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happy 80th It's the birth 'D' party of the year as rocker Van Morrison pays tribute to President Higgins

Van and Tolü among the celebrities gathering to serenade the president

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President Higgins with Misneach.

President Higgins with Misneach.

President Higgins with Misneach.

EVEN for presidents not every day is like this – with one of Ireland’s true rock icons coming up to sing a special happy birthday song for him on TV tonight.

Van Morrison hasn’t been seen on television here for over a quarter of a century, but the Irish Heartbeat hit­maker was happy to make an exception for fellow poet and mystic, Michael D Higgins.

Especially as the President celebrates his 80th birthday with a star-studded tribute on TG4 tonight.

Fans of Belfast man Van will see him take to the stage to declare: “This is for President Higgins. I’d just like to wish you a very happy 80th birthday and I’d like to do one of my songs for you. I hope you like it.”

Then the 75-year-old legend will break into ‘Burning Ground’.

Meanwhile, a woman who has been central to Michael D’s life for decades has told the Sunday World she too wants to pay a special tribute to the two-term President.

Galway woman Valerie Hughes, who has sourced and bred some of the famous Bernese mountain dogs that the President and his wife Sabina have as close com­panions, beamed when we told her of his milestone birthday.

“I didn’t know it was this week­end, I wish him a lovely birthday and many more years,” she says.

Valerie and Mi­chael D became pals in Galway as they both shared a passion for breed­ing and keeping the Bernese dogs, which originate from Switzerland. She tells the Sun­day World: “He had a well-known Bernese called Persephone of Rahoon. I have no idea how he came up with that but I ended up getting a grandson of the bitch.

“I knew he was into the breed, and obviously I’m from Galway, he’s from Galway, so I used to see him and knew that he had those same type of dogs.”

She adds: “I used to remember him driving around Galway because he’s such a small man and there he was behind the wheel with a big Bernese on the seat beside him.”

Valerie, who got her first Bernese in 1998, says: “There wouldn’t have been that many with that type of breed in Galway.”

However, Michael D became busier in politics and when his dogs died he did not replace them – they only live for seven to eight years.

“Then when he was running for President he said that if he ever got in there he intended to have two Bernese in the Áras,” Valerie recalls. So she began helping him source the dogs.

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“He decided he was going to get a rescue dog, rather than buying a puppy, so we tried that,” she reveals. “Bruno was his name. But he was just unmanageable, so he went back into rescue for someone that could control him.”

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A first for Van in 26 years.

A first for Van in 26 years.

A first for Van in 26 years.

The problem with rescue dogs is they usually have issues.

Valerie says there was a family who were moving to Dubai and they couldn’t bring a Bernese which Valerie had bred.

“She was Shadow. She was about three, so I drove her up to the Áras and he fell madly in love with her,” she recalls.

And dogs became part of the Áras family. Valerie says: “Then he got Bród, then he got Sioda (who died recently) and then Misneach (earlier this year),”

The later dogs were sourced from a breeder in Co Cork.

And the Áras is the perfect place for them, she says. “He has his own apartment there and the courtyard for the dogs. It would be a lot more difficult to look after them at his Galway home.”

The Bernese are “a wonderful breed”, she says. “They are quite an imposing dog to look at. But they are easy to live with. They are calm, they are laid back. They are not a busy dog, they love people. They don’t do well being left on their own, they like to be around people. They love being indoors with the family.”

Valerie reveals: “I’ve been to the Áras twice, privately. “He’s very friendly with Tommy Tier­nan, who also had a Bernese, Ar­chie. I’ve met him with Tommy.

“Sabina loves the dogs as well, you know by them that they are absolutely besotted with them.”

Tonight’s TG4 special will fea­ture some of Ireland’s finest po­ets, singers, musicians, thinkers, playwrights and dancers.

Former President Mary Robin­son recalls: “When we were de­bating as students, when he was on form he was unbeatable. But fortunately he wasn’t always on form. It was always about wom­en’s rights, about homelessness, about issues of human rights.”

She says he has the skills of oratory and passion of advocacy for the issues he cares about.

Meanwhile, after her recent chart success with the Sawdoc­tors’ hit ‘N17’, Nigerian-born and Tullamore-raised, rising star Tolü Makay will give a breathtak­ing rendition of her single ‘Don’t Let Go’, at Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin.

Ómós – Michael D @ 80 airs tonight on TG4 at 9.30pm.

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