Proud Rostrevor Rejoiced Over President Of Ireland

REJOICING, on a par with the Sam Maguire Cup triumphs, was witnessed as President Mary McAleese arrived home in Rostrevor, following her election as head-of-state, ten years ago.

Jubilation, pride and a little sadness were experienced that Sunday morning. Local people were proud that their distinguished neighbour had defied bitter opposition to register a remarkable victory. But they were sad that she would have to leave the village, and take up residence at Aras an Uachtarian.

Brid Farrell, who had lived next door to the McAleese family for eight years, said: “We are so proud of her. This is a small town, and there is a great sense of pride that someone from here has achieved so much. She will make a wonderful president.”

Hundreds of well-wishers, led by the Longstone Pipe Band, applauded as the President strode with her husband, Martin and family from their home, the short distance to the Star of the Sea Church, where she had been married in 1976.

Monsignor Arthur Bradley, P.P., welcomed the McAleese family on “a very historic day, in so many ways. We are proud to welcome back to our parish the new President of Ireland.

“She is the first person from the North and, most of all, from our own parish, to have reached the highest office. That outstanding achievement has brought honour to your own family, and to our parish as well. You have maintained an impressive dignity and honesty, which have won you wide support,” he added.

And Church of Ireland Rector, Rev J. Simms said that his parishioners were “equally delighted by this success. If the President can take from this village the kind of goodwill that exists in this part of South Down, then her time in office will be much blessed.”

President McAleese has recalled her first Christmas in Rostrevor, just 30 years ago. At the age of 21, she and the family arrived in the village after a series of traumatic events in Belfast. Her father’s pub on the Falls Road was damaged in a bomb attack, and their home was riddled with over 30 bullets, while the family were attending Mass at Clonard Monastery.

She stated: “My parents had lost their home and business, and almost lost their sense of orientation for a few years. I was very worried about them. Then my father bought a pub in the village of Rostrevor. Coming from Belfast, we spent our Christmas in this little village, where we knew nobody.

“But the people of Rostrevor made us feel very welcome. They were fantastic, and we settled in quickly. Here we were, in this magnificent village on the shores of Carlingford Lough, with the Mountains of Mourne rising sheer above us. The truth is, I have never lost my love of Rostrevor.”

And President McAleese stated: “Newry is never far from my thoughts, when I am in the Aras. One of the symbols of the frontier town has been the yew tree, which is my favourite. It is one of the first trees that I planted, on taking up residence at the Aras. When I view the gardens each morning, I think of Newry, - indeed, I often think of home, the mountains and the sea.”

In 1999, Newry and Mourne District Council had the opportunity to welcome back their distinguished former resident at a Civic Reception in the Arts Centre, hosted by council chairman, Charlie Smyth, who had attended the State Reception, following her Inauguration in 1997.

Recalling that the council had, three years earlier, organised a reception for Professor Mary McAleese, to mark her appointment as Pro Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, the chairman said: “Little did we know that, next time we would invite her back, would be as President of Ireland.

“With her experience and work with young people, we know that she will do all in her power to build bridges between the communities, between North and South, as well as between our past and our present,” added Chairman Charlie Smyth.

President McAleese pointed out that, on the previous occasion, Danny Kennedy had hosted the Civic Reception as council chairman. And that he had also “welcomed home the Down team, on their return from Croke Park with the Sam Maguire Cup. Such gestures sometimes go unrecorded.

“No council better exemplifies the policy of sharing than Newry and Mourne, in the way that it strives to reconcile both communities. Some examples are the rotation of the council chairmanship, and its active promotion of cross-border trade and co-operation. These things help to soften the edges of hatred, fear and suspicion,” she stated.

Mother of Ireland’s first citizen, Mrs Claire Leneghan, has confessed that she had been “very lonely at first,” after arriving in the village. It was “very quiet, after the hustle and bustle of the Crumlin Road and Falls Road in Belfast.

“But I began to make friends, like the late Rory O’Donoghue and his wife, who had a local mini-market. (Roy was the son of the late Billy O’Donoghue, Clerk of the South Down and South Armagh Rural Councils in the 50’s and 60’s.) Also there was Kevin Durkin, the chemist, as well as Raymond and Paddy Parr.”

Meanwhile, her husband had taken over the Corner House Bar on the Square. His genial personality appealed to the clientele; and he recalled such popular customers as Pat Murphy. Mick Clarke, Jim Clements, Bert Thompson, Dick Murphy, Florrie Cole and organist, Nancy Hardy. He described Mick and Sarah McGivern, who had 12 children, as “the happiest couple I have ever seen.”

The President’s father gave up the Corner House in 1978, and has since been involved with the Old Killowen Bar. He has also assisted at St Bronach’s GFC Social Centre. Paddy, Charlie McAleese, Martin’s father; and Jim Curran, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, were known as “Last of the Summer Wine.” But more of that anon!

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008