Irish connections with the Native Americans go back centuries, but many aren’t aware of what happened.
It is often said that the Irish have long memories and, as part of that, they never forget a kind act in a time of need.
During the famine, also known as The Great Hunger, which lasted from 1845-1852, approximately one million people emigrated to other countries (predominantly America) and the story of the Irish predicament spread.
There were relief efforts, but one of the most significant came from the Choctaw people, a Native American tribe who raised and donated a significant sum of money in 1847, which was to be used for food aid.
The Choctaw people were not by any means a wealthy tribe. In fact, most of them lived in squalour and poverty themselves. Yet, in their generosity and kinship with the Irish, they gathered what they could and sent approximately $170 (€150), which translates to around $4,400 (€3,950) today.
In 2013, a sculpture was commissioned to pay homage to the Choctaws who went hungry to help the Irish. It was entitled Kindred Spirits and was unveiled in 2015. Alex Pentek, the artist behind the work, created nine 20-foot (6.1 m) stainless steel eagle feathers which were arranged in a circle. None of the feathers were identical.
Kindred Spirits was unveiled in 2015 in Cork’s Bailic Park.
It was announced that a ceremony will take place today. TheJournal.ie reported that “the chief of the Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, and a delegation of over 15 representatives from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, will attend a public ceremony in Cork to officially dedicate a sculpture in Midleton which commemorates the donation.”
Choctaw Chief Gary Batton gave an impassioned and heartwarming speech, citing the similarities between the Irish and Native American people.
“Your story is our story. We didn’t have any income. This was money pulled from our pockets. We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help.
The bond between our nations has strengthened over the years. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our cultures, and meet the generous people who have continued to honour a gift from the heart.”
The Journal.ie went on to quote Joe McCarthy, East Cork Municipal District Officer, who said before today’s Official Dedication;
“The Choctaw people were still recovering from their own injustice, and they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers. It’s rare to see such generosity. It had to be acknowledged. They bestowed a blessing not only on the starving Irish men, women and children, but also on humanity.
The gift from the Choctaw people was a demonstration of love, and I hope that this monument and the Official Dedication acknowledges that, and that it will encourage the Irish people to act as the Choctaw people did.”
The ‘Kindred Spirits’ Official Dedication starts at 2pm and a special ceremony on Bailick Road will include traditional Choctaw and Irish music and dancing.