Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at a “Dáil 100” Garden Party
Áras an Uachtaráin, Wednesday 5 June 2019
Is mean liom agus mo bean chéile Saidhbhín fíor chaoin fáilte fhearadh romhaibh uilig go Áras an Uachtaráin agus muid ag túirt tús le séasúr na gcoisirí Gáirdín. Is ocáidí speisiálta íad na coisirí gairdín a d’tugann deis dúinn aitheantas agus buíochas a chur in iúil chuig baill de’n phobal agus eágraisí atá ag obair ar son leas na tíre I mbealaig eágsula agus seans cómh maith ár neágsulacht a gceiliúradh.
You are all most welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin as we begin our annual Garden Party Season. The Garden Parties here in the Áras are special occasions for Sabina and I, and the staff, occasions when we get the opportunity to welcome, to Áras an Uachtaráin and its grounds, so many members of the community who in their different ways contribute, or have contributed to, society and who make up the rich tapestry of Irish life.
Today I am delighted to welcome so many of you who have given so much to our country through distinguished and dedicated careers in politics or who are the indispensable support for those who do so.
Some of you I know share a special connection to the participants in what was a seismic chapter in the history of our State and the creation of the independent Ireland we now enjoy through your relationship with those who were members of Ireland’s first Dáil, which came together in January 1919.
Our independence is sourced, founded and built on a spirit of democracy that is enshrined in our Constitution. Our independence and its parliamentary experiences were made tangible one hundred years ago by the coming together of the first Dáil Éireann. The election that preceded it was, of course, the most inclusive act of democracy that had yet occurred on this Island – an election that saw the recognition of voices that had previously gone unheard, as women over the age of 30 with a property condition, and men over the age of 21, whether or not they owned property, were allowed for the first time to come to the polls and cast their vote.
Those men and women were, of course, voting for a parliament that while it may have still only existed in the imagination, as a vision of democracy that would have to be turned into a lived reality. They were familiar with the efforts of parliamentarians, their sterling efforts for fixity of tenure but now they wanted their own Dáil to affirm independence. In quiet polling booths across the country the voices of the ordinary men and women of Ireland rose in unison and, in doing so, changed the course of our history forever.
That act of true participation and conviction was also a powerful act of transformation as the Irish people voted overwhelmingly for a political platform dedicated to
‘establishing a constituent assembly comprising persons chosen by the Irish constituencies as the supreme national authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people’.
The Declaration of Independence adopted by Dáil Éireann ratified the Proclamation of the Republic that had been read from the steps of the General Post Office on the 24th of April 1916 and re-iterated the principle that all lawful authority in Ireland emanated from the Irish people.
It was a significant step forward on our journey to independence, as part of a revolutionary chapter in our nation’s story, an act of resistance and institutional significance that saw the emergence of an alternative constitutional Ireland and a rejection of what was no longer considered an unassailable imperialism.
Today we gather to remember and celebrate those January days which saw the people of Ireland turn a critical corner and begin their inexorable march towards a different and independent future, and we celebrate all those and their families who have followed in public service.
The meeting of the first Dáil was part of a march that would lead to the realisation of a dream nurtured and fought for, not only by the signatories of the Proclamation and those whose names have become so permanently stitched into our memories, our history books and the fabric of our society, but by the many unsung heroes of the past who made such courageous sacrifices as they struggled to achieve an independent Ireland that would share its destinies with other independent nations.
The people of Ireland were making their sacrifices in a year that had already taken a heavy toll. In addition to World War I, and the loss of lives and injuries it brought to it, the Great Flu – misnamed The Spanish Flu, as neutral Spain was the only country whose papers were free of censorship and thus could write about it – took 24,000 Irish lives in a six-month period.
We held a seminar last Friday here in Áras an Uachtaráin in honour of those lost and were fortunate to hear papers from distinguished scholars – Dr. Ida Milne of Carlow College, Dr. Patricia Marsh of Queen’s University Belfast, and Prof. Guy Beiner of Ben-Gurion University. We are very grateful to those scholars and all who attended.
Those Irish women and men of a century ago were facing much hardship. It is their generosity, bravery and self -sacrifice that constituted the rock on which this nation has been built.
