Toast by the Ambassador at the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad
News10 May 2019
As Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, I am truly proud and honoured to stand here in recognition of the enormous role played by some 10,000 Irish men in the building of the transcontinental railroad whose 150th anniversary we commemorate today.
I wish to thank the State of Utah for inviting me to speak on behalf of my fellow countrymen who worked here a century and a half ago to complete this landmark project. Theirs was a magnificent contribution to the making of modern America.
Those railroad workers were drawn from the six million Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1840 and 1900 escaping from famine and seeking better lives for themselves and their families. They and their descendants became part of the fabric of modern America but they never forgot their ancestral Irish homeland. Their achievements in America have been a perennial source of inspiration to the Ireland they left behind.
Those Irish workers were joined in the great endeavour we celebrate today by many thousands of Chinese workers and others, including from the Mormon settlements, Native Americans and recently-emancipated African Americans.
That mix of peoples working together in pursuit of a shared objective was characteristic of the land of opportunity that was 19th century America. It made this country a source of hope and expectation for so many millions of people who came here from all over the world.
Those who built this railroad battled the elements and an ever-challenging terrain to achieve the goal of connecting east and west on this great continent. The transcontinental railroad was one of the greatest feats of the 19th century.
It falls to me to propose a toast to those workers whose names are largely absent from the historical record but whose lives and labours were indispensable to this country's development.
We remember all those who laid rails, built bridges, and blasted rock, thus helping to make a reality of the dreams of this nation. We celebrate the tens of thousands of hands that built a railroad that truly unified this vast and diverse country.
We salute all of those from many lands who built this epic railroad.