| 10.6°C Dublin

Never forgotten Bond still strong between Irish and Choctaw as tribal member joins Team Ireland at Beijing 2022

The Choctaw Nation's $170 donation to Ireland during the Famine has never been forgotten

Close

Snowboarder Seamus O’Connnor, Team Ireland coach Ian Burson and freestyle skier Brendan Newby at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

Snowboarder Seamus O’Connnor, Team Ireland coach Ian Burson and freestyle skier Brendan Newby at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

Snowboarder Seamus O’Connnor, Team Ireland coach Ian Burson and freestyle skier Brendan Newby at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

It was March 1847 when members of the Choctaw Nation in America clubbed together to send $170 after learning about the plight of Ireland's Famine victims.

What made the gesture even more extraordinary is that the same tribe had to endure the Trail of Tears during the 1830s, a forced migration from their native lands that saw thousands of them dying en route to Oklahoma.

Their donation to Ireland has never been forgotten and, since then, there have been multiple fundraisers between Ireland and the Choctaw tribe thanks to the bonds formed in previous generations.

Now as Team Ireland flies the green flag in Bejing at this Friday's opening ceremony in the Winter Olympics, among them will be Ian Burson (25), a Choctaw Native American, who is coaching two of our six competitors.

He said he was "very honoured" to be in China as the half-pipe coach for second-time Olympian, snowboarder Seamus O'Connor (24), and freestyle skier Brendan 'Bubba' Newby (25).

Close

The trio at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

The trio at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

The trio at the Winter Olympics in Beijing

 

A former competitive skier at the top level, Mr Burson now works for Utah's Park City Ski and Snowboard, where he coaches international athletes.

"To be out here representing Ireland and the Choctaw, it's really cool. I'm very happy to have the opportunity," he told the Herald.

"To be at the Games alone is very special. But to be here knowing and acknowledging the history between the Choctaw tribe and Ireland is an honour.

"I've been thinking a lot about my parents and grandparents who lived in Oklahoma and had deeper connections to the tribe than I do personally.

"But I'm trying to make them proud and keep the spirit alive."

In 2020, donations from Ireland of nearly €1m were made to families on the Hopi and Navajo reservations who had been badly hit by the pandemic. Mr Burson described this as a wonderful gesture.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

"To see it reciprocated, with Ireland giving towards the Covid relief fund, that's been very cool," he said.

"It's been so nice to see people who have suffered helping each other out."

Given that some of the Choctaw funds during our Famine went to Midleton, Co Cork, a tribute sculpture titled Kindred Spirits was unveiled there in 2017, featuring nine eagle feathers.

The town is now top of Mr Burson's list when he visits Ireland for the first time this summer.

"The Irish Olympic Committee have all been wonderful and I can't wait to hang out with them in Ireland," he said.

"It's really cool to have this connection. I spoke to the tribe about it six months ago and they were very excited about it."

Now as he looks to the Games, he said the competition is "very fierce, especially the half-pipe" and lists Canada, Japan and the US as the countries to watch.

"The boys have been working so hard… a personal best on the world's biggest stage, that's all we're looking for," he said.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy