Commencement Distinguished Guest

Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese

Honorary Degree Recipient


Mary McAleese served as president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, and was the first person born in Northern Ireland to hold that office.


Mary McAleese served two terms as president of Ireland, from 1997 through 2011, and was the first person born in Northern Ireland to hold that office. 

After earning a law degree at Queen's University Belfast, she worked as a barrister, and later served as Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin. She has also served as the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen's University of Belfast and as an experienced broadcaster and journalist for Radio Telefís Éireann. 

Her tenure as president of the Irish Republic was notable for the attention she gave to peace and reconciliation in the North. “Building Bridges” was the theme of her presidency, something she well understood the importance of, having been the eldest of nine children in a family that was compelled to move out of North Belfast in the wake of sectarian violence.

The presidential residence in Phoenix Park, Áras an Uachtaráin, was a venue at which McAleese hosted people from Northern Ireland with whom she also engaged personally in Belfast. On May 17, 2011, Queen Elizabeth II met with McAleese at her official residence, the first ever visit by a British monarch to the Irish Republic. Less than a week later, McAleese hosted yet another important visitor to her Phoenix Park home, President Barack Obama. 

McAleese received her honorary degree during a special ceremony in November.