FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2006
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DEDICATES MEMORIAL TO NEW YORK’S FIGHTING 69TH IN BALLYMOTE, IRELAND
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s Speech
“Thank you, John. Deputy Chief Benton, Consul General O’Connor, members of the 58th Infantry Reserve Battalion, distinguished guests: Good morning to you all. It is an honor to be here in beautiful Ballymote for such a special occasion, and I want to thank you, John, and everyone who worked so hard to bring this day to life.
“I also want to thank John, and all the people of Ballymote and Sligo for being so gracious in understanding the difficulties back in New York that required us to postpone the trip last month.
“It’s great to be back in Ireland. This is not my first trip – I have been to Dublin many times. But it is my first real visit to the west – and from the people I’ve met this morning, I hope it will not be my last.
“At least now, when New Yorkers tell me how beautiful the west of Ireland is, I can look them in the eye and say ‘Tis.
“I would like to begin with an old saying I learned four years ago from your President, Mary McAleese, when she joined us in New York City for the dedication of our Irish Hunger Memorial.
“She reminded us that, ‘Those who drink the water should remember with gratitude those who dug the well.’
“Today, we remember with gratitude all those members of the Fighting 69th whose sacrifices over the past 150 years helped dig a well deep enough to quench the natural human thirst for freedom: not only in America, but throughout the world.
“As John said, when John F. Kennedy became the first American president to visit Ireland 43 years ago, he brought with him a special gift for the Irish people: An original flag of the Fighting 69th.
“It was a small token of thanks for the gift that the Irish had given America: men like Ballymote’s Michael Corcoran, and thousands of others who gallantly marched underneath that Green Flag in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, from Bull Run to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg.
“After the Battle of Malvern Hill, in which the Irish Brigade once again distinguished itself for its bravery, President Lincoln visited his officers in the field. In a quiet moment, he lifted the Green Flag to his lips, kissed it, and said, ‘God Bless the Irish Flag.’
“That Flag – with its golden harp and shamrocks – reminded those who marched under it that in fighting for ‘Liberty and Union,’ they were also honoring the cause of liberty in Ireland.
“In battle after battle, they fought with courage that won them adulation in the North and admiration in the South.
“Brigadier General Michael Corcoran became one of the Civil War’s most revered heroes. When he returned to New York City after months of captivity in the South, enormous crowds thronged him in a parade up Broadway to New York’s City Hall.
“When he died, his body lay in state in our City Hall – just down the corridor from my desk – and people came from far and wide to pay their last respects.
“His successor as commander of the 69th was a fellow Irishman, the legendary Thomas Francis Meagher.
“At Meagher’s funeral mass in New York City, his eulogist said: “Never forget this: he gave all, lost all for the land of his birth. He risked all for the land of his adoption, was her true and loyal soldier, and in the end died in her service.’
“So it could be said for much of the Irish Brigade. And although the 69th suffered terrible casualties in the Civil War, its tradition of valor – and its connection to Ireland – lived on.
“When the Fighting 69th was re-activated for World War I, about 95% of the men who joined the regiment were Irish. Their chaplain, Father Francis Duffy, said the rest of the men were “Irish by adoption, Irish by association, or Irish by conviction.”
“Today, the 69th is as diverse as New York City itself – but Father Duffy’s words still hold true.
“Just as every New York City mayor is a little bit Irish, so is every member of the Fighting 69th.
“All New Yorkers are deeply proud of our city’s connection to the Fighting 69th – its past and present – and we have been deeply moved by the supreme sacrifices its recent members have made.
“Michael’s four grandparents came from Ireland, and he has followed in the footsteps of his father, who also served in the Fighting 69th.
“Michael – and all the members of the Fighting 69th – accepted some of the most dangerous assignments in Iraq with a courage that would make their predecessors proud.
“Nineteen soldiers from the 69th have been killed in Iraq – 10 from New York and nine from Louisiana. More than 50 others have been wounded.
“Today we honor all of them, and we remember especially two New York City residents who served with Michael, and who were killed in an ambush on November 29th, 2004: Wilfredo Urbina and Christian Engeldrum, who was also a member of the New York City Fire Department.
“Christian began his career as a member of the New York City Police Department, and he also served our nation in Operation Desert Storm.
“He spent his life protecting our City and nation.
“When he died, his beautiful wife, Sharon, was 3 months pregnant with their third child.
“Today, I am honored to say, Sharon is here with us.
“Sharon: I know Christian is here with us, too. And I know how proud he must be of you for the way you’ve been so strong for the kids – Sean, Royce, and Kristian.
“We are forever in your debt for the sacrifices you have made.
“In honoring your husband and all the members of the Fighting 69th, we also honor you, and all the family members of the 69th who have lost loved ones... from Bull Run to Route Irish.
“The Fighting 69th has always answered the call to defend and protect America… and on September 11th 2001, the call they answered was a local one. On New York City’s darkest day, the members of the Fighting 69th were one of the first military units to respond to the attacks.
“One member, Gerard Baptiste, who was also a New York City firefighter, died while saving others in the World Trade Center.
“His bravery, and the bravery of all the firefighters and police officers who rushed to the Twin Towers, many Irish, but other New Yorkers too, was as great as anything done in the face of enemy fire at Fredericksburg, or the Argonne Forest.
“It is fitting that steel from the World Trade Center has been incorporated into this monument, and I want to thank Kathleen and Jack Lynch for helping to make that happen.
“Their son, Michael, like Gerard Baptiste and 341 others, was a firefighter who died while saving thousands.
“I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Kathleen and Jack – every year I march with them in the Bronx St. Patrick’s Day parade, and along the route, we pause at a memorial to Michael.
“Kathleen’s family is from County Sligo, which makes their support of this memorial all the more meaningful.
“The Fighting 69th has left its mark on New York City in so many ways.
“You will find the history of the Fighting 69th not only in its historic Armory, but in Times Square, where a statue of Father Duffy greets millions of people every day.
“At Old St. Patrick’s Church in Lower Manhattan, there is a plaque honoring the Fighting 69th and Michael Corcoran, who attended daily mass there.
“And in Calvary cemetery in the thriving Irish community of Woodside, Queens, rests many a Fighting 69th leader, including Corcoran.
“During the Civil War, the members of the Fighting 69th wore green sprigs in their hats – just as the United Irishmen had done in the 1798 uprising. In honor of the ‘wearin’ o’ the green,’ I have brought with me a sprig of grass from Corcoran’s grave site.
“And I’ve brought with me, too, a poem that a contemporary of Corcoran and Meagher wrote in honor of those United Irishmen. I think it’s appropriate to read a verse of it today in their honor, and in honor of Christian Engeldrum and Wilfredo Urbina – and all those who gave everything in the service of the Fighting 69th:
“We drink the memory of the brave,
“Today, we remember all those members of the Fighting 69th who helped America dig – and preserve – a deep well of freedom: may it flow forever strong.
“And we think of how proud so many of them would be today, to see the ties between Ireland and America closer than ever, and to see both lands prospering as never before.
“On behalf of the people of New York City, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the people of Sligo, and all the people of Ireland, for giving a home to this beautiful monument – and for giving more than we can ever say to our city and our nation.”
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958