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President Higgins receives honorary doctorate in UK

President Michael D Higgins spoke of the contribution Irish people made to Manchester’s Industrial Revolution when he accepted an honorary doctorate from the city’s university.

The President studied urban sociology and the life of migrants in cities at the University of Manchester as a postgraduate from 1968 to 1971.

His visit also coincides with the tenth anniversary of his State visit to the UK in April 2014 and with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the University of Manchester in 1824.

Speaking at the conferral ceremony, Mr Higgins quoted studies on 19th Century Manchester including one which estimated that over half of the 10,000 men who built the Manchester Shipping Canal were Irish.

“That project, 36 miles long, is symbolic of the great contributions of the Irish navvies who lived and died building it, along with the railways, roads, mines and towns of Britain,” he said.

The President said his introduction to the world of 19th century Manchester instilled in him a profound and lifelong interest in migration.

He said the city of 200 years ago, when the university was founded, was a city of hubris but also extreme poverty, inequality and migration.

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President Higgins said after studying at Manchester he went on to teach some of the first sociology of migration classes in Ireland at the University of Galway among other institutions.

He was conferred with the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa by Chancellor of the University of Manchester Nazir Afzal in recognition of his contributions to literature and public life.

Mr Higgins told the audience: “I am confident that Manchester University, drawing on a tradition of scholarship, using old tools in a new way, will continue to play a crucial role in tackling the interlocked crises we face on our burning planet.”

The conferral ceremony took place at the Whitworth Art Gallery, which forms part of the university.

The honorary doctorate joins other such awards which the President has received from universities across a number of continents.

Tomorrow, President Higgins will deliver the inaugural lecture in a new annual series of lectures called the John Kennedy series.

His lecture will be entitled: ‘Of the consciousness our times need in responding to interacting crises and the role of Universities as spaces of discourse in facilitating it.’

The President will be meeting a number of contacts in universities and other institutions, including those he previously worked with on academic projects.

He will also meet members of the Irish community who have been invited to attend the public lecture.

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