Irish President Michael Higgins (courtesy)
Irish President Michael Higgins (courtesy)

Irish President Michael Higgins will visit Berkeley next week to speak with students, honor first responders and community members who helped after June’s fatal balcony collapse, and plant trees with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

Monday, Oct. 26, Higgins is set to talk to UC Berkeley students in the Chevron Auditorium at International House about ending world hunger and poverty. The talk is not open to the public.

He also is slated to announce a grant for the creation of an Irish studies program, at UC Berkeley’s Institute for European Studies, designed to support and promote scholarship related to Ireland and “foster cooperation with Irish universities.”

According to a statement about Monday’s lecture released by UC Berkeley, its Celtic Studies Program was the first degree-­granting program in Celtic languages and literatures in North America, when it launched in 1911-­12.

Higgins also will attend two events related to the deadly balcony collapse in Berkeley at Library Gardens that killed six and injured seven. The victims were young Irish students, including one Irish-American woman, most of whom were in Berkeley for the summer as part of the J-1 visa exchange program.

Read complete coverage related to the balcony collapse.

Wednesday, Higgins and the Irish Consulate of San Francisco will hold a private ceremony in downtown Berkeley to recognize first responders, city staff, local businesses and others who helped after the balcony collapse, including hotels that donated rooms to grieving families, and airlines that donated seats to them. The Irish consul general for the Western United States, Philip Grant, and Vice Consul Kevin Byrne will also be in attendance.

Irish Consul General Philip Grant praised the first responders for their compassion. Photo: David Yee
Irish Consul General Philip Grant praised first responders in June for their compassion. Photo: David Yee

“The entire community of Berkeley joins our Irish brothers and sisters in offering condolences to the families of those lost and those injured in the Library Gardens balcony collapse of June 16, 2015,” according to a resolution from the mayor’s office drafted for Tuesday night’s council meeting. “The first responders of the police and fire departments were the first to offer urgent care and concern for the victims. In the ensuing weeks, the Berkeley community, both citizens and businesses, rallied together to help the victims and their families.”

The consent-calendar resolution, if approved, will allow for the allocation of up to $1,000 per council member to help fund the Berkeley-Ireland Recognition Ceremony and Memorial.

A tree-planting ceremony is planned for Wednesday afternoon in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, at 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in the southwest corner of the park. The event is open to the public but space is limited.

Higgins and Berkeley Mayor Bates each will complete the planting of a flowering arbutus, or madrone, tree. Vice Consul Byrne said that tree was selected in part because varieties of it, also called a “strawberry tree,” are native to both California and Ireland.

Said Byrne: “It’s a living memorial for the students that lost their lives and for those that were injured, and a symbol of the friendship between the people of Berkeley and the people of Ireland.”

He said many in Berkeley, throughout the city, “were just so supportive of the Irish community in our time of need: It’s just a symbol of that friendship.”

After his visit to Berkeley, President Higgins is set to spend Thursday in Sacramento, then fly back to Ireland on Friday. Next week will be his first visit to California as president of Ireland.

Selected coverage related to the balcony collapse tragedy appears below. Read complete coverage on Berkeleyside.

Families of four balcony victims say ‘thanks’ (07.27.15)
Hundreds gather in Berkeley to remember balcony victims (07.20.15)
Berkeley balcony survivor is making ‘great progress’ (07.02.15)
Irish consul general: J-1 visa student community a source of ‘great pride’ (06.26.15)
Church services held for balcony collapse victims (06.20.15)
As students recover in hospitals, support grows for survivors, victims of balcony collapse (06.18.15)
People gather to remember victims of Berkeley balcony collapse (06.18.15)
Support springs up for families, friends of deceased (06.17.15)
Mayor, consul general, lay wreaths to honor 6 killed in Berkeley balcony collapse (06.16.15)
Six who died in Berkeley: Young students in their prime (06.16.15)
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)
Six who died in Berkeley: Young students in their prime (06.16.15)
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...