture, for ultimately these are the great gifts each newcomer brings – the gift of difference and of curiosity. Our gift in return is our welcome for the otherness of others and our acceptance of each as our equal.

    Read the entire speech on the Aras an Uachtarain website.

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