Back in 2012 our family were lucky enough to be invited to the President's house for the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. Traditionally this is held the first weekend in December & televised by RTE News.
When the invite arrived on luxurious stationary in late October, the girls were over the moon. This was to be their year, as they were also toy demonstrators on The Late Late Toy Show that year!
When we arrived outside the gates of the Áras we all had to produce photographic I.D. & our invite before we were allowed access to the car park. There was even a bus to run us up the driveway to the big house. The children were so excited that we decided to walk up to use a bit of their energy!
|All bundled up in hand made Arans from Nan|
We were welcomed at the door by members of the wonderful staff that work in the Áras. They were so friendly & inviting and made us feel like family returning home. Whoever decorated the house for Christmas did an amazing job, understated elegance throughout.
As we arrived we were ushered into the main reception room where there was an enormous homemade festive spread. Everything was made from scratch in the Presidential kitchen, including the sausage rolls, chicken goujons & filo pastry wrapped tiger prawns. But the mouth-watering cakes & cookies caught the attention of the children.
We were formally introduced to President Michael D Higgins & his wife Sabina, by his military aides-de-camp. They were so lovely & genuinely interested in our family. We chatted for a while, with them telling us all about their four children. Sabina even asked could she hold our youngest son Cillian.
Then we were led through to meet Santa who gave each of the children an engraved Newbridge Silver Christmas decoration, so they would have a beautiful keepsake of their visit for years to come.
By the time we got back to the reception room the entertainment had started with a magician for the children, this was followed up by the very talented Moya Brennan.
The President & his wife then gave a speech as to what Christmas meant to them, it’s all about family in the Higgins household. We all gathered outside for the lighting of the Christmas tree with the glow of Dublin’s lights in the background, they really have a stunning view from their back garden.
Back inside, I got chatting to a member of staff (kicking myself I never got his name) As we were chatting I mentioned that after there I was going to visit my Dad, who was in the Mater Hospital recuperating after an operation. To my surprise about 10 minutes later he came up to me with a care package of cakes for my Dad.
I was so touched by this gesture, I actually cried. Dad was delighted with it & later told me that all the doctors & nurses from the other wards came in to visit him in the hopes of getting a Presidential sweet treat for with their tea.
After the ceremony outside a smaller group of us went back inside to an ante room for relaxed chats, while a pianist played Christmas carols. They were so down to earth, Sabina even told a member of staff that they could go for the evening & she took over putting more turf on the fire.
I love this picture, it shows how friendly & approachable Sabina really is!
The chats soon moved on to the topic of the Diaspora, both the Michael & his wife said that they were heartbroken that so many families are affected.
I said that my big brother Rob & his wife Catherine had to move to the UK in order to find work. I was then asked to call him (!) What followed was 10 minutes of utter surrealism as I greeted my brother & proceeded to hand my phone to the President so he could wish them a Happy Christmas & sympathise that they were not home with family for the festive season.
Our visit was not at all what I had expected; it was so relaxed & informal. Our family will always have great memories of that time. No doubt the children will talk about it again as they hang their silver angels on the tree this year.
Áras an Uactatáin is open to the public every Saturday. Admission is free, tickets are issued on a first come first served basis from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre on Saturday mornings. They do not take bookings, so be sure to get there early before the first tour starts at 10.15am.