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Mississippi, Go Braugh

Mississippi, Go Braugh

By: Rebekah Staples - March 17, 2024

The Irish have a saying “Erin go Braugh.” It roughly translates to “Ireland to the End of Time.” This weekend, Mississippians will join in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, kicking off the springtime festival season in Jackson where the historic “St. Paddy’s Day parade” attracts thousands of visitors to the capital city for a weekend of good ole Irish fun.

St. Patrick’s Day has been my favorite holiday for years. I was just a wee lass when I became obsessed with all things Ireland. The leprechauns I saw on my breakfast cereal paved way to exploring the yard in search of four-leaf clovers. I dreamt of visiting the Emerald Isle one day.

As I grew older, my interest in the Irish became more personal. My late grandfather – Tom O’Loughlin, also known as “Tom Cat” – was a fierce Irish Catholic who married my grandmother later in life. Tom Cat and I were very close, sending each other handwritten letters from time to time. I still have these cards, most of which include some Irish or Gaelic phrase. He once referred to me as a “shane lass” (the meaning of which I’m still not sure). And, a recent DNA test put my ancestry at 9 percent Irish, a fact I share with green pride.

Last summer, my family and I had the chance to visit Ireland, spending about two weeks
exploring that beautiful island. During that visit, we met Senator Mark Daly, the 24th Chair of the Senate of Ireland and Leas Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. Sen. Daly has been working with American elected officials to establish the American Irish State Legislature Caucus (AISLC).

This bipartisan network of current and former American Irish legislators is open to everyone,
Republicans and Democrats, and fosters economic, political, and cultural ties between
Ireland and the United States.

Turns out, the world is flat. While speaking with Mr. Daly, I learned he was already working
hand-in-hand with Mississippi leaders like Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Senate Finance
Chairman Josh Harkins to establish the Mississippi-Ireland Trade Commission, a non-taxpayer
funded initiative to formalize strong trade relations between the state and the Irish Republic.

Chairman Harkins met Sen. Daly last year during the Irish elected official’s visit to Mississippi during one of his tours across America. The Irish Times described Mr. Daly as “the driving
force” behind more localized efforts to strengthen ties with U.S. politicians by engaging them at
an earlier stage in their careers. Through his efforts, Mr. Daly was able to secure a partnership
agreement between the AISLC and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL),
enhancing Ireland’s ability to directly connect with U.S. lawmakers.

Mr. Daly and Chairman Harkins both believe there is opportunity for Mississippi in a post-Brexit
world in which Ireland is the main English-speaking country in the European Union. New links
and connections with American states like Mississippi will serve as gateways to foster greater
economic and educational links, including research partnerships among universities.

So far, the effort has been well received at the Mississippi State Capitol. Chairman Harkins (note
that “Harkins” is a classic Irish surname) introduced, and the Senate unanimously passed, Senate
Bill 2218 to set up the trade commission, noting that more than seven percent of Mississippi’s
population is of Irish descent and is the third largest ancestry in the Magnolia State.

Federal data shows that Ireland is our 12th largest foreign trade partner, representing industries such as agriculture, aerospace, and pharmaceuticals.

The Mississippi-Ireland Trade Commission will consist of ten members (none compensated by
taxpayers), including appointments from the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House,
Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Development Authority, and the Institutions of
Higher Learning.

These members are called to advance trade relations, initiate joint action on
policy issues; promote business and academic exchanges, and encourage mutual economic
support and investment. If implemented in its current form, the law goes into effect March 17,
2024 – on St. Patrick’s Day in the very year the U.S. and Ireland celebrate 100 years of formal
diplomatic ties!

Mississippi’s economy has rarely experienced such economic growth as in recent years, with
multiple record-breaking economic development announcements, record low unemployment, and an increasingly competitive tax structure and pro-business mindset. Adding direct relationships with friendly, aligned countries like Ireland not only makes good economic sense, but enhances our state’s ability to compete in a global marketplace.

I commend Chairman Harkins and Mr. Daly for their hard work and good ideas. This green
holiday, I wish you both Erin – and Mississippi – go braugh!

About the Author(s)
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Rebekah Staples

A native of Laurel, Mississippi, Rebekah has worked in the communications and public policy fields for over a decade and currently works as president of her own consulting firm, Free State Strategies. Rebekah previously served as Gov. Haley Barbour’s policy director on issues including budget, finance, workforce and economic development, pension reform, and government efficiency. Most recently, she has built on this experience to serve as a senior advisor to Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, assisting him with passage of major policy priorities and management of legislative committees. Rebekah graduated summa cum laude from Mississippi College and has a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. Rebekah is a Fellow of the second class of the Civil Society Fellowship, a Partnership of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and The Aspen Institute, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.