Miriam Lord: Michael D reinstalled with due warmth and ceremony

Smiles all round on a special night as the President shows how lucky we are to have him

 

A happy event. A bit like fitting the nation with replacement windows to keep out the draught for another seven years.

On this occasion, all done under lights.

This unusual evening setting made for a special atmosphere in Dublin Castle, with carriage lamps burning in the courtyard and chandeliers sparkling in St Patrick’s Hall. The inauguration of Michael D Higgins was a thoughtful yet joyous affair, as one might expect at the confirmation of a much loved national figure in a role which the country says he is very good at doing.

After the ceremony, the newly returned President Higgins was applauded loudly as he left the hall. In his second speech of the day, he had delivered yet another perfectly judged address to the people of Ireland.

He speaks for us.

Listening to the talk and looking at the carry on of a certain other president, we are very lucky to have him.

The right man for a second term, with no second thoughts.

“To be inaugurated for a second term as President, with an overwhelming mandate from the people of Ireland, is a great honour” the Taoiseach said. “By representing us with distinction, he has brought distinction on our country.”

“A real republic requires a wide embrace,” declared the newly elected President, who set about doing just that in a far-reaching address which gathered in just about everything. Fortunately, he was sitting in the special white oak “inauguration chair” which has sweeping arms, “outstretched and welcoming arms”, reflecting the ambassadorial role of the president.

Not being a first-timer to the job, Higgins seemed much more relaxed than he was seven years ago. However, he got a bit ahead of himself while swearing his declaration of office in the presence of Frank Clarke, the Chief Justice. In the time honoured tradition of oath-swearing, the soon-to-be president was supposed to repeat every line uttered by the judge.

Not exactly.

Chief Justice: “In the presence of Almighty God”

President-elect: “I, Michael D Higgins.”

That’s what winning does to people. This little slip up got the biggest laugh of the night.

St Patrick’s Hall looked magnificent, with the Army Band above in the minstrels’ gallery and the gilt chairs laid out to match the gilded columns. The wall lights were uplit in presidential blue and everything needed to press a president back into action was laid out on the dais in readiness for the arrival of the VIP party.

Pat and Joan Freeman arrive prior to the presidential inauguration ceremony at Dublin Castle on Sunday. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Pat and Joan Freeman arrive prior to the presidential inauguration ceremony at Dublin Castle on Sunday. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

But first, the audience.

“The President’s guests at the inauguration ceremony are children and adults from all walks of life” revealed the media information pack.

Marching band

The adults (children were elsewhere, being kept warm until needed in the courtyard to cheer the soldiers and marching band and wave off Michael D as he left Dublin Castle) were mainly politicians, diplomats and church leaders. But we saw Brother Kevin from the Capuchin Day Centre in the front row and community activist Rita Fagan of the St Michael’s Estate regeneration project looked very glam.

Alice Mary, Senator and President’s daughter, was all out in flaming crimson, rushing out and down the stairs before the main cast arrived. Perhaps off to hold Sabina’s train when she arrived.

But no. Because while the inauguration was meticulously executed with stirring pomp and perfect ceremony, it wasn’t a coronation. The gig was over in an hour and a half.

The diplomatic corps beetled in on their second outing of the day, having been at Glasnevin Cemetery in the morning for the Armistice Day centenary commemoration, and were seated near the back of the room.

When all the guests were in, we noticed only one woman was wearing a hat – it was a small black feathery fascinator. Well done.

The five beaten candidates for the presidency arrived, bit by bit. First in was Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada, followed by runner-up Peter Casey and then Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman and Seán Gallagher. Casey was in great form, talking to everyone. At one stage he had a big conversation with Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary, while the new Garda Commissioner and the head of the defence forces listened in. They all seemed quite amused by what Peter was saying.

When all the guests were in, we noticed only one woman was wearing a hat – it was a small black feathery fascinator. Well done.

The seating plan was reminiscent of a big wedding. On one side of the main aisle sat all the politicians and members of the judiciary. On the other, family and friends of the president along with members of what is now called civic society. The Taoiseach’s partner Matt was there, seated next to Leo’s programme manager, Brian Murphy.

Five minutes to go, with excitement building and the heat rising, a woman ran up and down the carpet with a Dyson. Seven years since the last inauguration – that’s a lot of dust. Then again, the TDs and senators had just galloped in en masse, so maybe it was wise to give it a quick run over with the vacuum.

Then the hall fell silent. The musicians in the gallery stood, poised, with their instruments.

School children prepare to cheer on the Army Band at Dublin Castle, where President Michael D Higgins was inaugurated to his second term as President. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
School children prepare to cheer on the Army Band at Dublin Castle, where President Michael D Higgins was inaugurated to his second term as President. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

No sign. Former presidents McAleese and Robinson craned their necks and looked down from the dais to see if there was any sign of their successor. Bertie Ahern smiled, looking happy to be there. Leo looked a little anxious.

Ceremonial march

Finally, we heard the patter of feet on Battleaxe Landing. Escorted by two army officers and Simon Coveney, Michael D made his way to the platform. The band broke into a ceremonial march, which had a Star Wars theme quality to it.

There was an ecumenical prayer service. Celine Byrne sang a beautiful version of Amazing Grace and before long Sabina Higgins had the tissues out and was dabbing at her eyes. She wasn’t the only one.

Then the Chief Justice – who went for broke and wore a semi-fluorescent orange tie – conducted the necessaries, everything was signed and sealed and Michael D had the keys to the Áras again.

A civil servant came out from a side door to witness it happening. “That’s that then for another seven years,” he said, before scuttling back in.

There was a standing ovation with great applause.

Then the Taoiseach spoke, reserving special words (more applause) for Sabina Coyne, the president’s wife.

The Taoiseach quoted from one of the President’s poems. First the poetry, now the dogs. Could Michael D have looked any happier?

Then Leo, shamelessly, went for the doggie vote. And why not? It didn’t do Michael D any harm.

“I think we should also acknowledge those who couldn’t join us today – for example, Bród and Síoda – who have nonetheless contributed greatly to life in Áras an Uachtaráin.”

More applause, this time for the dogs.

The Taoiseach quoted from one of the President’s poems. First the poetry, now the dogs. Could Michael D have looked any happier?

And so to the speech.

The President didn’t stint. This was one of his specials.

It was a strong contribution to his growing canon. He outlined his vision and some of the cornerstones of his future work. But there was also reference to current political fault lines and the state of democracy today.

‘Democratic discourse’

“At a time when democratic discourse is too often undermined or diminished, our choice must be to actively extend and deepen democracy, to express it in wider forms and in new ways. We must encourage and deliver better, more meaningful, more equal, participation in decision shaping, decision making, decision taking.”

As he did on the night of his election, the President stressed again that “words matter”. Because they do. As do ideas.

“Ideas matter and history tells us that anti-intellectualism has been, and remains, the weapon of authoritarian and anti-democratic forces in so many parts of our shared, vulnerable planet,” he said.

This man wasn’t just reading a script somebody from some department handed to him a few days ago and told him to practice in front of a mirror.

This was the President’s speech. He owned it. He made the words matter and the ideas matter.

The National Anthem rang out from the Minstrels’ Gallery. It sounded almost jaunty. Everyone was smiling.

Then the President and his wife processed down the vacuumed carpet to an ovation and nice words from family and friends along the way.

The band played a ceremonial march.

And the reinstallation was complete.