Address at Annual Commdore John Barry Commemoration
Issued : Sunday 29 June, 2008
Areas : Wexford
Minister, Leas Ceann Comhairle, Oireachtas Members, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my great honour and privilege to welcome all of you to this important event in Wexford's civic calendar. In particular, I welcome Minister Brian Lenihan, and the representative of the United States Embassy, Mr Robert Faucher. I am delighted that you can join with us in honouring a distinguished son of Wexford, who contributed so much to his adopted country of America.
It is a particular honour for me to be here today as Mayor of the historic Borough of Wexford. 52 years my grandfather, Eddie Hall accepted the gift of this statue from the people of America on behalf of the people of Ireland. Earlier this year it was my great honour to open and name Commodore John Barry Park on the docks in Annapolis, Maryland - home of the American Naval Academy where thousands of young cadets follow in the footsteps of John Barry.
45 years ago this weekend another great descendant of this county, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, laid a wreath here. In doing so, the President of the United States acknowledged the role that John Barry had played in the revolutionary war, and in the establishment of a free and democratic America. The following day President Kennedy told Dail Eireann that he kept Barry's sword in his office to inspire him. On that same historic occasion on 28 June 1963, Kennedy outlined the links between Ireland and America. He said "Benjamin Franklin, the envoy of the American Revolution, was received by the Irish parliament in 1772. Our interests have been joined ever since. Franklin sent leaflets to Irish Freedom Fighters. O'Connell was influenced by Washington. And Robert Emmet influenced Lincoln. Irish volunteers played so predominant a role in the American army that Lord Mountjoy lamented in the British parliament that "we have lost America through the Irish".
Our interests continue to be joined. Not only in the strong ecomonic and investment links between our countries. But in the true acts of friendship that we have seen from America in guiding and helping the path to peace in Ireland. Commodore John Barry, the founder of the U.S. Navy, was one of many sons and daughters of Wexford who built a new life in America. We remember and salute them all today.
This evening's event has a second purpose. To remember all Wexford Seafarers who built and sustained this community, and who in some of Ireland's darkest hours - sustained the nation itself.
We remember the crews of the Wexford steamship fleet, who provisioned this land, at great risk and hardship during the last World War. Our very street names recall those ships - Edenvale Avenue, Menapia Avenue. And the heroic Kerlogue with its 11 man crew, who braved tempestuous seas and possible air attack, to save 168 German sailors from drowning in the Bay of Biscay in December 1943. Among the crew of the Kerlogue was the father of the current Minister for Europe, Dick Roche.
For at least 10 solid hours until well after last light, the 11 gallant crewmen pulled survivors into their boat. Frank Forde is his book "The Long Watch" wrote "cabins, storerooms and alleyways were soon packed with shivering, soaked and sodden men. Others were placed in the engine room where it became so crowded that Chief Engineer, Eric Giggins, could not move around the machinery and so by signs - as none could speak English - he got the survivors to move instruments he could not reach."
In general, convoys did not stop, even for their own in the water, for fear of being torpedoed themselves. However these ships, with Eire and the tri-colour painted on their sides certainly did. We remember them with pride and gratitude this evening.
It is no surpise that this county of Wexford produced John Barry. A man whose blood carried the salt of the Slaney estuary. We salute his memory, his life and his works.
May the deeds of John Barry and all the sea-faring sons and daughters of Wexford, who followed him in the service of liberty and freedom, inspire this generation of Wexfordians to serve our community better.
As John F Kennedy told Dail Eireann exactly 45 years ago "it is that quality of the Irish - that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask why not?"
Let us move forward on Wexford's great journey with confidence and pride.
Mayor George LawlorThe Labour PartyDáil By-election candidate for Wexford
- Work Address:
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