Michael D Higgins was there for us when hundreds of us travelled to Sellafield in February 2002 to protest the introduction of the MOX reprocessing plant. Michael D turned up at 7am in Dun Laoghaire on a Saturday morning to simply wish us his support before we sailed for Britain.
Michael D. Higgins never fails to show genuine warmth, appreciation and even love of his fellow citizens. Our voyage to Sellafield was during the height of the boom when protesting was seen by many as something to be sneered at and undermined. You can see real joy and pride in Michael D’s eyes when he witnesses young people organising politically. Michael D never forgot the importance of protest; this is of course due his own distinguished record of speaking out.
Whether in boom or bust, government or opposition Michael D Higgins’ judgement and behaviour are just the sort of role models that our increasingly disenfranchised young brothers and sisters need. No matter how powerful our friends are, we owe it to the spirit of that friendship to always be frank about what is and what is not right. About what is legal and what is illegal. We need a man like that to have the final word on legislation.
This May 12th we waked Patrick Galvin, one of our great national poets in Connolly Hall in Cork. His remains had been brought there from his home in Douglas in a horse drawn hearse. Patrick was the first man to ever be waked in Cork’s Connolly Hall, and this on the very day that James Connolly’s was killed in 1916; we knew that Paddy would have been honoured. I knew Paddy and his wife Mary ever since I used to play with their children Gráinne and Macdara in Ballycotton, Co. Cork.
When we finally said our goodbyes to Paddy at the Island Crematorium in Cork Harbour Michael D. Higgins was invited to read one of Paddy’s poems. It was a poem called ‘Letter To The Editor’ about a self-important man who upon dying, realises that society is not celebrating him as his ego had mislead him to think it would.
The poem is a letter from the dead man to the editor of a newspaper’s letters page and it is really one of the funniest of Paddy’s poems. Michael D read it exquisitely and afterwards I heard Mary say that Michael D was one of only two politicians who Paddy would have wanted at his funeral, and how it was especially fitting seeing as another one of the poems read was ‘Roses for the President’.
Now it is late October and different poems will be recited for brave and strong Mary who will be buried this week having lost her battle to cancer on Monday. Despite the great challenges they faced in their final years I think that neither Paddy nor Mary would want people to feel sorry for them. I believe that the legacy they would really prefer to leave would be that their work be used by an Ireland finally ready to throw off our servile attitudes that sees society censor itself and curtsey before material power.
Ireland needs our poets to remind us of what is really strong and unique about ourselves and this country. After the devastation of the material boom, Ireland really needs to put poetry in power.
Michael D Higgins never forgot those of us who challenged the errors and excesses of the boom. He was there for us then, and we must be there for him on Thursday. I am voting for Michael D. Higgins. I strongly urge you to also please give him the highest possible preference on your polling card.