June 2, 1984
A chairde Gaeil [Irish friends] -- thank you.
I very much appreciate the honor that you've done me today. A degree, honorary though it may be, is a recognition of a certain understanding of culture and of the truths that are at the foundation of Western civilization. And a degree from an Irish university, in this respect, is of even greater significance.
I have to confess that on the 25th anniversary of my own graduation, my alma mater presented me with an honorary degree, and thereby culminated 25 years of guilt that I had nursed, because I had always thought the first one they gave me was honorary. [Laughter]
But I would like to take this moment to congratulate your distinguished president of University College, Galway, Dr. O'hEocha for all that he has done and is doing to overcome the spiral of violence which has plagued Northern Ireland. As chairman of the New Ireland Forum, you helped to open honors -- or doors of opportunity for peace and reconciliation.
Progress will depend on other responsible leaders, in both parts of Ireland and in Great Britain, following your example. As far as the United States is concerned, we applaud all those who strove for constructive political cooperation and who renounce violence. We pray that men and women of good will in all parts of this land can, through mutual consent and consultation, find a way of bringing peace and harmony to this island that means so much to us.
It was here in Ireland that monks and scholars preserved the theological and classical achievements of the Western World during a time of darkness on the continent of Europe. With the triumph of St. Patrick and Christianity, Ireland emerged as one of the most learned countries of Europe, attracting students from distant lands and known for centuries as the Island of Saints and Scholars.
This veneration of knowledge is part of our heritage I am most proud to share. While tyrants in many nations stamped their populations into conformity and submission, our ancestors enjoyed heated exchanges of ideas as far back as in the court of good King Brian Boru. It's part of our blood. That's what I keep telling myself every time I try to iron out my differences with the Speaker of our House of Representatives, a lad by the name of Tip O'Neill. [Laughter]
Well, he's a great son of Ireland and America as well, and I can say that, knowing that we have heartfelt differences of opinion. Yet, in free societies, differences are expected, indeed, encouraged. It is this freedom to disagree, to question, to state one's case even when in opposition to those in authority that is the cornerstone of liberty and human progress.
When I arrived in Shannon yesterday, I mentioned that I was not only returning to my own roots but also to those of my country's freedom. Historically, of course, no one can doubt Ireland's enormous contributions to American liberty. Nine of the signers of our Declaration of Independence were of Irish ancestry; four were born in Ireland. Twenty generals in our Revolutionary Army were of Irish ancestry. Generals Montgomery, Sullivan, Wayne, and others were in the thick of the battle. On Washington's personal staff were Generals Moylan and Fitzgerald. And on the high seas, Commodore John Barry, considered by many the father of the United States Navy, was born in County Wexford.
As officers and as soldiers, sailors, and marines, Irish immigrants added fire to the American Revolution, a fire that ignited a flame of liberty as had never before been seen. This was not a result of uncontrollable historical forces, but the accomplishment of heroic individuals whose commitment and courage shook the foundations of empires. William Butler Yeats put it well: ``Whatever flames upon the night, man's own resinous heart has fed.'' And I imagine the British weren't surprised to see just who was fanning those flames. Sir Henry Clinton wrote home to London that, ``the emigrants from Ireland are our most serious opponents.''
By the time of the American Revolution, Ireland was already a nation steeped in culture and historical traditions, a fact evidenced by your own city of Galway -- now my own city of Galway -- which is celebrating its 500th anniversary. Permit me to congratulate all of your citizens on this august occasion.
This esteemed university is only one part of the traditional educational glory of Galway. I'm told that as far back as 1580, Galway Mayor Dominick Lynch founded a free school here which became a well-known center of Catholic culture and nationalist activity, attracting pupils from near and far. By 1627 so many were flocking here, many with no means of support, that the city ordered ``foreign beggars and poor scholars'' to be whipped out of town. Now, considering the degree you've just bestowed on me, I can hope that that rule is no longer in effect. [Laughter]
I'm afraid we have no communities quite so venerable as Galway in the United States. But what we lack in years we try to make up for and try hard in spirit. From the time of our independence until the present moment, the mainspring of our national identity has been a common dedication to the principles of human liberty. Further, we believe there's a vital link between our freedom and the dramatic progress -- the increase in our material well-being that we've enjoyed during these last 200 years.
