Remarks by the Vice President to the American Ireland Fund National Gala
The National Building Museum
8:20 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
Taoiseach, Fionnuola, Ambassador Anne Anderson, John Fitzpatrick, Kieran, Senator Mitchell, members of Congress, and distinguished guests, it is hard to describe what a privilege it is for me and my family to join you here tonight for the American Ireland Fund’s 25th Silver Anniversary National Gala. Thank you for having us tonight. (Applause.)
I bring greetings tonight from my friend, the leader of the free world, the 45th President of the United States, and to the Taoiseach I would say, as he’ll find out, a guy who likes to play golf in Ireland, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President asked me to give everyone his greetings and his best wishes tonight. And also our hope is that my presence here tonight is a visible sign of America’s enduring friendship with Ireland and all her people.
You know, I actually received the invitation to be here tonight nearly two months before the President and I were sworn in for these offices of ours. It was one of the very first invitations I received after the election, and I’m humbled to say, it was the first one that I accepted. And I’m honored and privileged to be here tonight. (Applause.)
Tonight is really a family affair. It’s been said before from this podium this evening. I can tell you it feels that way to our family, and it’s a joy for me tonight to be joined by my wife of 31 years and our new Second Lady, Karen Pence. (Applause.)
Karen and I are also delighted to be joined tonight by our Irish daughter Charlotte Rose. (Applause.) And my Irish sisters, Annie and Mary, traveled from far across the country to be with us tonight. And if there weren’t all these inches of snow, Mr. Taoiseach, I can assure my mother, 83 years young, red hair, crystal blue eyes, would still be here. But I know she’s smiling. (Applause.)
This really does feel more like a homecoming for us, too, to be honest with you. And I’ll talk about that on a personal level a little bit later.
It is my privilege to be here tonight on behalf of the President of the United States to address the American Ireland Fund. Since its founding in 1976, the fund and its sister organizations have raised a remarkable $550 million dollars to support peace, prosperity, and cultural accomplishment on the Emerald Isle. That's a staggering amount of generosity, as we've already heard before. Ireland, and all who call it home, have benefited tremendously from the generosity of you who are gathered here tonight and all who have gone before.
And that’s worth dwelling on. There’s a reason why so many in this room -- and in this country -- have been so generous towards Ireland. We may be separated by an ocean, but the American people have always been bound by a kinship to the Irish people, and we always will. (Applause.)
The bond between the people of America and the people of Ireland stretches back into the mists of American history. Drawn by the promise of this brave new world, the sons and daughters of Ireland began leaving their land for ours as far back as the 17th century. They came here, one by one, or sometimes in small bands. But what they lacked in numbers, we already heard tonight, they more than made up in courage.
Irish immigrants and their descendants became proud patriots in America. Thousands fought for their adopted homeland -- and the timeless ideals we hold dear -- in our Revolutionary War. No fewer than nine, as you've already heard, signers of the Declaration of Independence, no fewer than four of the Founding Fathers at our Constitutional Convention could trace their roots to Ireland. And no less a man than George Washington himself, our first President, referred to Ireland as a “friend of my country.” And so it will always be. (Applause.)
From the Revolutionary War to the Irish Brigades in our Civil War, Irish Americans have fought for freedom in every American conflict. And before I go one step further, would the men and women who are with us here tonight who have worn the uniform of the United States of America, please stand and give us the opportunity to thank you one more time for your service to this country? You make us proud. (Applause.)
But Ireland’s contributions to America didn’t end with the establishment of the shining city on a hill. Indeed, none saw that beacon more clearly, or with more excitement, than the Irish across the sea. Whereas once they had come to America slowly, in a trickle, suddenly the children of Ireland came here in a swell as history records.
They spread to every corner of this continent, settling in cities and towns, in places where none had settled before. And wherever they went, opportunity and prosperity soon followed. From the vantage point of the present, it’s clear that the Irish have left an indelible mark on the history of this country for the betterment of the American people and the betterment of the world.
Our history books are filled with the names of Irish immigrants and their descendants. More than 32 million Americans can trace their heritage back to Ireland, a reminder that the Irish are one of the strongest and most vibrant threads of our national fabric.
And tonight, it’s an honor to be here on behalf of President Trump to reaffirm the United States’ enduring commitment to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to the peace process, and above all else, to the timeless and enduring friendship between our people and yours. (Applause.)
Tonight, I’d like to express our friendship by letting you know that Americans of all backgrounds have been heartened to see Ireland’s extraordinary accomplishments in recent years. The story of the Irish everywhere is one of facing hardship and emerging stronger for it, and there’s perhaps no better recent example than Ireland’s remarkable economic success story over the past decade.
It’s amazing to think of Ireland’s recovery after the global financial crisis. It was the first country to exit the IMF’s Eurozone economic assistance program. And for the last two years, Ireland has been one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. (Applause.)
I firmly believe one of the key reasons for this is the drive, the determination, the character, and the ingenuity of the Irish people wherever they may live. Taoiseach, Ireland’s success is testament I can say on behalf of everyone here to your strong leadership these past six years. And many leaders around the world would surely do well to emulate your example in Ireland. (Applause.)
Another sign of our friendship with Ireland is America’s robust economic partnership with you. We host many innovative and successful Irish companies here in the United States, and in 2015 I’m pleased to see that Irish direct investment in America totaled $13.5 billion, creating many good-paying American jobs.
