by Vera Grant AMMM Ireland 02.01.2024
A couple of weeks ago I sat in the packed auditorium and waited for the first female President of Ireland to enter. She had agreed to come to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy to be interviewed by Mark Carruthers, a Northern Ireland journalist.
In she walked, slowly and yet stately to rapturous applause, smiled as she took her seat and nodded at the enthusiasm of the audience.
Her opening words were to pay tribute to her good friend and much-loved poet, Seamus Heaney.
It wasn’t the words she spoke; it was her voice and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. The last and only time I had seen Mary Robinson in person was the day her cavalcade swept into the newly refurbished workhouse in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal. The year was 1995 and the summer sun had shone brightly on the throng who had come from near and far to see this woman of our time, the President of Ireland.
Then, like now, she had smiled, waved, and shook her head acknowledging the warmth of the welcome. Her words echoed in my head as I listened and watched her nearly thirty years later. I recalled how still with that same strong, empathic voice she paid tribute to those who had nothing and in desperation had sought shelter and food in the Workhouse. It was thanks to them and their strength of character in overcoming the stigma of the Workhouse that we were here today. They were our people, our forefathers and the legacy they gave us, was life itself.
Now, Mary spoke about what was happening in the world, from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza to the new concept of artificial Intelligence and its impact on humanity.
In preparing for this past Advent, I did a course which included the role of Our Lady in the weeks leading up to the birth of Our Lord. In response to God’s call Mary had answered, “Yes”, and even at times when it felt like a sword was piercing her heart, she was constant; it was always, “Yes Lord, Thy Will Be Done.”
The mantle of Our Lady enveloping this other Mary was evident in all that she has accomplished, saying Yes when the odds were stacked against her at 100/1 to become President, saying Yes to Nelson Mandela to become a founding member of The Elders and saying Yes in accepting the role of The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In her many roles, too many to list here, Mary Robinson’s priority was to advance the causes of women and marginalised people. Her willingness to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves transformed the lives many.
There was a standing ovation at the end for this remarkable woman who is almost eighty years of age and is still actively campaigning worldwide on human rights.
For me the message of Advent resounded – throw off the excuses, stand up, be counted and start as you mean to continue with one small word, Yes.