YONKERS — His first official tour of the United States brought Ireland’s new president, Michael Higgins, to this city Wednesday to visit a community center for Irish immigants.
Joined by a cadre of aides and security personnel, Higgins spent an hour at the Aisling Irish Community Center on McLean Avenue meeting with top Yonkers officials and center staff. A small crowd gathered outside to snap photos as he arrived in a small motorcade.
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Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano later presented Higgins with a key to the city.
“There is great warmth and friendliness, and humanity” here, Higgins said.
The Aisling center helps Irish immigrants acclimate to life in the U.S. with services ranging from aerobics classes to language instruction to psychological counseling. Many of its clients have fled staggering levels of unemployment in their once-booming home country.
Therese Cornyn is a native of County Longford who recently moved to Yonkers with her family in search of work. Wednesday, she brought her two daughters, ages 2 and 4, to the Aisling center for a glimpse of the new president.
“I thought it would be a good bit of history for the little ones,” she said.
Higgins had a message for Irish immigrants like her: “I am elected as president for all of the Irish, wherever they may be,” he said, “and I’m encouraging them to stay in touch with us.”
Higgins was elected to a seven-year term as president in October and took office in Dublin in November. The Irish presidency is largely a ceremonial post.
Higgins is spending four days in New York and two days in Boston. He attended a reception at his country’s consulate in New York City on Monday before meeting Mayor Michael Bloomberg and visiting the downtown 9/11 memorial Tuesday.