Mobbed President in his element

Fri, Jan 13, 2012, 00:00

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins was given a tumultuous welcome when he came to call at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Cheers and applause followed his every move as he manoeuvred through the crowd shaking hands and stopping to chat.

He had time for everyone yesterday, greeting students with the same interest and care as the teachers and other adults. “Oh there he is,” the pupils said as he battled his way through the throng. “I shook his hand,” was the excited refrain.

The smaller children kept squeezing in from around the edges, mobile phones to the ready in case they could take a photo. They were promptly shooed back by the burly security personnel, but other students quickly took their places to form a substantial scrum that shuffled through the crowded exhibition hall.

Mr Higgins was in his element, responding kindly, pausing again and again to pose for snaps as pupils jockeyed for a chance to be photographed by his side. His minders tried to stem the tide of children, perhaps nervous about the crush and the weakness of the President’s knee after his recent surgery. But he walked along comfortably with no sign of the persistent limp seen particularly at the end of his presidential campaign.

Mr Higgins’s handlers had made provision for a visit to three stands, but such was the enthusiasm and excitement about that, at the end of the day, he stopped to visit nine project displays. At each one the students explained their research work, near breathless that the President had stopped to pay a visit.

The first, appropriately enough, was in Irish and from Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin in Galway, where Muireann Ní Fhátharta, Aideen Bhreathnach and Chelsea Ní Cheara explained their project, Cén fáth a tharlaíonn gortaithe cruciate i GAA? (Why do cruciate injuries occur in GAA games?) He paused again at stand 4534 where Zoe Newenham, Acacia Taylor and Karen Sweetman from Bandon Grammar School in Cork told him probably more than he needed to know about their very good project which looked at inverted compared to uninverted sugars and how to get more honey out of bees by modifying their diet.

He might have related more to a study into eye stress caused by reading off white paper for long periods, unavoidable while making speeches during long election campaigns. Máire Ní Bhuachalla and Sorcha Nic Mheanmain from Coláiste Choilm in Cork told him that the symptoms from this visual stress were known as Meares-Irlen syndrome.

And so the President’s progress continued its slow and frequently interrupted way towards the exit.

After countless pauses for snaps and handshakes and waves to those farther back he made his way to the safety of his car. The doors closed and off he went, continuing to return the excited waves as the driver sped off.