FORMER US president Bill Clinton told the 125 students receiving bursaries at the JP McManus All Ireland Scholarship awards that they were receiving a â€œpriceless opportunityâ€.
Mr Clinton, appearing as the guest of honour at the event - for which Mr McManus reportedly paid him a six-figure sum - presented the students with their scholarships at the event in the University of Limerick Concert Hall on Saturday morning.
There was disappointment for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the charismatic former president, as he arrived and entered the UCH via a back door where a large black screen had been erected. The event was closed to media.
Some 600 invited guests witnessed Mr Clinton deliver a stirring 20 minute speech and those present said he exuded a â€œphenomenal presence and charismaâ€.
He told the 125 students from the North and South of Ireland - and four who attended school in Limerick - that they should â€œnot underestimate the gift you have been given and the power of educationâ€.
Declaring that he was the first of his family to attend university, the 42nd president of the United States said the students should be under no doubt that they had been given a â€œpriceless opportunityâ€.
The Arkansas politician assured the students that current woes gripping the economies of the world would end, but declared that their education will endure and added â€œnobody ever got anywhere by expecting tomorrow to be like yesterdayâ€.
Castletroy College student Richard Kantsevitch - now in Trinity College - and ColÃ¡iste Ãde agus Iosef student Jemima McCarthy, now studying in NUI Galway, were among the recipients of the bursaries, as were Dylan Carroll from Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh, now studying engineering in UL, and Siobhan Condon who attended John The Baptist Community School, Hospital. The scholarships are worth â‚¬6,750 annually to the students while they are in university.
The scholarships were established in 2008, with Mr McManus contributing a total of â‚¬32 million to the scheme, from which over 1,300 students from the 32 counties will benefit.
The millionaire Limerick businessman congratulated this yearâ€™s winners and said: â€œAccess to third level education should enhance and develop individual abilitiesâ€.
â€œIt is our fervent hope, that the young people here today will embrace the opportunity now presented, achieve fulfilment and success in life but also become a resource for the betterment of our nationâ€™s future,â€ he explained.
â€œThe fact that President Clinton has first-hand experience of â€˜All Irelandâ€™ issues and has spoken many times of the need for all island inclusiveness, certainly dovetails with the ideals behind our scholarship programme,â€ he continued.
Among the VIP guests at the event were businessmen Denis Oâ€™Brien and Dermot Desmond, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Housing Minister Jan Oâ€™Sullivan, Deputy Willie Oâ€™Dea, Dr Martin McAleese and rugby icons Keith Wood and Paul Oâ€™Connell.