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Varadkar thanks Choctaw Nation for support during Famine, announces scholarship programme

The Taoiseach met members of the Native American community in Oklahoma today.

leo pa Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with members of the Choctaw Nation Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

LEO VARADKAR HAS thanked the Choctaw Nation for supporting Ireland during the Great Famine.

The Taoiseach met members of the Native American community in Oklahoma today.

Despite facing starvation and poverty themselves, the Choctaw people contributed $170 (€150) – which is about $4,400 (€3,950) today – to send food aid when they heard about Ireland’s struggle in 1847.

Varadkar, who is in the US for the annual St Patrick’s week trip, said: “For me, the story of our two peoples symbolises the spirit of St Patrick better than anything else.

Back in the nineteenth century, when the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected and degraded by our colonial master, at our lowest, your spirit of generosity was at its highest.

“You showed compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands, or about to embark on our own ‘Trail of Tears’ across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a new life in Canada or the United States.”

Varakar said the two communities have “a sacred bond, which has joined our peoples together for all time”.

“Its impact was more than the lives that were saved 171 years ago. It is seen in the way it made us think of our fellow human beings when they are suffering and in distress. To always look outwards as a nation,” he stated.

Scholarship

During his speech, Varadkar also announced a new scholarship programme which will allow Choctaw students to study in Ireland.

“This is an opportunity for us to learn from you and from your culture, and you from ours, in a sharing of knowledge that will enrich both our peoples,” he said.

The first scholarship will commence in autumn 2019.

Meanwhile, RTÉ News is reporting that Varadkar also dismissed claims people crossing the Irish border will have to pre-register after Brexit, saying this is “not a solution that we envisage”.

Last year a delegation of over 15 representatives, including Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, attended a public ceremony in Midleton in Cork at which a sculpture commemorating the donation was officially unveiled.

original The sculpture in Midleton, Cork Source: Alex Pentek

The sculpture in Cork, Kindred Spirits, was made by sculptor Alex Pentek. It was commissioned in 2013 to commemorate the donation.

It has nine 20-foot eagle feathers arranged in a circle shape reaching towards the sky, representing a bowl filled with food.

TheJournal.ie’s political reporter Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington this week, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Stay up-to-date by following @ChristinaFinn8@TJ_Politics  and TheJournal.ie’s Facebook page.  

Read: Varadkar to thank Choctaw Nation for support during Famine

Read: ‘Ireland first’: Donald Tusk says every EU leader ‘wants to protect peace process and avoid hard border’

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Órla Ryan

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