independent

Thursday 18 October 2018

An event fit for a President!

President Higgins highlights importance of arboretum in climate change era and scholarly Kennedy Summer School summit

President Michael D Higgins with two young fans at the JFK Arboretum
President Michael D Higgins with two young fans at the JFK Arboretum
Even the rain didn’t dampen President Michael D Higgins’ smile – pictured here with Minster Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Cllr Willie Fitzharris – as he planted a tree at the gala dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Arboretum

David Looby

President Michael D Higgins paid his first official visit to New Ross on Saturday to speak at the 50th anniversary of the opening of the John F Kennedy Arboretum.

A crowd of 200 people greeted President Higgins who earlier planted a tree at the park. Throughout the evening he took time out to pose for photographs and to chat with people of all ages, before thoroughly enjoying opera music and a meal at a marquee erected at the arboretum. President Higgins recalled Senator Robert Kennedy's a characteristic spirit of pragmatic idealism, fifty years on from his assassination. 'He proposed moral renewal for his country in the role of the US in world affairs. That campaign came to represent an expression of faith in the power of public action to achieve change in public society.'

Joined by his wife Sabina, President Higgins described as a 'single and horrific moment' Bobby Kennedy's death, saying he was a champion of justice and inclusion for many of the communities excluded from society. He said: 'This arboretum reminds of the new challenges of our age: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and above all else climate change. We know what must be done. And so as we celebrate today 50 years of the John F Kennedy Arboretum and Memorial Park and the close of the sixth weekend of the gathering of a scholarly weekend that I so praise let us commit to recovering anew the spirit of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Dr King.'

Kennedy Summer School founder Noel Whelan, from Ballycullane, said as well as the many significant achievements the arboretum has in terms of forestry, it is a terrific local amenity. In an engaging speech he said the Kennedy Arboretum is a neutral space.

'It gives me great personal pride to have worked with so many others, including Wexford County Council and our friends in the OPW, and a terrific local team to build another neutral space from which we can gather form the silos of political opinion for a discourse which has become the annual Kennedy Summer School.' He described the festival as an arboretum of ideas, where cutting edge research, expert opinion and local knowledge converge providing a neutral space 'at a time when people like to retreat to their silos on the spectrum and to their adamant opinions'.

'We say no, gather in one place, confront each other, hear different views, nurture some of those plants of consensus on which we'd agree, fertilise some of those roots: democracy and justice which are very much threatened in this time.'

He said he has had reason recently to reflect on the distinction and substance of the current Presidency, adding that he is humbled by how President Higgins reaches out and acknowledges community effort. 'The fact that he comes this weekend and does so in a way that recognises the work of the Kennedy Summer School is re-energising for us.'

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