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Published on November 15th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Mary McAleese: Former President Of Ireland


Mary McAleese, was born Mary Patricia Leneghan, in Ardoyne, Belfast, on June 27, 1951. The first born of a family of nine other children.

Mary McAleese grew up in Northern Ireland, at the height of ‘the troubles’ and just like other families, at the time, her own family suffered attacks and murder attempts. In the end they were forced to leave the area by the paramilitary violence.

Mary McAleese Former President Of Ireland

In 1973, she graduated in Law from Queen’s University Belfast, and was called to the Bar in 1974. In 1976, she married Dr Martin McAleese, a dentist and accountant. They have three children Emma, born 1982 and twins Justin and Sara Mai, born 1985. She was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1987.

Mary McAleese returned to Belfast’s Queen’s University to take up the position of Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, in 1987 and in 1994, she became the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.

Mary McAleese With Dmitry Medvedev

Broadcasting Career

During that time Mary McAleese, also worked as a journalist and broadcaster with RTE television, reporting for the News, and other political programmes.

Her impressive CV also includes Director of Channel 4 Television; Member of Catholic Church delegation in 1996 to the North Commission on Contentious Parades; founder member of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas; Director of Northern Ireland Electricity Delegate to the 1995 White House Conference, on Trade and Investment in Ireland and to the subsequent Pittsburg Conference.

Irish Presidency

In 1997, Mary McAleese, famously defeated former Fianna Fail, Taoiseach (or Prime Minister as the office is referred to in other countries) Albert Reynolds, in an internal party election to be nominated to run for the Presidency. The nomination cause quite a stir, with many believing a Belfast Catholic, President could harm relations with Britain.

Nonetheless, Mary McAleese won the election, beating off opponents, Mary Banotti, of Fine Gael, Labour candidate Adi Roche, former Eurovision Song Contest Winner, Dana Rosemary Scallon, and Derek Nally.

Mary McAleese Inspects The Guard Of Honour Photo By Andrew O'Brien

In 1997, she was inaugurated the eighth President of Ireland, and the second woman President. She also made world history by being the first woman to succeed another woman, the first being Mary Robinson.

The theme, Mary McAleese adopted for her presidency was, ‘Building Bridges’.

President McAleese  travelled widely, during her Presidency, meeting with heads of state from other countries. She was a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland, where she was warmly welcomed by both sides of the political divide.

Mary McAleese With U.S. President, Barack Obama

Courting Controversy

No stranger to controversy, in 1997 she incurred the wrath, of the Catholic Church by receiving communion in an Anglican Church in Dublin. With Archbishop Desmond Connell describing as a ‘sham’ Catholics receiving holy communion in a non-Catholic church.

In January 2005, at a ceremony to commemorate  the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp President McAleese once more courted controversy.

Northern Ireland Unionist politicians were furious when President McAleese made reference to the manner in which Protestant children in Northern Ireland, had been reared to hate Catholics, just like German children had been brought up to hate Jews under the Nazi regime. She later apologised, for her remarks, describing them as unbalanced.

Mary McAleese In Canada Photo By Joshua Sherurcij

Nevertheless, with a doubt the most contentious thing she did during her Presidency was signing the Credit Institutions Stabilisation Bill into law, a move which saw billions of euro being injected into the banks.

Historical Visits

Known to be an admirer of Queen Elizabeth II, whom she came to know, while she was Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queens, President McAleese welcomed the Queen to Ireland in May 2011. The historic visit was a huge success and Mary McAleese was widely praised and admired for the way she carried out her duties marking the occasion as one of the highlights of her Presidency.

A week later President Barack Obama also arrived in Ireland and President McAleese was called on once again to meet one of the most powerful men in the world. But as always she carried out her duties with her usual aplomb.

In November, 2011, President McAleese completed her second term in office and was succeeded by President Michael D. Higgins.

On one of  her final engagements she said she had loved every day of her Presidency and felt extremely grateful for the honour.

Further Reading

First Citizen: Mary McAleese and the Irish Presidency is an excellent biography by Irish Times journalist Patsy McGarry which charts her journey from troubled Northern Ireland to becoming President of Ireland. Full of fascinating insights it reveals controversy with RTE and her behind the scenes work with Ulster Unionists.

Love in Chaos: Spiritual Growth and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland is a book written by Mary McAleese and details her thoughts on peace and how it can be maintained for future generations in Northern Ireland.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access First Citizen: Mary McAleese And The Irish Presidency and Love in Chaos: Spiritual Growth and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland here.

For those who live in Canada, you can obtain First Citizen: Mary McAleese And The Irish Presidency and Love in Chaos: Spiritual Growth and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland from here.

For Germany: First Citizen: Mary McAleese And The Irish Presidency and Love in Chaos: Spiritual Growth and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland.

For France: First Citizen: Mary McAleese And The Irish Presidency and Love in Chaos: Spiritual Growth and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland.

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