ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MARY MCALEESE Interfaith Event, Cork City Hall, 22 January, 2010
Ladies and Gentleman,
This morning I was here in this auditorium at another event celebrating a famous Irishman, a famous Cork man, who was born a 100 years ago this year. He hadn’t a drop of Irish blood in his body but you could start a very big row in Cork if you dared to suggest that he was anything other than a great Cork man. His name was Aloys Fleischmann's and for almost fifty years he was a professor of music in this city. The son of German Immigrants, a child from a different place, a child from a different background, a great son of Cork, who loved Cork and was loved by Cork.
Through his life we begin to see the joys we have in the present and the future as more and more young Irish men and women draw from the wells of different countries and different faiths, different perspectives. Because, in this generation, so many have come from all around the world to make their lives here as Aloys Fleischmann's family did all those generations ago. Many of them may not have a drop of Irish blood in their bodies although some of them will because one of the great joys will be intermarriage and one of the great joys of those marriages will be shared children - Irish, Lithuanian, Irish, Nigerian Irish, Chinese you name it. All those wonderful joys we have to look forward to as their genius puts itself at the service of our country and what do we want for them?
Well, I can tell you what we don’t want, because I come from Belfast where Christians of two different Christian traditions did not trust each other, did not love each other enough and so were estranged. Out of that estrangement came such wasted opportunity and unfortunately some violence that’s what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want because we have the wisdom of bitter experience which teaches us that if we work together, if we love one another across differences, we have so so much to enrich our lives.
No two in this Hall are the same. Not even identical twins, as the mother of identical twins will tell, are the same. No two have the same perspective, no two the same range of gifts, no two the same range of talents or mix of talents. Everybody utterly absolutely unique and in that uniqueness, in that very uniqueness, we bring range of skills that compliments the person next door or the person across the street. How terrible it would have been throughout all the floods and the snow, you had recently here In Cork, if every single person had only the one same talent and that talent did not include an aptitude for sweeping out water. If everybody said well “I don’t do sweeping out water” “It’s not my thing” or “I don’t do helping neighbours” can you imagine what would have happened. Instead everybody pooled their little bit of talent and created a community effort and helped each other as neighbors. And they did not first ask what you believe before they said “Can I help you.” No the help was given as neighbours.
One of the great things we share is Faith, it infuses our lives. We have many different perspectives here. We have very different views on doctrines and dogma. We have many different views on these things. But none of those differences can stop us, or should stop us from loving one another, befriending one another, being good to one another, inviting each other into each other’s home, into each other’s embracing friendship. That is what enriches our lives the joy of friendship.
To all of you, I say a very big thank you. Every one of you for what you do to ensure that we live in an honourable community with each other where we do truly respect each other make space for each other, smile at each other and welcome each other.
I think of the many times that Irish Immigrants around the world and God knows there were plenty of them. I think of all the times they were not made welcome. They were our relations, our aunts, our uncles, our family and it broke our hearts to hear that they were made welcome. What a terrible thing that if we in turn did anything other than smile and hold our hand in welcome to those that come here. Because we know what it is like to be a stranger in strange lands. We know how wonderful it is when somebody makes space for us makes us welcome and smiles what a lift that is to the human heart. A human heart very often that has so much loneliness because you have left the homeland, left mother behind, father behind, relatives behind all that is familiar. Culture, language, faith, system infusing the atmosphere around us to come to a strange country and it is easy to feel strange and to feel lost.
What breaks that sense of strangeness, what breaks that lostness is the human person who smiles at you, who shakes your hand, who is interested in you, who wants to befriend you. In that moment of friendship you feel, you can cope with everything that is strange, you feel alive in a new way and alive in a new place that is why Cois Tine is so important and why even the words are lovely. Cois Tine is like the fire the hearth.
When I was wee and when visitors would come to the house, we would all be sitting around the cozy fire in the living room but visitors were bought to the parlour. Do you remember the parlour? The coldest most miserable room in the house but with all the good furniture stuffed into it. And you would bring the person into the cold parlour and turn on the two-bar electric heater and leave the gorgeous fire. Because the fire, in some ways, was the place for the family, the really intimate family and so the choosing of those words Cois Tine are very important. The people are invited to the fireside, not to the parlour, not to the posh parlour, for the stranger you are trying to impress but to the fireside where you engage in deep, deep being with one another. Real friends to one another. Family to one another.
Tonight that was this service, this interdenominational, this shared service celebrates is that we are family to one another. We are friends to one another, we are community, we are Cork, we are Ireland. Whoever we are, whatever we are, whatever we believe, whatever differences there are, we share that very very powerful thing. We are Ireland, we are community, we are family.
Enjoy each other’s company this very blessed night.