Spotlight on – President Michael D Higgins

President Michael D Higgins with his wife Sabina

President Michael D Higgins with his wife Sabina

In this the festive issue of The Harp, and arguably one of the most important publications of the entire year, it is certainly fitting to profile Ireland’s first Citizen, President Michael D Higgins who I had the pleasure of meeting last week when he attended a function in Liscarroll in Co. Cork.

Meeting the President face to face does not disappoint, he is exactly as his public pesona suggests – gentle, quietly spoken, dignified, and exceptionally well educated.

Michael D is the ninth President of Ireland, he was elected to office in November 2011, prior to which he was a member of the Labour Party since 2003.

His visit to Liscarroll was an emotional journey for the President – his Mother, Alice Canty, was a native of the parish, and he has numerous relatives still residing in the locality. He himself was born in Limerick but when his Father’s health deteriorated, his Mother sent Michael and his brother to live at his Uncle and Aunt’s farm near Newmarket on Fergus in Co. Clare, while his older twin sisters remained in Limerick.

He received his education at Ballycar National School, St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, University College, Galway, Indiana University, and Manchester University.

During his academic career, he was a Statutory Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at University College Galway and was also a visiting Professor at Southern Illinois University. However, he later relinquished these posts to concentrate more fully on his blossoming political career.

Michael D met his wife Sabina in 1969 at a party hosted by journalist Mary Kenny. She is an actress and a native of Cloonrane, Co. Galway. The couple married in 1974 and have four children; Alice Mary, twins John and Michael Jnr., and Daniel.

Although Michael D was originally a member of Fianna Fáil, he quickly changed to the Labour Party. In 1972, he was appointed to the 13th Seanad Eireann by then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. His first foray into Dáil Éireann was in 1981 as a Labour Party TD. He also served as Mayor of Galway on two separate occasions; 1982-1983, and 1991-1992.

His profile was elevated in 1993 when he was appointed Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht. During his tenure in office, he scrapped the controversial Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, re established the Irish Film Board, and set up what was to become an incredibly successful TV Station – TG4.

In 2000, he was elected President of the Labour Party, while continuing as the Party Spokesman on Foreign Affairs.

In June 2011, Michael D was selected as the Labour Party Candidate for the Presedential Election, and on October 29th, two days after the ballot, he was declared the winner with a total of 1,007,104 votes, a landslide victory, with the highest ever amount of votes in a Presedential Election in the history of the republic, a testiment to his incredible popularity with voters of all ages throughout the country.

The ‘official’ inauguration took place in Dublin Castle on November 11th, 2011 and during the past two years, he has utilised all of his best qualities as Politician, Poet, Sociologist, Author, and Broadcaster to bring a new sense of compassion and empathy to the Office of President.

He has just recently returned for a twelve day visit to Central America where he carried out engagements in Mexico, El Salvador, and Costa Rica where he endeavoured to open up new links in development aid and trade. One of his official duties was to lay a wreath at a memorial to the Batalion de San Patricio commemorating Irish men who fought in the Mexican Army against the US.

The President visited Liscarroll in Cork to open the new Childcare Facility and Sheltered Housing for the elderly.

He then travelled a half mile up the road to open an extension to the Walkway at a very special place – The Donkey Sanctuary.

“My Mother was born and raised here in Liscarroll and my Father visited and worked in what you would call the North Cork Brigade general area, and long before I was elected President I had wanted to come here to pay tribute to Paddy Barrett and those original people who had the idea of a Donkey Sanctuary and all who made it possible over the years to expand and provide the extraordinary care that it does now”, the President said. “I was very delighted to be asked by Paddy to join you here and to open the extension to the Donkey Sanctuary Walkway which will allow visitors to call on, and become close to these soft eyed long eared residents. It is often pointed out that a Donkey and it’s mate can stay together for years and that even a short separation can be very stressful, and in this Sanctuary I think the fact that the Donkeys are left in pairs of their own making is very impressive and today the Sanctuary provides care and protection for over 1100 Donkeys and Mules regardless of their age and health.

We can all realise what a wonderful education and experience this is when an increasing number of people have really no tenuous links with the rural world” the President added.

He commended the staff, the volunteers, and supporters for all the wonderful work which benefits the animals and invariably benefits us. “Nowadays we need to realise that animal welfare is really very important, I think we should respect all animals and realise the enormity of mistreatment of animals, it is my belief that in these, the first decades of the 21st century, that new relations between humans and animals are being tempered for the better as consciousness develops and this is affirmed in places like here at the Donkey Sanctuary”, the President concluded.

Some additional information on the Donkey Sanctuary

Several of the donkeys living here are in their 40s, and the oldest resident Daisy, is an incredible 52 years old, and still in ass-tounding form. Anybody who would like to help the Sanctuary can ‘adopt’ a Donkey for just €20 per year.

Readers who may be living in a high rise city apartment or town house can also adopt as you don’t actually bring the animal home – they remain at the Sanctuary and for the annual fee of €20, you can visit as often as you want and know you are making a vital contribution to the donkey’s wellbeing and care.

Readers who would like to help the Donkey Sanctuary in any way can contact Fundraising Manager Breeda Clancy at 00353 22 48398

or by Email at