Thursday, 22 March 2012

ÁRAS TRIP - pics & report

Aesop ceiling, Council of State Room, Áras an Uachtaráin
Well, the trip to the Áras to meet President Higgins was very enjoyable and a tad surreal. I met the bus at Kinnegad and we all travelled up to the Park from there. It was a gorgeous day and I sat beside an English teacher from Edenderry who also writes, and we had great chats about Plath and Kinsella, kids and education and all sorts.

Poet Jean O'Brien outside the Áras
Entrance hallway, Áras an Uachtaráin
The Áras is run like clockwork. Naturally the President has a hectic schedule. We were on time and enjoyed a leisurely walk up to the house, taking in the fountains and trees in the stunning grounds - it was a gorgeous spring morning. We were met in the hallway by two members of staff (army men) and one of them, John, was our guide. Everywhere, from the entrance hall to the basement loos, is packed with gorgeous artworks, ancient and modern.

Candelabra, hallway
We were shown into the State Reception room and we formed a large circle around the room (there were fifty in the group between student poets, librarians, teachers and writers). Soon President Higgins was announced and he welcomed us and said a few words about the importance of libraries and bringing a love of poetry to young people.
President Higgins with Mary Reynolds and Martina Barry
Then he came around the circle and chatted to each of us and shook our hands. It was funny how nervous I felt. I read with Michael D. Higgins many years ago in Galway library but it felt very different meeting him as President of the country.

Mary Reynolds, who lead our group, went around with him and introduced each of us. He asked who had published The Juno Charm and when I said Salmon he asked if Jessie was still up on the cliffs in Clare. I said she was, with the dogs, and he laughed and told me to send her his best wishes. We were to present our books at the end but some people slipped gifts to him as we went around so that got a bit messed up. In the end, Mary took copies of our books to give to him via his staff.

We had a photographer with us so I will get my pic of me with the President anon. I hope I don't look crazed. I couldn't stop smiling :)

Ciarán O'Hanlon, reciting his winning poem
The two young students who won in the creative writing section and the recitation section then recited their poems for the President. They are Ciarán O'Hanlon from Ballymahon Convent and Avril Holton from Edenderry. They did brilliantly.

Avril Holton, reciting Goldsmith
We had group pics with the President, then - each county getting one picture with him.

Westmeath Group
Then we had the tea! On lovely white china with a navy and gold trim, which are the Presidential colours. There were shamrock biscuits and green cake; little iced buns and marble cake. Naturally, in the course of research, I sampled several items and am happy to report that they were gorgeous: homemade and tasty. The President mingled, cup of coffee in hand, but all too soon he has to leave to deal with other duties.

Áras biccies
Áras cake
Áras buns
After the President left, the very gregarious John gave us a tour of the rooms, with all sorts of interesting history and gossip thrown in.

The tour
We went into the President's Room which holds portraits of all the Irish presidents to date. They will have to shuffle the portraits along soon to let Michael D.'s picture in.

President Mary Robinson, portrait by Basil Blackshaw

President Mary McAleese, portrait by Joe Dunne (I think - our guide wasn't sure who the artist was)

Mirror, Council of State Room
From there we went to the Council of State Room and then through to the State Drawing Room, which has a lovely cosy feel to it, with it's silk lined walls and beautiful furniture.

Me on the Louis IV sofa
Steinway in the State Drawing Room
There's a Steinway in there and one of the students played a tune on the piano for us. By then our tour was closing and we had to bundle outside for group photos and farewells to our guide John.

Poet Noel Monahan tripping down the Francini Corridor
It was a great day and a great privilege to be there and to meet our Poet President, who is a lovely, decent man. Going to the Áras yesterday is just one of the many privileges that writing brings to my life and for which I am always grateful.

There's a virtual tour of the Áras here.


Órfhlaith Foyle said...

A Lovely post Nuala!


Thanks Ór - it was a lovely day out.

Kar said...

Gorgeous post Nu, love the pic's. Entrance hall is fab and that beautiful painting. The food looks delish. The group photo is brilliant!! I'm dying to hear all x

Ossian said...

Superb. The poet president. I would like to see Michael D enjoying poetry events, lending his influence to the cause. I don't mean in a grand way, I mean if he could just turn up at some open mic sessions (a bit like the way the Queen turns up at a West End show unannounced sometimes), it would be great fun for him (hopefully!) and everyone. But all congratulations to you Nuala and all who got to visit the Aras, it's truly marvellous. I have met Jean O'Brien too once at one of her workshops and I have her collection Dangerous Dresses here and often like to re-read it. She's quite an inspirational lady.

Doireann said...

thanks for posting, Nuala. Delighted that you had such a lovely time! The Áras looks amazing.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Nuala, thanks for sharing your trip and what an honow for you and the other writers. You must have been so thrilled and may I say...You looked gorgeous!


Thanks everyone - it was an honour and good fun to boot :)

Mari said...

Thanks for sharing the lovely photos and great post with everyone Nuala. Many congrats and looks like a fab time was had by all.

shaunag said...

I loved reading your account of it - esp all the details, the food, the plates, the proceedings of the day! Congrats to ye all!

Anna May said...

That was a great read Nuala - what a place and I thought you were very natty in your red shoes !

Anna May

Emily said...

Fantastic Nu, Loved all the details!! X


Thanks Emily - a day to remember :)