A recent visit to Aras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland, at Phoenix Park in Dublin enabled me to see some of the features of the building, following a reception by President Higgins. I had been at the Aras twice before to meet his predecessor, Mary McAleese. Since the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as ninth President nearly fifteen months ago, there have been a few changes inside the Aras.
One of the first things to catch the eye of the visitor is a large painting in the entrance hallway by a Chinese artist Zhao Shao Rou dated 11-11-2011, when President Higgins was inaugurated at Dublin Castle. The hall with its barrel-vaulted ceiling dates from 1751. One of the features is the golden harp on a blue background which is the same as the presidential standard.
There are some plaster busts in the alcoves at the back. One of them is of James Clarence Mangan, who Yeats regarded as one of the best Irish poets. His poems were published in The Nation and among the best-known of his works is “Dark Rosaleen”. There is a memorial to him in St Stephen’s Green, a bust by Oliver Sheppard. It was commissioned by a committee that included Dr George Sigerson and DJ O’Donoghue, librarian at University College, who wrote a biography of him and who is also the person who completed William Carleton’s autobiography.
From the entrance hall, the visitor enters the Francini corridor, leading towards the state reception room. It contains the busts of past Presidents and was created in 1957 during the presidency of Sean T O’Ceallaigh. The one of Mary Robinson is a good likeness, in my view, but the most recent one of Mary McAleese is debatable. It was commissioned in 1999 and is by Carolyn Mulholland RHA from Lurgan. It cost €7,600.
There is also a portrait of Mrs McAleese which hangs alongside pictures of the other holders of the office. The Aras was built by Nathaniel Clements in 1751 and became the residence of British Viceroys until the creation of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) in 1922. More details about the building and pictures along with details of President Higgins can be found here.