Bloomberg unveils Sligo monument to Fighting 69th


The future of Ireland has a lot in common with the history of New York "which had been built on people putting religious and cultural differences aside to live and work together and placing their civic faith in democracy," New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday.

Mr Bloomberg was in Sligo at the invitation of Sligo-Leitrim Fine Gael TD John Perry, to unveil "Ireland's national memorial to the Fighting 69th regiment of the US army and Brigadier Michael Corcoran" at Ballymote. On his first visit to Ireland since becoming mayor, Mr Bloomberg said: "There is a new story of Ireland and New York . . . it's about Irish entrepreneurs and Irish businesses making their mark on Wall Street and in the boardrooms of the world's most successful enterprises."

He was speaking at a breakfast reception in Sligo's city hall before the unveiling.

There were now "at least 40 different Irish companies with offices in New York city, employing thousands of people: that includes companies like Data care, hotel chains like the Fitzpatrick Group and pharmaceuticals like Elan". On the other hand there were many New York firms doing business in Ireland, including his own Bloomberg LP, which has a major office in Dublin.

On the issue of the undocumented Irish in the US, he said a significant increase was needed in "the number of visas we give out to those who want to come to America and making sure that those who are already in America have the opportunity to stay".

Mr Bloomberg arrived at Knock airport yesterday morning and left again from there in the afternoon. He was accompanied by a zealous security team which insisted on strict control of access, by dignitaries and media, to the mayor.

Michael Corcoran, who was commander of the Fighting 69th, was born at Carrowkeel near Ballymote in 1827 and fought on the union side in the American civil war.

The 69th regiment was set up in 1851, made up mainly of Irish immigrants and gained a reputation for bravery. When Corcoran died in 1863, he was succeeded by Thomas Francis Meagher. In recent times, 19 soldiers from the regiment have died in Iraq, 10 from New York city.

The US chargé d'affaires to Ireland, Jonathan Benton recalled that president John Kennedy, on his visit to Ireland in 1963, presented one of the flags of the 69th regiment to the Dáil, where it still hangs.

He said that steel from the World Trade Center was encased in the base of the Ballymote monument. The steel was a gift from Jack and Kathleen Lynch whose son, Michael, died in the towers on September 11th, 2001, "when 2,819 people from 91 different countries, perished".

Mrs Lynch's family are natives of Sligo.

Also at Ballymote were former EU commissioner Ray MacSharry, who felt it was "an absolutely wonderful occasion"; his nephew, mayor of Sligo councillor Tom MacSharry; the Bishop of Achonry Dr Thomas Flynn; Army Chief of Staff Lieut Gen James Sreenan, a Ballymote native; Garda Chief Supt Martin McLoughlin; Tim O'Connor, Irish consul in New York; a guard of honour of the 58th infantry reserve commanded by Lieut Russell Waldron, and the band of the Army 4th Western Command. Special guest was dancer Michael Flatley, whose father came from nearby Culfadda, there with his fiancée Niamh O'Brien. Matt Mulloy of the Chieftains played Easter Snow and The Rights of Man on the concert flute, with the two national anthems sung by Michael Lang.

A small group of anti-war protesters stood at a distance. They included former mayor of Sligo Declan Bree, who refused to attend the event as he "could not in conscience participate in any ceremony where Bloomberg was guest of honour". He criticised Mr Bloomberg's support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon last month and said the 69th regiment of the 1860s was "not to be compared to today's 69th regiment which has been part of the occupying army in Iraq".

Ballymote independent socialist Tim Mulcahy said Mr Bloomberg had shown "no remorse for the atrocities" involving Israel in Lebanon. He suggested it would have been more appropriate to invite Senator Ted Kennedy or his sister, former US ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, to unveil the Corcoran memorial.