Frederick Robert Higgins, Irish poet and theatre director, dies of a heart attack on January 6, 1941.
Higgins is born on April 24, 1896 on the west coast of Ireland in Foxford, County Mayo. He is the eldest son of Joseph, a policeman stationed in Foxford at the time of his son’s birth, and Annie Higgins. His poem “Father and Son” is a loving tribute to his father. He grows up in Ballivor, County Meath, where his family has farmed for several generations. He spends the largest part of his adult life in Dublin, in a house he has built beside the River Dodder in Rathfarnham. His health is poor, and though his friends are inclined to regard him as a hypochondriac, his frequent predictions that he would die young prove to be accurate.
Higgins marries Beatrice May Moore in 1921. The marriage is a happy one. Even Frank O’Connor, who dislikes him, praises him as a kind and considerate husband. He is however reputed to have had a number of affairs, notably with the actress Ria Mooney.
Higgins is a student of William Butler Yeats and serves on the board of the Abbey Theatre from 1935 until his death. His best-known book of poetry is The Gap of Brightness (1940). He is also well known for his poem “Father and Son.” He writes a moving elegy for his fellow poet Pádraic Ó Conaire. He is generally acknowledged to be a fine poet, but is less successful in his Abbey Theatre work. Frank O’Connor says unkindly that Higgins could not direct a children’s poetry recitation.
In 1937 Higgins is tour manager of the Abbey Theatre production of Teresa Deevy‘s Katie Roche, which tours to the Ambassador Theatre in New York City. There are five performances from October 2-6. His Abbey career can be seen in the Abbey Theatre archives.
Higgins is a popular and convivial man. Even O’Connor, who comes to regard him with deep suspicion, admits that he is a delightful person to know. His circle of friends include many of the leading Irish literary figures of his time, including Yeats, Padraic O Conaire, George William Russell, Lennox Robinson, and for a time O’Connor. O’Connor, however, comes to regard him as untrustworthy and a troublemaker, and describes him unflatteringly in his memoir My Father’s Son. For Yeats, Higgins seems to feel a genuine affection, once remarking that he never left Yeats’ house without “feeling like a thousand dollars.” He is also capable of great kindness and generosity to younger writers like Patrick Kavanagh.
(Pictured: “F. R. Higgins,” Oil on Canvas by Sean O’Sullivan, courtesy of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin)