[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 3, 1998]
[Pages 1526-1528]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1526]]

Remarks to a Gathering for Peace in Armagh, Northern Ireland
September 3, 1998

    Thank you. Thank you for the wonderful welcome. I am very, very 
proud to be the first American President to visit Armagh. Thank you for 
making Hillary and me feel so welcome tonight.
    I thank Mayor Turner; my good friend Prime Minister Blair, who will 
speak in a moment. I thank First Minister Trimble and First Deputy 
Minister Seamus Mallon for their remarks and their leadership, the role-
modeling they are doing by working together for a peace for all the 
people of Northern Ireland. I think we should give them both a big hand 
for that. [Applause] I thank them.
    There are other members of the Assembly here tonight who represent 
surrounding areas, Paul Berry, Danny Kennedy, Pat McNamee, Conor Murphy, 
John Fee. We thank them for their service in Northern Ireland's new 
Assembly, the hope for its peaceful future.
    I also would like to say a special word of appreciation to the 
remarkable young woman who introduced me, Sharon Haughey. I'll never 
forget the letter she wrote me in 1995. A 14-year-old girl, in the midst 
of all this violence, said ``Both sides have been hurt. Both sides will 
have to forgive.'' It was so simple, so profound, that I quoted it when 
I came here 3 years ago. Well, she's grown up to be quite an impressive 
young 17-year-old, and I was very honored to have her here tonight as 
the symbol of what Northern Ireland can become if you put away war and 
take up peace forever. Thank you, Sharon.
    I'd like to thank the wonderful choir who sang for us a few moments 
ago. I would like to thank the members of our delegation, the 
Secretaries of Education and Commerce, and 12 Members of the United 
States Congress from both parties, for coming here.
    You know, many United States Presidents' ancestors actually came to 
America from Northern Ireland. Andrew Jackson's father was from Cerrick 
Fergis in County Antrim. Woodrow Wilson's grandfather left Dergalt in 
County Tyrone. My ancestors were so humble, everyone knows they came 
from somewhere in Northern Ireland, and no one is quite sure where. 
[Laughter] Most believe the 18th century Cassadys, my mother's people, 
were from County Fermanagh. Most believe that those people were my 
forebears, and I have a painted watercolor of an 18th century farmhouse 
on our wall at the White House to prove it. The truth is, I can't be 
sure, so I'll save all the genealogists a lot of trouble by saying, 
wherever I am tonight, it is good to be home in Northern Ireland.
    I am especially proud to be here with my wife at this important 
time. Yesterday she spoke to the Vital Voices conference, hundreds of 
women from Northern Ireland, working across all the lines that divide 
you, for a better future. Tonight we are proud to be in a place that is 
a spiritual home to Irish people of both religious traditions and to 
millions of Irish-Americans as well.
    Armagh is a city on a hill in every sense. Your faith and tolerance 
are making a new era of peace possible. For yourselves and all the 
world, in every act of genuine reconciliation, you renew confidence that 
decency can triumph over hatred. You have inspired the rest of us to aim 
a little higher. I thank you, and America thanks you for the precious 
gift you give us all, a gift of hope redeemed and faith restored.
    Indeed, I am tempted in this city of saints and cathedrals to call 
the peace of 1998 a miracle. After all, it was delivered through the 
agency of that good American angel, Senator George Mitchell, who is 
here. It was delivered on Good Friday.
    Nonetheless, I think you would all agree that, at least in the 
normal sense in which we use the word, the peace of Good Friday was not 
a miracle. You did it yourselves. It rose from the public's passionate 
demand to take a different course. It came about from the hard work of 
leaders like those who are on this stage, from David Trimble and Seamus 
Mallon, from the leaders of the other parties, from Tony Blair and the 
Irish Prime Minister, as well. It came from honest debate. And again, it 
came loud and clear from an overwhelming vote of the people for peace. 
It is you who have told your leaders that you long for peace as never 
before. You gave them the confidence to move forward, to give up the 
past, and speak the language of the future.

[[Page 1527]]

