Joseph Higgins

Joseph Higgins (1885-1925)

Joseph Higgins, father-in-law of Seamus Murphy, was born in Ballincollig, near Cork, in 1885. His father William Higgins, a teacher and historian, had been jailed for his part in the Fenian Rising of 1867, and thereafter could only gain employment as a cooper in the Ballincollig Powder Mills. After the family moved to Cork around 1900, Joseph was employed by the tea firm of Newsome & Co, and also attended night classes at the Crawford School of Art. His talents as a sculptor were recognised quickly and he received several awards for his carved wooden and modelled clay sculptures. His style of clay modelling may have been inspired by the work of Rodin, but as Higgins never travelled outside Ireland, he must have learned of Rodin’s work mainly through art journals and books.

Higgins worked as a teacher in Fermoy and Midleton before marrying Katherine Turnbull and settling in Youghal. He continued to teach, to paint and to sculpt, often using his children and family as models. Boy with a Boat, a bronze cast now in Fitzgerald’s Park, Cork, was modelled on his nephew Charlie. Among his well-known figures are Michael Collins (1922, limewood), Daniel Corkery (1909, bronze), and Prof W F P Stockley, his final work (1924, bronze), now in University College Cork. Two bronze portrait heads, Stracaire Fir and Youghal Fisherman, are now in the collection of the Crawford Gallery, Cork. In 1924 he won the bronze medal for sculpture at the Tailteann Games. Higgins contracted tuberculosis and died in 1925, aged 40. He had never received a commission and none of his works were cast during his lifetime.