TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has announced a new scholarship programme which will allow Choctaw Native American students to study in Ireland.
The Irish PM made the announcement during his official visit to the Choctaw reservation in Oklahoma today.
He officially thanked the Choctaw Nation, whose ancestors provided relief to Ireland during the Great Famine, saying Irish and Chochtaw people have a “sacred bond” binding us together.
In March 1847, the Choctaw community of Oklahoma collected some $170 – equivalent to several thousands of dollars today – and sent it to famine-ravaged Ireland.
— Elaine Loughlin (@Elaine_Loughlin) March 12, 2018
Mr Varadkar, who is the first Taoiseach to visit the Choctaws, thanked the community for the support they provided to the Irish people despite their own horrific hardships.
“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,” Mr Varadkar said.
“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”.
He added: “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.”
'United by hope'
Announcing the new scholarship scheme, the Taoiseach 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.
"This is an opportunity for us to learn from you and from your culture, and you from ours, in a sharing of knowledge that will enrich both our peoples.”
The first scholarship under the Irish Government’s new programme 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."