Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives my wife and myself such very special joy to be with all of you here this evening as we gather to mark the beginning of this St. Patrick’s Day Season -just the beginning! - and to celebrate the extraordinary contribution the Irish community has made to the life and culture of the United Kingdom over so many years.
With threads drawn from every part of Ireland, and from every walk of life, those who traversed the Irish Sea, who have stitched together the fabrics of our societies and made us all the stronger for it.
From Kintyre to Kilburn, the influence of the Irish diaspora on the arts, culture, business, academia, fashion and sport, here in the United Kingdom has been as profound as it is immeasurable. And Ireland also offers its traditional hundred thousand welcomes - cead mile failte - to so many of the British people who have made their home across the water, or who travel there to experience the warmth and beauty of your country.
Above all we are friends, we are partners and we are the closest of near neighbours, bound together by everything that we have in common – and by just how far we have come together. If I may say so ladies and gentlemen , this is precisely why it has been so important to my wife and myself that we too should visit Ireland so often over these past few years – to experience, and celebrate, as best we can, the unparalleled bonds between our two countries, and to highlight just what a fundamental difference they make to us all.
And I must say I’m slightly amazed to find that we’ve managed to visit 15 counties already. I am quite determined before I drop dead and finally lose my marbles that I should get around to the remaining 17!
And Ladies and Gentlemen only last month, at Liverpool University at a reception for the Irish Studies Centre, of which your President and I are joint Patrons, I was talking to the daughter of the great poet Seamus Heaney, whom I had the great privilege of knowing, and whose work I greatly admired. He famously reminded us of how it can be possible, despite all difficulties, to make “hope and history rhyme”. And incidentally it is such a joy to find that both Marie Heaney and her daughter Catherine are here this evening.
And so, our relationship evolves over the coming months and years, I have both the faith and the hope that the essential friendship between the people of Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom will not only endure but will renew itself for generations to come.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may, I would like to propose a toast to The President of Ireland, and the people of Ireland, and to the special bond between our two countries.
La Fheile Padraig shona dhaoibh
[Happy St. Patrick’s Day]