Mayo Peace Park Official Opening 7th Oct 2008 in Co. Mayo

Speech made by The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, at the Official Opening of Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar, Tuesday 7th October 2008.

"Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, In the native Gaelic Irish Language 'Dia dhíbh a chairde. Tá an-áthas orm bheith i bhur measc ar on ocáid seo. Míle bhuíochas díbh as an gcuireadh agus an fáilte a thug sibh dom'.

This is a very special occasion for the people of Mayo as we gather to officially open this beautiful Mayo Memorial Peace Park Garden of Remembrance. I am very grateful to Michael Feeney, the Chairman of the Mayo Peace Park Committee and instigator of the project for the invitation to be here.

This place is a simple gesture of respect and honoured memory for all those from Mayo who gave their lives in the unselfish service of others. Some gave service in the uniform of the Irish Army on service with the United Nations, while others wore the uniforms of other armies, the British Army, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and indeed many others if we cast our minds back over the centuries of our complex history. Some of those who died were destined to be well remembered. Others, particularly the fifty thousand or more who died in the Great War, were destined to have their memories consigned to shoe-boxes in attics until recent years, when a great longing for reconciliation allowed us to remember differently.

The opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Belgium over a decade ago showcased this new mood and the opening of the Mayo Peace Park Garden of Remembrance consolidates it, ensuring that we will continue to remember differently, and in remembering all that appalling sacrifice, dedicate ourselves anew to building peace and closing the door forever on conflict.

This year we celebrate fifty years of Irish peacekeeping with the United Nations. The people of Ireland have taken enormous pride in the professional, tactful and compassionate way our defence forces provided protection and care of very troubled communities in conflict situations across the world. They have brought hope and dignity to so many anxious and endangered people and they have brought huge credit and international respect to their homeland. This small island with its embedded tradition of military neutrality has never shirked its responsibilities in the cause of world peace, and Mayo’s sons and daughters have made and continue to make their distinctive contribution.

Our first President Douglas Hyde kept the memory of the famous Mayo poet Anthony Raftery alive when he gathered in his words from the oral tradition and collected them in writing for future generations. In his best known poem he wrote in rapturous terms about his Mayo home in words that could have been written of this day and this place: “And if I were standing in the midst of my people, Age would leave me and I'd be young once more'

Almost all of those we commemorate here died young. They died wishing they could be back among their people. Here we bring their memories back among their people and they are indeed young once more.

We are a very fortunate generation that we can gather in commemoration of all those Irish men and women who gave their lives - whether it was for Irish freedom in successive uprisings over centuries of resistance to colonisation or whether it was in the many European uniforms in which the scattered Irish served for causes they felt passionate about, sometimes conflicting causes, whether it was in British, American, Australian, Canadian or New Zealand uniforms or whether in service with the UN. This is probably the first generation to be able to reconcile and revere all those memories.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir."