As the eight President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese, departs Aran an Uachtarain tomorrow, it will be an emotional occasion for both herself, her husband Martin and their children.
President McAleese has occupied the highest office in the land for the past fourteen years, has served with three Taoisigh and has represented this country as Uachtaran na hEireann with huge energy and dignity, not just at home but throughout the world.
She entered Aras an Uachtarain during a turbulent time but was resolute in her determination to build bridges, reach out to all of the diverse communities on this island and open the office of President to the people of this nation.
She has not broken her promises – rather she has proven to be a remarkable President who reflected the image of Ireland with stateliness and who demonstrated care, consideration and concern for all of the people of this country during her tenure in office.
That she opened Aras an Uachtarain to the ordinary people of this country is without doubt. For the past fourteen years groups and organisation who would otherwise never have visited this august residence were welcome guests in her home. What would once have been the domain, for the most part, of envoys, ambassadors and emissaries, received marginalised groups with open arms and demonstrated to them that the Aras is not just about foreign and domestic diplomacy but is the home of a President who represents all of the people of this land.
She has had many triumphs during her terms in office but one of the most iconic images, laden with symbolism, must surely be the first official visit by a reigning British sovereign since the foundation of the state. It had taken almost all of President McAleese’s fourteen years to create the circumstances which would permit the visit to take place and she can but have been hugely proud of her achievement when it finally came to pass.
However, it would be remiss not to also make reference to the considerable achievements of her husband, Senator Martin McAleese. What was not known during the earlier years of the McAleese Presidency was the work being undertaken without fanfare by Senator McAleese in building relationships which would provide sound foundations for peace on this island. He had the freedom, when the President had to remain firmly above and beyond politics, to reach out to the diverse communities north and south of the border and he has been rightly lauded for the enormous courage he has displayed - at not inconsiderable danger to the security of both himself and his family.
As President McAleese and her husband Martin depart the national and world stage which has been their home for the past fourteen years they can do with the pride of knowing that they have represented the people of this country with considerable aplomb, remarkable courage and have fulfilled all of the ambitions which they set themselves almost a decade and a half ago.
They leave behind a remarkable legacy and can take a well deserved bow.