Taoiseach to meet Choctaw tribe on US St Patrick’s Day visit

Native Americans donated to victims of Great Hunger in 1840s despite own hardships

Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation tribe from Oklahoma talks about the Native American tribe's contribution of $170 (€150) - the equivalent of about €4,000 today - to Irish famine relief in 1847. Pictures Cathal Noonan. Video: Simon Carswell


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar kicks off a week-long visit to the United States on Sunday when he arrives in Austin, Texas to begin the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

As well as the customary exchange of shamrock with the US president in the White House scheduled for next Thursday, Mr Varadkar will travel to Oklahoma on Monday where he is due to meet with representatives of the Choctaw Native American tribe.

The Choctaw tribe donated $170 to the victims of the Irish famine in the 1840s – the equivalent of approximately €4,000 in today’s money – despite undergoing their own hardship at the time. Native American tribes, including the Choctaws, were removed from their land by the US government from the 1830s, as the boundary of the expanding American nation moved westwards.


Mr Varadkar will travel to Durant, Oklahoma, on Monday where he will make a presentation to Choctaw chief Gary Batton to mark the contribution made by his ancestors.

Speaking ahead of the visit, the Taoiseach said he was “captivated” by the story of the Choctaws, describing it as “one of the oldest connections we have with America”.

“Even though some of the people who took their lands were Irish, the Choctaw understood our pain and felt kinship with us, because they had experienced it themselves,” he said.

Mr Varadkar’s visit comes less than a year after Chief Batton was welcomed by President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in June. He and a delegation of more than 15 representatives from the Choctaw Nation also visited Midleton in Cork where they attended a ceremony to celebrate the designation of a specially commissioned sculpture to mark the act of generosity.


Entitled Kindred Spirits, the sculpture by Cork-based sculptor Alex Pentek is designed in the shape of a food bowl and commemorates the donation.

Mr Varadkar’s first engagement of the week-long St Patrick’s Day visit is at the annual SXSW music and technology festival in Austin, Texas. He will also meet local politicians and members of the Irish community in Texas.

Mr Varadkar is due to hold his first visit with President Donald Trump later in the week. He is expected to hold a private bilateral meeting with the US president in the White House, as well as present a bowl of shamrock on behalf of the Irish people. From Washington he will travel to New York where he is expected to participate in the St Patrick’s Day Parade.