On April 14th, Ballina became the centre of attention as it welcomed the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
The atmosphere in Ballina was electric, with locals and visitors alike lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the President. The town was decorated in American flags and bunting, landing to the feelings of excitement and anticipation. The crowds were enthusiastic, and despite the cold and the rain, spirits remained high.
The event was full of musical performances by The Academic, The Coronas, and The Chieftains, and a spectacular display of lights which could be seen lighting the sky for miles away!
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave a heartfelt speech that resonated with the people of Ireland and beyond.
The Light in the Window was a prominent feature during her speech. President Mary Robinson placed a Light in the Window of Áras an Uachtaráin to welcome home Ireland’s emigrants, resulting in Ireland’s embrace of its over 70 million global diaspora. Last Friday night, that light was shining across the River Moy from The Mary Robinson Centre, welcoming Ballina’s other President, Joe Biden, back home.
Joe Biden himself started his speech by pointing out the Light in the Window in saying “Mary, I see the Light!”
Mary also read the poem "The Emigrant Irish" by Eavan Boland. The reading was a poignant moment that added to the emotional significance of the occasion.
Here is “The Emigrant Irish” by Eavan Boland in full:
Like oil lamps, we put them out the back --
of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then
a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:
they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:
Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.
And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.
The Mary Robinson Centre worked closely with the US Embassy, White House team, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Taoiseach, as well as local partners and the University of Galway to help in the running of the event.
A display of some of Mary’s Archive was put together in Mary’s childhood bedroom for the occasion by The Mary Robinson Archive at the University of Galway.
The Centre also played an important role in providing a hub for media coverage of the Presidential address.
Overall, the visit of President Biden to Ballina was a historic moment for the town and the country as a whole. The atmosphere, crowds, and displays all showcased the warmth and hospitality of the Irish people, and the collaboration between local partners and international teams resulted in a spectacular and memorable visit. As Mary Robinson said, “you have two Presidents who love Ballina, what else could you ask for!”
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