Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Áras an Uachtaráin // A Tour of the President's Home

As a member of the American Women's Club of Dublin, I recently spent the most wonderful afternoon enjoying tea where such distinguished guests including Presidents Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, have been previously hosted. 

We were graciously invited to tour the Irish President's Residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, and meet his lovely wife, Sabina Higgins, over tea. 

Upon our arrival to the residence in Dublin's famed Phoenix Park, we walked from the car park past the immaculately landscaped gardens to the front entrance. Passing through the front door, we were invited into the nearly stark white Entrance Room. The white walls and vaulted ceiling serve as the backdrop to colourful artwork, as well as the blue seal of the Presidential harp motif, so prominently displayed high above our heads. One interesting fact learned from the tour was that while the harp is the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland, even featured on current coins, it was Guinness who originally trademarked the harp symbol in 1876. When the Republic became a free state in 1922, the government asked permission from Guinness to also use the harp symbol, only the reverse image. So when distinguishing between two harps, the government's harp is shown with the sound board edge on the right, while Guinness harp's straight edge is shown on the left.

Moving from the Entrance Room into the Francini Corridor, where you can view the bronze busts of the former presidents, we then patiently waited to enter the State Reception Room where we would meet Sabina Higgins herself.

A warm handshake, quick verbal exchange and a photograph later, we found ourselves entering into the State Dining Room. It was in this formal room that we were so generously offered a fine selection of refreshments and sweet canapés.

Francini Corridor

Harp displayed in the Francini Corridor
As we chit chatted among our group, nibbled on miniature scones, and watched the President's two Bernese Mountain dogs as they frolicked in the garden, Mrs. Higgins made her way around the room. She got to know the members on a more personal level, noting the AWCD's sub-groups like the craft and chat meet-up, hillwalkers, and the java junkies. When she did address the 50 of us as a whole organization, it was such a genuinely heartfelt message. She is both kindhearted and compassionate, as well as a strong advocate for women's rights, reminding us how important it is that we stand together in unity with other women around the world. She also reminded us to enjoy our time in Ireland, whether it is for a temporary stay or a long term commitment.

The tea cups featured the presidential harp symbol 
Mrs. Higgins addresses our group
The American Women's Club of Dublin group shot with Mrs. Higgins
After her departure, we were treated to a walking tour of the 4 public state rooms by the President's aide. Our gregarious guide had that authentic Irish wit that made the informative tour particularly appealing. The bits of gossip he injected into the history was all in good fun, and I'll share a bit of that hearsay, along with some of the historical facts below.

Presidential Portrait of Mary Robinson
Presidential Portrait of Erskine Childers

Our guide describing the portraits
Originally built in 1751 by Nathaniel Clements, a Park Ranger who was appointed by King George II, Áras has been the home to all of the Irish presidents, since the first President took office in 1938. Before this tour it had never occurred to me that Ireland is only on its ninth President. The State Dining Room proudly displays portraits of each of the former eight presidents. Some interesting tidbits learned on the tour about some of the presidents and their portraits...
  • Douglas Hyde- first President, portrait shows him standing but when the painting was created he had massive stroke that left him wheelchair bound and unable to stand but he did not want to be remembered as "weak"
  • Eamon de Valera- born in New York, he was sentenced to death for his role in the Easter Rising, but his life was spared and he went on to be the third President 
  • Erskine Childers- his father was executed during Ireland's Civil War, he died suddenly while in office so only served 18 months and his portrait is said to "lack warmth" as it was painted after his unfortunate passing
  • Mary Robinson- first woman President of Ireland, her portrait is said to be the most favoured by artists as it is "difficult to paint white using colours" 
  • Mary McAleese- second female President and first with a young family to live in Áras and a little something that was (surprisingly!) not mentioned on the tour but worth mentioning here... she met me (haha!) on Christmas Eve in 2007 at the Westbury Hotel in City Centre and kindly took a photograph with myself and my sister-in-law 
A photo with President McAleese from 2007 
The State Reception Room is used by the President to receive visiting dignitaries and foreign envoys. It was full of beautiful decor details, including  the handwoven carpet made in Donegal. The original carpet was replaced in 2000 by descendants who created the first piece and it replicates the design, featuring a Phoenix rising from the flames.

Chandelier from the State Reception Room
The Council of State Room contains a painting of the first meeting of the Council of State, the President's advisory board, presided over by Douglas Hyde. The partially gilded ceiling was rather unique, with plaster depictions of scenes from Aesop's Fables, including the story of the Fox and the Grapes. A quick recap of the fable for those readers who need it- a fox sees a bunch of grapes and wants to eat them to quench his thirst but after several unsuccessful attempts to reach them, he gives up and declares the grapes are likely sour anyways. Moral is that it is easy to despise what you cannot get.

A painting depicting the first meeting of the Council of State
Aesop's Fables on the ceiling
The tour ended after viewing the State Drawing Room. This room has a few notable features. The brass chandelier commemorates the Act of Union from 1801 between Ireland, England and Scotland and displays intertwined shamrocks, roses and thistles. The Louis XIV style pink couch is an original piece and it was said that the replica sits in the Palace of Versailles with a placard that notes the original is in Dublin. The Connemara coffee table was specially commissioned for President Bill Clinton's visit in 2000. While it was intended to be a gift for him, the table was gifted back to the Irish and now is displayed prominently, surrounded by the historical furniture, and funnily enough, President Clinton's wife, Hillary, enjoyed tea at the table while visiting Aras in 2012.

The brass chandelier commemorating the Act of Union in 1801
Furniture and artwork found in the State Drawing Room 
Everyone on the staff that I encountered was incredibly affable but even more noticeable was the sense of pride they showed for their role at Áras . The dining room server offered tea and organic apple juice that he was delighted to had come "from apples grown on the grounds". Upon learning one of our passengers last name was Ingalls, the guard at the entrance gate immediately made a witty remark about the "Little House on the Prairie". The President's aide, who had as much charm as he did wit, kept each one of us engaged and entertained on the historical tour.  

For those of you who are interested in attending a tour of Áras, there are complimentary tours offered every Saturday to the public. Click here for more information on attending a tour, click here to be directed to the President's website, or take a virtual tour of the public rooms by clicking here. For those reads that live here in Ireland (or will be visiting soon!), I highly recommend visiting Áras for the truly unique and unforgettable experience. I know that I will forever hold this special day in my memories of our time in Dublin, however long that time may be!

The green, white and orange flag flying high above our heads
The gorgeous back gardens
A day I will never forget!


  1. Very very nice. Thank you for your tour

    1. So glad you enjoyed it!!! Thanks for reading :)


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