Full speech: Irish President begins four day visit to Scotland

Irish President celebrates shared Celtic history as Scotland visit begins 

PRESIDENT Michael D. Higgins of Ireland today [Monday 27 June] began a four day visit to Scotland with a speech in the Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre, Glasgow. 

His tour will include receiving an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh, and taking part in various cultural exhibits with connections between the two nations.

On Wednesday 29 June President Higgins, known for his campaigning for peace and equality, will address the Scottish Parliament. His first speech during his visit to Scotland is published below.

Ladies and Gentlemen, A dhaoine Uaisle, 
  
Ar mo shon féin agus ar son mo bhean Saidhbhín, is mian liom a rá go bhfuil áthas orm a bheith libh i nGlaschú inniu. Bhí muid ag súil go mór le filleadh ar Albain ó thugamar cuairt ar Oileán Í sa bhliain 2013. 

[On behalf of myself and my wife Sabina, may I say how delighted we are to be here with you in Glasgow today.  Since visiting the beautiful Iona back in 2013, we have both very much looked forward to returning to Scotland.] 

May I begin by thanking the community organisations that have done so much hard work to facilitate my visit to Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre this morning: the Irish Heritage Foundation, Conradh na Gaeilge and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. You are an inspiring reminder of the many dynamic and generous Irish communities who do such valuable  work, year in year out, to keep Irish culture alive and vibrant in countries across the world. 

Thankfully, there are many men and women who have worked, and continue to work, tirelessly to ensure that our relationship can flourish in an environment of peace, harmony and reconciliation.

The arrival of Columcille, or St Columba as he is sometimes known, in Iona over 1,400 years ago was the beginning of an enduring relationship between Ireland and Scotland. It is a relationship that has continued to develop and grow and today the heritage, culture and language of our two nations are deeply interwoven, enabling a profound connection and understanding between the people of Ireland and the people of Scotland. 

As with all close relationships we have, at times, been called upon to meet challenges and obstacles which have served to strengthen and deepen the true friendship which exists between us. Due to shared economic dislocations the circular and seasonal pattern of our migratory relationship led, at one time, to resentment between our peoples, particularly in the 19th century as they both desperately sought sustenance and a means to support their families. Religious and sectarian divisions have thrown their shadow of prejudice, resentment and misunderstanding across the many positive aspects of the unity between our two nations. Flight from famine, changes in factory technologies, Home Rule, World War One, all provided contexts for old prejudices and differences to be stirred up. 

However, there has always been so much more to unite the peoples of our countries than to divide us. Thankfully, there are many men and women who have worked, and continue to work, tirelessly to ensure that our relationship can flourish in an environment of peace, harmony and reconciliation. I know that many of those citizens are here, or are represented here, this morning, and I thank you for the enormous and generous contribution that has been made by this community to sustain and reinforce the great friendship that has enriched the life and culture of Ireland and Scotland. 

This has been greatly recalled to us this year, as we in Ireland celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and remember the great socialist James Connolly, from Edinburgh, and Margaret Skinnider from Coatbridge, who played such a significant role in that great fight for Irish independence.   

Because it is you, the Irish community here in Scotland, and in particular here in Glasgow, who are the current holders of the relationship between our people. Although you live full lives in Scotland, you also value and remain connected to your Irish roots. By being part of organisations that maintain the traditions of our Irish language, music or national games, or by working with the more vulnerable members of the Irish community here in  Scotland, you continue to create unbreakable bonds between our two nations; bonds founded on generosity and real citizen participation. 

The great ties between our nations, and the ancient migratory tendencies that we share, have enabled a greater flourishing of our interconnected culture. Many Irish and Scottish people have created new homes and forged new lives across the globe. Wherever they went they integrated into society and left their indelible marks on their new communities, especially through our unique, overlapping cultures of music and dance. 

Táim féin agus Saidhbhín ag súil go mór le "Celtic Connections" anocht, ceiliúradh d'ár gcultúír a thabhairfidh le chéile an méid is fearr ónar n-oidhreacht Éireannach agus Albanach. 

[Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to attending Celtic Connections this evening, a joint celebration of our shared culture which brings together the best of both our Irish and Scottish artistic heritage.] 

It may be best to avoid too much discussion about the recent European Championships

It is an artistic heritage that continues to evolve and develop. For example, the world famous Edinburgh International Festival is currently led by Irish man Fergus Linehan, while Neil Murray and Graham McLaren from the National Theatre of Scotland will share the post of Director of the Irish National Theatre, the Abbey, from early next year. 

Sport is, of course, another central element to both our cultures. I am delighted to see that the GAA continues to go from strength to strength. Other sports also frame our friendship – I cannot speak in Glasgow without acknowledging the special place that Celtic has in the hearts of so many Irish football fans, but in recent years, thanks to welcome changes in policy, we have also seen Irish players make their name at many other Scottish clubs also. 

There is a great respect in Ireland for the rich Scottish football tradition, and while it may be best to avoid too much discussion about the recent European Championships, the mutual love of football, and indeed also rugby, has been a great source of friendship between the Scots and Irish over the years. 

Ireland and Scotland are both, as I have said, countries of emigration. The importance of diaspora and the study and engagement of our respective communities overseas is something that we both recognise and value. The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Diaspora Studies which opened in 2008 has developed the wealth of knowledge and understanding about the Scottish diaspora. In 2015 Ireland published Global Irish, the first statement of policy on diaspora. I am delighted that I am joined here on this visit to Scotland by our newly appointed Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Joe McHugh, who will be implementing this policy.

Both our nations can be proud of a shared culture that has created many great and famous Irish-Scots. This has been greatly recalled to us this year, as we in Ireland celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and remember the great socialist James Connolly, from Edinburgh, and Margaret Skinnider from Coatbridge, who played such a significant role in that great fight for Irish independence.   

Today, our interconnectedness continues to thrive and mature. The recent launch of the Irish Business Network, Scotland is a greatly valuable example of how we can work in partnership for the betterment of both our nations. As is the opening of the Scottish Investment Hub in Dublin which will allow new and enhanced business relationships and cement the important links that have been made over time. 

Sa lá atá inniu ann, agus muid ag smaoineamh ar ár dtodhchaí chomhroinnte, is todhchaí lán féidearthachtaí atá ann, bunaithe ar chaidreamh Éireannach-Albanach atá ann leis na céadta bliain. 

[Today, as we look to a shared future we can see it as one of promise and possibility, guided by the many positives of the Irish-Scottish relationship we have woven and enjoyed across the centuries]. 

The wonderful work done by Irish community organisations here in Govanhill and elsewhere in Scotland to share the best aspects of Irish culture with new Scottish communities, and to embrace modern Scotland in all its diversity, is truly inspirational. 
    
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your attention, for coming here today, and above all for your work with our Irish community here in Glasgow. I hope that what binds us together will always be stronger than what seeks to pull us apart and that the only place we are adversaries is on the rugby pitch! 
  
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir. 

Picture courtesy of Irish President

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