Michael D Higgins granted Freedom of the City of Cork

President recalls family links with Leeside at a ceremony attended by several hundred

President Michael D Higgins said it was an honour to  become a Freeman of a city of writers, poets, sports stars, patriots and composers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins said it was an honour to become a Freeman of a city of writers, poets, sports stars, patriots and composers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 24, 2014, 17:01

President Michael D Higgins today recalled Cork’s great contributions to Irish politics, sport and culture over the past 100 years as he spoke of his pride at being granted the Freedom of the City at a ceremony at Cork City Hall.

President Higgins, who was accompanied by his wife, Sabina, was presented with a scroll granting him the Freedom of Cork by Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Catherine Clancy who praised him for his work as a human rights activist, educator and writer as well as a public representative.

President Higgins spoke of how proud he was to be honoured with the Freedom of Cork as he recalled that his late mother’s family came from Liscarroll in north Cork while his late father served as an intelligence officer with the IRA in north Cork during the War of Independence.

“Standing in this historic hall, this afternoon, I am conscious of the rich tradition and history of Cork City Council and of your predecessors as Lord Mayor, foremost among them, those great patriots, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney,” said President Higgins.

“Those founding fathers of our nation, in embodying an independence of mind and fortitude of spirit drew on the tradition and the personality of this city and its people,” he said as he went on to speak of how honoured he was to join a distinguished group of recipients of the Freedom of Cork.

These include several of his predecessors in Áras an Uachtaráin such as Eamon De Valera, Sean T O’Kelly, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and, prior to his becoming president, Douglas Hyde as well as US presidents, Woodrow Wilson and John F Kennedy.

And he spoke of how proud he was to join so many native Corkonians who also received the Freedom of Cork including composer, Aloys Fleischmann, politician Peter Barry, runner Sonia O’Sullivan, footballer Roy Keane and hurler Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.

Recalling his father’s involvement in the fight for Irish freedom, President Higgins noted Cork’s role in both the War of Independence and the Civil War but also the sacrifice made by many from the city who served with the Munster Fusiliers in Gallipoli and the Western Front.

“It was particularly poignant then that Cork has played such a central role in the important diplomatic events of recent years as the Irish people wrote a happier chapter in our history - Cork was the last the venue visited by Queen Elizabeth during her state visit to Ireland in 2011.

“And I have it on good authority that it was one of the high points of her majesty’s visit, “ said President Higgins, adding that it was appropriate that Cork whose motto “A safe harbour for ships” should stand as a symbol for hospitality and friendship between nations.

Recalling Cork’s maritime history, President Higgins also noted that Cork was a European city and one which inspired creativity in its prose writers such as Daniel Corkery, Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin but also a later generation who flourished in UCC.

These included musician, Seán Ó Riada and poets Seán Ó Tuama and John Montague who mentored a generation of younger poets such as Gabriel Rosenstock, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Theo Dorgan, Sean Dunne, William Wall and Tom McCarthy as well as older writers, Patrick Galvin and Seán Ó Ríordáin.

“So, as a writer, visitor and President who recognises and seeks to cherish and promote our national culture in all its diversity and richness, I want to say to you all that the Irish people have much to celebrate and to be grateful for in the unique cultural heritage of Cork.

“Yours is a city blessed by wit and warmth, which stands not only for ships, but for creativity and culture. To become a Freeman of a city of writers and poets, a city of sports men and women, of musicians and composers, of patriots and artists is indeed a great honour,” he said.

Among the distinguished guests at the ceremony were Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney, Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, TDs Ciaran Lynch and Jerry Buttimer and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Rev Paul Colton.