Higgins is a politician, poet, sociologist, author and broadcaster. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Galway West constituency and was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht from 1993 to 1997. He was the President of the Labour Party from 2003 until 2011, when he resigned following his election as President of Ireland.
He made the first state visit by an Irish president to the United Kingdom in April 2014.
Higgins was born in Limerick on 18 April 1941. His father John Higgins was from Ballycar, County Clare, and was a Lieutenant with the Charleville Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. John Higgins, along with his two brothers Peter and Michael, had been active participants in the Irish War of Independence.
When his father’s health grew poor, with alcohol a contributing factor, his mother sent Higgins, aged five, and his four-year-old brother to live on his unmarried uncle and aunt’s farm near Newmarket on Fergus, County Clare. His older twin sisters remained in Limerick. He was educated at Ballycar National School, County Clare, and St. Flannan’s College, Ennis.
As an undergraduate at University College, Galway (UCG), he served as Vice-Auditor of the College’s Literary and Debating Society in 1963–64, and rose to the position of Auditor in the 1964–65 academic year. He also served as President of UCG Students’ Union in 1964–65. In 1967, Higgins graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a Master of Arts degree in Sociology. He also briefly attended the University of Manchester.
In his academic career, he was a Statutory Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at University College Galway and was a Visiting Professor at Southern Illinois University. He resigned his academic posts to concentrate fully on his political career.
His wife, Sabina Coyne, is an actress and a native of Cloonrane, a townland in County Galway near Ballindine, County Mayo. She grew up on a farm there in a family of five girls and two boys. She developed an interest in theatre and trained using Stanislavski’s system.
Higgins met Coyne in 1969 at a party in the family home of journalist Mary Kenny. Higgins proposed over Christmas 1973 and they were married the year after. They have four children: Alice Mary, twins John and Michael Jr., and Daniel; Alice Mary was elected to Seanad Éireann in 2016. He has two Bernese mountain dogs named Bród and Shadow