'Imagine what Ireland might yet become,' students urged
As a direct descendant of the Irish revolutionary who unveiled the Tricolour for the first time, 14-year-old schoolgirl Lilly Whelehan was more than a little nervous when she took to the podium at Croke Park where her great, great, great, great grand uncle was being honoured.
Not only was it her "nerve-racking" duty to thank President Michael D Higgins for attending the State ceremony yesterday, marking the final chapter in the Ireland 2016 Flags for Schools project, she also had to address more than 6,000 of her peers and teachers from every school in the country - in front of RTÉ broadcaster Ryan Tubridy no less, who acted as master of ceremonies.
"It was very scary," said the secondary school student from the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, Co Tipperary, still nervously clutching her neatly hand-printed speech.
But like her revered ancestor, Thomas Francis Meagher, she fearlessly rose to the challenge and pulled it off without a hitch.
And 168 years after he first hoisted the Tricolour at the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club in Waterford, before it was flown from the roof of the GPO by the insurgents during the Easter Rising, Lilly beamed with pride in the knowledge that his dream of the green, white and orange banner symbolising Irish national identity eventually came true.
"It's the same for everyone else, I'm just proud that it's our flag," she said.
Her history teacher, Carmel Keating, said the school was particularly honoured to be among more than 3,200 secondary schools taking part in the Flags for Schools initiative, launched last year in conjunction with the Defence Forces and the Department of Education.
"It was an honour when we found out that Lilly was actually in the school and that she was related to Thomas Francis Meagher.
"I suppose the fact that it's a flag of peace as well and symbolises the two traditions in Ireland and bringing those together," she said.
"It's now up to the next generation to keep that peace going," she added.
President Higgins gave the keynote address at the ceremony in which representatives of every secondary school in the country was given a handmade flag and a copy of the Proclamation by a member of the Defence Forces.
Primary schools across the country have already received their flags and Proclamations from Defence Forces personnel who visited their schools over the past five months.
Informing them that many of the insurgents in the Rising were the same age as the students sitting before him in the Cusack Stand, Mr Higgins called on them to "take charge of change and imagine what Ireland might yet become".
Rev Michael Cavanagh, chair of the Thomas F Meagher Foundation, spoke in a similar vein, reminding the students that "you've been given a responsibility to communicate the flag's message".
"We ask you to live the flag's message," he added.