American actor George Clooney cited his Irish roots while delivering a speech at the first Aurora Prize selection in Armenia.
Refugees are “people, like you and me” the Hollywood star said, before referencing his own family's flight from hunger at the time of the famine.
“The Clooney family fled a famine in Ireland to come to the United States where their very survival required a room, a meal, a helping hand,” he told attendees at the inaugural ceremony for the humanitarian prize.
“We call them refugees, but they’re just people, like you and me. And if you stand right in front of them and take a look deep into their eyes, you might just see an Irish farmer fleeing a famine.”
Clooney, who has Irish roots in Co. Kilkenny, presented the humanitarian award to Marguerite Barankitse from Maison Shalom and REMA Hospital in Burundi.
Accepting the $1 million prize, Barankitse said, “Our values are human values. When you have compassion, dignity and love then nothing can scare you, nothing can stop you – no one can stop love. Not armies, not hate, not persecution, not famine, nothing.”
Through her work with Maison Shalom, Marguerite Barankitse has saved thousands of lives and cared for orphans and refugees during the years of civil war in Burundi.
She sheltered 72 of her Hutu neighbors to save them from persecution when war broke out but was then forced to watch their execution when their hiding place was discovered.
She then began to work in saving children and refugees, opening a hospital in 2008 which has cared for 80,000 patients to date.
Taking a $100,000 grant from the prize, Barankitse will now continue the cycle of giving by awarding the prize money to three organizations of her choice. She plans to donate the award to organizations that will advance aid and rehabilitation for child refugees and orphans, and fight against child poverty.
George Clooney’s Irish ancestors were small farmers from Windgap, County Kilkenny.
Nicholas Clooney (George’s great great grandfather) was one of many cottiers in Windgap in the 1850s who fell foul of "middlemen" who tried to force farmers off the land so they could amalgamate small holdings into bigger farms.
Violently assaulted by one such middleman, Nicholas Clooney decided to quit Ireland for Kentucky.