PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and singer and activist Bono are among the Irish figures who have begun to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, who passed away last night.
President Michael D Higgins called the late former South African President one of “history’s greatest leaders”, adding that Mr Mandela was “a man whose unprecedented courage and dedication broke down the cruel barriers of apartheid in South Africa and led the nation into a new and democratic age.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny also paid tribute, claiming: “A great light has been extinguished,” while U2 frontman Bono said that “Mandela would be remembered as a remarkable man just for what happened – and didn’t happen – in South Africa’s transition.”
Mr Mandela – South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon – died at the age of 95 on Thursday evening (December 5).
He had been receiving intensive medical care at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital.
His body will lie in state for three days before the funeral, which will be held on Saturday, December 14 in Qunu, the village in Eastern Cape where he was born.
Mr Mandela visited Ireland on several occasions, most notably in 1990 shortly after his release from prison when he travelled to Dublin with wife Winnie Mandela.
Ten years later he returned to the city to receive an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, and visited Ireland again in 2003 when Ireland hosted the Special Olympics.
Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny went on to offer his deepest sympathies to Mr Mandela’s “family, to his friends and supporters, and to the Government and the people of South Africa,” on behalf of the Government and Irish public.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said Mr Mandela had “a truly global presence”.
“We all feel part of his extended worldwide family, sharing in the sadness at his death and the celebration of his life,” he said.
“No few words can express the debt of gratitude that is due to Mr Mandela for all that he achieved and stood for. Quite simply, he transformed South Africa, and he changed the world.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson claimed the South African leader was “inspirational”, while Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described him as “one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime” and “a true friend to Ireland”.
Mr Mandela led South Africa’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison for his political activities.
In essay for Time magazine, Bono – who worked with Mandela as the South African leader battled to end extreme poverty and social injustice in Africa – added: “More than anyone, it was he who rebooted the idea of Africa from a continent in chaos to a much more romantic view, one in keeping with the majesty of the landscape and the nobility of even its poorer inhabitants.”