Helen Riddell accompanied West Cork’s islanders on their visit to Áras an Uachtaráin last week
ISLANDERS FROM 24 Irish islands, including many from West Cork, gathered at Áras an Uachtaráin last week, at the invitation of President Michael D Higgins, to celebrate the unique culture of the islands, and their place in Irish life.
Islanders from Bere, Sherkin, Clear, Long and Heir began their long journey to Dublin onTuesday morning by making the ferry crossing in the early hours, finally arriving at Áras that afternoon to glorious sunshine, and the chance to meet up with their fellow islanders.
Many were already well acquainted from attending the yearly All Islands’ Football competitions. Guests were invited to view the State rooms and explore the gardens before enjoying refreshments and entertainment in a marquee on the lawn.
The President and Mrs Sabina Higgins mingled with their guests, accompanied by the President’s Burmese Mountain dog Bród, who managed to steal the limelight from his master on a number of occasions, including when he ambled onto the stage while the President was mid-speech.
The President paid tribute to the islanders and organisations that work to support them. He mentioned how, during his time as Minister with responsibility for the islands, he had developed a deep respect and appreciation for the challenging life.
‘Island life is a life lived in dialogue and sometimes in confrontation with the sky and waves and wind, an existence at times austere and vulnerable, but it is always heightened by the sense of close community ties and it is blessed by landscapes with astonishing beauty,’ he said. The President said he welcomed the opportunity to be updated on the challenges facing islanders, and stressed the need for Government to recognise the importance of the Irish islands.
He acknowledged the problems facing many of the islands, in particular declining populations, and said it was a challenge which should be addressed, ‘with the required political will, we can, and we must turn the tide, intervention is needed and should be conducted in diaglogue with islanders and their representatives.’
The President conlcuded his speech by stressing each island should be treated indivisually. ‘Each of our off shore islands is unique, it has its differences and their communities are different with different needs and development paths appropriate to themselves, and it could never be any one-size-fits-all approach.’
It would be almost midnight by the time many of the West Cork Islanders finally boarded the ferry on the last leg of their journey home, tired, but delighted from their trip to Áras an Uachtaráin.