By lighting a candle in the window at Aras an Uachtarain at the outset of her presidency in 1990, Mary Robinson told Ireland’s sons and daughters who had scattered to the four corners of the world that while they might be gone, they were not forgotten.
Such a gesture had not been made by any politician before that time, and the difference it made to ex-pats and those who claim Irish heritage around the world cannot be underestimated.
They were being told by the head of state that they were part of the family, and that they mattered.
In becoming the first female President of Ireland, Robinson not only struck out for “Mna na hEireann,” but revolutionized a position once seen as a retirement home for politicians.
Robinson used her influence to shed light on the civil war in Rwanda and enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity until she resigned in 1997 to become the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a position she held until 2002.
In 2007 she became part of “The Elders” a group of world leaders including Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter who convene to discuss the world’s problems. Robinson, who is a barrister, is also the Chancellor of the University of Dublin.
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