Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was in New York last December to present of a sculpture to the United Nations. Entitled Arrival, the bronze piece was created by John Behan, Ireland’s foremost sculptor, and was installed on the north lawn of the UN headquarters. Situated only yards from the East River, and standing 23 feet high, it depicts a nineteenth-century emigrant ship with its passengers disembarking. It is a companion piece to Behan’s famine ship sculpture, which site on the west coast of Ireland, in Murrisk, County Mayo.
The brainchild of Martin Cullen, T.D. and Barry McGrath, Chairman of the Office of Public Works, the sculpture is designed to celebrate the contribution of the Irish people to America and to all the nations in the United Nations. It takes its place among sculptures donated to the UN from countries throughout the world.
UN Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette was on hand to receive the sculpture and praised Irish men and women for their humanitarian efforts worldwide, singling out Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and U2 frontman Bono for his work toward third world debt relief. And she called on all present to take this opportunity to “renew our pledge to eradicate hunger worldwise.”
The presentation was followed by a dinner for the Irish American community in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria. It was the first event ever hosted by the Irish government in the U.S. In a speech at the Waldorf, Ahern said, “Some time ago, Martin Cullen, my ministerial colleague, remarked to me that it would be a good idea if we hosted a dinner sometime for our friends in America. It was an offer I could not refuse. This dinner is a small token of appreciation for all that America has done for Ireland.”
In front of an audience that included former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, writers Edna O’Brien and Malachy McCourt, and business leader Bill Flynn, he spoke of the important role the Irish diaspora has played in shaping the history of Ireland, America and the world. He pointed out, “So important is this international community to us at home that we took the opportunity of constitutional change instigated by the Good Friday Agreement to acknowledge the Irish diaspora in Article 2 of the Constitution, which now reads:
`It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’”
Ahern went on to elaborate on the immense changes he has witnessed in Ireland while serving as Taoiseach: the country’s economic turnaround, the sharp reduction in unemployment, the reversal of the emigration trend and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
He went on to discuss the work that still needed to be done to protect human rights, ensure equal opportunity and demilitarize Northern Ireland. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he concluded, “as we commemorate and rejoice in our common heritage, let us also take great pride in our shared achievement in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement. But above all, let us together now look forward to the full flowering of what the Good Friday Agreement called this `truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.’ It is what we all have worked so hard, and waited so long for.” ♦