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Remarks in Limerick, Ireland

September 05, 1998

Audience member. Welcome, Mr. Clinton!

The President. Thank you. I feel welcome. Thank you. Mayor Harrington, City Manager Murray, Taoiseach, Celia, to the university rectors, to the officials of the Irish and American Governments and the distinguished Members of our Congress who have accompanied me here. Let me say on behalf of my wife and myself and all of us who have come from America, you have made us feel very much at home in Limerick, and we thank you.

I would like to thank the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and Michael O'Suilleabhain, who performed before I came. I would like to thank everyone who did anything to make this possible. I especially thank you for the Freedom of the City. I told the mayor that I was relieved to have the Freedom of the City here. It means when I'm no longer President and I come back to Ireland, I won't have to stay in Dublin alone; I can come to Limerick, too. And I thank you.

I thank the universities for the rectors' award. The work of peace is always a community effort. I am pleased that the United States could play a role. But for all your generosity today, make no mistake about it, the major credit for the peace process belongs to the Irish—to the people, to the people who voted for the Good Friday agreement, to the leaders of the various groups in Northern Ireland who supported it, to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and to your extraordinary Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who has been brilliant in his leadership in this endeavor.

Let me also echo something the mayor said. We have this wonderful delegation from the United States Congress here who have loved Ireland and worked and longed for peace here for many years. But one of them actually has his roots and some of his relatives here in Ireland, Congressman Peter King, who is here with his relatives today. So thank you, Peter. And I think you have—[applause]—thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, 35 years ago, in June of 1963, President Kennedy came to Limerick and promised he would return in the springtime. He was not able to fulfill that promise. But I appreciate the opportunity to renew it, and to thank you for the springtime of hope the Irish people have given the entire world in 1998.

You see, a great deal of my time as President is spent dealing with the troubles people cause themselves around the world when they hate their neighbors because of their religious, their racial, their ethnic, their tribal differences. I saw hundreds of thousands of people die in Rwanda in a matter of months over tribal differences. We see the continuing heartbreak in the Middle East, the trouble in the Balkans spread from now Bosnia to Kosovo. We see trouble in the Aegean, trouble on the Indian subcontinent, trouble the world over, because people cannot understand that underneath whatever differences their neighbors have with them, there lurks the common humanity in the soul of us all.

Because of what you have done in Ireland in 1998, you have made it possible for me, on behalf of the United States and the cause of peace in the world, to tell every warring, feuding, hating group of people trapped in the prison of their past conflicts to look at Ireland and know there can be a better day. Thank you for that.

I came here, too, to Limerick and to western Ireland to see this historic point of embarkation for the New World, where the Shannon approaches the Atlantic and so many faces turned in hope to America over the years. I wanted to remember our common pasts and to imagine for a few moments with you the future we can build together. For the last decade is only a tiny portion of Irish history, though it has witnessed a sea change in the life of the Irish people. The demons of the past are losing their power to divide you, and a new and better and more prosperous history is unfolding before you.

You mentioned the McCourt brothers from Limerick who did grace the White House last St. Patrick's Day. Now I'll have to go home and tell Frank McCourt, "You know, Frank, you made a lot of money writing about the old Limerick, but I like the new one better, and I think you would, too."

Here in this city, wars were fought and treaties were signed, families struggled to make ends meet, and when those efforts failed, many left to cast their lot with our young Nation laying beyond the ocean. Here, when famine struck, Irish men and women boarded coffin ships for the hope of a better life, and many perished before they could fulfill their dreams.

But from Ireland's tragedy arose triumph, for the Irish who survived the crossing were strong, and they lent their strength to America. They never forgot the island where they came from, either. And today we celebrate, therefore, a double gift: Ireland's pride in America and America's immense pride in her Irish roots. Each has always made the other a better place. Our relationship has always been generous and giving and growing, but never before have we given so much good to one another.

The best moment of all, of course, was the Good Friday agreement—the leadership, as I said, of Prime Minister Ahern and Prime Minister Blair, the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties, those who agreed that words—words, not weapons—should be used to write the future.

I also thank, as the Taoiseach did, George Mitchell and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and all the Americans who worked for that. But again I tell you, this peace is yours—yours and no one else's. All the leaders in the world, all the speeches in the world would not amount to a hill of beans if you hadn't gone out and voted "yes" and meant it loud and clear with every fiber of your being.

