Tuesday 20 August 2019

President Michael D Higgins follows in the footsteps of St Cillian as he 'forges the bonds' of friendship on State visit to Germany

Ireland's President Michael D Higgins gives a speech at the Paulinerkirche church of the university of Leipzig. Photo: Peter Endig / dpa / AFP
Ireland's President Michael D Higgins gives a speech at the Paulinerkirche church of the university of Leipzig. Photo: Peter Endig / dpa / AFP

Nicola Anderson

Where better to end a State visit than with a home-coming - not to Ireland itself but to a Bavarian town which has retained an Irish heart over hundreds of years.

Würzburg was founded by St Cillian (St Kilian to the Germans), and is said to be the most Irish place on the continent.

It the resting place of the 7th century Irish missionary who was martyred in 689 after converting the local ruler to Christianity, only to fall out of favour when the ruler, Duke Gosbert, married his brother’s widow. St Kilian informed the couple that the marriage was unlawful according to Canon Law.

The Duke’s wife, Geilana, plotted against him and had him murdered.

His relics have been revered for centuries and the cathedral in Wurzburg dedicated to him.

There is even a St Kilian’s local GAA team that competes in hurling and football at European level.

READ MORE: End 'hateful squabbles' in Europe, says President Michael D Higgins as he continues state trip to Germany

A “Kilianfest” celebrating his life is held every year - and the President’s visit coincided with the launch of the event this year.

Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, together with Tánaiste Simon Coveney were warmly welcomed, with the tricolour flying from the clock tower of City Hall.

Lord Mayor Christian Schuchardt and deputy Lord Mayors Eva-Maria Bast and Marion Schafer-Blake escorted them over the beautiful bridge over the river Main, with a traditional Bavarian brass band playing at the stone statue of St Kilian.

There was an exchange of gifts, with the President given a porcelain figurine of a shepherd.

He also met with members of the Irish community living in Würzburg as well as other Irish citizens over on cultural exchanges.

READ MORE: 'Our nearest neighbour continues to throw a tantrum' - President Higgins talks Brexit during state trip to Germany

He then travelled to Frankfurt for a reception to mark the forthcoming opening of the Consulate General Of Ireland in the banking capital.

Last night, at an Other Voices concert hosted by the Irish delegation, the warm bonds forged between the President and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, were clear.

In gesture widely seen as being "highly unusual" for the German President, he joined Mr Higgins on stage and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of friendship.

If the role of the State visit is “to strengthen the ties, to forge the bonds between two countries, between the people of two countries, your mission is complete”, he said to President Higgins.

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