Aire agus a chairde,
Is mór an onóir dom a bheith anseo libh inniu, mar Uachtarán, chun páirt a ghlacadh sa Chomóradh Náisiúnta seo nuair a chuimhnímid orthu siúd a fuair bás le linn an Ghorta Mhóir.
We remember it as a famine, a failure of the potato crop but the Irish language confronts us with a much more cruel and dreadful truth for this was an avoidable and far from inevitable great hunger. From grandparents to toddlers, the Irish people of the mid nineteenth century experienced both an unbearable physical hunger and an intolerable political disinterest that resulted in its immediate aftermath in the death of a million, the scattering of another million, the embedding of mass emigration and the skewing of the course of our people's history at home and abroad.
It is right that we remember them; that we respect their names, dignify their overlooked lives and refuse to forget their indescribable suffering. It is right that the imprint of their memory on our psyche has been to create in us a spontaneous and genuine empathy with the world's disempowered and hungry poor. That empathy has prompted us through our missionaries, our NGO's, our official Development Aid programme and our considerable private fund-raising to be an influential, consistent and effective voice in the international struggle against global hunger and oppression.
Our longstanding solidarity with the poor in so many developing countries is an important vindication of those who invested in us during those tragic years of Famine and starvation. For while there were many who should have helped but did not or who responded very inadequately there were others who came to Ireland's help because they were moved by compassion and human kindness.
Last year, I had the great honour of visiting the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York to acknowledge, and say thank you, for the financial support given to our ancestors by New York's Jewish Community in the 1840s. Help came from the most distant and unexpected of places; we recall the Choctaw Tribe of American Indians who, in 1847, donated the equivalent of over $100,000 today. We remember the people of Toronto who sacrificed their own lives while ministering to the Irish who arrived in their city in large numbers suffering from disease.
We remember the support provided at home; such as the famine relief scheme set up by Cassandra Hand, which sustained so many families in the Clones Poor Law Union and gave rise to the world renowned Clones Lace. Without the help of all these decent, good and committed people and the light of hope that it represented, the numbers that perished or emigrated would have been even greater.
The famine years led to a great scattering of our people. We like to fancy that they arrived on foreign shores and instantly found there a better life but the truth is that the better life they began to build was for their children and grandchildren for they themselves so often had to deal with illness, discrimination, trauma and isolation. Yet their spirit and abilities shone through and today we can see more clearly and with great pride the rich contribution they and their successors made to the political, cultural, educational, spiritual and economic fabric of countries such as Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia.
Today, we celebrate the immense achievements of our global Irish family and we marvel at the unity and solidarity of that family across the miles and across the generations. Individually and collectively they count for a lot in our country and in our world and their good lives, their fidelity to Ireland and to Irish culture go a long way to answering those million who died believing that their lives counted for nothing.
Thank you to all those who have worked to bring about this very moving ceremony here in the Diamond, in Clones. Thank you to all those taking part in today's commemoration and to those both at home and across the world who do so much to keep alive the memory of those who perished in the Great Famine and who champion Ireland's outreach to those who suffer from hunger in this world of plenty, indeed of excess, today.
Our National Famine Commemoration is only part of the story for the story of America, Canada, Australia and Britain cannot be properly told without telling of the considerable impact of An Gorta Mór. Many other nations own other chapters of this story but we have ours and today we tell ours again as we will over and over again so that some day the suffering of the poor and hungry will end and the grief that has been ours for over a century and a half will blight no other nation or people. We will tell the story of that suffering over and over again so that their souls may rest in peace.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad.