Sunday, February 10, 2013

Roman Reception for Ireland's President

the Irish harp decorates the gates of  Villa Spada 

Many years ago, while studying  in Dublin  and Sligo, Ireland,  I had the   opportunity to meet  the President of Ireland,  Eamon DeValera at the Presidential palace in Phoenix Park in Dublin. 
The elderly, partially blind statesman  was, even then,  a part  of Ireland's history and I, as a young  Irish-American  was  duly impressed.

view of Rome from  Janiculum hill 

Almost  fifty years later, on a beautiful  February evening, an  equally  unforgettable encounter, this time with  Irish President  Michael D. Higgins to whom I had the privilege of presented  a copy of my book chronicling the participation of Irish soldiers in the Italian Risorgimento.

 The magnificent and   historic Villa Spada was the perfect setting for it played an important part in the bloodiest   battles of the Italian  Risorgimento in 1849.

Arriving  by train we taxied  to the Embassy which is located on the Janiculum hill, close  to the American Academy and the American University.  

 The next time  I will use  Il Fontanone,  or Gli Archi (Porta San Pancrazio) as a reference point, for Roman taxi drivers don't all know  the embassy's  street address.

We had time  before the Reception to enjoy the view over the city from the panoramic terrace near the Fontanone. What a  magical atmosphere  surrounds this huge fountain  built by Pope Paul V  (Camillo Borghese) and embellilshed with the Borghese family's   symbolic  dragon.

dragon of the Borghese  

President Higgin's portrait adorns the  library  fireplace

bouquet in one of the reception rooms 
As members of  Italy's Irish  community began to fill the embassy's ample reception rooms, the President arrived with his wife, Sabina and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs. 
One of the entourage, Donal Denham,  the Director of the  Europe Division of the Foreign Affairs Department, may  have historic family connections to our area of Northern Lazio. 

guests  filled the four reception rooms 
 Greetings  were made by  resident ambassador Michael Hennesy and then  President Michael D. Higgens  gave  his address, switching  smoothly from the musical Gaelic language to English.

guests from Ireland,Serbia and Italy 

Pauline Hennessy and Sabina  Higgins "guarding"  the President's copy of  my book  

Ambassador Hennessy  gives the welcome address  
Meeting  Irish  President Michael D. Higgins

at end of the evening,  empty glasses filled the fireplace mantle
Do you know why Rome is  the city with more embassies than any other ?   


  1. Hi Mary Jane,
    great post and a stunning place to visit!
    It's important to say that Villa Spada was one of Garibaldi's headquarters during the Risorgimento and is where colonel Luciano Manara was killed in a French attack.
    I found out about it when I first went there, visiting a friend of my who worked there at the time. In a room we found old prints depicting scenes of the siege. That's why nearby you can also find Via Luciano Manara.

    1. Thanks Laura, also for the info on Luciano Manara. I think the library still has the signs of the cannon shot that killed this great patriot. By the way I have had lots of positive feedback on my new website that you set up for me

  2. Would loved to have been at that reception Mary Jane! Such a great leader that does our country proud - he got the 4 votes in our house at the election!
    That Embassy building is so beautiful which the country bought just after the Second World War. When it was announced last year that the government was closing down the Embassy to the Holy See I was fearful that they would sell the building so I was delighted to see that the Irish Embassy to Italy moved in!

    1. I'm sure that the Ambassador and his family are also happy, Paul. They have a lovely garden and a swimming pool for the hot months. Carla Benocci wrote a beautiful book about the villa and its history (costs 170 euro) so I thought readers would like a sneak peek beyond the walls

  3. I really enjoyed seeing inside the Villa and hearing about this wonderful event thanks to your post. Congratulations on the book. We lived 9 years in Dublin and 7 years in Naples and we have memories well stocked with the joys and fascinating history of both Ireland and Italy. Thanks MJ - Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    1. Dear Penny, thanks so much for your comment. Few people know about these historical connections. Glad that also you find them fascinating. Grazie.

  4. Fascinating post and a great idea for an alternative way to look around Rome

    1. Dear Sammy, thanks for your comment. Now that the Pope has decided to resign, there will be renewed interest in the connections, past and present, between the Papal States and other countries, like Ireland.

  5. Hi Mary Jane, I am not from Irish descendants but I enjoyed your post.I have ordered your book before Christmas and I am discovering a part of both Irish and Italian history I didn't know. I have been to the Janiculum belvedere in Rome in 2001 with my husband. Beautiful souvenir from Rome and Italy as well. Thank you.
    Joanne C.

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