Echoes of the past from the Archives
It often appears that the present-day presidency has a more active place in Irish life than was the case in the 1980s, but this may be an artefact of media attention. The media then gave little space to presidential doings.
The files from the President’s office, however, often reveal a level of visits and activities quite on a par with today’s – at perhaps less cost.
Take, for instance, an event in Portlaoise on January 5, 1984, at which President Patrick Hillery launched John Feehan’s book Laois: An Environmental History. This was a pioneering study of man and environment which has now achieved classic status.
In his speech, Dr Hillery recognised this and spoke of John Feehan’s “deep feeling for his own Irish midland earth”, the old voice of Irish patriotism joined with a deeply researched scientific work. Significantly, the author himself was then teaching geology in Malawi.
But to the midland town and to the local author, this recognition by the President meant a very great deal. Other files reflect the same local connection between the head of state and the people of Ireland. This is an area historians have neglected. It might be time for a critical history of the presidency that focuses on its interaction with the people.