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Tribal welcome home for President-elect

Monday, October 31, 2011

WE had the big fella, the long fella and now we have the short fella.

These were the words of one excited market stall-owner in Galway city last night ahead of the arrival of President- elect Michael D Higgins.

As the newly crowned king of the Áras crossed over the Corrib to his home ground, crowds of excited Galwegians lined the streets and packed into Eyre Square.

Unlike those other fellas, Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, Michael D has the united backing of one million Irish voters. And as he returned home, he thanked the City of the Tribes for its support. Waves of cheers went up as he and his wife Sabina stepped out of the chauffeur-driven Mercedes and broke away from Garda security to shake outstretched hands. The presidential couple were then shepherded to a makeshift stage under a banner which read "Welcome home to Galway Mr President".

More cheers went up as the couple — both wearing garments with royal purple — fired their clasped hands up in the air.

It was a proud moment, more befitting the lifting of the Sam Maguire than the traditionally reserved greeting for a president.

Michael D Higgins vowed to Tricolour-waving supporters that, as president, he would advocate policies for the next generation and that his heart would always remain in Galway.

Raising his voice in that Michael D way, in that almost biblical manner, he pledged to lead the nation away from false promises of the past. "I want to pledge now to use every breath I have for the next seven years to try and be inspirational at home as we leave behind the false basis of that for which so many have, and are, paying a great price."

Across the square, away from the presidential celebrations, a few dozen people were camping out as part of continuing anti-bank protests.

Camp leader John Walsh said: "What difference can he make? The only difference is he’s the first president ever elected here in a non-sovereign country."

This may be true. But for the moment at least it feels that, like in the noble rebel song, we are a nation once again.


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