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Tearful McAleese bids farewell as Higgins arrives

MICHAEL D Higgins today became Ireland's ninth President at an inauguration ceremony in Dublin Castle.

Mr Higgins romped home in first place in last month's vote, easily beating Independent candidate Sean Gallagher.

Today, some 300 members of the Defence Forces were participating in the colourful inauguration ceremony.

The 70-year-old former Labour minister and his wife, Ireland's new First Lady Sabina, were driven to the venue with a military motorcycle escort, as the couple gets used to the trappings of office.

Following an inter-faith service and humanist reflection at noon, Mr Higgins was due to make the Declaration of Office and be sworn in by the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham.

He then makes his first address as President, followed by the sound of a 21-gun salute from Collins Barracks.

When the ceremony ends, the President and First Lady will be escorted to Aras an Uachtarain, their new home.

His inauguration marked the end of Mary McAleese's 14th term as president and tears were never far from the surface at her final official engagement.

Leaving the Depaul Back Lane Hostel for Homeless Men in Dublin's Christchurch yesterday evening, she was asked how she felt and replied light-heartedly: "Well if you give me two seconds, I'll be in floods of tears. But I don't want to do that in public."

She added: "On the one hand it's a very sad day to be leaving all the people who've been my friends and colleagues for the last 14 years. That's going to be quite difficult.

"But I also have a great sense of gratitude. It was just a wonderful, wonderful opportunity, to waken up every morning to be the country's primary ambassador and to love every day of it. I've been very, very grateful for that. So, gratitude and sadness in pretty much equal measure today."

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said today he believes Michael D's term will be a "very positive presidency" and he will be a president that the "people of Ireland will be proud of".