Tonight I’m proud to say with great confidence that our bond is strong, and it will grow stronger still. (Applause.)
But I’m not just here to discuss the Republic of Ireland. On behalf of President Trump, I’d also like to congratulate the people of Northern Ireland on their election only two weeks ago, which had one of the highest turnouts in recent memory.
The advance of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland is one of the great success stories of the past 20 years. Many in this room, and the Ireland Funds across the world, have played a leading role in fostering this progress. Senator Mitchell, you have been properly paid tribute tonight. Let me thank you personally. It’s an honor to be with you tonight. I’m proud to be an American, the nation that you call home. And I’m proud of what Senator Mitchell and all of you have done to advance the peace and the prosperity of people all across the island. (Applause.)
And we thank those unsung heroes in Ireland and Northern Ireland who day-in and day-out, do the difficult and important work of strengthening communities, educating children, building that brighter future for Emerald Isle and all who call it home. Their heroic actions bring to mind someone else, a proud son of Ireland, a proud servant of America -- Thomas Francis Meagher.
On this side of the Atlantic, we remember Meagher for his bravery in our Civil War. He led the Irish Brigade I mentioned just a few moments ago, and he ultimately rose to the rank of brigadier general. He was originally from Ireland. In 1848, he famously designed the Irish tricolor that flies over the republic to this very day.
Upon presenting his design, he spoke words that resonate even today, and I quote: “The white in the center signifies a lasting truce between the orange and the green -- and I trust that beneath its folds, the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”
Tonight, let’s all pray that those hands of brotherhood may never separate. (Applause.)
Let’s also pray to strengthen the hands of friendship that reach across the Atlantic, between the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the people of United States.
This bond was forged by our forebears, and it endures to this day, and it’s bequeathed to us to strengthen it.
Whether they left their homeland for another, or stayed in the country of their birth, they shared a heritage -- and more than that, they shared hope for a brighter future, and they strived to find it with all their might.
So many millions of them found it here on these shores. And we're proud that they call America home. The story of the Irish in America is the story of America itself. And as I close, let me just say it’s hard for me to express the pride that I feel on night like tonight because my little family is a small part of that story, the story of Ireland and America.
Like so many of my fellow countrymen, I literally carry Ireland with me everywhere I go. On one of my first trips to Ireland when I was a young man, I was sitting -- what did you call it? -- in a public house. (Laughter.) Pat Morrissey’s Pub -- it’s still open in Doonbeg to this day. Pat was around back then, and he let me help out behind the bar. I’ll never forget the little old lady who spoke to me. And I told her very quickly that I was related to the Morrissey’s, distant cousins. And I said, actually I’m Irish by heritage. And she looked at me and smile and said, you don't have to tell me, son, you’ve got a face like the map of Ireland. (Laughter.)
It does all go back to that day. It was Inauguration Day just a few short weeks ago. People ask me what I was thinking about surrounded by my wife and my children, our beautiful new daughter-in-law. My mother was just there, a few seats behind the President. I just kept thinking of that day in April in 1923. That was the day when Richard Michael Cawley stepped off the boat on Ellis Island. He was in his early 20s when he steamed into Upper New York Bay aboard the Andania, the ship that carried him here.
I can't imagine what the sight of the Statue of Liberty meant to him that day, holding aloft the torch of freedom. My grandfather went home to be with the Lord when it was in about my 26th year. But we were very close. He said I was the only Irishman born among the four boys in our family. (Laughter.) Not sure yet what that meant. But I was flattered by it.
My grandpa had grown up in a little town called Tobercurry, in County Sligo. When I was young man I had a chance to visit that house before they tore it down. It was just a two-room house where his eight brothers and sisters grew up. And I literally walked up the hill that -- when Karen and I and the kids visited Ireland just a few years ago, we walked up that hill, as well. The legend in our family was my great grandmother had stood outside that little house and looked over at the Ox Mountains and looked off to the west, and told him that he needed to go because she said, there’s a future there for you.
He wouldn’t speak to his mother for 25 years. And when he said the old country, he said with a reverence that I could never adequately express. He talked about crossing the pond, talked about the heartbreak of that separation.
But as I stood on that inaugural stage, I just kept thinking of that Irishman. I kept thinking of what he would be thinking about looking down from glory. And I know two things for sure.
Number one, knowing me as well as he did, he would be extremely surprised. (Laughter.)
Number two, I have to think he just thought he was right. He was right about America. He was right to summon the courage as generations did before and since to come here and follow their dreams, and make the contributions that they did. He was right to drive that bus for 40 years in Chicago. He was right to raise that irascible redhead that would marry a fast-talking salesman and follow work down to a little, small farm town in southern Indiana and raise six kids with the same heritage and the same values that she had been raised with.
The truth is that whatever honors I will receive over the course of my service as Vice President, and to receive an honor in the name of the Irish people and my Irish heritage will count as chief among them. Because all that I am and all that I will ever be and all the service that I will ever render is owing to my Irish heritage. And I will summon what is the best of it as I serve the people of this country with the faith, with the determination, with the cheerfulness, the humility, and the humor that is characteristic of the great people of the Emerald Isle.
So here’s to Ireland. Here’s to the United States of America. Here’s to our shared heritage, and here’s to the confident, confident hope that the ties between our people and the Irish people will only grow and expand as the years go on to the betterment of our people and the world.
Thank you very much for this honor tonight. And God bless you all. (Applause.)
8:36 P.M. EDT