President visits university city which was home to Irish

 

Evora, the university city 150 kilometres south-east of Lisbon, was home to Irish seminarians in the 17th century. Today there are 31 clerical students, none of them Irish, so when the President, Mrs McAleese, visited the UNESCO heritage city yesterday it was trainee priests from Portugal, East Timor, Angola and the Cape Verde Islands who were introduced to her.

The seminary is located in the Collegio de Purficacao attached to the University of Evora, which was opened in 1559 and, despite being closed from 1759, when the founding Jesuits were expelled from Portugal, to 1973, a total of 10,000 students are enrolled today.

Mrs McAleese, with her husband, Dr Martin McAleese, the Minister for Communications and Mrs Ahern, the Irish Ambassador to Portugal, Mr Patrick O'Connor, and his wife, and the Portuguese ambassador to Ireland, Mr Fernando d'Oliveira Neves, and his wife, walked the cobbled streets of the walled medieval city on the sightseeing last day of the three-day state visit to Portugal. The President received the Golden Key at the City Hall, viewed the 12th century cathedral and visited what remains of the second century Roman Temple of Diana.

On entering the university the Irish were greeted by a troupe of traditional student singers and musicians. The Tuna da Evora was all male, clad in black capes and equipped with guitars, mandolins, tamborines and pipes. It is a typical sight in universities throughout the Iberian penninsula.

Mrs McAleese showed great interest as she was taken on a tour of the university, renowned for the study of the humanities, and saw tiled refectories and lecture halls. In the Old Library Dr Patricia O'Connell of UCG explained her research into documents relating to Irish students.

She has found 59 Irish in the college registers, most of them studying theology and, as she said, "cases of conscience" during the 17th century but she believes there were more. Many came from the Irish College in Lisbon for postgraduate studies and some returned to Ireland afterwards.

Although her final day in Portugal started with an Enterprise Ireland business breakfast, where Ireland's success was lauded and further trade sought, it ended with more history. At Mr O'Connor's reception last night for President Jorge Sampaio and Mrs Sampaio, Hugo O'Neill, the O'Neill of Clanaboy, whose ancestors fled Ulster in the 18th century, presented Mrs McAleese with four letters and a postcard written by Roger Casement. They were sent to his great grandfather, Jorge O'Neill, when Casement was British consul in Lisbon in 1904-5.

At last night's reception the traditional musicians Liam O'Flynn, Paddy Glackin and Arty McGlynn played a number of Irish airs including a specially prepared selection, Ceol na Mara, to celebrate the common maritime heritage of the two countries.

Mrs McAleese told the guests that Ireland and Portugal were partners in the greatest adventure in consensus-based democracy Europe had ever known - the European Union. She arrived back in Dublin just before midnight last night.