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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
An emotional evening for the President (punctuated by a nighttime dash to the Áras and back)
Dublin Castle provided a dramatic backdrop to the nighttime inauguration ceremony.

MICHAEL D HIGGINS – as he reminded us on several occasions during the campaign – has been turning up since 1969. 

Last night, though, in a break with presidential tradition he found himself turning up at Dublin Castle later than usual after his inauguration ceremony was shifted to an evening start. 

The 6pm start time, of course, was arranged to allow Government members attend the various Irish and international Armistice Day centenary commemorations.

And it couldn’t be held-over to take place on Monday instead. According to the Constitution, the President must be inaugurated on the day that follows the expiry of the term of office of the preceding President. 

The fact that it was happening at night didn’t alter the actual proceedings all that much – presidential inaugurations haven’t changed that much at all since Douglas Hyde was sworn in at the same venue back in 1938. 

It meant, however, that Higgins had to keep to a slightly bizarre post-ceremony schedule. As these things tend to be done and dusted around lunchtime, that normally gives a new or returning President a few hours back at the Áras to gather themselves before heading back into town for the evening reception. 

The later start meant that Michael D and Sabina paid only a brief evening visit to their home in the park – time enough for a change of clothes, perhaps to feed the dogs – before heading back out the door and in to Dublin Castle for the nighttime soirée.

It’s fair to say that the members of the 2nd Cavalry Squadron had a busy evening – Army motorcycles provided the escort of honour for all of last night’s proceedings. 

The nighttime setting certainly provided a dramatic backdrop for the presidential motorcade’s arrival – as its members swept in through the castle gates three-abreast just before 6 o’clock. 

Earlier on, invited guests from the Oireachtas, the judiciary and civil society made their way on foot across the floodlit square towards St Patrick’s Hall. 

Senior Government members like the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were dropped off to the door by car – as were former presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. 

Joan Freeman and Sean Gallagher, accompanied by their respective spouses, also made their way on foot past the bank of photographers as looked on. Both appeared markedly more relaxed, compared to the campaign trail.

Meanwhile Peter Casey, who’s just back from a trip to India, appeared just as relaxed as ever as he stood shooting the breeze with other guests in the courtyard alongside his wife, Helen. 

As the ceremony began inside, hundreds of Defence Forces members made their final preparations for the Guard of Honour elsewhere in the Dublin Castle complex. 

Inside St Patrick’s Hall – which has been used for presidential inaugurations since 1938 – the formal ceremony played out in a familiar format over the next 90 minutes. 

The ex-presidents – Robinson and McAleese – sat either side of Michael D Higgins, mirroring the set-up of his first ceremony seven years ago. 

As in 2011, he sat in an inauguration chair created by furniture designer John Lee (the viceregal throne, which had been used by every president up till that point, was decommissioned that year after being deemed too tatty by the OPW). 

Ahead of the swearing-in, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin offered a prayer as part of the usual inter-faith ceremony – which was also addressed by a member of the Humanist association. 

Then, before long, were were at the business end of the event – as Chief Justice Frank Clarke rose to read the Declaration of Office to the incoming President. 

There was a slight fluffing of his lines from Higgins, but the rest of the interaction played out as normal. Michael D Higgins officially became President for a second time with the signing of the declaration and the playing of a fanfare by Army trumpeters. 

In a brief speech, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Higgins as possessing the “values, sensitivities, and understanding” to appropriately represent Ireland as the decade of centenaries continued. 

There was a brief round of applause too for the President’s famous dogs, as Varadkar suggested acknowledging those “who couldn’t join us today – for example, Bród and Síoda”. 

President 462_90558353 Sam Boal / Michael D and Sabina Higgins embrace after his swearing-in. Sam Boal / /

The President’s 20-minute inauguration speech was textbook Michael D Higgins – delivered in an upbeat, determined style and covering favourite and familiar topics: increasing diversity, tackling poverty, confronting hate. 

In fact, there were so many themes addressed that John Bowman, providing his usual erudite commentary for RTÉ, noted at one point that Higgins had offered up a wishlist containing everything “short of world peace”. 

Touching on his themes from the election campaign, he said he was offering a vision for the next seven years of “commitment to equality, to strong sustainable communities, to the sharing of history and the shaping of future together; recognising our vulnerabilities, drawing on and enhancing our individual and collective capacities”. 

The electorate, he observed, had given him a “huge mandate” to deliver that vision.

Michael D and Sabina were greeted by groups of schoolchildren from across the island as they made their way back to the courtyard for the President’s inspection of the troops. 

The couple had looked delighted as the ceremony came to an end and they descended the steps to the hall to be greeted by their adult children; the President even appeared, once or twice, to brush a tear from his cheek.

He may have been showing up since 1969. But in 1969 he amassed only 1,100 as Labour’s candidate in Galway West. Considering those beginnings, a second term as President of Ireland is no mean feat. 

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