Frederick R. Higgins
This poet contributed to various Literary also Economic Irish Reviews. His most famous poem is ‘Father and Son’.
Frederick Robert Higgins was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo on 6th April 1896. He was eldest son of Joseph, a Rail Engineer also a member of the R.I.C. stationed at Foxford plus Swinford, Mother Annie Higgins of Higginsbrook, Co. Meath. Later he grew up with relatives in Meath. Higgins moved to Dublin aged fourteen years to work as a clerk in a Brooke Thomas’s Providers Office. During 1913 he founded the Irish Clerical Workers Union also he became an official in the Irish Labour Movement. [i] He married Beatrice May Moore a Harpist of note, daughter of James Moore & Elizabeth Mc Dowell of Clontarf Dublin during 1921. They lived at Lake View, Brackwansha, Knockmore prior to moving to a house beside the Dodder River in Rathfarnham, Dublin during 1929. [ii]
Higgins was a founding member and secretary of the Irish Academy of Letters. He was an Adjudicator of Poetry in Aontach Taitleann. He spent some time as Professor of Literature in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts. Higgins was the most active member on the Board of Directors, later became Business Manager. He was appointed in 1935 as Managing Director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. From 2nd to 6th October 1937 as Tour Manager of the Abbey Theatre he brought a Production of Teresa Deevy’s ‘Katie Roche’ to the Ambassador Theatre New York with five performances. [iii] He was employed at London B.B.C. He acted in its production of Anthony Cronin’s ‘Life of Riley’ during 1964. He was called ‘Falstaffian’ by Frank O’Connor.[iv]
While living in Dublin Higgins began his career as a poet with W. B. Yeats as Mentor. He became an accepted member of the Irish Literary Circle in and around Dublin. He was editor of a Trade Journal ‘Welfare’. Higgins contributed many poems to various publications; a ‘Foreword’ to Maeve Cavanagh’s ‘Soul and Clay’ in 1917, “Yeats and Poetic Drama in Ireland” to the Irish Statesman from 1927, “An Irish Poet” to the Arrow during the Summer of 1935, to the Dial, Spectator, Atlantic Monthly also Dublin Magazine. He was the author of several plays including ‘a Deuce of Jacks’ a one –act comedy produced for the Abbey. As a friend of Austin Clarke, he affirmed an interest in Gaelic Tradition, he wrote an Elegy ‘Padraic O Conaire, Gaelic Storyteller’ for him. Higgins published four volumes of poetry ‘Ireland Blood’ (1925), “The Dark Breed” (1927), ‘Arable Holdings’ (1933), his best-known volume, ‘The Cap of Brightness.’ (1940). [v]
In 1924 F.R. Higgins won the Aontach Taitleann himself with ‘Salt Air.’ He was presented with the Casement Award for ‘Arable Holdings.’ ‘The Cap of Brightness’ was reviewed in The Irish Times by the distinguished Literary Critic, Desmond Mc Carthy during July 1940, with the following: ‘This slender volume has impressed me more than any other recent verse that I have come across. The Spirit of Mr. Higgins keeps close to experience, yet it is gallant, wistful, extravagant, free, while his pencraft – I must repeat this – is a joy to those who love words that fit the thing.’
Two years prior to his death he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy with a severe a heart condition, F. R. Higgins aged forty – four years, collapsed near Jervis Street Dublin. He was unconscious up to his demise at 4.00 am with his mother & wife beside him on 8th January 1941 in Jervis Street Hospital, Dublin. [vi] He is buried at Lanacor, Trim, Co. Meath.[vii]
Many articles were written about Higgins by various writers and poets including the following; In ‘Yeats as I knew Him’ 1959 Monk Gibbons states that ‘Higgins, fidus Achates of Austin Clarke…plenty of shy humour and a fair measure of adaptability… the friendship with Yeats was cemented because Yeats was able to imagine that he was managing Higgins, and Higgins was able to feel that he had retained his independence…etc.’ (page 169) In ‘Early Memories of F. R. Higgins’ written to the Dublin Magazine in Summer of 1967 Austin Clarke wrote of Higgins on pages 68 to 73.[viii] On 10th September 2013 in conjunction with Poetry Ireland & Arlen House a Publication of F. R. Higgins’s ‘Father and Son’ by relatives was launched in his birthplace at Foxford, Co. Mayo.[ix]
His papers are held in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. A Portrait by Sean O’Sullivan hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.[x] A Presentation was made to District Court Clerk Brendan Carley’s retirement of a copy of a rare F. R. Higgins Poetry Book. (Tom Kelly)
Johnny Mee in his article ‘Auld Stock’ in ‘The Connaught Telegraph’ 18th May 2021 on page 26 referred to Fred Higgin’s, Mayo’s forgotten poet, when he edited a magazine in Foxford, he published an eight – page limited edition of five hundred of his poems by Irish Bookshop Limited during 1923 titled ‘Salt Air.’ Several years ago, a selection of his poems was launched in Foxford by RTE Newsreader Eileen Dunne. Mee suggested that perhaps a Frederick Higgins Literary Weekend may be held in the town to honour his legacy in the future.
[vii] Irish Times January 9th 1941