The University of California at Berkeley is to establish a new Irish Studies programme, part-funded by the Government.

President Michael D Higgins made the announcement during a visit to the campus, where he also gave a keynote speech, describing the failure of the international community to address hunger and poverty as the "greatest moral failing of humanity"

President Higgins said he was "pleased" to be able to announce an initial grant of $40,000, which would be used to support the establishment of a new Irish studies programme on campus, operated under the auspices of the University's Institute for European Studies.

Announcing the grant, President Higgins said the inter-disciplinary study of Irish culture was "key" to Ireland's international relations and to Irish America.

He said the funding would lead to a deepening of relations between UC Berkeley and Ireland and would include the "fostering of scientific cooperation with universities and research centres".

The grant will also be used towards the organisation of events and debates on the campus, focusing on contemporary Irish political and cultural matters.

The $40,000 is coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade division for trade and promotion and will not be used to develop taught academic programmes.

The new Irish Studies programme will work across several departments at the university, bringing together students, faculty and alumni, who the President described as being committed to the "investigation of society, culture, science and economic relations in and with Ireland".

Dean of Arts and Humanities Anthony Cascardi described the University of California, Berkeley campus as having a "bit of Irish in its blood".

President Higgins was the third Irish President to visit the campus and Dean Cascardi said he hoped a tradition had been created for future Irish presidents to follow.

The Dean continued that while everyone in San Francisco might be Irish on St Patrick's Day, in Berkeley, everyone is "at least a little bit Irish every day", given that Berkeley was named after George Berkeley, an alumnus of Trinity College in Dublin.

He said that there was a tower of great names in literary and dramatic circles who had studied or taught on the campus including Shaw, Beckett, Joyce, Stoker and most recently Seamus Heaney.

The President was shown the original manuscripts of the poetry that Seamus Heaney wrote while he was a young professor of English on the campus.

The manuscripts are the only ones outside of Ireland, as all of the others belong to the National Museum of Ireland.

The manuscripts and notes clearly show the composition and editing process that Heaney went through and are used by students today studying literature.

President Higgins and his wife Sabina accompanied by Ambassador of Ireland to the US Anne Anderson also had the opportunity to peruse some private letters written by William Butler Yeats, including where he uses colourful language to describe Winston Churchill, speaks fondly of his "friend" George Bernard Shaw and in a letter to his mistress, references an argument with Countess Markievicz, describing her as a "steam whistle".

They also viewed a first edition of Ulysses signed by James Joyce.