The Taoiseach has announced a scholarship for Choctaw native American students on a visit to Oklahoma, writes Elaine Loughlin.
Leo Varadkar officially thanked the Choctaw nation, whose ancestors provided relief to Ireland during the Great Famine and said both peoples have "sacred bond" which has joined us together.
In March 1847, the Choctaw people of Oklahoma collected some $170, which is the equivalent of several thousand dollars today, for famine relief in Ireland.
Taoiseach @campaignforleo has arrived at an event in Oklahoma where he’ll address members of the Choctaw Native American community. @rtenews pic.twitter.com/o9Hx42tfdI— Brian O'Donovan (@BrianOD_News) March 12, 2018
In a speech today, Mr Varadkar, who is the first Taoiseach to visit the Choctaw nation said: "Back in the nineteenth century, when the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected and degraded by our colonial master, at our lowest, your spirit of generosity was at its highest.
"You showed compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands, or about to embark on our own ‘Trail of Tears’ across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a new life in Canada or the United States.
"A few years ago, on a visit to Ireland, a representative of the Choctaw Nation called your support for us ‘a sacred memory’. It is that and more. It is a sacred bond, which has joined our peoples together for all time."
Announcing the new scholarship scheme, Mr Varadkar said: "Our people also share a commitment to education as the single best means of building a better life for our children.
"So, I am delighted to announce today a new scholarship programme, a partnership between the Government of Ireland and the Choctaw Nation, for Choctaw students to study in Ireland.
The first scholarship will commence in 2019.
Mr Varadkar added: "Our ancestors were joined together in a time of tragedy; our descendants will be united by a spirit of hope."