A brief clip on the evening news bulletin covering his visit to the Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco during his current visit to America reminded me of how proud I am of our President Michael D. Higgins.

I never thought I would be that way inclined because I never once voted for him during his political career, even though I resided for over 20 years in his Galway West constituency. You see, I was a stone blind Fianna Fail member at the time and Michael D. was flying the Labor flag in what was a Fianna Fail stronghold.

God forgive me today, but I was even a loyal member of the local Fianna Fail club in my parish and helped to erect Fianna Fail posters at several elections in which Michael D., right from the word go, was a certain loser. His Labour Party was weak in the west and, for that matter, still is.

It is also a fact that I was working during those years for the rabidly Fianna Fail newspaper The Irish Press owned by the De Valera family. Despite that reality I like to think that I covered his campaign fairly always and we became quite close friends despite my dreadful political malady.

Even then, though, I admired the man who is now our president for the gallant and principled way in which he held the Labour flag aloft through all the battles. He always accepted his many political defeats with immense dignity and courtesy towards the victors.

He was never cast down. He took it on the chin and always came back for more because of the strengths of his beliefs and principles.

In many years of covering Irish elections I am certain that I never saw any other candidate beaten so badly so often. It took great courage to behave the way he did.

Michael D. was a lecturer in University College Galway in those years. He helped me with many stories disconnected from politics altogether between campaigns. Usually these dealt with history and sociology.

He was, of course, a splendidly articulate and informed source. His interest back then in the diaspora was strong, and that was long before the word diaspora was coined.

Thank God I eventually came to my senses during Charlie Haughey's tainted reign. I departed from the party never to return.

Since then I have voted for quality candidates in my constituency no matter what party they are attached to. I deeply regret today that my road to Damascus came too late for me to have been of any assistance electorally to our president who, incidentally, came to Galway City as a mere junior clerk with a power company and drove himself onwards and upwards from there.

By my trade I have had connections with several presidents of the past. I reported de Valera at the end of his terms in office, for example, met Sean Lemass several times, became quite friendly with Paddy Hillery after arriving in Clare in later years.

In the Celtic Tiger years, I think, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese garnished the brighter realities of their era with style and substance.

However, when the bubble burst and the national lights went out across the depressed nation we could not have had a more able or fitting president than Michael D. Higgins. He has been doing a mighty job altogether.

This man knows what defeat tastes like from bitter experience, yet he has been a kind of beacon of hope and light as marginally better times slowly emerge.

Those in other political systems than ours might not be aware that our presidents are in a role separate from politics as they are played by the politicians of the day. They are diplomatic figureheads of state with, in effect, no real powers except to sign bills into law once the politicos have thrashed them out.

However, admirably, including recently in San Francisco, Michael D. Higgins is pushing his position to the limits. Again and again he has emerged as a voice of conscience for the people of Ireland.

He is not afraid to let the politicos know the priorities they should be keeping high up on the pole. In San Francisco, for example, he was typically powerful on the subject of the undocumented Irish and their problems, and said that it was something he always discusses with your leaders.

If he says he is doing that then you can take it that such concerns are high on his agenda. Guaranteed.

He is showing his years nowadays. He told his audience, however, that he has no time for retirement. We can all be creative, he said, until the final days.

May those be long delayed for a good man in the right place at the right time. I am very proud indeed of my president. And so should all of you too.

Our President Michael D Higgins.Caty Bartholomew