President gets freedom of city: Galway pays tribute to one of its own

 

SIX MONTHS to the day since his inauguration, tributes were paid to the “heart work” and “life work” of President Michael D Higgins last evening when he was awarded the freedom of Galway city.

“Animal lover, tree-planter, rock journalist, film-maker, orator and humorist” and “an honest and powerful local representative who never let a constituent down” was how Galway mayor Cllr Hildegarde Naughton (FG) described him as she welcomed him back home.

Recalling his long career since he “thumbed a series of lifts” from Clare in January 1961, Ms Naughton said he was an “inspirational teacher” at University College Galway, a “dogged campaigner” for human rights, and had served as first citizen himself twice during his time on the local authority.

During his period as arts minister, the value of the creative industries in terms of Irish employment was greater than that of the banking or IT sectors, she observed.

Ms Naughton noted that Glenstal Abbey’s abbot Patrick Hederman had praised the President’s poetry for its “exploration of meaning beyond the inevitable claptrap of politics and the normal currency of words”.

Mr Higgins described the privilege he felt in joining the list of freemen and women, including first Irish president Douglas Hyde.

He becomes the 28th free person, joining cardinals, bishops, former US presidents including John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, former US first lady Hillary Clinton and Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Galway “is my home and it will always be so”, Mr Higgins said, recalling his early days, paying tribute to friends, political supporters and opponents, and acknowledging how he missed visits to soccer matches at Terryland Park.

From the first time he had stood for election in 1969 he had found “a reception in Galway for new and radical ideas”, he said, citing the “blessing” of bishop Eamon Casey and city council members for his visit as mayor to Central America.

It was to the city’s “eternal credit” that there was never a political price to be paid for his international work in fighting global injustice, he said, which resulted in him winning the MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau in Helsinki, Finland.

Mr Higgins paid tribute to the founders of the Galway Arts Festival, including the late Town Hall theatre manager Michael Diskin, and said that they gave the city a cultural “definition” that was taken for granted now.