Former President Mary Robinson beamed with pride as US President Barack Obama presents her with the Medal of Freedom in the White House in Washington yesterday.
Mrs Robinson was one of 16 people bestowed with the prestigious honour — the highest civilian honour in the United States — at the lavish ceremony, including Senator Edward Kennedy, actor Sidney Poitier and physicist Stephen Hawking.
Mr Obama, awarding his first presidential medals, also gave a posthumous award to gay rights activist and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978.
Reflecting on those receiving the honour, President Obama said: “In a moment when cynicism and doubt too often prevail, when our obligations to each other are too often forgotten and when the road ahead can seem too long or hard to tread, these extraordinary men and women, these agents of change remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities, that hope lies around the corner and that justice can still be won in the forgotten corners of the world.
“They remind us that we each have it within our powers to fulfil dreams, to advance the dreams of others and remake the world for our children.”
The Irish government last night congratulated former President Robinson on the achievement. Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said the presentation of the Medal of Freedom was a fitting tribute to Ms Robinson for her tireless work fighting for human rights.
Mr Martin said: “Irish people everywhere are very proud of her being honoured by this award and her many achievements during a distinguished career of advocacy.”