Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Presidential Moment - Meeting Michael D. in Lismore

Meeting the President - local Labour Councillors and wives!
(Dan McGrath photographer)
Tonight was very special as it marked the visit by our President, Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina to Lismore for the first time in his new role. We had a visit in 2004 from President Mary McAleese, his predecessor, who came to unveil the Tidy Towns' commemorative plaque in the Millenium Park. That was a special occasion too and we all enjoyed it. This time it was different - firstly as a former Labour Party President, this was a whole new elevation to the President of our Country for the very affable and much-liked Michael D. He is a poet, politician and academic, and he is an erudite speaker and a wonderful orator. At previous Labour Party Conferences I have seen him hold the audience spellbound while he debated some moot point. Now of course he is apolitical in his Presidential role, but I think Labour members will always lay claim to him as one of our own!

The Tricolour flying over the Castle
Lismore Castle Courtyard
We were privileged to be invited to the reception in the Pugin Room of Lismore Castle where he was attending the dress rehearsal of the Lismore Music Festival's The Barber of Seville, which is running for two nights this weekend, as the main part of a broader festival. A number of guests were at the reception from Lismore and the surrounding area, and we enjoyed a chat and a glass of wine or the Castle's own delicious apple juice while we waited for the Presidential party to arrive. He had a busy day, firstly going to Clonmel where he was made a Freeman of the town, and thence to Waterford where he opened Waterford nature park at Kilbarry on the site of a former landfill, and finally to Lismore for the Opera and reception. Here's his official engagements for last week - exhausting to even read it!
Jan presenting the Immrama Book to the President

It was a beautiful balmy evening, with cloudless skies as we entered the castle grounds via the Greenroad, or the tradesmen's entrance round the back where the old sawmills once whirred and where locals could go to buy vegetables from the head gardener back in my childhood days, David Montgomery, a taciturn Welshman, long deceased. I used to go there with my mother to get lovely early salad and veggies from the Paxton greenhouse which is now sadly defunct, awaiting a substantial grant-aid to restore it to its former glory.

Jan sharing a laugh with the President
Me and Ann Hanley with Sabina Higgins
We passed the marquee housing the punters at the Opera, a wise move given our unpredictable weather, and heard some of the lovely arias. We weren't able to crash the gig though so we continued down to the Pugin Room and chatted out in the courtyard until we were ushered in by Denis, the head butler, who announced the arrival of the President in both Irish and English. It was lovely to meet Michael D in this role, and we were delighted last year when he was elected, as he was the only candidate to retain his dignity and while he's apolitical in the role, it's more than ceremonial as he has to sign off on new legislation.

President and Sabina Higgins with Robert O'Byrne, art critic
We were lucky to meet him as it was a bit of a scrum like a Jedward concert to get up close to him, and as we chatted to him he remembered us from his former Labour life, and hubby Jan presented him with the book the Immrama Festival Committee published this year to mark the 10th Immrama Festival (more of which anon!) and he seemed pleased to get it. We had a longer chat with Sabina, his wife, and I managed to get a photo with her, and we could tell her we'd met their daughter at a Labour function in Dublin some months back. We had a press photo with the President which might be in one of the local papers next week.

Altogether it was a very pleasant evening and we are delighted that Lismore featured on the Presidential itinerary, and maybe Michael D will make it back here another day. Meanwhile enjoy the photos and share the event with us all!
The guests at the reception for the President

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