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Speech at the Opening of WAFA’s 11th World Flower Show

Royal Dublin Society, 18th June 2014

Tá áthas orm a bheith libh ar fad tráthnóna ag an ócáid cheiliúrtha seo, Oscailt Mór an t-aonú Seó Bláthanna Domhanda déag [11ú] ag Cumann Cóiritheoirí Bláthanna na Cruinne [World Association of Flower Arrangers]. Gabhaim buíochas le Kitty Gallagher, Uachtarán Chraobh na hÉireann an WAFA as ucht a cuid focail deasa seolta, agus gabhaim buíochas libhse ar fad as ucht na fíorchaoin fáilte.

[I am delighted to join you all this evening at this celebratory event, the Grand Opening of the 11th World Flower Show of the World Association of Flower Arrangers [WAFA]. May I thank Kitty Gallagher, President of the Irish branch of WAFA, for her kind words of introduction, and all of you for the warm welcome.]

I understand that, since WAFA’s foundation in 1981, the member countries have taken turns, every three years, in carrying out the management of the Association. Previous hosts have included England, Belgium, France, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland, Japan, Pakistan and the USA.  It is an honour for Ireland to be in a position to return the hospitality and to welcome you all, this year, to Ireland and to Dublin.

My wife Sabina and I have a great fondness for flowers and, since my inauguration as President of Ireland, we have developed a particular appreciation for the art of flower arranging.  Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of Irish Presidents since 1938, has a walled garden which, thanks to the work and care of those who tend it, has a history of providing cut flowers for official occasions hosted by the Áras. The beautiful displays created by our gifted flower arranger, Laura Donegan, who is here this evening, embellish and brighten up the Áras’s formal rooms and entrance hall; they are an important element of every ceremony, contributing to the quality of the welcome offered to guests and visitors.

I am aware that hosting the World Flower Show requires a major feat of organisation. Preparatory work takes place over many months, if not years, and I would like, tonight, to pay tribute to the AOIFA – the Association of Irish Floral Artists – and to each and every one who has so generously given of their time and skills to make this 2014 show a great success. It is a wonderful example of how people coming together, with shared interests and a common objective, can achieve spectacular outcomes.  I wonder whether this apparently effortless achievement of excellence has anything to do with the fact that most of the work seems to have been done by women?

The theme of your show this year is “A Floral Odyssey” – a fitting image indeed for this international gathering at the RDS tonight, which comprises WAFA members from over 30 countries.  I am told that, between tomorrow and Sunday, 20,000 people are expected to travel from across the world, and from all parts of Ireland, to attend the Show.

In another evocation of travel, this 11th World Flower Show is marked by the issuing of an official WAFA Ireland postal stamp.  In fact two stamps have been issued, with a unique design featuring orchid flowers photographed using x ray techniques.  Each stamp is complete in itself, but, placed side by side, the design continues across into the other stamp. I hope that many of you will avail of this occasion to rediscover the joys of written correspondence – that you will recover, even for a while, our epistolary tradition, and send to your loved ones postcards or letters featuring this beautiful duo of floral stamps.

The “Floral Odyssey” motif accurately reflects, too, the journey undergone by some of the flowers and foliage used in the arrangements visitors will admire over the next four days.  The crossing of borders not being quite what it was in Odysseus’s times, the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have had to play their part in providing relevant information on the paperwork required under EU legislation to import plants and flowers into Ireland.

The image of the Odyssey, that long travel replete with unexpected encounters and turns of fate, also very appropriately captures the trajectory of the flower which was chosen to emblematise this first Irish edition of the World Flower Show – namely the fuchsia flower.

As many of you would know, the fuchsia is not a native Irish plant – even though it has been naturalised in so many of our hedgerows, particularly in the West and South West of Ireland, where it flowers abundantly from June to October each year.

The plant we call fuchsia was “discovered” – or, more accurately, became known to Europeans – in 1696 or 97 when Charles Plumier,   a French Minim monk who was also one of the foremost botanist-explorers of his time, found it on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, and then named and described it in his Nova Plantarum Americanum.  It was Plumier who started the trend of giving plants the name of illustrious figures –naming, to mention but a few, the Begonia after Michel Bégon, former governor of the French colony of Haiti, the Magnolia after Pierre Magnol, etc.  As for the new genus identified on Hispaniola, he called it “fuchsia” as a tribute to 16th century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs.

The variety of fuchsia that found its Irish surroundings to be so congenial has ovate, toothed, leaves and bell-shaped flowers which, hanging down on slender arching stalks, give Ireland’s roadways their rich hues during the summer season.  With their four violet petals surrounded by four large, pointed red sepals, these graceful flowers have become so closely associated with our images of the Irish landscape that West Cork food producers have adopted them as their label of origin! In the Dingle area, they have made their way into our native Gaelic language, going by the name of ´Deora Dé´ – the tears of God.

“Each branch weeps

their God’s blood tears

as if sensing the earth’s hurt.”

These are the words of Cork-born poet Greg Delanty, in his piece entitled “The Fuchsia Blaze”.[1]  Quite coincidentally, I had the pleasure of receiving the visit of Greg Delanty and his son Dan to the Áras earlier today.  May I share with you a few more lines from his poem:

“The purple petticoated

and crimson frocks

of the open flowers

are known as Dancers,

blown by the fast and slow

airs of the wind;

one minute sean-nós melancholy,

the next jigging and reeling

like Irish character itself

and like these, my fuchsia verse,

struggling to escape

the English garden

and flourish

in a wilder landscape.

Mar focal scoir, finally, let me reiterate how great an honour it is for Ireland to host WAFA’s 2014 World Flower Show, in celebration of a craft which brings together the beauties of nature and the very many possibilities of human imagination and skills.

May I, once again, thank everyone involved in putting together this magnificent festival of colours, forms and scents.  I wish you all a very pleasant time throughout the duration of the show.  And I hope that all of you who are flower arrangers, whether professional or amateur, will go on applying your creativity in the crafting of something beautiful, and that you will continue to enjoy the friendships you have made along the way, and add to them in your time together.

Gach rath ar bhur gcuid oibre.

[1] Delanty, G. 1992. “The Fuchsia Blaze”. in Southward. Louisiana State University Press.