President hears how Mars bar put brakes on pony’s gallop

Comments met with shouts and cheers from students

The pied piper of Hamelin could learn a thing or two from President Michael D Higgins.

The fabled piper had to play a flute to get young people to follow him. But all that President Higgins had to do when visiting the RDS was simply appear.

He proved a major hit when he came to help open the 2014 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition yesterday, achieving the popular appeal of an X Factor winner among the 1,200 young people assembled for the event.

His comments were met with shouts and cheers from the students as he praised in turn their own work and the contribution made by parents and teachers.


He then went on walkabout, visiting stand after stand to talk to the participants about their projects, asking questions and getting plenty of answers.

He also demonstrated the patience of Job, responding to requests for pictures and posing with the students. His wife Sabina showed forbearance at least equal to that of her husband as she accompanied him on this tour of the stands.

All the while the students, media and his own entourage trailed along after him, everyone jockeying for a glimpse of the President.

Mr Higgins chose many of the stands where he paused for a chat, according to his handlers. And his comments about one project he was to visit – investigating whether a pony gallops faster after eating a Mars bar – had prompted a laugh during his address at the opening ceremony .

Mr Higgins came to call on Kate Madden, a 13-year-old second year attending the Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, who had conducted a set of confectionary experiments on willing ponies.

She knew that the President was going to call to her stand but she found it a bit overwhelming. “I was shocked, I really didn’t expect it to be like that,” she admitted afterwards. And she was able to inform him that in fact, eating a Mars bar tended to make the ponies gallop slower not faster, the opposite of what everyone assumed.

Mr Higgins paid special tribute to the co-founders of the exhibition, Dr Tony Scott and the now deceased Fr Tom Burke. "Their vision and generosity of spirit has been an inspiration for all who have participated," Mr Higgins said in his address.

The exhibition opens to the public today and can be visited through Saturday afternoon. Family tickets cost €25, adult tickets are €12 and students and concessions are €6.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.