What of the modern legacy of the Irish Famine, the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mór?
It is fitting and appropriate that the Irish Government commemorates in events like this the unprecedented loss of life, suffering, and emigration on a sheer Biblical like number of migrants who tried desperately to escape the claws of death.
Places like this here in Phoenix are vital to those types of occasions, as they are a real, concrete, tangible reminder of that awful time in our history.
But I think we in 2019 also have to push ourselves to think of this episode even more deeply.
With the vastness of numbers of those who left our shores, their fate was in many ways literally the only thing that they took.
So little wonder that Saint Patrick not only became their national patron, but he also became the patron to their journey.
As former Taoiseach Enda Kenny reminded the President during a visit at a Saint Patrick’s Day event, Saint Patrick was, and is for many, the patron saint of migrants and immigrants.
And one story more than any might help us today to sum up the desperation of those that had to leave their home place.
Described by an aunt, she tells of why her nephew fled from their home place in search of a better life in the north, and wound up in a small boat crossing the sea.
But the sea wasn’t the Irish Sea, or the Atlantic: it was the Mediterranean.
And the little boy was Alan Kurdi, whose picture, to this day, haunts me. It haunts me because he would have been the same age as my son. His little, lifeless, innocent body washed up on a Turkish shore where a young soldier lifts him from the beach and tries to maintain Alan’s dignity.
It is an image that shocked the world, and like for so many times in the past, a photograph being a signpost to a particular generation. In this case, a reminder of how a generation has failed.
Alan and his red shirt, his little navy short pants, and his brown shoes, looked just like my son. And he probably had the same little needs: to be made safe, to be loved, to be kept warm, and to be fed.
But like Ireland in the 1840s, his country in 2015 did not allow for his family to give Alan that future he deserved, like my son.
And that must be the real learning of the Irish Famine, for all of us, as sons and daughters of Ireland.
What would the millions who perished because of potato blight, and the policy of a neglectful government, want in 2019 for the children of today?
I believe that they would want to make sure that it is not allowed to happen anymore.
So our challenge in remembering those on our own side who died and fled is to take on the Gospel of Patrick and apply it to today’s world.
Our country must strive to give future generations hope: so that migration becomes something that a young person wants to do, rather than something that a young person is forced to do.
And it must use its place as a small, independent, trusted nation to stand up for, and speak for all those like Alan Kurdi who haunts me, and it is right that he does.
We cannot sit idly by while our global shores have the innocent remains of children washed up on them.
Or while the slaughter of the innocents in many part of the world becomes the backdrop to the evening news as we sit down to eat our dinner.
The legacy of the Great Irish Hunger, and the voices of those dead, our ancestors, must be heard.
We should remember them by challenging, by questioning, by pushing decision makers, and by standing up for those who have nobody, like the Irish people in the 1840s and 1850s had nobody either.