PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins told today of his "great sadness" on hearing of the passing of Nelson Mandela.
President Higgins arrived at NUI, Galway this afternoon where he was the first to sign a book of condolences opened in the college to the former South African leader.
"It was of course a moment of great sadness because even though he had been ill, and very seriously ill, and it might have been expected, the passing of Nelson Mandela was of immense significance, of course to his family and of course to the people of South Africa, but also to all those who had been inspired by the struggle of Nelson Mandela," he said.
Describing the anti-apartheid campaigners as "an inspirational figure in every sense" the President added; "I think all of us who were inspired by him, know that the legacy is absolutely one that will go on inter-generationally."
President Higgins also recalled his last meeting with the African Statesman at NUI, Galway in 2003 when Mr Mandela received an honourary doctorate of law from the University. He also referenced Mr Mandela's visit in 1990 when he met with Dunnes Stores workers who went on strike over apartheid in the 1980s.
"You could see as well his capacity for emotional gratitude and compassion when he was speaking to these young women who had put the most valuable thing they had, their job on the line and who often in wet and cold days and certainly without majority support for periods of time spend three years, simply because they were appalled at hearing the circumstances in which a person because of the colour of their skin was forced to work in an undemocratic regime," he added.
He added that Mr Mandela's legacy would be remembered "in terms of courage, in terms of tenacity, in terms of consistency in supporting not just the path to freedom but the delivery of freedom and a sense of equality"
"I think one of the things that is there in relation to Nelson Mandela's contribution on into the future is the notion of an unfinished struggle. It rings out in several of the later speeches in that while we have got freedom we have just got the freedom to be free and achieve freedom," he added.
The book of condolence will remain open at the college in the atrium of the James Hardiman Library until Monday evening