But Michael D Higgins said much work remains to be done to realise the nationalist leader’s inspirational vision for a truly just and reconciled Ireland.
He was speaking in Mallow, Co Cork, as he marked the 200th anniversary of Davis’ birth by unveiling a statue of the poet and co-founder of the Young Ireland Movement on a new plaza on the town’s Davis St, just yards from where the historic figure was born.
Mr Higgins told a crowd of some 500 people that Davis has left a “powerful and indelible mark” on Irish society, and that his vision for Ireland was a country united by heritage, language, and a sense of shared community.
“Some may describe this vision as overly idealistic or even naive,” he said.
“But these words have echoed across the generations, inspiring the nationalist leaders that followed, through the struggle for independence, and to the present day.
“Today, as we stand in a free and independent republic with liberty perhaps beyond even Thomas Davis’ dreams, much work remains to be done to realise his vision for a truly just and reconciled Ireland.
“There can be no doubt of the great strength, the possibilities, that exist in Irish civil society. It is a strength that must be channelled into engagement with the structures that Davis and others fought so hard to provide.”
During his visit to Mallow, the President viewed the birth register and baptismal font in St James’ Church, where Davis was christened; he planted an oak tree in the church grounds, before visiting his birthplace at 73 Davis St.
The presidential visit marked the last of a series of commemorative events, organised by the Mallow Development Partnership and the Thomas Davis Commemoration Society, which were held throughout the year to mark the bicentenary and which included the issuing of a commemorative stamp by An Post.
John McDonnell, chairman of Mallow Development Partnership, described Davis as a “practical and pragmatic patriot”.
Davis held that while few could influence the world at large, they could act at home for the good of the country, he said.
“And I suppose that is the challenge for us all — to understand that the cumulative effect of small actions at a local level can be transformational for a community and ultimately for a country,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Higgins unveiled a plaque to mark the 125th anniversary of the 86-pupil St Luke’s Church of Ireland National School on O’Mahoney’s Ave in Cork City.
Recalling his own education in a small primary school, Mr Higgins paid tribute to the pupils, parents and teachers of the “little school on the big hill” and said: “It is a great advantage being in a school where everyone knows everyone else”.
The president also visited St Patrick’s Boys NS in Mallow to mark its 60th anniversary.