President Mary McAleese joined the country’s Polish community today to mourn the loss of their head of state and scores of other passengers in a devastating plane crash.
Hundreds of people packed into St Audoen’s Church in Dublin for a mass to mark the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of dignitaries in yesterday’s air tragedy in Russia.
Mrs McAleese gave the first reading at the special city centre service, while flowers and candles were also placed outside the capital’s Polish embassy.
Fr Jaroslaw Maszkiewicz, chaplain to the sizeable Polish community in Ireland, said many people were treating the loss like a personal tragedy.
“People are very sad, it’s very difficult for them – we want to pray together and we want to be together at this time,” he said.
“We appreciate President McAleese coming, her sympathy in this situation means a lot. All those people who died were very important for Polish people. It was the best of Polish people.”
Mr Kaczynski and his wife Maria were among 97 dignitaries travelling in the plane, which had left from Warsaw and hit trees as it approached Smolensk’s airport in thick fog.
Those on board the presidential plane were on their way to memorial events for the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen extended his thoughts and prayers to the people of Poland.
“On my own behalf, and on behalf of my Government, I wish to extend our sincere condolences to the Polish Government and the people of Poland for their huge loss arising from this terrible tragedy,” he said.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he had no doubt Polish people would recover with characteristic courage and determination.
“I know that the loss will also be deeply felt among the substantial Polish community in Ireland and I want to express our sympathy and solidarity to them as they try to come to terms with this appalling disaster,” he added.
A book of condolence will be opened at the Polish embassy in Ballsbridge, south Dublin, from April 12 to April 14.