President Mary McAleese: Building Bridges - Selected Speeches and Statements

President Mary McAleese: Building Bridges - Selected Speeches and Statements

by Mary McAleese, Seamus Heaney

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752471020
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 10/28/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 646 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

President Mary McAleese has served as President of Ireland for 14 years, from 1997 until the end of 2011. She was elected unopposed for a second term in 2004. She is widely regarded as one of the finest Presidents to hold the office in Irish history.

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President Mary McAleese

Building Bridges: Selected Speeches and Statements

By Mary McAleese

The History Press

Copyright © 2011 Mary McAleese
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-7102-0



Inauguration Address

Dublin Castle, 11 November 1997

A uaisle,

Lá stairiúil é seo im'shaol féin, i saol mo mhuintire, agus i saol na tíre go léir. Is pribhléid mhór í a bheith tofa mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, le bheith mar ghuth na hÉireann i gcéin is i gcóngair.

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

I am honoured and 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 Connacht, 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 seen a nation transformed. This Ireland, which stands so confidently on the brink of the twenty-first century and the third millennium, is one our forebears 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 Ireland is built.

Over many generations there have been very special sources of inspiration who have nurtured our talents and instilled determination into this country. Many outstanding politicians, public servants, voluntary workers, clergy of all denominations and religion, teachers and particularly parents have, through hard and difficult times, worked and sacrificed so that our children could blossom to their fullest potential.

They are entitled to look with satisfaction at what they have achieved. May we never become so cynical that we forget to be grateful. I certainly owe them a deep personal debt and as President I hope to find many opportunities both to repay that debt and to assist in the great work of encouraging our children to believe in themselves and in their country.

Among those who are also owed an enormous debt of thanks are the countless emigrants whose letters home with dollars and pound notes, earned in grinding loneliness thousands of miles from home, bridged the gap between the Ireland they left and the Ireland which greets them today when they return as tourists or return to stay. They are a crucial part of our global Irish family. In every continent they have put their ingenuity and hard work at the service of new homelands. They have kept their love of Ireland, its traditions and its culture deep in their hearts so that wherever we travel in the world there is always a part of Ireland of which we can be proud and which, in turn, takes pride in us. I hope over the next seven years there will be many opportunities for me to celebrate with them.

At our core we are a sharing people. Selfishness has never been our creed. Commitment to the welfare of each other has fired generations of voluntary organisations and a network of everyday neighbourliness which weaves together the caring fabric of our country. It has sent our missionaries, development workers and peacekeepers to the aid of distressed peoples in other parts of the world. It has made us a country of refuge for the hurt and dispossessed of other troubled places. It is the fuel which drives us to tackle the many social problems we face, problems which cynicism and self-doubt can never redress but painstaking commitment can. We know our duty is to spread the benefits of our prosperity to those whose lives are still mired in poverty, unemployment, worry and despair. There can be no rest until the harsh gap between the comfortable and the struggling has been bridged.

The late Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, Ireland's fifth President and, dare I say it, one of three lawyers to grace the office, said at his inauguration in 1974, 'Presidents, under the Irish Constitution don't have policies. But ... a President can have a theme.'

The theme of my Presidency, the eighth Presidency, is 'Building Bridges'. These bridges require no engineering skills but they will demand patience, imagination and courage, for Ireland's pace of change is now bewilderingly fast. We grow more complex by the day. Our dancers, singers, writers, poets, musicians, sportsmen and women, indeed our last President herself, are giants on the world stage. Our technologically skilled young people are in demand everywhere. There is an 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.

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 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 2,000 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 2000 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.

Ireland sits tantalisingly ready to embrace a golden age of affluence, self-assurance, tolerance and peace. It will be my most profound privilege to be President of this beautiful, intriguing country.

May I ask those of faith, whatever that faith may be, to pray for me and for our country that we will use these seven years well, to create a future where, in the words of William Butler Yeats, 'Everything we look upon is blest.'

Déanaimis an todhchaí sin a chruthú le chéile.



Millenium Address to the Houses Of The Oireachtas, 'Ireland of the Lifting Shadows'

16 December 1999

A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh an tSeanaid agus a chomhaltaí na Dála agus an tSeanaid,

Is mór liom an phribhléid bhunreachtúil labhairt le baill Dhá Theach an Oireachtais cruinnithe le chéile. Agus muid i mbéal na Míleaoise is fóirstineach an ócáid í chun an deis seo a thapú. Míle bliain ó shin scríobh manach Éireannach na línte seo agus é ag smaoineamh ar an Chéad Mhíleaois:

Ní mhaireann glún den ghinealach
a chuaigh romhainn siar go hÁdhamh;
mise féin ní feasach mé
an liom an lá amárach.

Is cuí agus is tairbheach dúinn, agus muid ar chuspa ócáide móire, súil a chaitheamh siar ar a bhfuil caite agus caillte, ar a bhfuil déanta agus thart. Murach sin is beag a bheadh foghlamtha againn mar chine. Ach ní miste dúinn fosta aghaidh a thabhairt ar an todchaí; agus, murab ionann is an manach bocht tinneallach, is cóir dúinn é a dhéanamh go hurrúsach, lán dóchais agus dánachta, lán mórtais agus cinnteachta, muid múnlaithe ag a bhfuil imithe ach gan a bheith faoi chuing ag an stair.

Fifteen days from now a page of history will turn and the world will mark the beginning of the third millennium.

