A PALL of sadness hung over Dromoland Castle last night after the death of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela (95).
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was jailed for 27 years for anti-apartheid political activity, stayed in Dromoland Castle during a two-day private visit in March 2000.
Dromoland Castle managing director, Mark Nolan, told The Clare Champion staff were saddened when they learned about his death. He said Mr Mandela presented his daughter Gillian, who was six at the time, with a signed copy of his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom in exchange for a bouquet of flowers. It included a brief note, “To Gilly from Nelson Mandela”.
The former ANC leader insisted on meeting all the staff in a formal line up outside the old entrance to the castle. Mr Nolan was struck by his great presence and charisma during the visit. “Nelson Mandela wanted to meet all the staff. There was a whole line including all the chefs and he shook hands with every single one of them. Staff lined up at the old entrance to the castle at his request.
“Some visitors wouldn’t know who was working in the hotel. But he took a personal interest in meeting all of the staff.
“His minders were saying ‘come up to the room you need to rest’. He said ‘no, I must do this first, I must say hello to the staff’. He didn’t leave anyone out.
“There was a lot of discussion in the hotel this morning about what a gentlemen he was during his visit,” he recalled.
Having met most US presidents, world leaders and famous people, Mr Nolan said the two world leaders stood above the rest to date were Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton. “You know this when you get the shiver down your spine that this person is something special,” he said.
Released in 1990, Mandela played a leading role in steering the divided country from apartheid to a fully-representative democracy.
Dromoland Irish Stew was the main course chosen by the former South Africa president during his stay in Dromoland. Executive Head Chef, David McCann, who was “blown away” to meet Mandella, recalled he had very simple culinary tastes.
“It was a humbling experience meeting such a world-renowned figure like Nelson Mandela.
“It was more than a privilege to cook for such a great political leader. It was awesome and inspiring meeting someone like him.
“His special request was dried fruit and nuts as a room amenity. He chose Irish Stew for his main dish. His food was simple and he also liked smoked salmon,” he recalled
“He was a very tall, lean man. He looked after himself from a fitness point of view, which obviously stood him to good stead while he was in prison,” he said.
President Mandela’s main course choice is included in a new cookbook to celebrate 50 golden years of Dromoland Castle, which was launched last May.
Mr McCann also recalled the line-up of staff, who were sent out to greet the former ANC leader. He said everyone wanted to meet him.
“It was one of those truly marvellous days. We will never forget it.
“I think his life should be celebrated now,” he said.