It is well known that Ireland’s ninth president, Michael D Higgins, spent a large portion of his youth on a farm near Newmarket-on-Fergus. His brother, John Higgins, spoke about their time in Ballycar and what his success means to the family.
“I have to say, Clare was a nice place to grow up but not as nice as it is now. We came when I was four and Michael was five and we lived on the farm. We’d cycle in and out to school, through the fields—it wasn’t too far. Lucy Hastings taught us from infants until second class and Willie Cloon taught us thereafter,” he remarked, speaking fondly of his time in Ballycar National School. “The school is a private house now and a new one’s been built elsewhere.”
“We later went to Flannan’s in Ennis. Michael was always into books and reading, whereas I was more hands-on. I was very into the hurling, while my brother was always academic. I remember he got a gold medal, or whatever the highest marks were, in Greek,” he said.
Michael’s Flannan’s classmate, Patsy Doohan seconded this memory. “Michael was a very studious and diligent day pupil. He was always interested in studying and making a career for himself. He wasn’t into sports, though he would have had to return home after school was finished, so that could have been why. I followed his career with interest. We had a 50th school reunion in 2010 and I was tasked with contacting him for it. He came to the dinner and gave a speech, recalling his days in Flannan’s.”
Michael’s ambitious nature was evident from an early age. After secondary school, he took jobs in Shannon, then in the ESB in Ennis, then Clare before heading to Galway, aged 19, to attend UCG. He rose to the position of auditor of the college’s Literary and Debating Society. Afterwards, he got a scholarship in England at Manchester University and stayed with his sister Caitlín.
Caitlín, who has lived in Shannon since 1982, admitted it was tough to live apart from their family, as she and her twin sister stayed in Limerick, while the brothers lived with their unmarried aunt and uncle in Clare.
“We definitely didn’t see them as much as we would have liked – only at weekends really. Michael was always very involved in things and was always interested in current affairs. He completely deserves this and we’re all so very delighted with him. Our parents would have been very proud.”
John and Caitlín were both heavily involved in the campaign too. His sister went around Clare and Limerick canvassing with her son and daughter, putting up posters and handing out leaflets.
“The campaign was busy. I was going around with a team to houses and shopping centres. We’re all unbelievably proud now though. It’s really hard to believe he’s in the highest office in the land; it really hasn’t set in yet at all,” said John, adding that he always thought his brother was the person for the job.
“The papers were giving us frights. The Sunday Times wrote a couple of weeks ago that the gap between Gallagher and Michael was unassailable and that there was nothing he could do. But I always believed he was the right person for the job and I still think you need political experience for the Presidency.”
John insisted Michael would be back to Clare some time soon, too. “All the Newmarket people are very proud; there’s a great atmosphere around. He’ll definitely be back to Ennis, Newmarket and Ballycar, maybe in three or four weeks.”