A family 70 million strong
I had the wonderful opportunity on Friday at Stormont Parliament Buildings to give a TedX talk in praise of the Irish Diaspora, a perfect way to end a week which started with Belfast City Council uniting in admiration of that honorary Irish American and Comptroller of New York State Tom DiNapoli.
I was pleased to have the support of parties from all sides for a motion which recognised Comptroller DiNapoli for investing $15m of New York State pension funds in Belfast tech start-ups via local equity vehicle Crescent Capital. The motion acknowledged the Comptroller’s longstanding support for fair employment in US companies operating in the North of Ireland and also pledged to invite him back to Belfast to see the changes that peace has brought. You can see the full text of the motion commending the Comptroller, who has $171bn under his stewardship (which really does make him the Billion Dollar Man), here and my address to Council is also online.
Calling our brothers and sisters back was the theme of my TedX intervention. The video will go up shortly but for now here’s a summary of my case for a Homecoming to build the peace.
“Home defines us. It is a place of comfort, of sanctuary, of rest, of family, of memories. The Irish love of home has inspired poets, writers and musicians — not just where we rest our head at night but also our street, our neighbourhood, and of course our great city.
“And because home is so sacred to the Irish, the pain of exile is felt ever more keenly and the joy of homecoming is limitless. I travel a lot but the greatest part of every journey is the road home.
“But home and homecoming occupy a special place in the Irish story because per capita we have the biggest Diaspora in the world. 6.5 million people live on the island of Ireland, 70 million around the world are of Irish descent. Nowhere is the Irish Diaspora stronger than in the US where I have had the great good fortune to witness the genius and the generosity of the Irish American community. No-one should doubt that the soul of Ireland is in Irish America. Our greatest Irish dance, Michael Flatley, is a Chicagoan, our greatest philanthropist Chuck Feeney is a native of New Jersey, our greatest trad guitarist Denis Cahill was also born in the Windy City while the most searing memoir in recent times about growing up Irish was written by Bostonian Michael Patrick MacDonald.
“I have also had the privilege of meeting the sons and daughters of the Ulster exodus — the Scots-Irish whose Presbyterian ancestors left these shores in the early 1800s and later tides of emigrants who left in the middle of the last century to make new lives in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“When I met these émigrés during my travels as Lord Mayor, they told me the peace — a peace they made possible — was the greatest gift they had ever received and asked what they could to to foster reconciliation between Orange and Green.
“Until now I didn’t have a clear answer but after I stepped down as mayor and had time to consider the next steps for Belfast, it became obvious to me that we had to create an event which allowed the Diaspora to come home to see the changes peace has wrought and explore ways in which they can build Belfast.
“We are going to start by inviting leaders of the global Irish back to Belfast for a Homecoming. 50 people of influence this year, 150 next year, 500 in 2016 and 1,000 by 2017. What will they do? They could follow the path trod by these three Irish American ambassadors for Belfast: Dorothea Pacini who brought the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to Belfast; Jim Gillespie who founded Belfast’s most successful sporting team, the Belfast Giants; and Buddhist priest and Belfast ex-pat Paul Haller who returned from the San Francisco Zen Monastery to set up the Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast which helps make whole wounded people.
“The Irish built the skyscrapers of New York, they built the railroads of Canada and Australia, they built the bridges and tunnels of Britain, it’s time to bring them back to build the peace.”
Finally, congrats to the St Patrick’s Day Parade committee in New York for making this wonderful celebration a day for everyone by their decision this week to allow a gay group to join the parade. Another good day for the Irish. Maith sibh.