Irish President Michael D. Higgins has paid tribute to civil rights hero and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who died on Friday aged 80.

Lewis was one of the most prominent figures in the civil rights movement during the 1960s and passed away following a short battle with pancreatic cancer on Friday, July 17. 

Higgins paid tribute to Lewis on Twitter, saying that the civil rights leader has left an "enduring legacy" on the US and the wider world. 

"His was a life filled with meaning that sought and promoted inclusion. The world was a better place for having him in it, and may his legacy live on," Higgins wrote on Twitter. 

John Lewis leaves an enduring legacy not only in the US, but globally. His was a life filled with meaning that sought and promoted inclusion. The world was a better place for having him in it, and may his legacy live on.

— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) July 18, 2020

Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, when Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of around one million protesters in the American capital. 

He also became a founding member of the Freedom Riders, a protest group fighting segregation on interstate buses in the Deep South in the 1960s, at the age of just 21. 

Lewis is perhaps best known for his role in the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965, when he led hundreds of protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, at great risk to his safety. 

State troopers, seeking to intimidate the marchers, attacked the protesters with tear gas and billy clubs as they crossed the bridge. Lewis suffered a fractured skull during the attack and he bore the scars of the incident for the rest of his life. 

He walked across the same bridge in 2015, arm-in-arm with then US President Barack Obama to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march. 

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Lewis entered politics in 1981 when he won a seat on the Atlanta City Council with 69% of the vote and he soon became a congressman when he upset Julian Bond in Georgia's 5th Congressional District in 1986. 

He served as a Democratic congressman until his death, and won over 70% of the popular vote in all but one of his staggering 16 reelections to the seat.

He was one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives and frequently supported issues like gay marriage and national health insurance. 

Both Republicans and Democrats were united in grief following the news of his death, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling him the "conscience of Congress" and Republican Senator Bill Mitchell labelling him a "pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism." 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute to Lewis in a tweet on Saturday. 

McDonald tweeted one of Lewis's most famous quotes, which encourages people to make "good trouble", necessary to affect change in American society.  

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble," McDonald wrote, quoting Lewis. 

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble” John Lewis pic.twitter.com/NGIh1GZMF7

— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) July 18, 2020

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