Donald Keough's Keynote Address at Irish America's Business 100 Luncheon


Let me say this, Minister Hanafin [Mary Hanafin Ireland’s Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who was present], you and I are the envy of every country on earth because of the extraordinary network of friends in America that you have, especially in the business community. For too long, in my opinion, this has been sort of an accepted and undervalued asset. And I believe that a strong component of the Irish recovery will come from creating and working hard to create new networks and business opportunities with that community abroad here in America and in those places around the world, New Zealand and Australia and Argentina and others, where large groups of Irish have emigrated over the years.

Irish Ties That Bind

The Coca-Cola Company is building a plant in Wexford, which will create jobs and represents a huge investment. They deserve it because they are in the reigning competition, but it didn’t hurt that the chairman of the Coca-Cola Company was born in Northern Ireland. It didn’t hurt that the executive vice president, Irial Finan, who’s an Irishman, was the head of the study that made the decision. And in a way, it didn’t hurt that my family came from Wexford.

Generations ago, remittances from immigrants [to the folks] back home sort of underpinned the Irish economy, as it does in Mexico. So it puts the working relationship between Ireland and the Irish-American business community, I believe, [in position] to find greater opportunities for Ireland.

Your taoiseach will be here in months to meet with our new president, and it’ll be the meeting of two leaders who can both trace – listen to this now – their ancestry back to that little county of Offaly. Did you know that? That connection is pretty important for Ireland. Let me tell you something, in this new era, you use every opportunity you have.

Who We Are

Each of you comes to this gathering from a different group, a different dream, each of you is an exciting book about Ireland and about you and about America. Some of you trace your ethnic backgrounds to the Scotch-Irish tradition, with a strong Protestant equity and with a strong linkage to Great Britain. Others of you, like me, trace your roots to Ireland with a strong Catholic linkage. But forget that. We’re all gathered together with a common joy because we share a common Celtic heritage, and each with a personal history in America.

You know how lucky we are to be here, we have a one in seventy chance to be here. We won the lottery. And from whatever part of that magical island that we trace our roots to, you and I are the beneficiaries of a remarkable gene pool, think about it. These were people who as young people had the courage to leave; they had the guts to walk away from family and roots, to climb aboard an unknown vessel and to sail to an unknown address in an unknown new America. And they planted their feet and their bodies and their hearts and their souls in the soil of this nation, and they didn’t have a ready-made future. But look at us, we’ve created one. You and your ancestors and mine have helped build America. We’ve nurtured it; we have fought for it and thousands of us died in every war including the Revolutionary War and on both sides of the Civil War into the great wars of the twentieth century and beyond.

And so, my friends, each of us is a wonderful Irish story. And a wonderful American story. An Irish-American story. We each have our own story and it’s important that we have it, that we cherish it, that we pass it along to our children and our grandchildren, because the truth is that a family culture and a company culture and a country culture is a collection of stories. So we need to find ours and to tell ours, and for each of us, today is a new chapter in our story. I’m perhaps the oldest story in the room, so I salute each of you for what you’ve achieved and what you will achieve as leaders of our society.

We gather here in a country that is greater than the self-flagellation that we give ourselves, particularly after a tough presidential campaign and severe economic crisis. I’m sick of the barrage of careless faces that pounds us every day through 24-hour media focus, looking for fall guys instead of searching for solutions. I’m sick of the pundits here and abroad telling us that America, a ray of hope and promise, is now fading into history. Ladies and gentlemen, that is sheer nonsense. In a complex, extremely difficult and dangerous economic crisis, we’re confronting our problems, looking at them head on, and we’ll solve them.

The Future

With our global population of six and a half billion people – in the last decade one billion people have moved into the fringes of the middle class for the first time in history, in China, in India, in Brazil and in other countries in the world. And I know that in the next ten years, the world will be better. And twenty years from now, another two billion people will begin to find their way into the middle class. Once you’re there, you have something to protect and save. And I don’t believe that peace is very far from there.