Seattle mayor congratulates Ireland on marriage equality

President Michael D Higgins praises Irish Americans in Seattle

President Michael D Higgins visited schools in Seattle where GAA games are on the curriculum. File photograph: Frank Miller

President Michael D Higgins visited schools in Seattle where GAA games are on the curriculum. File photograph: Frank Miller


Mayor of Seattle Ed Murray has congratulated Ireland on the imminent signing of the Marriage Equality Bill.

The Bill passed its final stage in the Seanad earlier this week and will become law once it is signed by President Michael D Higgins, who is on an official visit to the US West Coast.

Speaking at a reception for the President and Sabina Higgins on Thursday evening, Mr Murray, who married his long-time partner Michael Shiosaki in 2013, said Seattle would share “that next chapter” with Ireland.

“I want to congratulate the people of Ireland for the bill that you are about to sign that created marriage equality for all people,” he said.

More than 400 guests, from the Irish American community in Seattle, who attended the reception in the city’s opera theatre, McCaw Hall, cheered and applauded his remarks.

The event was hosted by San Francisco Consul General of Ireland , Philip Grant and included local politicians and Seattle chief of police Kathleen O’Toole.

The President told those at the lively gathering they were all an integral part of Irish identity.

He said there was never a time when Ireland hadn’t been assisted by its Diaspora.

“In relation to the speculative bubble which destroyed so many lives all over the planet and which touched us as well, in emerging from that, among the first to come to our assistance were the United States and the Irish-American community,” he said.

He praised the actions of the Irish-Americans of Seattle and said they had given “great example” to others.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr and Mrs Higgins visited Skyline High School in Seattle, where students with and without Irish connections are learning to play GAA sports.

The high school is one of seven in the area where GAA sports are taught as part of the PE curriculum.

Terry Lynch, coach education chair for North American GAA and youth co-ordinator with local team the Seattle Gaels, said Skyline has had GAA as part of the curriculum for five years.

“It’s a fantastic way of getting the sport known in the US,” he said.

Mr Lynch was trained at Croke Park, Dublin, to educate coaches in America and realised PE teachers could be coaches.

American students pick up the game very quickly and it’s played co-ed, he said. The rules are modified and some high schools play ladies’ rules regardless of gender.

The most important thing is we are now self-sustaining,” Mr Lynch said.

Ian Johnson, a member of the youth development programme, was introduced to Gaelic football by his boss when he worked as a bartender in an Irish pub. He now plays for the Seattle Gaels, and prefers hurling.

He said Irish-born players make up 15 to 20 per cent of the team, the rest are “Yankee players” and the schools programme is helping to sustain that.

Student at the school, 17-year-old Alec Willig, said he began playing three years ago and really enjoys it, describing it as a mixture of football, soccer and basketball.

“It’s like combining the sports you already know,” he said.

Seattle is to host the North American GAA Championships for the first time next year. Some 100 teams from the US, Canada and the Caribbean will travel to compete.

Mr Higgins praised the school’s sporting facilities, particularly the football stadium.

“It is wonderful to know this game is being played so well and so enthusiastically,” he said.

“The Gaelic Athletic Association, the GAA, plays a pivotal role in Irish life at home and abroad, and I want to commend our games to you not just as a means of physical exertion, but also for their values: to play Gaelic Games means also to embrace fairness, inclusiveness, and community,” he said.

Speaking at a visit to Microsoft, in Redmond, Seattle, the President emphasised the importance of the company to contemporary Ireland. The company, which employs 1,200 in Dublin, recently announced the development of a new €134million campus in Leopardstown.

Mr Higgins also highlighted the many Irish people working in other Microsoft facilities, including in Seattle.