Joseph Higgins 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. Among his well-known figures are Daniel Corkery (1909), Michael Collins (1922) and Prof W F P Stockley, his final work (1924), now in University College Cork. In 1924 he won the bronze medal for sculpture at the Tailteann Games. Higgins contracted tuberculosis and died in 1925, aged only thirty-nine. He had never received a commission and none of his works were cast during his lifetime.