In remembering them, let us also remember that their vision and call for national self-determination, republican equality, and the sovereignty of the people, and their great courage in fighting to make those dreams a tangible reality has left us not only a free and independent state, but also a challenge to ever-deepen our democracy.
Sabina and I were delighted that events of 1916 were able to be commemorated, here in Áras an Uachtaráin, with the assistance of the Commemoration Committee and others, by the commissioning of a sculpture of the People’s Acorn, the Starry Plough installation in honour of Sean O’Casey, and the 16 Birch Trees each dedicated to the signatories of the Proclamation.
The 16 Birch Trees, arranged as they are in a crescent to complement the Acorn, were planted for the Centenary Commemoration by Sabina and I, in honour of the 16 Revolutionaries executed after the 1916 Rising.
The seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic are in the front row: James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Clarke, Sean McDermott, Thomas McDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt.
The nine others executed form a semi-circle behind them: Michael Mallin, Willie Pearse, Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, John McBride, Sean Heuston, Con Colbert, Thomas Kent, Roger Casement.
The minutes of Dáil Éireann assembled in the Mansion House on the 20th August 1919 record the approval of a report recommending, as an anniversary commemoration, that 16 memorial trees be planted in memory of those executed in 1916.
The proposal to plant 16 memorial trees, original enough in itself, was made all the more remarkable by the men who made it. Robert Barton had served in the British Army in Dublin in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising. As an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Barton was placed in charge of the prisoners’ effects in Richmond Barracks and he also attended some court marshalls.
Returning to his landed estate in Annamoe, Co. Wicklow in 1918 he was elected as the Sinn Féin representative for West Wicklow in the General Election of that year. He attended the First Meeting of Dáil Eireann on 21st January 1919 where he delivered the Dáil’s message to the free nations of the world in English.
Inniu tá orainn glacadh lenár bhfreagrachtaí féin chun Poblacht a shamhlú agus a chruthú, Poblacht atá cuimsitheach, ar bhealach institiúide agus eispéireasach, a mbeadh na bunaitheoirí bródúil as, Poblacht a léiríonn náisiún bunaithe ar mhisneach, ar léargas agus ar mheon mórchroíoch daonna.
[Today we are charged to take on our own responsibilities in imagining and building a Republic in the fullest sense, institutional and experiential, one of which our founders would be proud; truly representative of a nation rooted in courage, vision and a profound spirit of generous humanity.]
At the heart of such a Republic lies an acknowledgement of the importance of the public space, the public world, and the citizen, of the awareness and participation that it brings with it, not only a sense of belonging, but a sense of responsibility for those with whom we share that public space, the importance of taking responsibility for an Irishness of which we can be proud, at home and abroad.
We all have, in our own way, the capacity and the opportunity, and, may I say, even the obligation, to play our part, in our time, in creating and nurturing a vibrant, caring and forward-looking society, one which will include each and every member and enable them to fully participate in our shared lives together.
I thank all of you gathered here today for all you have done and continue to do to create such a society and for your belief in the art and craft of politics and in its potential to transform our country for the better. It is a special vocation, generously offered.
Many of you have made a profound contribution to public service through the generous giving of your skills, professionalism and time. Others amongst you stand as a tangible reminder of the great humanity that lay behind our struggle for independence, of the inspiring and patriotic courage of your forebears, and of our shared obligation to carry forward that inspirational vision as we too face the challenge of constructing a new and better Ireland, and a better world.
I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you. A big thank you to our MC, Anne Cassin; and also to David O’Connor, the St. Naul’s Pipe Band with Sean Lynch, to Colm O hArgain,
Aoife Ní Argáin, Fergal Ó Murchú, Emma Magure, Kellie O’ Neill, the Suir Ukelele Group with Patricia White, the Forget Me Nots Choir and the Swing Cats, Lemoncello, and Liam O’Connor with Saoirse for the magnificent entertainment they have provided this afternoon. Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing you perform in a few minutes.
On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Our thanks for the assistance of the Civil Defence, our friends from St. John of Gods, the Defence Forces, and our Gaisce volunteers.
Sabina and I hope you have a great afternoon. Enjoy the rest of your time here and thank you for coming.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.