    Armagh has stood for these better aspirations throughout its long 
history. If there is a recurring theme to this seat of learning and 
religion, it is the largeness of the human spirit. Here, a Briton, Saint 
Patrick, devoted himself to the cause of Ireland and left a legacy of 
faith and compassion. Here, the Book of Armagh preserved his gentle 
message and the power of the gospels.
    Today, the two cathedrals that dominate the landscape stand for the 
idea that communion is better than destructive competition. Two proud 
traditions can exist side by side, bringing people closer to God and 
closer to each other. I salute the leadership of Dr. Sean Brady and Dr. 
Robin Eames, the Archbishops of the Catholic and the Church of Ireland 
dioceses, respectively. For years they have walked together when it 
counted. I salute the Presbyterians and the Methodists who have worked 
hard for peace, indeed, the men and women of all denominations.
    Here, there have been difficulties, as elsewhere, but the historic 
streets of this old town remind us of a fundamental fact about your 
community: Armagh literally encircles its many traditions in a single 
community. That is what Northern Ireland must do if you want the future 
of peace and prosperity that belongs to the children in this crowd 
    As you look ahead, to be sure, in this peace process, there will be 
false steps and disappointments. The question is not if the peace will 
be challenged; you know it will. The question is, how will you respond 
when it is challenged? You don't have to look too far. The bomb that 
tore at the heart of Omagh was a blatant attack on all of Northern 
Ireland's people who support peace.
    The Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair and Hillary and I just came from 
Omagh. We met with the families whose innocents were slaughtered. We met 
with those who were terribly wounded. We saw children scarred, some of 
them for life, because of the madness that, if someone could just set 
off a big enough bomb and kill enough Protestants and Catholics, kill 
enough men, women, and children, including two pregnant women, kill 
enough people from Northern Ireland, Ireland, and foreign countries, 
that maybe everybody would walk away from peace.
    But it backfired. Out of the unimaginably horrible agony of Omagh, 
the people said, ``It is high time somebody told these people that we 
are through with hate, through with war, through with destruction. It 
will not work anymore.''
    Think of what it will be like when everyone forever can simply walk 
freely through Armagh with no anxiety about what street you walk down or 
with whom you talk. Think how beautiful this city can be without any 
barbed wire and never a thought of a burned church. Peace brings peace 
of mind and prosperity and new friends eager to see this historic and 
compelling land for the first time. People once were afraid to come to 
Armagh and Northern Ireland. Now they will be hard pressed to stay away.
    We wanted to come here in person to thank you, to thank you for the 
peace, to thank you for strengthening the hand of everyone, everyone 
anywhere who is working to make the world a little better.
    When I go now to other troubled places, I point to you as proof that 
peace is not an idle daydream, for your peace is real, and it resonates 
around the world. It echoes in the ears of people hungry for the end of 
strife in their own country. Now, when I meet Palestinians and Israelis, 
I can say, ``Don't tell me it's impossible. Look at Northern Ireland.'' 
When I meet Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, I can say, ``Don't tell me 
it's impossible. Look at Northern Ireland.'' When I hear what the 
Indians and Pakistanis say about each other over their religious 
differences, I say, ``Don't tell me you can't work this out. Look at 
Northern Ireland.'' Centuries were put to bed, and a new day has dawned. 
Thank you for that gift to the world.
    And never underestimate the impact you can have on the world. The 
great English poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote those famous lines: 
``No man is an island. We are all a piece of the continent, a part of 
the main.'' Tonight we might even say, in this interconnected world, not 
even an island, not even a very unique island, not even Ireland is fully 
an island.
    On this island, Northern Ireland obviously is connected in ways to 
the Republic, as well as to England, Scotland, and Wales, and in ways, 
the Republic of Ireland is connected to them also. All of you on this 
island increasingly are connected to Europe and to the rest of the 
world, as ideas and information and people fly across the globe at 
record speeds. We are tied ever closer together, and we have obligations

[[Page 1528]]

now that we cannot shirk, to stand for the cause of human dignity 
    To continue John Donne's beautiful metaphor, when the bells of 
Armagh toll, they ring out not just to the Irish of Protestant and 
Catholic traditions. They ring out to people everywhere in the world who 
long for peace and freedom and dignity. That is your gift.
    We Americans will do what we can to support the peace, to support 
economic projects, to support education projects. Tomorrow the Secretary 
of Education will announce a cooperative effort here to help children 
bring peace by doing cross-community civic projects. We know we have an 
obligation to you because your ancestors were such a source of strength 
in America's early history. Because their descendants are building 
America's future today, because of all that, we have not forgotten our 
debt to Ulster. But we really owe an obligation to you because none of 
us are islands; we are all now a part of the main.
    Three years ago I pledged that if you chose peace, America would 
walk with you. You made the choice, and America will honor its pledge.
    Thank you for the springtime of hope you have given the world. Thank 
you for reminding us of one of life's most important lessons, that it is 
never too late for a new beginning. And remember, you will be tested 
again and again, but a God of grace has given you a new beginning. Now 
you must make the most of it, mindful of President Kennedy's adage that 
``Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own.''
    Your work is the world's work. And everywhere, in every corner, 
there are people who long to believe in our better selves, who want to 
be able to say for the rest of their lives, in the face of any act of 
madness born of hatred over religious, or racial, or ethnic or tribal 
differences, they want to be able to shake their fists in defiance and 
say, ``Do not tell me it has to be this way. Look at Northern Ireland.''
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8 p.m. at the Mall of Armagh. In his 
remarks, he referred to Mayor Robert Turner; Prime Minister Tony Blair 
of the United Kingdom and his wife, Cherie; First Minister David Trimble 
and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the Northern Ireland 
Assembly; former Senator George J. Mitchell, independent chairman of the 
multiparty talks in Northern Ireland; and Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of