Ruaidhri Higgins describes late brother as 'a special human being' as Derry City boss opens up about his family's heartache
RUAIDHRI Higgins has described his late brother, Kevin as 'a special human being' and vowed to 'keep going in his memory' as he opened up on the heartache of bidding his final farewell this week.
The eldest of the four Higgins brothers, Kevin died suddenly at his home in Gothenburg, Sweden on February 3rd at the age of 49.
Following the repatriation of his remains, the Higgins family attended a special 'Service of Light' in St. Patrick’s Hall, Limavady on Sunday, followed by a private family cremation in Cavan on Monday - a beautiful send-off for a larger than life character who touched the lives of so many.
The 'remarkable' father-of-two's tragic passing has had a profound impact on his devastated close-knit family circle and those who were fortunate enough to cross his path during a life he lived to the fullest.
Speaking bravely about the impact his older brother's death has had on him over the past five weeks, the Derry City manager has taken comfort in the cherished time he spent with Kevin recently and is thankful for the many special memories which have come flooding back over the past several, testing weeks since his death.
"It's been a difficult month," said Ruaidhrí. "From February 3rd until now, March 8th when we're speaking, it's been a long drawn-out process; a lot of heartache and memories flooding back.
"We didn't get to see him much through Covid, but I'm just delighted that since then, as a family, we managed to spend quite a bit of time with him and he loved getting home.
"It will be unbelievably tough going forward without him but we have to keep going in his memory."
It was evident from his memorial service - a humanist ceremony reflecting on his life - that Kevin, born in South Africa in 1973, was held in such high esteem by his family and by friends he met in childhood and during his many travels when he spent time in London, Scotland and most recently his 'adopted home' in Sweden.
It was a true testament to the character of the man and Ruaidhrí was thankful to all those who offered their condolences and support.
"All the tributes and the amount of people that were at our family home, and the amount of people that were at his service, show the mark of the man because he hasn't been living at home for quite a while now but the numbers that were around and in our house were remarkable. Our family got so much comfort and warmth from that.
"It's going to be a long road ahead for us as a family but we've got each other and we know we have brilliant people around us as well."
As the Higgins family waited for Kevin's remains to arrive at their Windyhill Road home last Friday, Ruaidhrí returned to duty as City boss ahead of a huge clash against Shamrock Rovers and he describes the 'surreal' moment as he stood on the touchline in Tallaght.
"It was a bit surreal because he got into the family home in Limavady about six o'clock just as we were on the bus going to Tallaght so that was a strange moment when my wife phoned to tell me he was home.
"It was difficult. And then you get to Tallaght and realise you have a job to do. You have a responsibility to the club and to the players and the staff who've been so good to you. So it was amazing to go and get the three points. It put a smile on a few people's faces back home."
The past few weeks have allowed the Limavady man time to reflect on the good times with his brother and he says one memory in particular which 'will live with me forever' was the moment he looked up to see Kevin and his two children as Ruaidhrí proudly walked down the Aviva Stadium tunnel with the FAI Cup winners' medal draped around his neck last November.
Kevin was a proud GAA man but he took a special interest in Derry City Football Club ever since his younger brother took charge at Brandywell.
"Gaelic was his number one," explained Ruaidhri. "He could've told you the score of any championship around Ireland at any level so he educated us and he was in a different country. He just loved Gaelic football and jiu jitsu, swimming in the sea. He was a good footballer when he was younger actually but then sort of lost interest in it.
"He had a serious impact on me, helping me in my career. When I was going through difficult moments he was always there. Since I've taken on the job here he's had a real keen interest in Derry. He's been to some games and he was at the cup final which is an amazing memory for me.
"I remember looking up at him just as I was walking down the tunnel with the medal around my neck, him and his two children. That's a memory that will live with me forever," he reflected.
"He was a huge, huge character and I think people that didn't know him but maybe listened to some of the stuff said about him over the last while probably feel like they have an idea of what he's about. He was an unbelievable human being and was so invested in people and interested in helping people. He was always secondary in every conversation.
"He was just an unbelievable man, a huge character and a special human being. It's easy saying that when someone is gone but we always felt that.
"He enjoyed a bit of craic too. He enjoyed a lot of craic actually but you always felt safe when you were around him.
"He taught me and my younger brother Paddy a lot along with Michael, my other older brother. They taught me a lot as well as my parents but Kevin, out of the four boys, was the leader, he was the boss. He showed us the way."
During a poignant moment at the end of Sunday's memorial service, Phil Coulter took to the stage to perform, 'The Town I Loved So Well', a song which has a special place in the hearts of the four Higgins brothers.
"When we went to Sweden soon after Kevin passed away, four or five days after and on the way home Phil rang me to pay his respects and pass on his sympathies to my family. He said he would like to attend the service and if there was anything he could do for us. The obvious thing was if he could sing the song we love and which means a lot.
"The (Derry's) 1993 All Ireland win was probably my first real memory because I was only eight or nine at the time, that was my first real memory of the song, going down on the bus to Croke Park and everyone singing that song. So all those memories came flooding back. It was an amazing gesture from Phil and it shows the mark of the man. He lives in Wicklow so to do that for me and my family and for Kevin is a very special thing."
Ruaidhrí and his family also wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone connected with Derry City FC, including chairman Philip O'Doherty, for their support during the past month.
"Philip from the outset has been amazing. He doesn't get enough credit but the way he's been with me, the way he's treated me and what he's done for us as a family since it happened; Sean Barrett the same and Dodie McGuinness, the Board of Directors and the players.
"You can feel it and sense it, they've been so supportive. All the staff and Alan Reynolds and Conor Loughery have been exceptional. The supporters as well have been unbelievable too.
"But for keeping the show on the road, Alan Reynolds, Conor Loughery and all the staff have been brilliant. Believe me, it will never ever be forgotten because there have been days when I've been here but not really present and they've grabbed it with both hands and I will obviously need their support going forward as well.
Ruaidhrí, who will be back in the dugout for Friday's league match against Dundalk at Brandywell, will no doubt get an endless source of comfort from the kind words and actions of those who have reached out to his parents Danny and Mary, Kevin's partner, Sonia, and his children, Caoimh and Ida and the entire Higgins family as they mourn the passing of a man who has left such a lasting legacy.
“My family would also like to send their thanks to everyone at the club for everything they've done over the last month.” And just like his brother Kevin’s memory, Ruaidhrí promised the good wishes of everyone over the last few weeks, “will never be forgotten!”