seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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President Mary Robinson Meets Queen Elizabeth II

robinson-elizabeth-visit-1993Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, becomes the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch when she visits Queen Elizabeth II on May 27, 1993.

For much of the 20th century, relations between Ireland and its nearest neighbour are cool. Temperatures drop significantly over the economic war in the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality in World War II. The sense of unfinished business permeates diplomacy during the Troubles, but by 1990 there is significant warmth in trade, tourism, business and even politics.

The newly elected Robinson makes a big play of reaching out to Irish emigrants and sees the opportunity to help Anglo-Irish relations. And so, on her 49th birthday, she pops in for tea with the British head of state.

None of Robinson’s predecessors had set foot in Britain, other than to change planes. Even when President Patrick Hillery is invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, he is advised by the Government of Ireland to decline the invitation.

But Robinson decides she will not be pushed around, and successfully insists she be allowed to join other heads of state at the opening of a European bank in London. Next she asks the government if she might be able to travel to the University of Cambridge to deliver a speech and receive an honorary degree. It is only after he reluctantly agrees that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey realises that the Chancellor of the University is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Robinson meets the royal, the world remains on its axis, and a precedent is set. “Partly because I’ve never been fazed by royalty of any kind, least of all the British royal family, I felt entirely relaxed,” she recalls in her authorised biography.

Robinson next meets the prince at a memorial service for the victims of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in Warrington, where she is applauded as she leaves the church. Soon, she is meeting royals all over the place, at rugby matches and memorial ceremonies, and in a television interview says that she would like to meet the Queen.

By February 1993, Haughey has been replaced by Albert Reynolds and he grants permission for Robinson to travel for a strictly personal visit. The visit does not happen in a vacuum – Reynolds is in secret discussions with Republicans that would end in the IRA ceasefire – and the Taoiseach is keen not to give any suggestion that this is a State visit, which would require a reciprocal visit.

Robinson’s party arrives at Buckingham Palace at 4:55 PM on May 27 where they are greeted by the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes. Robinson’s staff pushes the Palace to allow press photographers, reckoning that a historic moment should be captured.

Robinson, in an Ib Jorgensen fuchsia suit, later donated to Madame Tussauds waxworks, and her husband Nick are brought up to the first floor to meet the Queen for a friendly and informal tea party that lasts 30 minutes. They sip a blend of Chinese and India tea in Minton cups, exchange signed photographs of themselves, and discuss the prospects for peace. The President also hands over an extra present of a hand-turned wooden cup from Spiddal.

Afterwards, the ground-breaking photographs are taken and published all over the world, including the front page of the Irish Independent. “Palace Talks Prepare Way for State Visit” runs the lead headline over a piece by Bernard Purcell and Gene McKenna. They go on, reporting the President as saying the visit is “symbolic of the maturing relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

In 1996 President Robinson’s 15th visit to Britain is upgraded to an Official Visit, and she leaves office the following year.

Robinson’s successor, Mary McAleese, takes things further, and meets Queen Elizabeth II several times in London and at World War I commemorations on the continent. In May 2011 McAleese welcomes Queen Elizabeth II on her four-day State Visit to Ireland and in April 2014 President Michael D. Higgins makes the first State Visit to the UK.

(Pictured: President Mary Robinson with the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1993. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland | “Flashback 1993: The first Irish head of state meeting with a British monarch” by Ger Siggins, Independent.ie, May 22, 2016)


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Mary Robinson Elected Chancellor of the University of Dublin

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, is elected Chancellor of the University of Dublin by the Trinity College Dublin senate on November 19, 1998. The University is the degree awarding body for Trinity College.

Robinson becomes the first woman in the university’s 406-year history to be elected to the position, making her the titular head of the University of Dublin of which Trinity College is the sole constituent, and represents it on ceremonial occasions. She is installed as Chancellor on December 17, 1998, replacing Dr. Francis Joseph Charles O’Reilly.

Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo in 1944, the daughter of two physicians, she is educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King’s Inns in Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she wins a fellowship in 1967. She graduates with a first class TCD law degree in 1967. She is Reid Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law from 1969 to 1975, and lectures in European law from 1972 to 1990. She represents the university in Seanad Éireann from 1969 to 1989. She serves as the seventh (and first female) President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997.

The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from United States President Barack Obama, Robinson is a member of The Elders, former Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and a member of the Club of Madrid. She is chair of the GAVI Alliance Board and President of the International Commission of Jurists.

She serves on several boards including the United Nations Global Compact, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society and serves as President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”