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Speech at a Garden Party to celebrate Creative Arts and Craft

Áras an Uachtaráin, 27 January 2017

Tá áthas orm féin agus ar Saidhbhín fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go hÁras an Uachtaráin. Tá áthas orainn go raibh sibh in ann a bheith linn le haghaidh tráthnóna aoibhnis, cairdis agus comhráite spreagthacha.

[Sabina and I are very happy to welcome you to ras an Uachtaráin. We are delighted to be sharing your company for an afternoon of enjoyment, friendship and stimulating conversations.]

The garden party season is a special time of the year here in the Áras when Sabina and I welcome to áras an Uachtaráin many citizens who have contributed in a special way through their talents, work and indeed genius to Irish society.

This afternoon we are fortunate to be joined in the gardens of Áras an Uachtaráin by those fellow citizens who, while they may have been gifted with artistic and creative minds have, and it is as important as it is generous, applied their time and labour for the benefit of us and future generations. I am pleased to have this opportunity of thanking you for all you contribute to our society and to Ireland’s reputation as a country of creativity and imagination.

You are defining, sharing and communicating beauty in your special way through your work as painters, sculptors, crafters and designers and in so many other areas which contribute so profoundly to the life of our society. Not only do we benefit from the pleasing aesthetic of your work; but also from your manifestation of the role of art and artistic craft in assisting us to understand the nature of our society, its wonder and possibilities, and our own role within that society. I believe economies and societies are created within cultures. It is culture that will save economy, not economy that will make culture possible.

While artistic works may reflect the society and time in which they were created; they also, in the here and now, help to shape and shade the world in which we live challenging us to look at that world in different ways, calling on us to have the courage to push the boundaries and defy and critique the norms of the societies and age into which we have been born.

So therefore we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to citizens such as yourselves who enable us to view our world in ways that are new and emancipatory.

The work of innovative and imaginative Irish craftspeople is receiving wide acclaim on both the national and international stage, reminding us that Irish creativity and our country’s reputation as a world class source for quality and craftsmanship is something in which we all can celebrate and take pride.

I remember a dear friend, Noel Browne, often saying to me – if every house had but one beautiful object – which a difference it would make, what a source of memory.

Indeed, here in Ireland crafted objects are central to our rich heritage and culture. While they remind us of how much of our craft has developed from ancient skills, cultivated by our ancestors and passed down through the generations, they also celebrate new and innovative use of imagination and engagement with materials and technology. Craft, like all art forms, is continuously evolving and it can and does use technological advancement to its benefit.

All of our artists and designers here today are greatly skilled at weaving together the legacy of traditional techniques and the imaginative use of contemporary materials. They also remind us, through their imaginings and craft that we belong to a world that is diverse and beautiful - to a global family that has both unique and shared elements.

We are, in Ireland, currently moving through and engaging with the ongoing Decade of Commemorations – a Decade that encompasses not just the Easter Rising, but other defining events such as the Great Lockout of 1913, the outbreak of the First World War, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

One of the significant means of ensuring that the public, including future generations, remember such defining moments is through commemorative public art – through statues, monuments and sculptures designed as representations of aspects of that event that will engage and inform and allow for a real understanding of how such seminal events have profoundly influenced the contemporary moment.

Here, in Áras an Uachtaráin Sabina and I felt, and it was agreed, that a significant piece of Public Art in this beautiful garden setting would be an appropriate and permanent tribute to the men and women whose effort and sacrifice contributed so much to Irish freedom and would also serve as an inspiration towards realising such a promise as outlined in the 1916 proclamation.

We received many imaginative, creative and greatly inspiring proposals from greatly talented designers – and indeed I am delighted that some of them have been able to join us here today. You are all most welcome.

The artwork selected, Dearcán na nDaoine – the People’s Acorn – focusses on a seed. It is of the nature of a seed that it contains both a history and a great potential, and the piece chosen is a piece of art that will be lasting and symbolic, both recalling our rich and complex past and providing a vision for the future.

The acorn contains a time capsule which will ensure this commemorative work will hold within it a living representation of the present time, formed by the past, and already crafting the future to come.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil Rachel Joynt anseo linn inniu agus tá mé ag súil go mór le Dearcán na nDaoine a fheiceáil agus é curtha i gcríoch. Táim cinnte go mbainfidh cuairteoirí chuig an Áras taitneamh as agus go spreagfar chun machnamh iad chomh maith.

[I am delighted that Rachel Joynt is here today, and I greatly look forward to the completion of Dearcán na nDaoine, and the enjoyment and opportunity for reflection it will give to future visitors to the Áras.]

Works of art can also, of course, create strong and beautiful connections between nations and peoples, introducing us to new perceptions of the world, shaped by each other’s unique experiences.

Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to Áras an Uachtaráin. They are a nation whose ancestors gave to our ancestors a gift of glowing compassion and solidarity during one of the darkest in Irish history – the Great Famine, An Gorta Mór. We Irish will never forget how, in the winter of 1847, as people in Ireland were dying from starvation and despair, members of the Choctaw Nation met in the small town of Skullyville Oklahoma, to discuss the plight of the Irish, and, how, although their own resources were very limited, they decided to send to Ireland whatever funds they would manage to raise.

One hundred and seventy years later, we chose to honour and commemorate that extraordinary human gesture which links our two nations so profoundly through the dedication of a sculpture in Midleton Co Cork to the Choctaw Nation. ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Alex Pentek with its beautiful eagle feathers arranged in a circular shape and reaching towards the sky, is a metaphor, not just of the bowl filled with food the Choctaw offered to the starving Irish women, men and children, but also of the Choctaw’s love for life and for humanity, and of the solidarity we share with all those who dwell on this fragile planet.  

It reminds us of how strongly art speaks to us across oceans and generations; and of the important imprint and legacy of great craftsmen and designers.

Before I conclude, may I thank all our talented designers and craftspeople who make possible, through their imagination, skill and patient work – their creativity, so much of beauty, endurance and joy.  I thank also those who provide the opportunities, the insight, the help and encouragement. Without those who value performance, access and the importance of culture in our lives, not as residual but as an essential structure, nothing would be possible. All of you allies in culture, performance, and appreciation - you are all so welcome here today.

I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you.  A big thank you to our MC John Kelly, a legend – who knows more about world, classical, contemporary music, who has more courage in moving us to appreciation of the eclectic than John Kelly; and to our talented entertainers David O'Connor, Cian McBride, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, Barry Ryan, Cormac Keegan, Tara Viscardi, Meadhbh O'Rourke, Setanta Strings, Randolf and the Crokers, Beoga, Duke Special and The Strypes.

Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes. On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin.

Our thanks for the assistance of the Civil Defence, our friends from St. John of Gods, the Defence Forces, and our Gaisce volunteers.

Sabina and I hope you have a great afternoon. Enjoy the rest of your time here and thank you for coming.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.