In November 2023, as part of the semiquincentennial ‘Year of the French’ programme, the Embassy of France in Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs – with support from the Royal Irish Academy – organised the ‘1798-2023: 225 years of aspiration to the Republic’ conference.
Hosted in Iveagh House, Dublin, the conference coincided with the visit to Ireland by French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, along with the French Minister for Higher Education and Research, the Minister for Energy Transition, the Minister Delegate for Digital Affairs, and the Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, responsible for Europe.
As well as reflecting on the anniversary of the landing of a French expeditionary force in County Mayo in support of the United Irish rebellion in August 1798, the conference was also billed as an opportunity to emphasise the Franco-Irish relations in the context of to the 175th anniversary of the national flag of Ireland.
A panel discussion on the ‘founding principles of the Republic in France and Ireland’ was moderated by Dearbhail McDonald, with contributions from Ross Carroll, assistant professor in political science, DCU; Bertrand Mathieu, Professor, University of Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne; Eoin Daly, lecturer above the Bar, University of Galway; and Maxime Millon, doctoral student, University of Bordeaux and Sutherland.
This was followed by speeches delivered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and the French Prime Minister. Replete with references to the Rugby World Cup 2023, each premier alluded to the history of Franco-Irish relations, the new post-Brexit context, and geopolitical challenges which abound, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli attack on and ground invasion of Gaza.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD
“The republican ideal is deeply rooted in Ireland and was fundamental to subsequent Irish aspirations for independence.
“And it was in Paris that we gained for the first time the flag we fly today: a tricolour of green, white, and orange, presented to Thomas Francis Meagher by a group of revolutionary Frenchwomen – flown first in Waterford city. This year also marks the 175th anniversary of the gifting of that tricolour – and that it was again in France that we found the symbol for a republic that would reject sectarianism. We have here today two replica tricolours specially made in French silk for this occasion…
“Our shared republican ideal, including the protections of the rights of citizens, and the promotion of the values of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’, continues to provide a political and ethical compass for our societies in uncertain times.”
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne
“The Republic is at the heart of our identity, as French and Irish people. It is what unites us and brings us together. It is the cement of our democracy and our national cohesion. I see young people in our audience and online, and it is a powerful symbol. Our young people are attached to the Republic, and it is our duty to protect and pass on its values…
“This history binds us together. We are bound by centuries of fighting for freedom and democracy. We know how fragile the rule of law and fundamental freedoms can be. Nothing can be taken for granted, at a time when fundamental rights are being eroded in several countries. A double threat is emerging today. It is external, with the return of war to Europe’s borders, but also the spread of fake news and attempts at manipulation. It is also internal, within Europe itself: populist rhetoric and demagoguery are increasing mistrust of institutions, and we must respond to this. France, Ireland, republics: we have a special responsibility, because throughout the world, freedom-loving men and women are taking up the torch of the Enlightenment, of French and Irish democrats…
“As you will have understood, the Republic is not just a political system, it is a daily struggle. It goes beyond institutions. It is the cement of national cohesion, and of Franco-Irish friendship. It has united our two peoples in their quest for freedom for centuries, and even more so over the past 225 years. It is this common bond that we celebrate today, with the 225th anniversary of the Year of the French in Ireland, a country which, as General de Gaulle wrote, occupies a special place in the hearts of the French. Long live Franco-Irish friendship! Long live our two republics, French and Irish!”
Additional elements of the conference included: