Celebrating a Golden Era at the Áras

They came from North, South, East and West and from across the water. Their destination Áras an Uachtaráin on the 21st April 2004, President Mary McAleese was hosting a second Reception for the Irish traditoinal music fraternity - many of them the ‘unsung heroes and heroines’ who had helped to bring our native music to the prominence, which it enjoys today.

Like the 2003 Reception, this was a memorable occasion - full of warmth and conviviality and yet a keen awareness of an august presence. As the guests arrived at the stately setting, they were greeted with the strains of Ceol na hÉireann provided by the several musicians already in situ.

The guests greeted each other and reminisced emotionally as they recalled other days and other challenges; times when it was an uphill effort to keep our own cultural heritage alive and intact for future generations. Many of the guests were central to that crusade and now there was a warm glow of satisfaction in the knowledge that it was all worthwhile.

The visit to Áras an Uachtaráin - not ‘the first house in Connacht’ but ‘first house’ of the state - was in many ways the pinnacle of that great cultural journey.

Here was the official acknowledgement, which many yearned for - not in any self-seeking way but as an expression of unity towards a common national goal.

The President met and greeted each guest individually. She too was obviously relishing the occasion. her enthusiasm and sense of camaraderie was infectious. The guests relaxed and swapped stories with our revered Head of State.

It had all the friendship and atmosphere of a Fleadh Cheoil as the President urged the huge assembly to make themselves ‘at home’. This they did with gusto and the confluences of occasion and excitement was a sight to behold!

There was a hushed silence as the awe-struck assembly was addressed by the President. She spoke knowledgeably of the great cultural renaissance, which saw our native traditions come centre stage. She saluted those men and women who through selfless endeavours made this possible.

The President spoke from the heart and said that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to those visionaries who never faltered in their mission which to-day finds a resonance throughout the world.

When President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin bade farewell to their appreciative guests, one can only imagine what they felt as they departed for home. As they walked down the avenue from the Áras, the animated conversation suggested achievement, appreciation and a sense of contentment. This was a day they would savour forever; the jewel in their store of memories.

From that eventful occasion in the mansion House in 2001 when the President celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Comhaltas, to the Reception at the Áras in 2003, and now the 2004 Reception, it has been an exceptional State acknowledgement of a golden era in Irish History.