‘So there you have it– I am from Limerick!’

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

‘I’LL HANG it in Aras an Uachtarain’, Labour’s presidential candidate Michael D. Higgins joked after he was presented with a limited edition painting of the poet Desmond O’Grady in Limerick last weekend.

‘I’LL HANG it in Aras an Uachtarain’, Labour’s presidential candidate Michael D. Higgins joked after he was presented with a limited edition painting of the poet Desmond O’Grady in Limerick last weekend.

Well, maybe it wasn’t entirely in jest.

In fact, this 70 year-old could have given comedian Pat Shortt, who was in the audience, a run for his money.

The presidential hopeful was in fine form, as he regaled a lunchtime audience in the White House pub with poems from his recent collection.

He began with a poem entitled ‘Bank manager faints at mayor’s ball’, which had the audience in peals of laughter given the current social and banking context.

He was due to visit the Milk Market earlier on Saturday morning, but got delayed in Galway and the White House was his first stop at 1.50pm.

“I must go to the jacks first,” he said to his entourage as he was led to the Glentworth Street entrance.

“I do apologise for being late,” he said inside.

“I don’t like being late, but we got stuck behind a learner HGV driver on their way to an oyster festival,” he joked.

Maybe they were all Labour supporters and poetry lovers, but either way it was a feat to fill the literary haunt at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon.

In addition to waxing lyrical, the former minister for arts, sport and culture treated the audience to a journey down memory lane, as he recounted his early days living in the Treaty city.

“That period of my life was probably the most comfortable,” he told the attentive audience.

He recalled that his family had also lived in Rathbane and in No. 3 William Street, above a pub, and remembered his father bottling and labelling his own Guinness.

With each relocation, he said, his mother always brought the bookcases and books from the home they were departing, with he attributed to his love of literature.

“My brother and I were able to read and write before we went to primary school,” he said.

They left Limerick on August 15, 1946, with Michael destined for Clare, where he lived with his aunt. But memories of Limerick kept tumbling back.

“I remember Todd’s fire and it burned for a full week. It was enormously sad because it emptied a whole era of retail in the city.”

He described Jim Kemmy as “one of the great literary figures from Limerick”, noting his integrity and courage – and the fact that they both lost their seat in 1982.

He apologised for being a not “enormously productive” poet, but added: “Limerick has produced very fine poets. As long as you have poetry, then at least you have possibility.”

“So I hope I have established that I am from Limerick!” he concluded, to several laughs and cheers from the audience, which included comedian Pat Shortt, his brother Tom, the local teacher and Labour city councillor, and Labour Senator James Heffernan.

Labour deputy Jan O’Sullivan said she is “proud and honoured” that he is the party’s candidate.

“He is a defender of human rights, a poet and in many ways a Renaissance man,” she said.

The father of four also dedicated a poem to his daughter Mary who is working with him full-time.

Later that afternoon he also visited No. 27 Belfield Park, just off the Ennis Road, where he was born in 1941. His family lived there until 1946, before moving to Clare when his father fell ill.

There he met the present owners John and Kathleen Histon, their son Andrew, aged 11, and daughter Jill, aged 13, who have been living here for the past four years.

The couple said they were completely unaware until last week that it was originally home to a presidential candidate. “I hope you’re very happy here. You’ve done a fantastic job on this house,” he said.