Stylish start to President’s second term

AS a nation we may be somewhat uncomfortable with displays that smack of pomp and ceremony more associated with the heads of our neighbouring monarchy.

But when called upon - as with the inauguration of Mary McAleese as President of Ireland for a second term - we can organise such occasions with considerable, yet understated, style.

Yesterday’s ceremony struck a pitch-perfect note between due recognition of an important State event and the President’s human touch and ease with ordinary citizens in a simple, yet moving, celebration of a democratic republic.

Even the weather, which threatened to cast a rain cloud or two over the proceedings, remained dry as large crowds gathered to watch 700 invited guests, including political, religious and business leaders, arrive for the formal function in the majestic St Patrick’s Hall of Dublin Castle.

Ms McAleese travelled with her husband, Martin, from Áras an Uachtaráin in the 1948 Rolls Royce, which has been used for all ceremonial occasions by presidents since Seán T Ó Ceallaigh.

Dressed in a dark aubergine cashmere winter coat over a magenta silk suit by Dublin fashion designer Aideen Bodkin, the President smiled constantly, if a little nervously, during the one-hour ceremony.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern paid due tribute to Ms McAleese in claiming she had “truly been the People’s President”, during her first seven years in office, although cynics might suggest she is also the “Politicians’ President” due to the collective will of party leaders to avoid an election this time round.

However, it was a day fittingly far removed from politics, if not exactly history.

Although yesterday’s event coincided with Armistice Day (as it also did seven years ago) Ms McAleese’s immediate predecessor, Mary Robinson, was one of the few guests to wear a poppy.

However, the date was duly noted by the President to highlight the contrast between Europe at the end of World War I in 1918 and last May when a ceremony to mark the EU’s expansion to 25 members was celebrated in her home at Phoenix Park.

Ms McAleese may have sparked an economic boom for the construction industry in 1997 with her presidential theme of “building bridges.”

However, her second term in office might well come to be known as her “Metro” phase as she emphasised the need for individuals to develop deeper roots and connections with their community.

In her inauguration speech, Ms McAleese encouraged every person to join her in helping “to choose responsible citizenship over irresponsible individualism.”

“The cushion of consumerism is no substitute for the comfort of community,” she said.

The customary quote from an Irish poet came courtesy of Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney and his exhortation to “move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare” which resonated with the President’s vocal desire for the current generation to leave “a legacy of good for our children.”

Acknowledging the progress and prosperity of the Celtic Tiger years, she also warned of the danger of being “almost giddy with greater freedom and choice.”

Behaving in similar, but excusable, excitable fashion were the 600 schoolchildren representing all 32 counties who waited outside in the courtyard of Dublin Castle to greet the President, buoyed on by the music of the Army No 1 Band with such cultural favourites as the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Westlife’s Flying Without Wings.

Fans of Ireland’s best-known boyband were given an unexpected treat with the arrival of singer Nicky Byrne and his wife and Taoiseach’s daughter, Georgina, although one teacher confessed in a slightly embarrassed tone that “Bertie got a bigger cheer.”

Jamie Lynch, a primary school student from Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, was delighted to meet the President and learn that she was a fan of his uncle - the author, John Boyne.

“It’s lovely to see you all.

“Go raibh míle maith agaibh,” said the President repeatedly as she was greeted with genuine warmth by well-wishers, both old and young.

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