Irish minister: St. Patrick's Day a time to celebrate bond between Savannah, Ireland

This commentary is written by Darragh O'Brien, Ireland's minister for housing, local government and heritage. He will represent his country at this week's Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade.

I am honoured to travel to Savannah to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I can think of no better place to celebrate the strength and endurance of Ireland’s ties in the United States. Each year St. Patrick’s Day offers us an opportunity to reconnect with our diaspora and the 70 million people worldwide of Irish background, tens of millions of whom call America home.

Centuries ago Irish emigrants found a welcoming community in Savannah, one that was built on the values of hospitality, cooperation and hard work. They helped to build this city into the thriving port that it is today.

Boys and girls with The Flags of Ireland kept the crowd entertained while marching down Tybrisa Street.
Boys and girls with The Flags of Ireland kept the crowd entertained while marching down Tybrisa Street.

Today, those same values continue to drive the relationship between Ireland and Savannah. We have built strong partnerships in academia, trade, and tourism and we are committed to continuing to deepen and strengthen those partnerships in the years to come.

The relationship between Wexford and Savannah is something truly special. At the height of Irish migration to Savannah, almost 60% of Irish arrivals in Savannah came from Wexford and this historic bond has been nourished and further developed in recent years.

Last year, the signing of the Wexford-Savannah Partnership Agreement by the Chair of Wexford County Council, Barbara-Anne Murphy, and Mayor Van Johnson marked a significant milestone in this relationship. In addition, the Wexford campus of Georgia Southern University welcomed its first students last summer with another cohort due this year. This makes Georgia Southern the first public university in the United States to open a bricks-and-mortar campus in Ireland. A landmark achievement.

These successes, amongst others, are testament to the continued benefits of our collaboration, and evidence of the commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to driving this partnership forward.

A year of anniversaries

This year, we are proud to mark a particularly special St. Patrick’s Day. Ireland is celebrating three major anniversaries that go to the heart of our identity as a country. We mark the centenary of Ireland’s joining of the League of Nations; the 50th anniversary of our accession to the then European Economic Community; and the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. All along the path of our development as an independent nation, our U.S. friends and partners have stood by us and provided support when we needed it.

As we approach the anniversary of the transformational Good Friday agreement, signed in April 1998, we recall in particular the momentous role of the U.S. in helping to bring about peace and an end to the Troubles, as well as their efforts to maintain and nourish that peace in the years that have followed.

Darragh O'Brien
Darragh O'Brien

As we celebrate 100 years of Ireland in the world, and a century of our country’s engagement as an independent and active member of the international community in the promotion of democracy, peace and security, I want to thank our U.S. partners and our diaspora for being with us on that road.

Looking back on the progress we have made as a country gives us confidence to look forward with hope. The story of Ireland’s bond with Savannah, with Georgia and with the American South is no different – we are rooted in a shared history but looking to the future with optimism for what we can achieve together.

A chairde, in celebration of the road we have travelled together, I wish you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léi.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Irish minister says St. Patrick's Day reconnencts with Savannah Irish