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Freedom of Waterford acceptance speech, 4 March 2019


Mayor Doocey, Councillors, citizens of Waterford, family and friends 

Is mór an onóir dom Saoirse Phort Láirge a fháil anseo anocht. Rugadh mé sa chathair seo agus chaith mé mo chéad seacht mbliana déag anseo roimh dul go Coláiste na hOllscoile, Corcaigh i 1972. Tagaim ar ais go Port Láirge chomh minic agus is féidir.

I was born in this city and spent my first 17 years here.  I went to school at Mount Sion and served as an altar boy at Ballybricken. I have come home frequently over the years since I left to go to university in 1972. With my strong Déise background, I am deeply honoured by having been granted the Freedom of Waterford. 

As I accept this honour in the presence of so many of my family members - wife, daughter, son and son-in-law, brothers and sisters, aunts, nieces and nephews - most of whom live in this city, I draw to mind my parents, Tom and Alice Mulhall, both proud Waterfordians, who were devoted to their home place. 

My father grew up in Doyle Street and worked for Irish Life. He had a lifelong involvement in the St Vincent de Paul, and was a member of, among other local bodies, the Ballybricken Parish Council, and the Mount Sion Past Pupils Union. He was all his life a supporter of Waterford soccer and travelled the country, often accompanied by me during my schooldays, in support of his beloved 'Blues'. 

My mother was born Alice Whelan, and hailed from Griffith Place. In summer, we invariably went away for holidays to Wexford or Cork or Kerry and I have a clear memory of my mother's words whenever we crossed the bridge back into Waterford - "I wouldn't swap a day in Waterford for a month anywhere else". 

Three of my four grandparents were from Waterford. The exception was my grandfather, Dan Mulhall, a Dubliner who came here in the 1920s and adopted this city as his home. He worked with CIE and became a popular local bus driver. He took part in our country's freedom struggle and I have his war of independence medal hanging proudly in my office in Washington. 

My paternal grandmother was born, Mary Anne Reale in Bridge Street. She came from a large Waterford family and was widowed for more than three decades. As a result, she spent a lot of time with our family and lived into her mid-90s. 

On my mother's side, my grandparents were both Waterford natives. Paddy Whelan, from Carrigeen Park, drove a steam engine for the Waterford builder, Johnny Hearne, and died before I was born. His wife, Katie King also of Carrigeen, was a central figure in our family during my early years and took great pride in my initial educational accomplishments. All of my mother's brothers and sisters lived their lives in Waterford. Two of them, Kathleen and Anna, are here this evening.  

This all meant that when I was growing up, I had a very large local family and no relatives anywhere else!  

I mention my forebears because in their own ways they, and countless others before and after them, helped, away from history's footlights, to make this city what it is. 

I pay a special tribute to my parents, who maintained a happy family home and instilled in me and my siblings a respect for the value of education as a road to advancement. My mother made sure that by the time I arrived at school in Mount Sion in 1959, I already had a head-start.  

They were proud of the fact that I was the first member of my extended family to attend University and I still remember how thrilled they were to accompany me to my graduation ceremonies at UCC. They would be especially thrilled this evening to see me being recognised in Waterford and at the fact that my entire family is present for this special occasion.  

My own family, my wife, Greta, daughter Tara and her husband, William, and my son Jason, who are here this evening, have all spent lots of time here and are very close to their Waterford family.  

I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1978 and have been privileged this past four decades to serve in a wide range of positions within the Department, at home and abroad.  

Ours is a small country, but we have a big heart and have gained a cherished reputation around the world through our aid workers, our peacekeepers and our people who have made their mark wherever they have settled. We are part of a global family and this is particularly evident in the United States where so many people identify with Ireland even when their ancestors left these shores generations ago.  

I have seen Ireland transformed during my four decades working with the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

Although now one of our longest-serving diplomats, I am excited by the Global Ireland programme which aims to double Ireland's international footprint during the coming decade thus helping to advance our national values and interests in a changing world.  This ambitious initiative reflects the fact that we are now a very different country from the one I first went abroad to serve - in India in 1980.  

I have also always preserved an interest in, and enthusiasm for, my home place. I have witnessed the ups and downs of this ancient city and its surroundings. Looking back but with an eye to the future, I am optimistic about the prospects for Ireland and for Waterford. 

Our country has had to overcome many adversities in the past and there will no doubt be more to come in the years and generations ahead. But we should recognise also that this country and this city are now in a good place. And we should strive to keep it that way. No one owes us a living, but we owe it to ourselves to make our own futures - as a city, a County and a country. 

Thank you Waterford for this enormous honour and a day that I will never forget. 


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