Ex-pats step out at Mary's Kiwi visit
WHETHER it was five decades or five years since they'd left Ireland, New Zealand's ex-pats turned out en masse to welcome Mary McAleese and husband Martin to Wellington yesterday.
"When travelling, I love calling on Irish clubs and societies," she told the members of the Hutt Valley Irish Society.
"I really enjoy meeting with people who -- no matter how distant their link to Ireland -- are still fiercely proud of who they are and where they come from.''
Among the throng at Hutt Valley were Dora and Denis Murphy who originally hail from Dundalk and Killarney.
The Murphys were a newly married couple when they first came to New Zealand in 1954.
Both in their late 70s, they have returned to Ireland only four times over the last 53 years, but have managed to keep their accents.
"She's a lovely person," Dora Murphy said of Mrs McAleese.
"It means a lot to us older members to have her visit."
According to the country's 2001 census figures, 10,371 New Zealand residents were born in Ireland.
Eamon Cleary from Co Monaghan was named New Zealand's third wealthiest man in the country's 2007 National Business Review Rich List. The Ballybay man is estimated to be worth $NZ2.1bn (€1.11bn).
The entrepreneur has endowed a Chair in Irish Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin where Mrs McAleese will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws today.
The President has reassured the Irish population in New Zealand that the Government remains committed to the wellbeing of the Irish diaspora.
She also jokingly reminded the Irish-born Kiwis in Wellington that if they reached their 100th birthday, they'd get a cheque for NZ$4700 -- and a letter from herself.