| 14.4°C Dublin

Michael D's bleak youth recalled in new writings

PRESIDENTIAL candidate Michael D Higgins has written a bitter remembrance of his childhood and his enduring guilt about the day he had to bring his father to the poorhouse.

In a stark and deeply poignant reflection, which forms the introduction to the book New and Selected Poems by Michael D Higgins, published this week by Liberties Press, the Labour Party nominee writes of how his father, a republican who fought in the War of Independence, was abandoned by those "who had stolen the dream of a free and independent Ireland".

He has also written a poem which denounces Eamon de Valera, who served as President between 1959 and 1973.

In The Betrayal, the former Minister for Arts writes:

"It was 1964, just after the optical benefit

was rejected by de Valera for poorer classes

in his Republic, who could not afford,

as he did

to travel to Zurich

for their regular tests and their

rimless glasses."

But the verse, described by Michael D as "a poem for my father", is no ideological sideswipe. Instead it refers to one of the most deeply wounding episodes of Michael D's tumultuous upbringing, marked by poverty and bitterness.

Michael D remembers: "My mother felt that my father was very ill, and wrote to me. Soon he was in the General Hospital in Ennis. Not dying fast enough, he was to be transferred to St Joseph's, known by the saint's name -- but in common parlance as the poorhouse. And I was to persuade him to go in. I did it. Quietly.

"I went down a week later to see him. I walked into the main dining room, where he sat -- a small shrivelled man, reaching for a potato, peeling it with his thumbnail. It was me who had left him in, I thought, pushing him to admissions in a wheelchair.

"In the hospital he had broken an attendant's glasses. He had wanted to get out. The [ward] sister asked if I could pay for the glasses; the social welfare took so long."

Mr Higgins writes that his father being admitted to the poorhouse and his own role in it often came back to him afterwards.

Sunday Independent