Ladies and gentlemen, whether it is by supporting Ukrainians in their time of need, designing the technology that has helped us fight Covid, developing the innovations that help us better sequester carbon in our landscapes, or teaching our young people how to build a more sustainable, healthier and more prosperous future, the people of Ireland stand alongside the people of the United Kingdom as an example for us all. 

A dhaoine uaisle, buíochas ó chroi lib

Ladies and Gentleman, it is really a special joy for my wife and I to be with you today – to hear again such utterly irresistible music and see the skill you bring to dancing let alone play the violin at the same time. Last week we were at the Irish Cultural Centre in London where, somehow my wife and I were persuaded to play the Bodhrán – and, incidentally, to draw, or attempt to draw, a pint of equally irresistible Guinness! – and it was all I could do to stop myself trying to join in the dancing. It, didn’t take me long, however ladies and gentlemen, to work out that I would have needed a period of vigorous fitness training and a great deal more Guinness to have a carried out such a feat! So my admiration for all you can do with music and dance is never ending.

Our visit last week was only one part of the country’s celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day; celebrations which serve to remind us of the huge significance of the Irish community in the United Kingdom, the critical part they play and the esteem in which they are held.

So, it feels particularly apt to be concluding our first visit to Ireland in two years with all of you here, at the foot of the Rock of Cashel, that ancient point of connection and transformation, where St. Patrick is said to have converted King Aenghus, where Brian Boru was crowned and where my own parents came just over a decade ago – like so many others, attracted by this unique meeting of architecture, landscape and art. 

There is a real sense of history here that reminds us, in this centenary of Ulysses, that James Joyce described the Rock, together with other legendary locations in this hauntingly beautiful country, as “rendered more beautiful still by the waters of sorrow which have passed over them and by the rich incrustations of time”. 

It is a stunningly poetic way of describing this place and it could also be applied to the waves of history which have passed over our two islands. Both our countries have shared too much of the waters of sorrow, but from the flow of time there is emerging something rich, new and hopeful.

On her visit eleven years ago, my mother had a very similar thought in mind when she described her hope that we might live in harmony – “close, as good neighbours should be.” It is a thought which my wife and I have consciously tried to put into action, visiting this wonderfully atmospheric land every year since 2015, interrupted only by the pandemic. 

Of course, ladies and gentlemen our great sadness at not being able to visit for the last two years has been only one small example of how this dreadful pandemic has kept us apart. These years have been a time of suffering and sacrifice, pain and loss for so many people. But I have been immensely moved by how many communities, such as those we met in Cahir today and, indeed, such as we have met around the United Kingdom, have come together to care for one another – acts of neighbourly kindness in the wonderful Irish tradition of Meitheal.

It is a tradition we might also take to heart as we contemplate the horrific events in Ukraine. In a time that so often puts “I” above “we”, it is essential that we remain able to recognize our common humanity and act to protect it. In Tipperary, as in so many counties in Ireland, the community’s desire to make a difference has been clear.  Not least, in the long queues that formed outside Alla’s Patisserie in Fethard and the thousands of euros raised when Alla Dediuk and her husband announced all their takings would go to support Ukraine. It was a truly touching reminder of the difference we can all make.

Ladies and gentlemen, if I may say so the responsibility to make a difference rests on us all. Last year, my wife called on the entire community – male and female – to dismantle the lies, words and actions that enable so much violence against women. In your country and mine, in the intervening year, we have continued to witness appalling attacks. Therefore, with profound sorrow and sympathy, perhaps I might be permitted to pay tribute to Ashling Murphy, whose name will not be forgotten, who was taken from us far too soon, and who I know was a friend to many here where she performed. My wife and I were so enormously touched to have been able to meet her family, who I know are with us here today – and our most special, heartfelt thoughts are with them.

Her art, your art – the music that we have just heard, the dance we have just seen – has a power to connect us that is visceral.  Words often speak to the mind, but music speaks to the heart, and frequently in a deeply moving, even spiritual, way. Such has been our experience today, and it has been a particularly special pleasure to meet so many of the people who, building on this sense of connection, have been changing our world for the better across Ireland.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether it is by supporting Ukrainians in their time of need, designing the technology that has helped us fight Covid, developing the innovations that help us better sequester carbon in our landscapes, or teaching our young people how to build a more sustainable, healthier and more prosperous future, the people of Ireland stand alongside the people of the United Kingdom as an example for us all. 

You remind us that this is a time of new hope, new friendships and new beginnings, underpinning the ancient history, interests and values we share.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh