President among his own at RIA ceremony


For once a Michael D Higgins speech laced with references to Immanuel Kant, Robert Mallet and Erwin Schrödinger received enthusiastic nods of recognition. At a ceremony to mark his joining of the Royal Irish Academy yesterday, the President knew he was very much among his own.

“Independent thought, from home and abroad, and scholarly engagement with our current circumstances are simply crucial,” he told the assembly of members gathered for what was a 227-year-old initiation ceremony.

Pleading for an interdisciplinary “emancipatory scholarship”, the President said public intellectuals faced “a moral choice – to be part of a passive consensus that accepts an insufficient and failed model of life and economy, or to seek to recover the possibility of alternative futures”.

Membership of the 460-strong academy was conferred on Mr Higgins in a ritual of near religious solemnity. Standing before the academy’s gilded mace – raised on to its stand to signify it was in session – the President was “introduced” (think of an all-in-one proposing and seconding) by Séamus Heaney before the president of the RIA, Prof Luke Drury, proclaimed: “I admit you as a member thereof.” And, then, it was off to a drinks reception.

Giving the citation in the academy’s meeting room on Dawson Street, Dublin, Dr Jim Browne, president of NUI Galway, described the President as a “committed utopian” and recalled his contribution as a sociology lecturer at the university.

In his acceptance speech, the President stressed the need to support independent scholarship.

“We need to use a sharp gaze in our intellectual winter to prepare for our spring – a spring that I remain certain will arrive,” he said.