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Through the centuries, this great country has inspired, welcomed and, at times, sheltered the Irish, who came to France during periods of religious and political persecution. In return, Ireland sheltered the French Huguenots who added greatly to our industry and culture.
And indeed, many of these Irish men and women who came to France subsequently contributed a great deal to this country, including in the political, cultural, business and military spheres. It is to the latter we turn our attention today.
We are honoured by the presence of Monsieur le Contrôleur général Lucas, Directeur de la mémoire, du patrimoine et des archives and Général Baptiste, Director of the Musée de l'Armée. Thank you for the support you have given to this project.
Let me also say, how pleased I am to mark this occasion together with Deputy Yves Deniaud, President of the Franco-Irish Parliamentary Group in the Assemblée Nationale and his distinguished colleague, Deputy Franck Gilard.
A special tribute is due to these two great friends of Ireland, who initiatially proposed and then advocated passionately that the remarkably rich story of the Irish regiments in the service of France be told to a new generation.
They extended the hand of friendship again this week as they hosted a delegation of my colleagues from Dáil Éireann, who are with us here today, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett and deputies Olivia Mitchell, David Stanton, Jack Wall and Barry Cowen.
Let me congratulate Madame Marion Duplaix, who with the assistance of her colleagues at the Musée de l’Armée and the support of the Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs,
has successfully traced the threads of Sarsfield and Limerick; of Dillon and Fontenoy; of the thousands of Irish volunteers and the Somme; of Beckett and the Resistance; of de Valera and de Gaulle; of the EUFOR peace-keeping mission in Chad; which woven together create our shared historical tapestry.
The period covered in this exhibition is testimony to our shared values and the courage of many in the defence of those shared values.
From the the Irish Regiments which bore the names: Bulkeley, Clare, Dillon, Rooth, Berwich and Lally. The Wild Geese and their heroic exploits at Fontenoy turning almost certain defeat into victory – a victory that would continue to inspire future generations. The names Dillon, Kilmaine and Clarke are inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe.
At moments of great difficulty in our history France took the field in support of her Irish allies. I think of one heroic example, that of General Humbert, who in 1798 brought a French force to Ireland – indeed, more precisely to the home county of Ireland’s current Taoiseach.
We recall their illustrious descendants who rose to the highest rank to lead France;
I’m thinking of President Patrice MacMahon and of de Gaulle, a descendant of the McCartan’s of Co. Down, who of his visit to Ireland in 1969 spoke of“the Irish blood which flows in my veins”.
Today, peace support operations and support of the civil power are the raison d'être of our Defence Forces. We see such operations as contributing to European and global security, and also as a practical manifestation of good European and global citizenship. For over 50 years, we have participated in operations authorised by the United Nations, whether these are undertaken under direct UN command, or are led by the European Union or by NATO.
Through these missions, Irish men and women have served in trouble spots around the world to create and support the conditions for peace. Since 1958, 85 Irish have given their lives in the cause of peacekeeping, mostly in Lebanon.
As this exhibition sets out, we have enjoyed close cooperation with France in this mission.
Your Government awarded Irish Lieutenant-General William O’Callaghan la Légion d’Honneur for his role in leading the mission between 1981 and 1986 and on 15 July last year, the UN bases at Maroun Al Ras were transferred from French command to an Irish battalion.
Irish troops also serve on a number of other UN and UN-authorised missions including: missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and the International Security and Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
Ireland’s largest involvement in an EU military mission was in EUFOR Chad in 2008 and 2009. This exhibition highlights the strong cooperation between Ireland and France on this mission and the leadership of Irish Lieutenant-General Pat Nash and French General Jean-Philippe Ganascia.
I am pleased to recall also that the French government admitted Lieutenant-General Pat Nash in to la Légion d’Honneur.
Let us remember with respect and pride our shared military endeavours over the centuries, and our continued close cooperation in UN mandated peace-keeping missions.
May Ireland and France always be on the same side when it comes to military operations, but when it comes to rugby, may Ireland always be on the winning side.