Mary Sheerin concludes her series on Irish Presidents
As Ireland celebrates the 80th Anniversary of our Presidency, our current president is Michael D Higgins, a former cabinet minister and academic. He is also a well known poet, writer and broadcaster in both Irish and English.
Higgins was born on 18 April, 1941, in Limerick. His father, John Higgins originally from Clare, was active in the War of Independence. When his father’s health grew poor, his mother sent Michael and his younger brother to live with his uncle and aunt on their farm in County Clare. His elder twin sisters remained in Limerick.
Higgins was educated at St Flannan’s College, Ennis. He worked as a clerk before becoming the first member of his family to attend University. He studied at University College, Galway, Manchester University and Indiana University. He married the actor Sabina Coyne, a founding member of the Focus Theatre, Dublin, along with Deirdre O’Connell. Michael D and Sabina met at a party in journalist and writer, Mary Kenny’s house in Dublin. They married in 1974 in Haddington Road, Church, Dublin. They have four children.
While at university in Galway, Higgins became president of the students’ union; he also became involved briefly with the Fainna Fáil party. However, greatly influenced by the policies of Dr Noel Browne, he switched his allegiance to socialism and to the Labour Party.
A highly intelligent student, Higgins continued his studies at Manchester University and at Indiana University. Prior to starting his political career, Higgins became an academic lecturing in sociology and political science at University College, Galway. He was also a visiting professor in American Universities.
An intellectual and humanitarian activist, Michael D Higgins was a firm and passionate advocate for furthering access to third level education beyond the walls of established Universities. He was central to the development of extra- mural studies at Galway University and travelled far and wide across the West of Ireland to provide accessible evening classes for interested citizens.