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Remarks of the President and Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey of Ireland at a Luncheon Honoring the Prime Minister

March 17, 1982

The President. Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs. Haughey, honored guests, sons and daughters of Ireland—and all those of you who wish you were— [laughter] :

Last year, I celebrated this important day lunching at the home of the Irish Ambassador. I'd only been at my current job for a short while, and your Ambassador, Mr. Prime Minister, presented me a scroll detailing my family tree. I imagine he thought that if I was assured of my Irish ancestry, I'd be more confident I could handle the job. [Laughter]

Well, it's been a good year, although there have been problems, Mr. Prime Minister, you and I have something in common: We both have to deal with legislative bodies which are led by an Irish Speaker. [Laughter]

Seriously, so many of our citizens have family trees with roots in the Emerald Isle. This was brought home to me during an unfortunate incident, which took place shortly after St. Patrick's Day last year. Outside' the Washington Hilton Hotel some shots rang out, and four of us were hit— Thomas Delahanty, a fine police officer who's with us today, and Timothy McCarthy, a member of the Secret Service detail who deliberately placed himself between me and the gunman, and Jim Brady, a friend and trusted adviser. Now, it doesn't take a genealogist to figure out the ethnic origin of all of us who were wounded. [Laughter]

Irishmen and their descendants have always played a significant role in America's history. Some of our most fiery patriots, the ones who inspired the colonies on to independence, were of Irish blood. Now, some historians might suggest they were trying to settle a score with England. I don't know why anyone should think such a thing. [Laughter] The truth is, there are few people on this planet whose hearts burn more with a flame of freedom than do the Irish. And maybe that's why so many were moved to come here and be part of our noble experiment. In a world awash with dictatorships and despotism, we can be proud that Ireland and the United States remain dedicated to the principles of liberty.

I want to congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, on your recent election and pledge to you an amicable and trusting relationship between us.

Now, just a moment ago, the Minority Leader of the House, Congressman Michel, just came up and presented me with a shillelagh, and the suggestion was made that I might use it to get legislation through the Congress. [Laughter] Now, that's one of the few things I hadn't thought of, Mr. Prime Minister. If you've got any pointers in the use of this, I'd be most grateful. [Laughter]

Nancy and I are pleased to have you join us on this special day. It's grand to have you here in this house, which I might add was designed by another of Erin's sons, as was the Great Seal of our nation. And now, I would ask all of you to join with me in a toast to our honored guests, Prime Minister and Mrs. Haughey.

The Prime Minister. Mr. President, I would like to thank you for your kind words of welcome and for the warmth and splendor of your hospitality. My wife and I and the members of our party are overwhelmed by the friendliness and cordiality shown to us on this short visit to your great country.

I could offer by way, perhaps, of recompense, that if you have any great trouble, Mr. President, with the Irish Speaker, I could offer you my assistance, borne from years of experience with dealing with difficult Irish Speakers. [Laughter]

For any Irishman, it is an exceptional honor to be received in this house which, as you've said, Mr. President, was designed by an Irishman and is in itself a symbol of the manner in which the history of our two countries is woven together. To be received in the White House by a President who bears an Irish name and cherishes his Irish heritage is a unique and special experience.

The United States, Mr. President, was the first nation in the world's history to be founded on a dream. And it was a dream which over the years has comingled with reality—sometimes as dreams will, outshining it, and at other times, again fading away from it. But in those valleys which all nations experience, when the reality has seemed to fail a dream, there have not been wanting great statesmen and men of courage to reshape the destinies of this land and to recall their countrymen to the brightness of the original vision. And if the United States has been for its citizens ideal in fact, dream and reality, so it has been for millions of Irish men and women also.

I need hardly remind a St. Patrick's Day gathering of that deep wish for a new life across the sea which for so long sustained so many of our countrymen, or of the countless thousands who came to these shores in sorrow and bewilderment and found what they had scarcely dared to hope for—found that their own personal individual dream had at last come true. But though they made their own of this great new land, they rarely severed their ties with home. And the letter from America has entered deep as folklore and as fact into the Irish consciousness, into our literature, our tales of the past, our family memories.

And because those who came here wrote home so faithfully, more than any other people in Europe, we dreamed the American dream and shared the American reality along with you. The ancient nation of Ireland, emerging in this century into a modern state, has been founded on those same ideals which you were the first to set forth. Wolfe Tone, the first Irish political thinker to conceive the dream of an Irish Republic where all whom God had created equal should be recognized as equal, all whom God had created free should really be free, was deeply influenced by the fact that there was already in existence beyond the. sea a great new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality.

