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Home > News and views > Wrench Lecture 2021: Professor Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland

Wrench Lecture 2021: Professor Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland


On Wednesday, 3 November 2021 we were privileged to welcome Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, to give the Wrench Lecture at Dartmouth House. Speaking in the Churchill Room, she was introduced by ESU Chair Miles Young, and addressed a room full of ESU members, supporters and alumni, the first time we had been able to congregate in many months.

Sarah Hawkins, ESU Trustee, writes: ‘All those fortunate enough to be listening to Mary McAleese’s Wrench Lecture in November were treated to a moving and inspirational consideration of the topic of An Uncomfortable State of Affairs. Professor McAleese deftly considered Evelyn Wrench’s own complications as regards Ireland, whilst proposing that he also serve as an example of the importance of understanding another’s point of view. She traced her journey from a childhood during which she experienced sectarian violence first hand to her role as President of Ireland and described her determination to achieve peace and reconciliation, a commitment which culminated in the historic state visit to Ireland by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in May 2011. From just this short time in Professor McAleese’s presence, it was clear to all in the audience that her warmth, honesty and openness have surely played a key role in her many political and cultural achievements.

‘Understanding is possible, we heard, where there is a combination of respect, the shared desire for common ground and the pragmatic acknowledgement that holding fast to historical tensions can be a barrier to moving forwards. Accepting an argument which may be contrary to our own is an uncomfortable situation, she argued, but it is a necessary one where resolution is sought. Professor McAleese’s thought-provoking lecture was a fitting reflection on the hopes of Sir Evelyn Wrench that global understanding can be facilitated through civility and dialogue. The evening also demonstrated, through Professor McAleese’s good humour and generosity of spirit, how she embodies those interpersonal skills that the English-Speaking Union works to encourage in young people: self-confidence, self-awareness, resilience and empathy.’

Barbara Firth, ESU Trustee, writes: ‘It was a delight and pleasure to be back in Dartmouth House for the Evelyn Wrench lecture, delivered this year by Mary McAleese. Mary, and I can call her Mary because that is how she introduced herself, is an excellent speaker. She delivered the lecture in an understated way that engaged everyone present. She intertwined thoughtfully researched information about Evelyn Wrench’s life and views with contemporary and historical observations about Irish history and life today. When asked how his views would sit with today’s world, she replied that ‘he was a child of his time’ who over his lifetime had evolved his opinions on politics and humanity. Mary is clearly an exceptional woman who has achieved a great deal from her working class Belfast beginnings. I learnt a lot and went away reflecting on what she had said. It really was a privilege to be there.’

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