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The Thomas F Meagher Foundation Awards and Scholarship Programme, officially launched by President Michael D Higgins

The Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation Awards and Scholarship Programme was announced in Waterford on March 12, 2015.

With guest of honour President Michael D Higgins in attendance, 1,500 secondary school students from 300 schools across the country gathered to be presented with an Irish flag.

Flag Week will take place for the first time from 10 March and 17 March leading into St Patrick's Day 2016.

Speaking at the Foundation's event in Waterford, President Higgins said: "At a time when we are witnessing an upsurge of extreme and exclusive forms of nationalism throughout Europe, based on the rejection of the other, it is important that we, Irish, reaffirm strongly that the Irish Tricolour is an emblem of peace and brotherhood between the various communities who live on the island of Ireland, as well as a reminder of the bonds of friendship that tie us to other nations across the world.

Assisting in presenting the flags to the schools at the event were Cllr James Tobin, Mayor of Waterford city and county; Cllr Christy Burke, Lord Mayor of Dublin; Cllr Pat Millea, Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council; the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Kevin Vickers and the French Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Jean Pierre Thebault.

The civic leaders were joined by Captain David Barry, Officer Commanding Naval Operations Command other senior members of the Irish Defence Forces.

Also speaking at the event, the chairperson of the Thomas F Meagher Foundation, Rev Cavanagh. "It is the hope of the foundation that every secondary school will have received a tricolour by March 2016."

Later in the day, President Higgins formally dedicated the new bridge, which spans the River Suir as the Thomas F Meagher Bridge. The bridge links counties Kilkenny and Waterford and is the longest bridge span in the state.

The Foundation has a distinguished honorary board including; Henry Shefflin, Niamh Briggs, John Treacy, Packie Bonner, Cora Staunton, Congressman Tom Rooney, former Canadian Ambassador Loyola Hearn, Prof. Rev. Tim Scully, Col. James P Tierney, Governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer, French Minister for the Diaspora Helene Conway Mouret, Revd Michael Cavanagh, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan and Fr Joe Mallin.

Irish Independent