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  Presidents visit to Cape Clear Island

The President’s Visit to Cape Clear Island

On Wednesday 10 June, on a beautiful Sunny day a small crowd gathered at the Island’s helipad to welcome an Air corps helicopter bearing President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina to the Island. From the moment the smiling couple arrived on the Island they created an atmosphere of respectful informality that set the tone for a glorious few hours to come.

First stop was the Island Heritage Centre where they were greeted by Cecelia Uí Drisceoil who gave them an all too brief tour of the centre and its impressive collection of displays and artefacts. The President’s deep interest shone through and he showed a particular interest in the Lusitania Display before being ushered away to maintain his schedule.

In the impressive new Coláiste building he was greeted by Students of both Coláistí Samhraidh who entertained him with renditions of Oró sé do bheatha abhaile and Cailín na Gaillimhe.

Shortly afterwards and a little later than planned the Presidential Party arrived into a crowded Club to resounding applause. He was entertained by the pupils of Scoil Náisiunta Inis Chleire with a selection of traditional tunes, sean nós dancing and song. The highlight of the outstanding performance was the first every public performance of a medley, composed by the children themselves in honour of the visit. Having heard it previously in practice, I was still unprepared for the quality of the composition when performed by the group. The President was visibly impressed and even more so later in the visit when he was invited to commission the new representation of the Cape by Island artist Catherine Ryan. This is a composition in stained glass and drew gasps from those present for its color, its quality and originality and the fact that it truly represents in glorious art form something which most of most who love the Island struggle to say with words. Catherine modestly reminded the President that it was the third such map of the Island to adorn the Club in its 40 or so years but others are already convinced that it shall be the last and that should any mishap occur in the future that public sentiment will see it restored and repaired rather than replaced. It is interesting that it has needed someone who has lived on the Island for many years to have the intuition to fill that space with such confidence.

Welcoming the President Co op Manager Mairtín Ó Mealíid spoke for all when he referred to the welcoming, cosmopolitan and inclusive nature of the Island Community, a place without distinctions of class or other kinds. The President in his well-crafted reply demonstrated his legendary understanding of many facets of the Island, its history, its place amongst the Community of Islands in Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann and his desire to visit as many islands as possible during his Presidency. He was especially fulsome in his praise of the Storytelling Festival, of which his daughter Alice is a devotee and with such a presidential tribute ringing in his ears it was surely a glowing Chuck Kruger who had the last word with a rendition of his poem Sister Skellig.

Following a whirlwind of photographs and handshakes the Presidential party enjoyed a leisurely walk to Duffys Pier where they embarked on a festooned Dún an Óir 11 for the trip back to the mainland.

Reflecting later on the visit, there was a genuine buzz of happiness for a visit that showed the Island in such an impressive light. One Islander spoke of his sense of pride, in particular at the compositions in music and art that gave a ‘depth’ to the proceedings that show that Cape, for its 120 or so year round residents is no small place.

Of course while not part of the official visit, many also recalled the outstanding quality of the refreshments served to all and sundry in the Club prior to the visit. While these are always good, somehow, like everything else they were better on this day.

Apart from the photos we show a copy of the President’s written endorsement for the Heritage Centre.

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