Outgoing Irish President Mary McAleese was on the verge of tears at her last official engagement as she revealed that Northern Ireland’s peace process was “one of the greatest joys of my life”.
As she made an emotional public farewell and recalled her Belfast roots at a homeless centre in Dublin, Mrs McAleese said she was extremely proud of what had been achieved through peace over the years.
Mrs McAleese said she found it difficult to speak about how she was feeling in the final hours of her 14-year term, saying: “If you give me two seconds I'll be in floods of tears.”
“I just want to say to all my friends and family in Northern Ireland, it's been one of the greatest joys of my life these 14 years to see the huge release into civic society and the body politic in Northern Ireland of so much, what I would call, repressed friendship,” she said.
“And to see it now, see the the outworkings of the Good Friday Agreement, to see peace on the streets, its a joy.
“I know that it's a work in progress, and just to wish people the best as they bring it to a work well concluded.”
The president, with her Belfast-born husband Senator Martin McAleese by her side, took the opportunity of her last engagement to unveil a plaque commemorating the refurbishment of a St Vincent de Paul and Depaul Ireland homeless centre for men in Christchurch in the city.
Mrs McAleese recalled how she had experienced for a short spell what it was like to be homeless when living in Ardoyne.
“I remember back in 1971 when my own family experienced for a relatively short time the misery of homelessness when, like so many people because of the sectarian conflict, we lost our home, literally overnight. Mother, father, nine kids — not the easiest thing to restore a home again,” she said.
“So it took us a few months to get our act together and eventually get our home back together.
“And I do remember the awful sense of dread waking up every morning not knowing where we were going to be sleeping. But one of the strongest memories of that period is how reliant we were on the goodness and generosity of other people,” she said.
The president will leave both her job and her home, Aras an Uachtarain, to make way for president-elect Michael D Higgins, who will be inaugurated at Dublin Castle today.