Saturday 20 January 2018

Brothers had to work hard growing up on rural farm

Barry Duggan in Ballycar

THE roof has collapsed, the old stone walls are smothered in ivy, the floorboards have disintegrated and just the shell of a fireplace remains.

However, this dilapidated farmhouse in Clare is where the country's ninth President, Michael D Higgins, was raised.

Back at the old home this week, Mr Higgins's younger brother John (69) fondly remembered their youth growing up in Ballycar just outside Newmarket-on-Fergus.

The Higgins brothers were sent by their parents to live with their aunt and uncle after their father fell ill.

John remembers the day well.

"We came out here from Limerick on August 14, 1946. It is in a state of decay and ruin here now. I'm here all my life," John told the Irish Independent.

Milking cows, calving and the back-breaking work of pulling weeds soon became routine to the young boys.

"We grew up on the farm -- it was typical life in the 1940s and 1950s. We learned about cattle, calves, mixed farming, tillage -- all that sort of thing.

"It was a nice time, but things were very poor and people all around here had to work very hard then," John said.

The brothers went to the local school -- Ballycar National School -- where Michael's love of education was fostered under the guidance of principal Willie Clune and his first teacher, Lucy Hastings. "It was literally school through the fields -- that's how we got there.

"They were lovely teachers -- we received a great education. We even did algebra in sixth class.

"I wasn't the academic sort. I liked maths, but Michael was more academic than me. He was more for the books. I preferred hurling and other things," John said.

Displaying intelligence beyond his years, the President was teaching classes even before he left national school.

Christy Noonan (67), who lives in Newmarket-on-Fergus, was three years behind Mr Higgins, but remembers him clearly.


"He was a genius even back then -- a fierce grand fella. He was seriously brainy.

"When Mr Clune would be out sick, Michael would take the class. He would be more senior than us and he'd teach us and give us the homework -- not too much though, mind," Mr Noonan added.

"He was the only boy who wore a shirt and tie. A lot of us were barefoot then.

"Some of us hadn't the price of a tie, but we always knew that Michael was going places -- he was that smart," Mr Noonan said.

John Higgins added: "I never thought I'd see this day. From Ballycar to the Aras -- it is pretty unbelievable.

"He'll be a fine president. He has the style and panache for the job," he added.

Irish Independent

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