President Mary McAleese revealed she was on the verge of tears as she attended her last engagement as Head of State today.
In an emotional public farewell at a homeless centre in Dublin, the President said she felt gratitude and sadness in the final hours of her 14-year term.
“On the one hand it is sad but I have a great sense of gratitude,” she said.
“It was just a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to waken up every morning to be the country’s primary ambassador and to love every day of it.”
President McAleese, with husband Senator Martin McAleese by her side, attended the St Vincent de Paul homeless centre for men in Christchurch, Dublin, in her last engagement.
She said she was unable to speak too much of her sadness at leaving office.
“If you give me two seconds I’ll be in floods of tears,” she said.
“Gratitude and sadness are pretty much in equal measure today.”
The President will move out of her residence, Aras an Uachtarain, this evening ahead of President-elect Michael D Higgins’ inauguration at Dublin Castle tomorrow.
It is widely accepted Mrs McAleese departs Phoenix Park more popular than when she was elected back in 1997.
The outgoing President said her only advice to Mr Higgins would be to enjoy his seven year term.
“Just enjoy, enjoy being President,” she said.
“I woke up every morning full of joy. I loved every day of the job. I was energised by it and I was energised by the people I met because that’s the source of your energy.”
Mrs McAleese’s final engagement was to launch the refurbished Back Lane hostel for homeless men near Christchurch Cathedral, run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Depaul Ireland.
Having washed dishes for the charity when she was a teenager in Belfast, the final event was particularly poignant.
President McAleese explained: “Coming out of the Back Lane Hostel, I’m just very proud of an Ireland where people care and people do so much good work.
“Thank God that when life renders you fragile that there are places for you that are created out of love by a bunch of strangers.”
President McAleese, whose two terms as Head of State were marked by the “Building Bridges” theme with communities in the Republic of Ireland and the North, said that she was extremely proud of what had been achieved through peace over the years.
“I just want to say to all my friends and family in Northern Ireland, it’s been one of the greatest joys of my life to see the huge relief into civic society,” she said.
The President added: “When I’m leaving here I’m leaving very proud to be part of an Ireland that has so many really good people who are prepared to live love.”