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First overseas head of state visit planned to Warwick

RUGBY FANS: Irish President Michael Higgins (centre) looks on as his wife Sabina shakes hands with Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver during an announcement that the Wallabies will host world No.4-ranked Ireland next June in a three-Test series.
RUGBY FANS: Irish President Michael Higgins (centre) looks on as his wife Sabina shakes hands with Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver during an announcement that the Wallabies will host world No.4-ranked Ireland next June in a three-Test series. DANIEL MUNOZ

THE President of Ireland will be in Warwick this weekend for what is believed to be the first visit to the area by an overseas head of state.

While two Australian Prime Ministers have visited Warwick, historian Graham Gillam is not aware of any visit by a head of state from overseas.

"Just before Federation in 1901, the Father of Federation Sir Henry Parkes went through Warwick on the way home to Tenterfield but didn't get off the train,” Mr Gillam said.

"We have had five royal visits down the years - the Prince of Wales in 1920, Duke of York in 1928, Duke of Gloucester in 1935 and in the late 1940s and Princess Alexandra in 1959,” he said.

President Michael Higgins and his wife Sabina have been in Australia since October 5. They have visited Perth, Melbourne, Hobart, and Canberra and are now in Sydney as part of a four-day visit.

On Saturday, they will travel to Brisbane and head to Warwick at some time over the weekend before a busy Monday in Brisbane and a flight to New Zealand for a state visit.

In a press statement at the start of his trip, it was stated that Mr Higgins and his wife would travel to Warwick and meet with members of the Irish community and visit the graves and homesteads of descendants of the president's great-uncle Patrick Higgins and great-aunt Mary Ann Higgins, who immigrated to Australia in 1862.

It is understood they will also attend a private family reunion in the area.

On Wednesday, Mr Higgins and his wife visited the Australian Rugby headquarters at Moore Park in Sydney for the announcement that a three-Test series between Australia and Ireland would be played for the first time in Australia in June next year.

Val Gray and his wife Rita and family emigrated from Ireland to Australia in 1986 before moving to Warwick in 1990.

"I knew of him before I left Ireland, he is a highly intelligent and articulate man,” Mr Gray said.

"He is very much into sport from what I can remember.

"I have spoken to my brother in Ireland who has told me that Mr Higgins is very popular.

"It is exciting that he is coming to Warwick. There are 10 Irish-born families in the town and a massive Irish heritage in the area.

"When I was working in Melbourne and was offered a job in Warwick by the co-owner of Defiance, Tom O'Brien, he told me that the area was very Irish and I would get on well with the people, which is definitely true.”

The Daily News has been in touch with the Irish Embassy about the visit and is awaiting a response

Topics:  aru australian rugby union higgins irish families in warwick irish president michael higgins president higgins president of ireland president of ireland australian visit warwick