Irish Prime Minister visits the Choctaw people, nations bonded over hardships

Published: Mar. 12, 2018 at 6:12 PM CDT
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The Irish Prime minister visited with the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Oklahoma. Ireland and the Choctaw Nation, separated by an ocean, share a unique past that bonded them.

As part of the St. Patrick's tour around the U.S., Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar made a pit stop in Durant to visit the Choctaw Nation.

More than 4,000 miles separates Durant, Okla. from Dublin Ireland. But the physical distance is nothing in comparison to the closeness these two nations share.

"When the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected, degraded and starving and at our lowest point, your spirits of generosity were at it's highest," said Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

The Prime Minister is referring to the series of crop failures across Ireland from 1845 to about 1849, also known as the Irish Potato Famine. Historians said the famine killed a million Irish and forced roughly two million to leave their home country.

"This link between the Irish and Choctaw is one of shared experience," Varadkar said.

In the 1830s, the Choctaws faced similar trials and tribulations as they too were forcibly removed from their homes in what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Approximately 2,500 died as they were relocated from their original territory in the deep south to Oklahoma.

"We've went through our trials and tribulations and we've been able to persevere and stay strong and stay united," said Choctaw Chief Gary Batton.

Sympathizing with the Irish, the Choctaws sent 170 dollars to the people of Ireland for aid, which was worth thousands during that time. Since that gesture, a friendship between the two nations was born.

"Your act of kindness will never be or will be forgotten in Ireland," Varadkar said.

To continue their friendship, the Prime Mnister said they will start a scholarship program for Choctaw students to study abroad in Ireland.

"We want to make sure and continue this relationship we've had for 170 years," Batton said. "There's no way we're gonna let that spirit die at this time. We're going to continue making it alive and well."

The Prime Minister of Ireland said his next step is meeting with President Donald Trump later this week.