Ireland’s leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, accepted an honorary degree from Quinnipiac University and visited Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, in Connecticut, ahead of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, in New York.

Speaking at his conferring the Fine Gael party leader reflected on the Great Hunger, how it shaped the Irish and their relationship with the United States and commended the work carried out by Dr John Lahey, Christine Kinealy and the Lender family in making the Great Hunger Museum in Hamden a reality.

Kenny said the Irish people “live, psychologically, socially even spiritually with its consequences.

He continued “All of it affecting the politics and future of our small Atlantic island and the American continent.

“A million dead. A million herded onto coffin ships. More than three million forced to emigrate in the following 30 years.

“Here in the United States, the memory of the great wrong of the Great Hunger fuelled Irish nationalist sentiment and inspired a revolutionary generation.

At home it scoured not just the land but our idea of who we were. It has made us resilient, caring, generous, ubiquitous across America, with pockets of Irishness across the world.”

The Irish leader spoke about how the recent economic collapse in Ireland once again saw the Irish people faced with the reality of a new mass emigration and celebrated that now “thanks to the people’s sacrifice, at last, we are recovering.”

Commenting on the most recent bout of emigration to the USA, he said “In terms of our recent emigrants our loss was America’s gain.

“But today we want our young people to come home because they and their children are our future. And we want them to have the best and be the best at home in their own country. Something that even today is denied to so many.”

On Friday Enda Kenny will address the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of Ireland at the launch of a shared blueprint for sustainable development for the next 15 years. The aim of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will set out how all the nations of the world will work together to end extreme poverty and hunger and to protect the planet we call home.

Kenny said “It is matter of pride to us that Ireland was asked to co-facilitate these important negotiations with Kenya.

“Given our history Ireland is particularly attuned to the experiences of the men, women and children currently seeking refuge in Europe.

"In our generational memory we know what it is like to flee to be forced to leave everything and start anew with new people in a new place.

"We know what it is like not alone to seek refuge but to long for a kind look a kind word recognition of our dignity our shared humanity.”

The leader said Ireland is working with the European Union to help as many migrants as possible. He noted that already Ireland’s naval vessels are on rescue missions in the Mediterranean and that across Ireland there has been an outpouring of compassion and practical help.

He said “We cannot and we will not look away.”

Kenny said the Irish people were not “people motivated not by cheap sentimentality but by real sentiment, sentiment that recognises in men, women and children that we are quite literally “kind.””

“That is why at zones of conflict across the world it is an Irish hand that keeps the peace. It is why in areas of famine it is an Irish voice that brings hope and comfort.”

The Irish leader presented his honorary degree by President of Quinnipac Dr John Lahey did so on behalf of all those Irish immigrants who had made the journey to the United States.

He said “I accept it proudly in memory and honour of the million men, women and children who lost their lives in the great Hunger.

I accept it in the name of the millions more who sought refuge and made a new home in the United States and elsewhere.

And I accept it in honour of the thousands and thousands of Irish people who set sail across the Atlantic in search of new life only to meet early death and committal to the ocean.”

Lahey told the Irish Independent he was honoured to have Kenny visit Quinnipiac and the museum. He said “We’ve had representative from the Irish Government here but to get the Taoiseach, by his presence alone is going to send an extremely important message about how really this museum is.”