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Farewell to the Bark in the Park

President and wife Sabina are bereft at death of their beloved pooch Bernese breed Sioda after 'a short illness'

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Cuddly: President Higgins with dogs Brod and Sioda in happier times

Cuddly: President Higgins with dogs Brod and Sioda in happier times

Charming: Michael D & Sabina with Meghan & Prince Harry

Charming: Michael D & Sabina with Meghan & Prince Harry

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Cuddly: President Higgins with dogs Brod and Sioda in happier times

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina are bereft this weekend after the death of one of their beloved Bernese mountain dogs.

Lovable Síoda sadly passed away yesterday morning.

Along with Bród, she had been a popular double act at Áras an Uachtaráin welcoming dignitaries and members of the public to the President's residence.

A spokesman for President Higgins confirmed yesterday that Síoda had died.

The news was first detailed in an Áras newsletter, which said "sadly we must report that Síoda has passed away after a short illness".

The dogs were a popular feature of regular garden parties thrown by President Higgins in pre-Covid times at Áras an Uachatarain, weaving in and out of the tables to the delight of guests, who clamoured to get a photograph with one of the cuddly dogs.

No matter the company, the dogs would often be known to saunter up to the President for a belly rub or scratch behind the ears.

Speaking about the pair previously, the President said "the dogs are not merely ice-breakers, they're also a great source of wisdom, and they must be protected from the stresses of the Anthropocene".

Síoda was a female, Bród is a male. President Higgins has had dogs all his life. He previously had another Bernese mountain dog during his earlier years in the Phoenix Park called Shadow.

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Charming: Michael D & Sabina with Meghan & Prince Harry

Charming: Michael D & Sabina with Meghan & Prince Harry

PA

Charming: Michael D & Sabina with Meghan & Prince Harry

The dogs have met numerous famous people at the Áras down through the years, including English royalty Harry and Meghan in 2018.

While it is understood that Síoda was ill for a period of time, she was also absent when Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate visited Ireland back in March. However, it was reported at the time that the dog had just undergone an operation on her paw

This is not the first time that the President has lost one of his two companion dogs, with Shadow passing away in 2018.

However, Shadow was replaced with Síoda, the Irish word for silk. During the 2018 presidential election, Independent candidate Peter Casey provoked controversy by questioning Mr Higgins' expenses in office, claiming "your dog grooming bills are paid for" during a radio debate.

The President's campaign later clarified all costs of the dogs' upkeep were met from Mr Higgins' own funds, and the claims from the Donegal businessman were "false and ludicrous".

Bród and Síoda also have an unofficial Twitter fan page, @BrodHiggins, which has over 18,000 followers on the social media platform.

Earlier this year Bród - which means Pride in Irish - hilariously crashed a press conference of International Women's Day at the Aras, where the President obliged him with a belly rub.

When a video of the adorable moment was reposted by a 'Humour and Animals' Twitter account, Bród's fame spread even further - and even caught the attention of Star Wars legend Mark Hamill.

Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the iconic film series, retweeted the video with the caption "I like a president who understands the need for belly rubs".

Bernese mountain dogs generally have a life span of seven to 10 years.

They are one of the four breeds of Sennenhund-type dogs from the Swiss Alps and are bred from crosses of Mastiffs and guard-type breeds.

Bernese Mountain Dogs were brought to Switzerland by the Romans 2,000 years ago.

The name Sennenhund is derived from the German Senne (alpine pasture) and Hund (hound/dog), as they accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen called Senn.

Berner (or Bernese in English) refers to the area of the breed's origin, in the canton of Bern.

This breed was originally kept as a general farm dog and large Sennenhund in the past were also used to pull carts.

The breed was officially established in 1907.

The breed standard for the Bernese mountain dog states that dogs should not be "aggressive, anxious or distinctly shy", but rather should be "good-natured, self-assured, placid towards strangers, and docile".