Michael D Higgins is this week preparing to leave Galway to move to Dublin where next week he will be installed as
Ireland’s first citizen, head of State, and supreme commander of the Defence Forces, when he is sworn in as the ninth President of Ireland.
Although he will move into Aras an Uachtarain after his inauguration on Friday week, the president-elect will spend the next week in an apartment at Farmleigh House close to the Phoenix Park and on a short retreat at Glenstal Abbbey in Limerick, where he will use the time to compose his inaugural address.
His grown-up family will continue to live at their home in Galway, but he is already making plans for life in the Aras and has ordered two Bernese Mountain Dogs who will become the official first pets of the Higgins administration.
Speaking this week, he confirmed that although he will be writing during the next seven years, he will not be publishing, because he will be unable to sign books, as from next week, his signature becomes the official property of the State.
Although born in Limerick and raised in County Clare, Mr Higgins’ election as president marks a number of firsts for Galway city and county, which has been his home since the 1960s.
His election to the office of Uachtaráin na hÉireann has resulted in a number of Galway firsts - the first Galway-based individual, the first former Mayor of Galway, the first former Galway city councillor, the first former Galway West TD, the first NUI, Galway graduate, and the first president of Galway United FC to become president of Ireland.
Labour’s Galway West TD Derek Nolan, who in the last General Election took over the Dáil seat held by President-elect Higgins since 1987, has described the latter’s election as “a great result, a great day for Galway, and a great day for Ireland”.
“I’m delighted for Michael D,” Dep Nolan told the Galway Advertiser. “He will put his heart and soul into the job. There is some mixed emotion within Labour as we will miss both him and Sabina who were such driving forces in the party in Galway. Nonetheless Labour is proud of his election and we know he will make a great president.”
There was also personal satisfaction for Dep Nolan who was President-elect Higgins’ director of elections for Galway West, with the constituency resulting a 57 per cent level of support for Michael D, by far the highest in the State.
President-elect Higgins’ inauguration will take place in St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle on Friday November 11. Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina will be brought to the Castle in a 1974 Rolls Royce, escorted by motorcycle outriders drawn from the Defence Forces’ Second Cavalry Squadron.
He will then take an oath swearing to uphold the Constitution and to “dedicate (his ) abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland”. After he takes the oath, he will then sign a declaration and be presented with his presidential seal of office.
The ceremony will also mark a break with tradition as Mr Higgins will have a new chair for the inauguration ceremony.
The new chair was specially commissioned by the Office of Public Works and designed by Co Meath craftsman John Lee. It is fashioned from Irish white oak, to symbolise strength, kingship, endurance, and fertility.
The chair represents a break with the colonial past as it replaces the Viceregal throne, former throne of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland - the representative of British monarchy in Ireland - which has been used to inaugurate every President since Douglas Hyde in 1938.
The ceremony will be attended by the Higgins’ children; An Taoiseach Enda Kenny; the Cabinet; members of both houses of the Oireachtas; senior members of the judiciary; the diplomatic corps; and religious leaders.
However there is also speculation that one of the guests at the inauguration may be actor Martin Sheen, who played a US president in the acclaimed series The West Wing. The speculation has arisen owing to the actor’s support for Mr Higgins during the election campaign.
“There is one candidate that I most heartily support – my dear friend Michael Higgins,” the actor said in September. “A vote for Michael is a real vote for Ireland.”
At the ceremony, Mr Higgins will deliver his inaugural address, which he is currently working on. Although he has publicly declined to say what the text will contain, it is likely to deal with issues such as an inclusive citizenship, a creative society, and rebuilding the State into a ‘Real Republic’.
Afterwards President Higgins will be escorted to Árus an Uachtaráin which will be his and Sabina’s home for the next seven years.
Among the president’s first duties will be to appoint seven individuals to the Council of State, the body which advises the president in the exercise of his/her discretionary reserve powers.
The council will be made up of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Attorney General, the Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the president of the High Court.
Unlike most of the president's other duties, which must be conducted in accordance with the advice of the cabinet, the seven presidential appointees to the Council of State are chosen at the president’s discretion.
At this point it is not known who President-elect Higgins will appoint, but given his academic background and his long-standing interest in and support for the arts, it would not be surprising if an artist, writer, poet, or academic - or all four - were appointed