The Choctaw-Irish Bond Lives On
March 30, 2016
In 2015, a statue was commissioned to be built in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, to honor the kindness of the Choctaws. But the story begins in 1831, when the Choctaw people were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi. A few years later, Choctaws learned of people starving in Ireland. Only sixteen years had passed since the Choctaws had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears and a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar tale coming from across the ocean. Individual Choctaws collected and donated $170 in 1847 to assist the Irish people. Jump ahead a century and a half. It took a year for artist Alex Pentek to create Kindred Spirits. With its nine eagle feathers reaching 20 feet into the air, the statue represents “this great moment of compassion, strength, and unity,” said Pentek. The official unveiling is expected to take place later this spring. For the month of March we would like to share with you a story from a Choctaw Nation employee. Shannon Compton recently visited Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, and expressed her thoughts and feelings when she saw the statue.
Ireland has always been on my bucket list of places to visit. When I saw the monument would be completed by the time our trip occurred, I knew we had to drive three hours off our original path to experience the beauty of what I had seen in the photos. Midleton is a small town and we were certain we would be able to find the statue easily BUT we were wrong. We drove up and down the main road, stopping and asking for directions, for two hours. This is part of my experience that I wouldn’t change though. Every person we stopped to ask knew exactly what the feathers represented and they were thrilled to have the monument in their town. As I was asking directions, I would tell each person that I worked for Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma back in the United States and that this monument meant something very special to me. The third time we got lost we turned around in a parking lot that appeared to be an elderly community. A woman, probably in her 80s, walked up to the car and asked if we were lost. (Everyone is very friendly in Ireland). I told her we were trying to find the Choctaw Feathers monument and she started tearing up. She pointed across the river and said it was located behind the trees that were blocking the view of the park from where we were.
I told her that I worked for Choctaw Nation and she said that we will never know how much the Choctaw Nation people meant to Ireland for their help with the potato famine. She said her grandmother lived to tell her about the time period and her grandfather died from starvation during the famine because he made sure her grandmother and her children had food first. (The beautiful woman was crying while telling me this).
As she was telling me her story, I was SO proud to be part of Choctaw Nation. My heart felt connected to her and I was so honored to share with her the love, kindness, and humility of the Choctaw Nation. Knowing that we were going to see the monument on our trip, I took a lapel pin with me to Ireland that had the seal on it. I wanted to leave it on the monument as a symbol of my love for the tribe. Instead of leaving it on the monument, I gave this sweet woman the lapel pen. I folded it in her palm and hugged her neck before we left. I told her that Choctaw was very special to me and my family and my hope was that every time she looked at the pen she would remember the love Choctaw Nation shows everyone whom they come in contact with. After we finished talking to her, we went to the monument. MAJESTIC … That’s the one word I felt as we walked up to the Choctaw feathers monument in Midleton, Ireland. Psalms 8:9 states, “Lord, O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. That’s the scripture that came to my mind as we were walking up to the monument. The monument was so much bigger then it looked like in the pictures. The feathers are absolutely STUNNING. The detail in each feather is meticulous. They are built to look like they will blow over, but in reality their steel construction represents the strength and resilience of the Choctaw people. The backdrop of the monument is a small lake that is surrounded by greenery and I was overcome and brought to tears by the honor I felt being a part of a tribe that cares about people as much as Choctaw Nation does.
I was so proud to be representing Choctaw Nation in a country that feels a deep connection from the pain of something so horrific. When we returned to the car and started driving again, I reflected on the beauty and lifetime experience that I had just experienced. The monument is built to look majestic and fragile at the same time. The feathers appear as though they are coming out of the ground … as though they were planted hundreds of years ago in a spot that only God could make as beautiful as where they are located. It was a wonderful experience to feel respect for the Choctaw Nation in a country so far away.
I love this tribe, the people who serve the members, and the meaning behind what all of us work towards every day.