This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.
Part 4: The Spirit of 1776 & Troubles in the North
We know that America played a key role in Ireland’s strike for independence in 1916. How about Ireland’s contribution to American independence in 1776?
On St. Patrick’s Day 1976, President Gerald Ford expressed “the appreciation of the American people to the people of Ireland” for their participation in the founding and growth of the United States. He voiced these to Taoiseach Liam M. Cosgrave in morning welcoming remarks and an evening state dinner toast.
Throughout our history–beginning with the many Irish-Americans who fought for freedom in 1776 and the 11 who signed the Declaration of Independence–men and women from your country have brought Irish courage, Irish energy, Irish strength, Irish devotion, and Irish genius to the United States of America.
I’m not sure what 11 signers Ford had in mind. Most other sources put the figure at nine men, with four born in Ireland.
We are indeed greatly honored to have been invited here during your Bicentennial Year, a year which highlights the remarkable achievements of this truly great Nation. We are proud that throughout American history the Irish people have been closely identified with your endeavors.
He noted that in 1928, his father, W. T. Cosgrave, then head of the Irish government, visited the U.S. accompanied by his Minister for Defense Desmond Fitzgerald. His son, Foreign Minister Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald, joined the 1976 delegation to Washington.
Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford.
Between the morning remarks and the evening dinner, Cosgrave and Fitzgerald met privately in the Oval Office with Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other officials. (Here’s the Memorandum of Conversation, with handwritten notes.) They talked about trade, but also discussed the situation in Northern Ireland, which erupted into sectarian violence four years earlier. (That very day, four Catholic civilians were killed by a bomb planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force in Dungannon, County Tyrone.)
Cosgrave worried about money being sent to Ulster. “Much of it goes under the shelter of humanitarian aid,” he said. “They [the record doesn’t identify who] are starting terrorist attacks again and seem to be focusing on trains. We have been able to cut down their supply of explosives, which has helped.”
FitzGerald suggested putting something in a communique “about not sending money to Ireland … would help coming from you.” But after an unrecorded and “inclusive” discussion, Cosgrave decided that “it might be counterproductive to make much of it.”
The notes suggest that Ford promised to do more “after the election is out of the way.” He lost to Jimmy Carter eight months later.