Riches of Clare - A passage to India

Clare Champion, Friday, January 24, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using artifacts. In this article, museum curator John Rattigan writes about a State visit to India undertaken by former President of Ireland, Dr Patrick Hillery.

Dr Patrick Hillery served as President of Ireland from 1976-1990. One of the functions of the president is to make official visits to foreign countries on behalf of the people of Ireland. One of his earliest, longest and most colourful of his State visits was to India from 24th January - 7th February 1978.

Ireland and India established diplomatic relations in 1947. The Irish Embassy in Dehli was opened in 1964, and a diplomatic posting there is considered to be one of the more glamorous tours of duty in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Indian Prime Ministers and Presidents had visited Ireland on a number of occasions, but President Hillery's trip to India was the first high level official visit from this country.

Dr Hillery and Mrs Hillery visited India as Chief Guests at India's National Day festivities that took place on 26th January. These festivities are amongst the most colourful and impressive in the country, and the Indian Government's invitation to a foreign Head of State to be Chief Guest on the occasion is considered a signal mark of esteem and honour in India.

The visit would also be an opportunity for Ireland and India to explore the possibilities for increasing trade. India was at that time particularly interested in establishing trade agreements with Ireland and wanted to supply Ireland with telephones and railway coaches. The benefit to Ireland lay in saving the national reserves of hard currency.

President Hillery and his wife arrived in Bombay on the 24th January. The following day President Hillery flew on to Delhi, where he met with the Prime Minister, Moraji Desai and the President of India, Sanjeev Reddy, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael O'Kennedy, who accompanied President Hillery on the visit, met with his counterpart. These meetings were followed by a banquet and entertainment in honour of the Irish President at the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former residence of the Viceroy of India.

The National Day of India (Republic Day) on the 26th January, saw President Hillery witness a spectacular parade through Delhi. After lunch there was a formal welcome for the President, and that evening, there was the first of three official receptions and dinners for the Irish Community in Indian cities, hosted by the Irish Ambassador.

While in Delhi, Dr Hillery visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where he was conferred with Honorary Fellowship. It was then on to visit the Taj Mahal, and an Elecronics plant in Bangalore, where a second reception and dinner, for the Irish community of that city, was held.

On 31st January, Dr Hillery visited the Indian Telephone Industries Plant, and later that evening, following a flight to the state of Tamil Nadu, he attended a dinner hosted by the Governor of Tamil Nadu, who presented a silver ornament to him in his honour. In keeping the economic agenda of the visit, on 1st February Dr Hillery visited the Integral Coach Factory where he was presented with a model train as a momento of his visit, and then it was on to the Sophisticated Instrumentation Centre in Perambur.

Amongst the highlight of the intinerary the following week included a visit to the Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary on 3rd February. This sanctuary, in the south of the country, is vast covering over 777sq km, and in 1978 had just become a tiger reserve.

As the Ireland of the late 1970's was considering the possibilities of building a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, the Irish also visited the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre on 6th February. The visit ended the following day.

The State visit to India by President and Mrs Hillery, was one of the most extensive undertaken by an Irish President up to that time, and was perhaps the most colourful. It was closely followed by an Irish press corps, and was reported on daily in the newspapers. It was undertaken in an attempt to create tangible links between two countries that had the shared memory of British rule, and its legacy can be seen in the friendly relations which have strengthened since then.

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