The two men paid warm tributes to each other as Heaney picked up the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mr Higgins described the Nobel Prize laureate as a “man who truly understands the Irish people and their historical landscape”.
“By delving into the images and memories of a rural Irish childhood, he weaves a journey back to our future selves and the scenery of new truths,” he said.
Heaney, in turn, described Mr Higgins as the “president of the republic of conscience, president of the republic of letters and the President of the Republic of Ireland”, and also a fine poet in his own right.
Both men alluded to the loss of confidence brought about by the implosion of the economic bubble.
Heaney said writers had a detached attitude to the “forms of success that have failed spectacularly and disastrously.
“We have seen how little it profited so many men to gain the whole world.”
There was a surprise from another president when Bill Clinton paid a pre-recorded tribute to Heaney, describing him as “one of the world’s favourite poets”.
The former US president joked that he even called his dog Seamus after Heaney.
“Your poetry has been a gift to the people of Ireland and to the world and a gift to me in difficult times,” Mr Clinton said.
The Hughes & Hughes Irish novel of the year went to film director and novelist Neil Jordan for his book Mistaken.
RTÉ Radio 1’s The John Murray Show Listeners’ Choice Award went to Caitlin Moran for her memoir How To Be a Woman .
Celebrity chef Rachel Allen won the best Irish non-fiction book for Easy Meals , the popular fiction book of the year went to Sheila O’Flanagan for All for You , while cyclist Nicolas Roche won the best sports book of the year for Inside the Peloton.
Full report and other winners.