Today’s youth are first to inherit hard-earned peace, says Obama
US president’s speech in Belfast ahead of G8 summit
US president Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast this morning ahead of the G8 summit. Photograph: Paul Faith/Pool
Hello, Belfast! Hello, Northern Ireland! Well, now you know why it’s so difficult to speak after Michelle. She’s good. On behalf of both of us, thank you for this very warm welcome.
Thank you, Hannah [Nelson], for introducing my wife. I want to thank two men I’ve hosted at the White House on many a St. Patrick’s Day for their warm welcome – First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. I spend the whole year trying to unite Washington around something, and they come visit on St. Patrick’s Day and do it in a single afternoon.
Thank you to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Teresa Villiers; to the Ministers in the audience; to Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir; and thank you to all the citizens of Belfast and Northern Ireland for your hospitality.
The first time Michelle and I visited this island was about two years ago. We were honoured to join tens of thousands on College Green in Dublin. We travelled to the little village of Moneygall, where, as it turned out, my great-great-great grandfather was born. I only found this out a few years ago. When I was first running for office in Chicago, I didn’t know this. I wish I had. But in Chicago, it worked out okay – they’d look at my last name and say, “oh, look, there’s an O’Bama from the homeland running on the South Side – but what kind of name is ‘Barack?’”
While we were in Moneygall, I met my eighth cousin, Henry – affectionately known as Henry the Eighth. I knew he was my cousin, because he has my ears. I leafed through parish logs where the names of my ancestors are recorded. I even watched Michelle learn how to pull a proper pint of “black.” It was a magical visit. The only problem was, it was far too short. A volcano in Iceland forced us to leave before we could even spend the night. So we’ve been eager for a chance to return to this island ever since – and this time, we brought our daughters, too.
In particular, we have wanted to come here, to Northern Ireland, a place of remarkable beauty and extraordinary history; part of an island with which tens of millions of Americans share an eternal relationship. America’s story, in part, began right outside the doors of this gleaming hall. 325 years ago, a ship set sail from the River Lagan for the Chesapeake Bay, filled with men and women who dreamt of building a new life in a new land.
They, followed by hundreds of thousands more, helped us write those early chapters. They helped us win our independence. They helped us draft our Constitution. And soon after, America returned to Belfast, opening one of our very first consulates here in 1796, when George Washington was still the President.
Today, names familiar to many of you are etched on schools and courthouses and solemn memorials of war across the United States – names like Wilson and Kelly, Campbell and O’Neill. So many of the qualities that we Americans hold dear we imported from this land – perseverance and faith, an unbending belief that we make our own destiny, and an unshakable dream that if we work hard and live responsibly, something better lies just around the bend.
So our histories are bound by blood and belief; by culture and commerce. And our futures are equally, inextricably bound together as well. That’s why I’ve come to Belfast today – to talk about the future we can build together.
See, your generation has come of age in a world with fewer walls. You’ve been educated in an era of instant information. You’ve been tempered by turmoil, too. And from what I’ve seen of young people like you around the world, these currents have conspired to make you a generation possessed by both clear-eyed realism and optimistic idealism; a generation keenly aware of the world as it is, and eager to forge the world as it should be.
And when it comes to the future we share, that fills me with hope. You give me hope.
Here, in Northern Ireland, you have known even more rapid change. And while you have unique challenges of your own, you also have unique reasons to be hopeful. For you are the first generation in this land to inherit more than just hardened attitudes, but a just and hard-earned peace.
You now live in a thoroughly modern Northern Ireland. The recessions that spread through nearly every country in recent years have inflicted hardship here, too, and there are communities enduring real pain. Still, day by day, life is changing throughout the North.
There was a time people couldn’t have imagined Northern Ireland hosting a gathering of world leaders, as you are this week. And golf fans had to wait a long six decades for the Irish Open to return to the North last year. I regret, by the way, that I won’t have time to get in a few rounds on this trip. But I did meet Rory McIlroy last year, and he offered to get my swing “sorted” – I suppose a polite way of saying, “Mr. President, you need some help.”
Belfast is a different city too. Once-abandoned factories are rebuilt. Former industrial sites are reborn. Visitors come from all over to see an exhibit at the MAC, a play at the Lyric, or a concert here at Waterfront Hall. Families crowd into pubs in the Cathedral Quarter to hear “trad.” Students lounge at cafés, asking each other, “What’s the craic?”