President Higgins welcomes Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes to Áras

Irish squad’s ‘truly monumental achievement’ recognised at Phoenix Park reception

President Michael D Higgins has hosted a reception in honour of the Grand Slam winning Irish rugby team at Áras an Uachtaráin. Video courtesy Áras an Uachtaráin

 

President Michael D Higgins hosted a reception in honour of the Grand Slam winning Irish rugby team at Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday evening. It was the third time in the modern era that an Irish squad had been invited to the Phoenix Park, following on from the 2009 Grand Slam and prior to the 2011 World Cup.

President Higgins welcomed 27 players who featured in the five matchday squads, as well as the backroom and support staff, and wives and partners, for individual photographs as well as a squad photo outside Áras an Uachtaráin on a sunlit evening.

Fittingly, first to pose with the President was the most important man in Irish rugby, Joe Schmidt, with the Triple Crown trophy, before captain Rory Best did so with the Six Nations trophy. Just as fittingly the last to do so was one of the squad’s physios, Willie Bennett, also the longest serving member of the backroom, having started before Ireland’s win over Fiji at the old Lansdowne Road in 1995.

In his speech to all of those in attendance, the President welcomed them to Áras an Uachtaráin “to honour your magnificent achievement in winning the greatest prize in European rugby, an Caithréime Mhór, the Grand Slam.”

Johnny Sexton and his wife Laura pictured with President Michael D Higgins and the Triple Crown trophy. Photograph: Colin Keegan
Johnny Sexton and his wife Laura pictured with President Michael D Higgins and the Triple Crown trophy. Photograph: Colin Keegan

The President rarely misses a match at the Aviva Stadium, although he acknowledged that “on those occasions many of you have other things on your mind.” The weather had conspired against him meeting the squad on their return from completing the Grand Slam with the victory over England on St Patrick’s Day, and his duties also prevented him from attending the game in London, when “your victory added greatly to our national celebrations and made that day truly unforgettable.”

That “truly monumental achievement”, he said, is “also a testament to what has been, and continues to be, a golden era of Irish rugby.” Also noting the women’s Grand Slam in 2013, he said “it is heartening to see women’s rugby growing in popularity.”

President Higgins also saluted Peter O’Mahony’s “act of exceptional kindness in giving his Grand Slam medal to a young Ireland fan in Twickenham that day. I know how appreciative you are, as a team, of the support you get from the Irish public and how you all show that by making yourselves available to supporters and to the public in your everyday lives.

“Peter’s act was symbolic perhaps of how we can use our positions in public life to acknowledge our dependence on each other, and through such acts, how we can inspire consideration, empathy and, that perhaps old-fashioned, but perfect word – kindness to those around us.

“I would like to commend each of your families, partners, loved ones, teachers and coaches who, as each of you knows best, played such an important part in your journey. I am so pleased to see so many of your partners here this evening – you are most welcome.”

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with President Michael D Higgins and Ireland captain Rory Best. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with President Michael D Higgins and Ireland captain Rory Best. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

He also paid tribute to Schmidt – “the mastermind of this campaign” – and looking ahead to the European Champions Cup final in Bilbao, concluded by saying: “May I take this opportunity to wish those of you travelling to Bilbao for the 12th of May the very best of luck.”

In response, Best joked: “The President has set the bar very high for speechmaking, and I know I will fall short.” Declaring that playing for Ireland “is topped only by success” when playing for Ireland, Best thanked the President for extending the invitation.

Hopefully, it won’t be the last time he does.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.