President gets the beat - and heat - in a day at the races

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

MULLINGAR MAY not be on the maritime map, but Marty Mulligan aims to change all that. Even as cruiser yachts and paddle boarders took to Galway Bay yesterday, the Westmeath wordsmith was doing a star turn on terra firma.

In fact, such is his reputation as a poetry rapper that President Michael D Higgins came to call – somewhat unexpectedly. For Mulligan was taking a break at his Volvo Ocean Race “Spoken Word” tent when he spotted the entourage approaching.

In two seconds, the rapper filled seats – “thank-you, rent-a-crowd”, he exclaimed afterwards – and had hijacked two musicians to keep him company.

Sophie Lavoie and Fiachra O’Regan, violinist and uilleann piper with Fásta, rose to the occasion.

Seconds later, they were in full flow, playing jigs to Mulligan’s rhythmic prose, when Mr Higgins and his wife, Sabina, took their seats. Even the sun appeared briefly, for day five of the Volvo Ocean Race festival was marked yet again by the best and worst of July weather.

Those equipped with brollies and boots could cope, and the Army’s mats, which were rolled out on Galway’s South Park, or “Swamp”, last week, saved many a higher heel.

During a four-hour walkabout yesterday morning, the President paid tribute to the effusive welcome given to the Volvo Ocean Race fleet Laochra na mara, or heroes of the sea.

Praising the event’s role in highlighting Galway’s long connection with the Atlantic, Mr Higgins recalled the influence of maritime trade in the city’s development, and also spoke of those who had left during the Famine period on coffin ships.

A Famine ship memorial in a park named after Celia Griffin, a six-year-old who died of hunger in the city in 1847, was dedicated yesterday by harbourmaster Capt Brian Sheridan.

The Volvo festival, with its cultural and marine dimensions, was “identifying a part of Ireland that is a part of our strength, that is really the best of our reputation”, Mr Higgins said.

The resources on the Continental Shelf and around our coastline would serve generations in the future, he noted.

An “environmentally conscious sculpture”, made by artists Donnacha Cahill and Moss Gaynor in aid of the National Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin, and samples of “Junk Kouture” recycled fashion, were among exhibits visited by Mr Higgins in the global village.

NUI Galway’s computer museum, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s Letterfrack woodcraft college, and non-governmental organisations ranging from Birdwatch Ireland to Conservation Volunteers are among the many participants.

The Sea Scouts, marking their 100th anniversary, welcomed Mr Higgins to their tent, even as many Galwegians stopped to greet their former TD. Seven-year-old Lee O’Sullivan from Moycullen could hardly believe it when Mr Higgins paused for a handshake and photo.

Another Mullingar hero – nine-year-old musician and composer Ashley Tubridy – performed her own compositions for the President on stage.

Last night, US independence day was marked at the festival by fireworks and a vintage car parade led by US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, with Galway city mayor Terry O’Flaherty and Galway county mayor Tom Welby.

The Volvo festival continues today, as does the Clipper ocean race festival in Derry.

Highlights in Galway today (Thursday).

Arab dhow on display in docks village for United Arab
Emirates (UAE) day, and due on water tomorrow (fri).
Parachute display and helicopter delivery of Volvo Ocean race trophy, South Park, 5pm.
West end maritime exhibition, and talk on 'A Titanic Misconception' by Colman J Shaughnessy, Bell Book and Candle bookstore, Sea Road, 6.30pm
Marine careers and recruitment fair, South Park, 10am to 7pm

Details of park and ride and traffic diversions are on