Inauguration Speech

Presidential Flag

The Irish Emigrant November 1997

Today Mary McAleese was inaugurated as the country's eighth President and I was fortunate enough to receive a press pass for St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle for the ceremony. When the new President emerged from the Castle she inspected a guard of honour and then took the time to walk round the perimeter of the courtyard to shake hands with many of the hundreds of school children from throughout the 32 counties who were present for the occasion.

Since then President McAleese has hosted a celebratory lunch and watched a fireworks display in the Phoenix Park. As this goes out she is attending a reception for 2,000 guests at Dublin Castle.

President McAleese's inauguration speech follows.


A uaisle,

Lá stairúil é seo im'shaol féin, i saol mo mhuintire, agus i saol na tíre go 1éir. Is pribhéid mhór i a bheith tofa mar Uachtarán na Éireann, le bheith mar ghuth na Éireann i gce/in is i gcóngair.

This is a historic day in the life of my family and in the life of the country. It is a wonderful privilege for me to be chosen as Uachtaran na hEireann, to be a voice for Ireland at home and abroad.

I am honoured and very humbled to be successor to seven exemplary Presidents. Their differing religious, political, geographical and social origins speak loudly of a Presidency which has always been wide open and all embracing. Among them were Presidents from Connaught, Leinster and Munster to say nothing of America and London. It is my special privilege and delight to be the first President from Ulster.

The span of almost sixty years since the first Presidential Inauguration has been a nation transformed. This Ireland which stands so confidently on the brink of the 21st century and the third millennium is one our forbears dreamed of and yearned for; a prospering Ireland, accomplished, educated, dynamic, innovative, compassionate, proud of its people, its language, and of its vast heritage; an Ireland, at the heart of the European Union, respected by nations and cultures across the world.

The scale of what we have already accomplished in such a short time allows us to embrace the future with well-based confidence and hope.

It is the people of Ireland who, in a million big and small ways, in quiet acts of hard work, heroism and generosity have built up the fabric of home, community and country on which the remarkable success story of today's invigorating sense of purpose about us.

There are those who absorb the rush of newness with delight. There are those who are more cautious, even fearful. Such tensions are part of our creative genius, they form the energy which gives us our unique identity our particularity.

And I want to point the way to a reconciliation of these many tensions and to see Ireland grow ever more comfortable and at ease with the flowering diversity that is now all around us. To quote a Belfast poet Louis MacNeice "a single purpose can be founded on a jumble of opposites."

Yet I know to speak of reconciliation is to raise a nervous query in the hearts of some North of the border, in the place of my birth. There is no more appropriate place to address that query than here in Dublin Castle, a place where the complex history of these two neighbouring and now very neighbourly islands has seen many chapters written. It is fortuitous too that the timing of today's Inauguration coincides with the commemoration of those who died so tragically and heroically in two world wars. I think of nationalist and unionist, who fought and died together in those wars, the differences which separated them at home, fading into insignificance as the bond of their common humanity forged friendships as intense as love can make them.

In Ireland, we know only too well the cruelty and capriciousness of violent conflict. Our own history has been hard on lives young and old. Too hard. Hard on those who died and those left behind with only shattered dreams and poignant memories. We hope and pray, indeed we insist, that we have seen the last of violence. We demand the right to solve our problems by dialogue and the noble pursuit of consensus. We hope to see that consensus pursued without the language of hatred and contempt and we wish all those engaged in that endeavour, well.

That it can be done - we know. We need look no further than our own European continent where once bitter enemies now work conscientiously with each other and for each other as friends and partners. The greatest salute to the memory of all our dead and the living whom they loved, would be the achievement of agreement and peace.

I think too, on this day, of the late Gordon Wilson who faced his unbearable sorrow ten years ago at the horror that was Enniskillen. His words of love and forgiveness shocked us as if we were hearing them for the very first time, as if they had not been uttered first two thousand years ago. His work, and the work of so many peacemakers who have risen above the awesome pain of loss to find a bridge to the other side, is work I want to help in every way I can. No side has a monopoly on pain. Each has suffered intensely.

I know the distrusts go deep and the challenge is awesome. Across this island, North, South, East and West there are people of such greatness of heart that I know with their help it can be done. I invite them, to work in partnership with me to dedicate ourselves to the task of creating a wonderful millennium gift to the Child of Bethlehem whose 2000th birthday we will soon celebrate - the gift of an island where difference is celebrated with joyful curiosity and generous respect and where in the words of John Hewitt "each may grasp his neighbour's hand as friend." There will be those who are wary of such invitations, afraid that they are being invited to the edge of a precipice. To them I have dedicated a poem, written by the English poet, Christopher Logue, himself a veteran of the Second World War.

"Come to the edge. We might fall.
Come to the edge. It's too high!
Come to the edge and they came,
and he pushed and they flew."

No one will be pushing, just gently inviting, but I hope that if ever and whenever you decide to walk over that edge, there will be no need to fly, you will find there a firm and steady bridge across which we will walk together both ways.

Music: The Donegal Jig