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As a part of the Transition Year Module, Rang Hillary amongst a few others from De Hide took a trip to visit our neighbour, President Michael D Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park. This was with thanks to Alan Molloy’s mother who is one of the gardeners at the Áras. Unfortunately Mr Higgins was away on official state business in Italy so he couldn’t show us around the grounds but he left us in the hands of his trusty head gardener John, who very kindly took us on a tour about the gardens of the presidential residence.
To the front of the house we were shown the two harp shapes that were created from box hedging that were filled with over 10,000 red tulips that were all planted by the hands of Johns team of gardeners. Then we were shown the various oak trees that have been planted by visiting dignitaries to the state, such as the Queen and Barack O’Bama and we were told a few anecdotal tales about their visits. We were also shown where the President likes to hold his garden parties during the summer months situated on a vista which faces on to the Dublin mountains, and the colourful flowers his wife and himself favour in the garden.
John then took us to see the ceremonial trees which had been planted by various visitors to the grounds throughout history and then to a sensory bed he and his colleagues had planted for visiting groups with special needs to enjoy. Each of the plants that had been planted were to provoke the different senses of sight, smell, taste and touch. One such plant was called the Citronella tree, which when you rubbed its leaves you could smell a strong citrus scent from your fingertips.
We then visited the vegetable garden, which John informed us was certified organic and that it took a lot of manual labour to keep going, as all weeds had to be pulled by hand. All of the organic vegetables that are grown in the gardens are then used for cooking in the kitchens of the Áras. We were also shown the orchard, the hen house and the bee hives. Áras an Uachtaráin honey won the coveted prize of the best honey in Ireland this year through a blind tasting competition, and we were informed President Higgins likes to have it on his porridge every morning!
Not only did we get to see the gardens but we also visited the Garda Mounted Unit which is also located on site, where we got to look around the stables and meet some of the reliable Irish bred horses and luckily escaped having to muck out the stables which we discovered they have to do three times a day.
All in all a great day was had by everyone and the weather staying dry with blue skies and a slight bit of sunshine, added to the visit. Sincere thanks to John and Mrs Molloy for facilitating the trip, hopefully next time we will be able to go inside for tea and scones with the President.