Michael D. Higgins has served as the 9th President of Ireland for almost a decade since his election in November 2011. Outside of his work in Irish politics, President Higgins has also worked as a poet, a sociologist, and a broadcaster. Prior to his election as President, he served as the Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht and the Mayor of County Galway for brief spells in the 1990s. Personally he is adored by the vast majority of the Irish population, largely due to his friendly demeanour, knowledgable persona, and his quintessential Irish nature which serves as a proud and appropriate representation of the Emerald Isle. Furthermore, his political agenda is one to be admired, with much of his focus throughout his career turning to addressing social injustices and social inequalities whilst promoting anti-sectarianism and anti-racism campaigns. In November 2018, President Higgins ran for re-election to serve a further seven years (the maximum in Ireland is 14 years), he was re-elected in a landslide victory, attaining the largest personal mandate in the history of the Republic of Ireland, with over 820,000 first preference votes. In this article we will explore some of the things you didn’t know about President Michael D. Higgins, and why he retains such a soft spot in the hearts and minds of the Irish people.
- His work as a poet and writer
As well as having a largely successful career as a politician and a broadcaster, President Higgins has produced several poetry books and works of non-fiction. He is credited with contributing widely to both political and philosophical journals on any number of subjects. He wrote and presented a film about the island of Montserrat entitled The Other Emerald Isle which aired on British television some years ago. Moreover, he created a documentary on the life of Noel Browne, an 20th century Irish politician. However, his truest form of self-expression is his work as a poet. At the time of writing, President Higgins has published five collections of poetry spanning almost 25 years. His works to date include; The Betrayal (1990), The Season of Fire (1993), An Arid Season (2004), New and Selected Poems (2011), and most recently The Prophets are Weeping (2014). Interestingly, his personal notes and work books currently reside at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, a must-visit for literature lovers during your next visit to Ireland.
- His work as a human rights campaigner
Living the lives of many men, President Michael D. Higgins has also served as a celebrated human rights campaigner over the years. He has campaigned and written of conflicts taking place in numerous locations around the world including Iraq, Somalia, Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, and Cambodia. Notably, in 2013, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of José Matías Delgado in El Salvador for his work 31 years prior on a fact-finding mission to investigate the El Mozote massacre. He also received the inaugural Seán MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau in Helsinki in 1992. Furthermore, he was a noted critic of U.S. foreign policy under the Ronald Reagan administration. Finally he has continually voiced his support for the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. This is an organisation that campaigns for a more democratic reformation of the United Nations, and consequently a more accountable international political system.
- His love of sport and animals
As if there wasn’t enough to love about President Higgins when it comes to his political and literary achievements, his personality and passions are to be admired also. His is a huge lover of sport, and a regular at the Galway Races horse racing festival each summer. He also previously served as President of his native football team Galway United F.C., is a well known football supporter, and regularly attends club-level League of Ireland games, as well as the Republic of Ireland’s international matches. In 2014, the Football Association of Ireland unveiled a new national cup competition named The President’s Cup in his honour.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that President Higgins is passionate about animals, particularly dogs. His two Bernese mountain dogs were practically celebrities in their own right across Ireland, with the pair of them frequently appearing on the President’s official Instagram account. They were named Bród and Síoda (which means Pride and Silk in Irish), with Síoda unfortunately passing away in September 2020.