Saturday 24 March 2018

Michael D: the boy, the man and the President

Snapshots from first citizen's own album

Michael D as a baby at
home in Limerick in 1942
Michael D as a baby at home in Limerick in 1942
Michael D and his brother, John, on the day of their First Holy Communion
with his late mother, Alice, in 1942
Michael D and Sabina on their wedding day with Sabina’s sister, Eileen (left), and renowned film costume designer, Joan Bergin, who were bridesmaids
with actor Peter O'Toole
Michael D on Salthill Prom, Galway, with his children in the 1970s;
Michael D and Sabina with daughter, Alice Mary, circa 1977
with actor Marlon Brando in 1995

Brian McDonald

IT'S President Higgins as you've never seen him.

The family album of the new President reveals a series of touching portraits which date back to his days as an infant in Limerick during World War Two.

Born in 1941, he is pictured with his late mother Alice (Canty) in happy childhood times.

But health and work difficulties for his father resulted in his family having to be separated and five-year-old Michael Daniel and his brother John were sent to be reared by an unmarried aunt and uncle on a farm near Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare.

"I experienced the wrenching experience of only seeing my parents and two sisters during their monthly visits from Limerick, and the unfolding disintegration of family life due to the poverty and lack of work opportunities of my father over many years," he recalled.

But there were happier days also and the smiles on the faces of the two brothers on their First Holy Communion day while pupils at Ballycar National School tell their own story.

After his secondary schooling at St Flannan's College in Ennis, he made his way to Galway where he worked as a clerk in the ESB offices in Newtownsmyth. He acquired a scholarship to University College Galway and greatly enjoyed his student days, becoming auditor of the literary and debating society and president of the Students Union in 1964-65.

He graduated with a degree in English, sociology and politics, and later studied at Indiana and Manchester Universities but returned to Galway University to become a junior lecturer.

He was not averse to speaking his mind and he was one of the organisers of a strike of junior lecturers at UCG in the late 1960s.

He was an unsuccessful Labour Party candidate in the 1969 and 1973 General Elections, but Liam Cosgrave appointed him to Seanad Eireann in 1973. That same year he married actress Sabina Coyne in Dublin. Sabina's sister, Eileen and her close friend, Joan Bergin, the renowned film costume designer, were bridesmaids.

Daughter Alice Mary soon entered their lives followed by the twins, Michael and John and later Daniel, providing plenty of photo-graphs for the family album.

He made the big breakthrough to the Dail in 1981 and was re-elected a TD for Galway West in February 1982, but lost out in the snap election of November '82. He regained his seat in 1987 and held it at every election since, before retiring in advance of the general election last February.

He served as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht from 1987 until 1993 and is credited with reviving the Irish film industry and attracting many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Marlon Brando, Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts to movies being made in Ireland.

Now that he has reached the highest office in the land, his family album is about to get an awful lot busier.

Irish Independent

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