Freedom motivates people of courage and creativity to strive, to improve, and to push back the boundaries of knowledge. Here, too, the Irish character has contributed so much. Galway, a city Columbus, as has been said already, is supposed to have visited on his way to the New World, is on a coast which for so long was the western edge, the frontier of the known world.
This is the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Brendan, who, legend tells us, sailed west into uncharted waters and discovered new lands. This man of God, a man of learning whose monasteries were part of Ireland's Golden Age, may, indeed, have been the first tie between Ireland and America. I understand much time and effort has gone into organizing what will be an annual trans-Atlantic yacht race between Ireland and the United States commemorating Brendan's voyage. I commend those making this effort to establish what could prove to be an exciting new link between our two countries.
Whether Brendan reached the American Continent or not, there is no doubt about the Irish role in taming the wilderness of the New World and turning America into an economic dynamo beyond imagination. The Irish came by the millions, seeking refuge from tyranny and deprivation -- from hunger of the body and of the soul. Irish Americans worked in the factories. They built our railroads and, as with my family, settled and farmed the vast stretches of uncultivated prairie in the heartland of America.
I have a hunch that I should be shortening my remarks. [It had begun to rain heavily.] [Laughter]
The dream of a better life brought these people to our shores and millions of others from every corner of the world. They and their descendants maintain great pride in their ancestry -- but also to say thank you to your nation and to your people for all you contributed to the spirit and well-being of the United States of America.
Certainly an important part of that spirit has and must remain close people-to-people contacts. The Prime Minister and I are therefore pleased to announce our agreement to increase academic exchange programs between the United States and Ireland.
We have instructed the appropriate agencies to put this into effect as soon as possible. We have a long tradition of academic cooperation; we'll strengthen it. And for our part, we intend to triple the number of students and scholars -- triple them -- in participating in the programs.
America in these last four decades has assumed a heavy burden of responsibility to help preserve peace and promote economic development and human dignity throughout the world. Sometimes, as is to be expected in all human endeavors, mistakes were made. Yet, overall, I believe that we have an admirable record.
There is something very important I want you to know, and then I will hasten on. The American people still hold dear those principles of liberty and justice for which our forefathers sacrificed so much. Visiting America you understand this -- and I hope that each of you will one day be able to do that.
We're still a nation comprised of good and decent people whose fundamental values of tolerance, compassion, and fair-play guide and direct the decisions of our government.
Today the free world faces an enormously powerful adversary. A visit to that country or to its colonies would reveal no public disagreement, no right of assembly, no independent unions. What we face is a strong and aggressive military machine that prohibits fundamental freedoms.
Our policy is aimed at deterring aggression and helping our allies and friends to protect themselves, while, at the same time, doing everything we can to reduce the risks of war.
We seek negotiations with the Soviet Union, but unfortunately we face an empty chair.
I'll be speaking more on this in my speech to Parliament, but right now I think that I should cut short whatever I was going to say, because I would like to bring up a proclamation in which we are congratulating Galway on its 500th anniversary.
This is our greeting on the quincentennial from our country to your city. Let it hope in our hearts that we will always stand together. Brothers and sisters of Ireland, Dia libh go leir [God be with you all].
Note: The President spoke at 3:11 p.m. in the Quadrangle Square at the university.
Upon arrival at the university, the President met briefly with Dr. Colm O'hEocha, president of the university, and T. Kenneth Whitaker, chancellor of the National University of Ireland.
Prior to his address, the President received an honorary doctorate of laws degree from the National University, of which the college at Galway is a part, and was presented with the Freedom of the City and a resolution scroll by Mayor Michael Leahy.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the President signed the university guest register and then departed Galway and returned to Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo, Ireland.