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Speech by Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence,

at the laying of the annual commemorative wreaths

at the statue of Commodore John Barry.

Cresent Quay, Wexford


18 May 2006

Your Worship, Mayor of Wexford; Your Excellency, Ambassador of the United States of America; Elected representatives; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted and honoured to have been invited to Wexford today to participate in the 50th anniversary ceremonies for this fine memorial to one of the greatest Irish-Americans of them all, Commodore John Barry, the father of the U.S Navy.

The Town of Wexford has a long and proud history and a strong maritime tradition and it was a major seaport for hundreds of years. Among the many visitors to avail of its hospitality were the Vikings in the tenth century and the Normans in the twelfth. Clearly, both sets of medieval visitors liked what they saw here in Wexford, because when they arrived here they promptly settled down and made themselves very much at home!

Today however, we are here to commemorate a man who left Wexford to seek fame and fortune, rather than one who settled down here. And I believe that the whole of Ireland should cherish the memory of John Barry, the son of a poor Irish tenant farmer, who rose from being a humble ship’s cabin boy to being appointed senior commander of the entire United States Naval fleet by President George Washington in 1797. The story of his life is one of adventure, of determination, of courage, of gallantry and of innovation.

John Barry came to heroic prominence during the American Revolution and later became holder of the first commission in the United States Navy. His achievements were truly exceptional and his unique and unparalleled contribution to the development of the United States Navy forms an important link in the chain of shared heritage and understanding between our countries. It is noteworthy that this son of Wexford who we honour today, Commodore John Barry, was described as the “Father of the American Navy” - not just by naval historians - but, much more significantly, by his contemporaries, who were in the best position to judge the extent and significance of his achievements.

In 1955, when the United States Battle Monuments Commission approached the then Irish Government with a proposal to fund the erection of a memorial to Commodore Barry in Wexford which would be presented to the Irish nation, the Government was delighted to support the proposal and arrange for a suitably prominent site in Wexford for the statue of this remarkable man. And what a fine location they chose for this memorial, here at Crescent Quay in the heart of Wexford Town. There he stands, proud and tall, sword in hand, gazing defiantly out to sea, as if daring any foreign navy to sail into Wexford Harbour.

The Government also arranged for a pair of commemorative postage stamps to be issued to coincide with the unveiling of this monument on 16th September 1956. And in 2003, a further commemorative stamp was issued to mark the 200th anniversary of Commodore Barry’s death – so he is among a very small number of people who have had the distinction of having two separate commemorative stamps issued in their name by the Irish Postal Service.
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Today in Ireland we are very proud of our strong bonds of friendship with the United States, a long- standing friendship that was forged through the dark days of Irish history when poverty, oppression and famine stalked the land. We are particularly proud of the many Irish people who left their homeland, often in extremely poor, difficult and tragic circumstances, and who not only survived, but went on to prosper and make an outstanding contribution to their newly adopted countries around the globe.

Of course, our links with the United States are not merely historic - we also have a range of business, cultural, sporting, political and commercial connections, all of which are of great importance to the Ireland of the 21st century. On the tourism front, American holidaymakers remain at the heart of our hospitality business while growing numbers of Irish people now travel to the U.S. for their holidays. We are looking forward to welcoming a large number of our American friends to Ireland for the epic Ryder Cup tussle, later this year.

The United States is the most important source of inward investment to Ireland. This is significant not only for jobs, but also for the modernisation of our technology and business practices. In Ireland, U.S. enterprise can be confident of finding a stable, competitive, business-friendly, English-speaking gateway to the substantial European single market.

The United States is the world’s largest trading nation. But, much more importantly for Ireland, it our second largest export market. Currently, some 500 U.S. firms in Ireland are employing over 90,000 people in permanent positions. These companies account for approximately one third of total manufacturing employment in this country. Furthermore, some 300 U.S. institutions have a presence in our Financial Services Centre and the Government hopes to see this number increase still further in the years ahead.

In the fifty years since this memorial was first unveiled, Ireland has changed completely - to an extent unimaginable to those who would have attended the original unveiling ceremony. Some of that change has come about through our own efforts, more from the support of our European Union neighbours, but still more has come about through to the continued goodwill and support of our American Friends.

Ambassador Kenny, I hope that the relationship between our two countries continues to flourish and prosper; and that the bonds of friendship and respect – bonds that were first established back in the days when Commodore Barry sailed the high seas under the American flag – will grow even stronger in the coming years.

Thank you all very much.


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