And as we mourn the losses of Omagh and the three little boys who were killed and taken from their parents' arms, remember there will be still efforts by the enemies of peace to break your will, to get you to turn back, to get you to lose faith. Don't do it. Don't do it. Remember what it was like when you were here on this day. No matter what happens by the enemies of peace from now until the whole thing is done and right, the way it's supposed to be, and every provision of that agreement is real in the life of Ireland, no matter what happens between now and then, remember what it was like on this day: Looking up this street, looking up that street, this is you at your best. Do not let them break your will.

Now, free of the demons of the past, you can look to the future. In less time than has elapsed since my last visit to Ireland in 1995, we all will be, like it or not, in a new century, in a new millennium. Nowhere on Earth does that new era hold more promise than here in Ireland. Nowhere does the change of the calendar correspond better to profound changes in the life of a people.

You know, George Bernard Shaw once quipped that he hoped to be in Ireland on the day the world ended, because the Irish were always 50 years behind the times. [Laughter] Well, Ireland has turned the tables on poor old Mr. Shaw, for today you are in the forefront of every change sweeping the world. This island is being redefined by new ideas, bringing prosperity and an increasingly international world view. You are connected to Europe and the rest of the world in countless ways: computers, the Internet, faxes, trade, all growing by leaps and bounds every year. Perhaps most important, your young people have a strong voice in determining Ireland's future, and they are making the future in a way that will change Ireland forever and for the better.

I also want to thank you for being more than newly prosperous. I want to thank you for not forgetting where you came from and your ties to the less fortunate. For the Irish people, who once knew hunger, today spare no effort to aid the afflicted in other places. The Irish people, who knew strife at home, now send peacekeepers every single day to troubled regions around the world. I wish that every country could be as good and generous and caring to those who have been left out, left behind, downtrodden as the Irish people have been. And I thank you for that. Don't ever lose that. No matter what good things come to you, don't ever lose that.

The rest of the world has a lot to learn from an Ireland that is a place of inclusion, a place where labor and business and government work together, where the young are encouraged to dream and the elderly are respected, where human rights are protected at home and defended abroad. And I suppose I would be remiss and I don't want to leave this platform without thanking Ireland for our admiration for the work of your former President, now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. We appreciate her very much.

We believe that 21st century Ireland will be an inspiration to the rest of the world, and you can see it taking shape right here in Limerick. The university here, built in our lifetime, has become a magnet for your brightest young men and women. Here, new jobs are being created, entire industries being built on knowledge alone.

I am very proud that an American company, Dell Computers, has been able to play such a strong role in this progress. And I thank the Taoiseach and Dell for their announcement today. I also thank Dell for generously donating 100 computers to the schools at Omagh after last month's tragedy.

Now that you have given me the Freedom of the City, I can say, "my fellow citizens." Standing here on these streets on this fine latesummer day, we cannot possibly know all the changes the new millennium will bring. But I believe at the end of another thousand years, Limerick and western Ireland will still face out toward and reach out toward America. And I know America will never turn away. Three years ago in Dublin I promised the people of Ireland that as long as Ireland walks the road of peace, America will walk with you. You have more than kept your part of the deal, and we will keep ours.

When I was preparing for this trip, I got to thinking that when my own ancestors left for America from Ireland, they were longing for a new world of possibilities. They were longing for the chance to begin again. Ireland's great glory today is that you had the courage to begin again. And in so doing, you have opened limitless tomorrows for your children. You have redeemed the beauty of the Irish countryside. You have redeemed the power of Irish poetry. You have redeemed the loving faith of Saint Patrick. This island is coming home to itself.

In an old Irish tale, Finn MacCumhal says, "The best music in the world is the music of what happens." What happens here today is quite wonderful. Never let the music die in your heart, and it will always play out in your lives. And America will be there every step of the way.

Thank you, and God bless you. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. at the intersection of O'Connell Street and Bedford Row. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Joe Harrington of Limerick; City Manager Con Murray; Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland; Celia Larkin, who accompanied Prime Minister Ahern; composer/pianist Michael O'Suilleabhain; Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom; author Frank McCourt; former Senator George J. Mitchell, independent chairman of the multiparty talks in Northern Ireland; and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in Limerick, Ireland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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