We know, of course, that in the natural world, where things change over millions of years, nothing will change on that date. But we human beings measure our brief lives in years, rather than centuries and for us the beginning of the year 2000 is an occasion of great symbolic importance.

Because of this, I think it right to avail, as the Millennium Committee suggested, of the privilege which the Constitution accords the President of delivering an address to both Houses of the Oireachtas meeting in joint session.

On the eve of this new millennium, as one age yields place to another, it seems timely to take a backward glance at the journey we and our ancestors have come and reflect together on the new destinies open to us as a people. For what marks us off most from those who preceded us is the capacity we now have to control our world, to shape our future. More than that, unlike the natural world, we human beings can change ourselves.

In his poem 'Celebration', Michael O'Siadhail talks of:

    Lines with loops of days or months or years
    We don't know how to begin to think of time

Yet a first reflection must surely bring us back to the beginning of these 2,000 years and to the significance for the Christian world of this otherwise arbitrary calendar date.

Throughout history, women and men have sought to make sense of the world, of the transience of human life and the inevitability of death. That quest has led many people, in many cultures and many ages, to a search for the Divine, the transcendent, a search for God. Christians believe that at a moment in time, that search was reversed. God sought out humanity; the Divine took human form in a child born in Bethlehem: God's gift of his son to help us understand the transformative powver of love. Many people on this island are Christian and for them it is this momentous event two thousand years ago that we now celebrate.

There are many among us who are people of deep faith and who are not Christians. There are those who have no faith at all and those who have no time for religion. They will, I hope, understand and patiently respect the importance which Christians, in particular, attach to this great Jubilee.

We can, however, all join together in celebrating the secular significance of this particular New Year, for when we add the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland to our recent economic success and our remarkable cultural confidence, it is evident that for Ireland this millennial moment is not just an important anniversary but a time of genuine and profound change. It is a time of hope, of celebration and joy. The shadows are lifting.

So often we have felt the heavy weight of our past. As the poet Brendan Kennelly put it:

    My dark fathers lived the intolerable day
    Committed always to the night of wrong

We have thought of ourselves so often as the objects and not the subjects of our own history, that we can scarcely believe what has been happening here in recent years. We do not yet perhaps fully understand to what extent the weight of the past is now lifting and what new possibilities are opening to us.

The decisions we make now and in the years ahead, the values which imbue those decisions and the use we make of today's opportunities, these will give our future its shape, its depth. They will determine the kind of Ireland we hand on to future generations, for while we have, thankfully, come a long way, we still have a distance to travel before our star stops over an Ireland where all feel truly equal. The choices are ours. Will the old iniquities and inequalities lurk beneath the veneer? Will idealism be dulled by selfish materialism, shrill begrudgery and apathy, or will we bequeath to our children a land of peace, prosperity, equal opportunity and respect for difference?

There was a time in our history, in the middle part of the first millennium, when an Ireland such as this did exist. We speak of it as our golden age. St Patrick, who came to our shores as a stranger, connected in an imaginative way with the Irish people. As Thomas Cahill says, 'Patrick's gift to the Irish was his Christianity – the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history'. It was a Christianity that completely melded itself into Irish life, growing unselfconsciously side by side with the old pagan culture, with no anxiety to obliterate it.

As a result, Ireland was transformed into something new; a place with a distinctive psychological identity, capable of seamless yet radical change. Respect for difference became enshrined in the rulebooks of convents and monasteries. St Bridget declared, 'Different is the condition of everyone.'

The rule of St Carthage said, 'And different the nature of each place'. Columbanus, our first great ambassador to France, must have raised a few eyebrows when he asserted, 'Amor non tenet ordinem' – Love has nothing to do with order.

Love and respect for difference are the natural precursors of peace and its younger sibling prosperity. Many of the conditions that facilitated that former glorious period of our history are now once again falling into place on our island.

Of course that golden age did not last. It fell victim to the Viking invasion, and indeed much of our subsequent history through the centuries up to recent times is a litany of hopes raised and then dashed, one lament after another. Little wonder that we gained a reputation as a nation of romantic dreamers whose dreams seemed unlikely ever to come to pass.

It is true that the reality of Irish life was often more nightmare than dream; the lives of ordinary people were lived on brinks very different from the one we are privileged to be on. The wars, invasions, rebellions, plantations and plagues they endured brought awful suffering and worse was to come in the Ocras Mór, the unbearable tragedy of the Famine which devastated our country in the last century.

Our senior citizens will remember their own childhoods in the early years of this century, when poverty and deprivation stalked the land. Children died in their thousands. A swelling stream of emigrants, many of them young women, flowed out of Ireland on every vessel from every port. In the words of an American journalist, writing in 1909, 'the Irish in Ireland are kept alive by the Irish who have been driven to other lands'.

And still more grief to come, more cause to lament, as a new generation's bid for freedom from the grip of colonialism gave us the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and a bitter Civil War. Along with the forgotten dead in Flanders, each left behind a legacy of success and failure, of pride and contempt, the scarring inheritance, the unfinished business of the next generation.


Excerpted from President Mary McAleese by Mary McAleese. Copyright © 2011 Mary McAleese. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Foreword by Seamus Heaney,
1 Inauguration (1997),
2 Ireland in the World,
3 The World in Ireland,
4 Inauguration (2004),
5 A Caring Ireland,
6 An Ireland of Community,
7 A Creative Ireland,
8 A Shared Past and Future,

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