It was an emotional night for Sinn Fein supporters in the RDS last night as Gerry Adams confirmed he was making his last Presidential Address after more than 30 years at the head of the organisation.
The 69-year-old icon, synonymous with a party he helped to mould from a revolutionary force into a powerful political machine, signalled the historic transition with the words: “this is the important bit”.
He told the 1,000 delegates in Dublin on Saturday night that he and the late Martin McGuinness had recognised the need for a new change in leadership in the party.
“I thought I needed to tell you ... I have been privileged to be part of an amazing leadership,” said Mr Adams.
“One of our greatest achievements has been to build a peace process. I will not be standing for the Dail; neither will Martin Ferris. This is also my last Ard Fheis [party conference].”
He added: “Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now.”
Charismatic and internationally renowned, Mr Adams brought Sinn Fein out from the political margins and onto the threshold of real power. In the face of immense and relentless opposition from the political establishment and mainstream media, and even as bloody conflict raged in the North, he maintained an understanding with the Irish public which infuriated his enemies.
It is close to 50 years since Mr Adams was a barman in the Duke of York pub in Belfast, where he first became a republican activist. From a staunchly republican family, he carried forward the dreams of his father, Gerry senior, who served time in prison for IRA activity during World War II.
Since the 1981 hunger strikes, which transformed Sinn Fein into a coherent political force, he helped to build a party which came to dominate its sister organisation in the Provisional IRA.
After winning the West Belfast Westminster seat in 1983, Mr Adams was elected president of Sinn Fein. It was a stunning power shift which would ultimately split the organisation and propel his movement firmly in a political direction. Some 34 years later, a similar change is afoot, but with a far smoother and orchestrated transition than that which brought him to power.
Displacing the SDLP to become the largest nationalist party in the North, Mr Adams shifted his focus South. He left West Belfast for a seat in Louth, and began to strengthen the organisation to reach more than 20% in the polls and 23 seats in the Dublin parliament.
Sinn Fein delegates elected Mr Adams to stay on as president until 2018. They also agreed to hold a special conference to announce the new leadership. It will take place within three months of Mr Adams standing down as leader next year.
His successor will not be easy to find. Of the two main contenders, there are questions over Dubliner Mary Lou McDonald’s popularity and Donegal man Pearse Doherty’s ambition.
Mr Adams paid tribute to those who travelled with him along his journey, many of whom are now also in the process of stepping back, but he was hopeful for the “next generation”.
In his speech Mr Adams said: “I have complete confidence in the leaders we elected this weekend and in the next generation of leaders.”