McAleese heads to Australia for St Patrick's Day


President Mary McAleese flew to Australia last night on a nine-day official visit to the country, a spokesman said.

Her departure marks the start of the traditional political exodus from Ireland ahead of St Patrick's Day. Around seven million people in Australia claim to have Irish connections.

Ms McAleese is set to arrive in Brisbane tomorrow where a day later she will be guest of honour at a dinner hosted by the premier of Queensland, Mr Peter Beattie.

On Wednesday, she will receive an honorary law doctorate from the University of Queensland, before heading to Sydney on Thursday to meet the governor of New South Wales, Ms Marie Bashir.

In Sydney, Ms McAleese will lay a wreath at the Hyde Park Barracks memorial for Famine victims.

She will also review the city's St Patrick's Day parade on March 16th before travelling on to Melbourne and Canberra a day later to meet Irish communities there.

In Canberra, she will also meet Governor-General Peter Hollingworth.

She leaves Melbourne for Dublin on March 18th.