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Taoiseach thanks native American tribe whose ancestors raised money for Great Famine

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets members of the Choctaw Nation at the Choctaw tribal council in the Main Hall in Oklahoma on day two of his week-long visit to the US Picture by Niall Carson/PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has arrived in Oklahoma for a meeting with members of the Choctaw tribe.

Mr Varadkar will hold a bilateral meeting with Choctaw Nation chief Gary Batton. He will also meet state governor Mary Fallin.

The taoiseach is visiting the Choctaw tribe to commemorate the fundraising efforts by the tribe's ancestors, who raised money for Ireland's Great Famine despite the fact that they had been displaced from their own lands.

Mr Varadkar began his speech at the Choctaw Nation by speaking in the native language.

"Halito. Minko Batton, Himak nittak a Durant vla li ka a kana hosh si aiyokpachi ka yakoke, chim achi li," he said.

Mr Varadkar said it was an honour to be at the Choctaw Nation on his first St Patrick's Day trip to the US as taoiseach.

"For me, the story of our two peoples symbolises the spirit of St Patrick better than anything else," he said.

He was speaking during a ceremony at the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

Mr Varadkar said: "Back in the 19th century, when the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected and degraded by our colonial master, at our lowest, your spirit of generosity was at its highest.

"You showed compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands, or about to embark on our own 'Trail of Tears' across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a new life in Canada or the United States.

"Its impact was more than the lives that were saved 171 years ago. It is seen in the way it made us think of our fellow human beings when they are suffering and in distress.

"To always look outwards as a nation.

The taoiseach was referencing the donation of 170 dollars made by the Choctaw people to help Irish people during the Great Famine.

Mr Varadkar said: "In our native Irish language there is a piece of ancient wisdom: 'Ar scath a cheile, a mhaireann na daoine'.

"There is no exact translation, but it means that people live under the wing of others.

"In other words, we are shielded from the sun by each other. We rely on each other."

The taoiseach said that during the Famine in the mid-19th century the Irish people were grateful for the shelter the Choctaw Nation provided and that today Ireland endeavours to provide that same shelter to the suffering and oppressed around the world.

"Like the Choctaw people of 170 years ago, we have chosen to look outward, to do what we can to combat hunger and poverty around the world," Mr Varadkar said.

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