From that day to this, as we dreamed our dream and fought to establish a republic dedicated to equality, we have always turned to you as a source of vision and help.

The greater part of the island of Ireland today has become a modern state, where all are free and equal before the law, where bigotry and discrimination have faded away, and sectarianism holds no place in our laws, our constitution, or our daily lives.

And in speaking of these things to Americans, I know the sympathy and understanding they will evoke. For no man can speak of freedom and equality to Americans without striking chords—of the lamps burning in the belfries of New England, of those farmers that stood by the bridge at Concord, or of the great document that the Founding Fathers composed at Philadelphia.

But there's one thing we Irish have not yet achieved and of which we are constantly reminded everywhere we go in this great Capital City, where the memory of Abraham Lincoln and his struggle to save the American union and to avoid the partition of his country are so beautifully and so splendidly commemorated.

Whereas Lincoln sought to prevent the partition of his country, we are seeking to bring to an end the partition of ours. And the obstacles to that goal are in part the age-old ones which so nearly sundered the young United States—misunderstanding, ignorance, prejudice, suspicion, and fear.

We have pledged ourselves to overcoming these obstacles to further the reconcilement of the two great traditions of our island—to give unto that end any pledge that may be sought, any guarantee that may be thought necessary, and to making unassailable constitutional arrangements for those in the northern part of Ireland who may feel a special need for such provisions.

Irish people everywhere yearn for that day when their country will finally find peace and justice in unity, and they, in their turn, in their land, will create a "shining city on a hill."

With the good will of that worldwide Irish spiritual empire which is stronger here in the United States of America than anywhere else, the Irish Government will do all we can through the Anglo-Irish process, or any other forum, to achieve that historic purpose.

In the noble words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, inscribed on the walls of his beautiful memorial in this city, the work we are engaged upon is to "bind up the nation's wounds." Countless millions of ordinary Irish men and women have by their labor and their sacrifice contributed to the power and the stature of this great American Republic, and in their name, I look confidently for support and encouragement for our endeavors in Ireland today.

Ireland holds a special place in the affections of millions of Americans. And it is my hope that that feeling will inform American policy and actions and ensure that the encouragement of Irish unity ranks high among her international objectives. There is much to be done. And the first thing is that Britain be encouraged to seek more positively and persuade more actively a change in attitudes and outlooks, which would pave the way for unity and so enable her final withdrawal from Ireland to take place with honor and dignity.

We in Ireland know, Mr. President, that your regard for our country is no mere sentimental attachment to your Irish roots, but that you have a sympathetic and concerned interest in Ireland and in her problems. This is hardly surprising in one whose ancestors played their own part in Ireland's history. The Reagans were, and I quote from their motto, "The Defenders of the Hills." And for more than seven centuries, against all comers, they held the only pass through their territory of Y Regan in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. They held it against friend and foe. And the English, at one stage in their long and unsuccessful efforts to conquer our country, paid the O'Reagans a great compliment. Their commanders, methodical men, prepared and sent to London, maps on which were marked the names of the most redoubtable Irish chieftains, those from whom the strongest resistance was to be expected.

I have brought with me such a map, dating from the 16th century, and showing the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the unconquered territory of the O'Reagans. I present it to you, Ronald Reagan, defender of the hills, President of the United States of America, and friend of Ireland.

The President. Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you very much. I realize that I'm going to be threatened with investigation of my income tax if I don't at least share it with Don Regan. [Laughter]

Incidentally, before—we're going to have entertainment here, and I know you're going to love it, because I've heard these two wonderful artists before—but I also mention that while government is often very lacking in timing, not this time. Yesterday, we swore in, to be effective as of today, our new Ambassador to Ireland, Pete Dailey.

[At this point, Frank Patterson, tenor, accompanied by Eily O'Grady on the piano and Irish harp, presented a program of Irish songs. The President then resumed speaking with a reference to the fact that he wasn't using a microphone.]

If he didn't need one, I'll try it without one, too. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, you have been hearing Frank Patterson, and Eily O'Grady at the harp and the piano. And in another part, the major part of their lives, they are Mr. and Mrs. Frank Patterson. And they're renowned throughout Europe and their own country. They have recorded, if you're interested in hearing that again. I'm not only grateful to them for being here, giving of their wonderful talent to us, but grateful that you sang this other song after "Danny Boy," because if you'd stopped on "Danny Boy," I wouldn't have been able to talk. [Laughter] We were very, very moved in the audience here. But we're grateful to you, and we're honored by your presence. Thank you so very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:16 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Prior to the luncheon, the President and the Prime Minister held a meeting in the Oval Office.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks of the President and Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey of Ireland at a Luncheon Honoring the Prime Minister Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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