Wasn't it lovely to see the actor Gabriel Byrne dressed up in academic togs as he was conferred with an honorary degree at Galway University? He is now a Doctor of Arts, in recognition of his services to the performing arts and because of his family link with Co Galway -- his mother having been from Oranmore.
Yes, Mr Byrne is a most suitable person on whom to confer such a doctorate: an exceptionally accomplished actor who has brought honour to his native land. My only quibble is that it is a great pity that this is virtually the only way Ireland can confer honours on its citizens.
Virtually alone in Europe -- Switzerland being the only other nation in this category -- there is no way in which an Irish citizen can receive a national honour except by an extra university degree.
And, in some cases, even that honorary university degree is now just the slightest bit tainted by the fact that the universities themselves sometimes use the ceremony for celebrity-hunting.
Modern universities are in the business of marketing themselves, of getting their institutions recognised and branded, of attracting students, post-graduates and academics of reputation.
One of most effective ways of doing all this is to confer an honorary degree on a world celebrity. Say -- Bob Geldof. Or Nelson Mandela.
Yes, these are individuals well worthy of honouring, but even more important than their worthiness is their celebrity. Confer an honour on Mandela and you are 'branding' your institution with globalised celebrity, heroism and anti-racism. Great.
But how about the idea of conferring an honour on some little old lady who has worked tirelessly for the St Vincent de Paul for 40 years? How about awarding an honour to a kindly couple who have fostered generations of handicapped children?
How about giving an honour to a lavatory attendant who has provided a sparkling convenience to unnamed numberrs of tired shoppers in need of relief?
That is what a properly developed national honours system really can do.
And however much progressive folk in Britain disparage -- or sometimes even refuse -- such gongs as the Order of the British Empire, arguing that the British Empire is redundant, many less privileged persons are extremely pleased when a lifetime's dutiful kindness has been recognised.
When Queen Elizabeth hands out a shoal of honours in the Queen's New Year honours lists, it may be the important personages receiving peerages or knighthoods who get the headlines.
But the long list of citizens who have done good in small particulars are often just as interesting.
I have a priest friend in London who for years has looked after homeless men who arrive at the presbytery door, and has done much outstanding pastoral work. It was quite right that he should receive an OBE a few years ago -- even if virtue is also its own reward.
And that is one of the compelling reasons why Ireland should create an honours system: not just to reward the big stars like Gabriel Byrne, but to confer well-deserved recognition on non-celebrities who have made a real contribution to the community.
Bertie Ahern has spoken of reviving the Order of St Patrick -- which fell into disuse in the 1920s -- which is certainly a runner. But why not set up a commission to explore the possibility of creating a range of different honours?
To be sure, honours systems can be corrupted: they can be a subject of favouritism, and thus, also, of jealousy.
But if enough checks and balances are built into the system, corruption can be minimised and unfair favouritism exposed -- and it's not as if cronyism has been utterly unknown in an Ireland without an honours system!
Taoiseach Ahern is now in the autumn of his leadership and he must be thinking of his legacy.
The resurrection of the Order of St Patrick, plus, perhaps, an Order of Merit, or some equivalent of the Legion of Honour, might be an honourable note indeed on which to depart.