Launch of the Douglas Hyde Conference 2017, Douglas Hyde Centre, Portahard, Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon
Cathaoirleach, Chief Executive, Chairperson, Director of Services, local councillors, Colleagues, friends, I am delighted to be here today at the launch of the Douglas Hyde Conference that this year will discuss and debate the importance of culture, and its value to our community, to our economy and to our wellbeing as a society.
This time last year, we were in the middle of our centenary celebrations, in Ireland and overseas, to remember and reflect on the tumultuous events of 1916, which ultimately led to the foundation of the Irish State. We never could have imagined the extent to which it – the centenary – would be embraced by the Irish people, at home and abroad.
The result was active citizenship engagement and community participation in numerous cultural events that made a profound statement about our identity, our culture and our values as a modern nation.
The centenary celebrations reminded us all of the transformative power of our unique culture – something that was so well understood by that remarkable generation to which Douglas Hyde belonged.
Hyde in many respects signifies our cultural diversity and strengths – scion of an Anglo-Irish family, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, yet immersed in the bardic culture, legend and folklore of this part of Ireland. His love of the Irish language, of Irish culture and Irish traditions was one he absorbed from this very landscape – itself a palimpsest of many different traditions.
For centuries, our artists, writers and creators have expressed our culture in story, song, dance, ritual, celebration and commemoration. Hyde was no exception. Indeed his legacy infuses our modern culture – from his interest in reviving the Irish language, his involvement in the Gaelic League, his role in the Gaelic Revival, to his contribution as first President – these strands continue to weave a golden thread through our lives today.
Creative Ireland is the legacy Programme from last year’s centenary. It is a bold and ambitious all-of-government five year initiative to mainstream culture and creativity in the life of the nation – so together we can realise our full creative potential – something Hyde visualised over a century ago – and then use that creative potential to foster collective wellbeing and social cohesion.
This initiative – which will be explored and debated at this conference – provides an opportunity to encourage a multiplicity of voices and forms of expression, from which new ideas can emerge and old stories can be retold. In my view, it is one of the most significant Government actions for arts and culture in Ireland in a generation.
Creative Ireland is about placing culture at the centre of our lives, for the betterment of our people and for the strengthening of our society. At the heart of Creative Ireland is the concept of participation: an approach that says it is not enough to simply provide additional supports for the arts and artists but that we must devise and implement strategies to radically increase public participation in creative cultural activity.
With the launch of Creative Ireland, we are telling the world that we believe in the value of creativity, for us as individuals and as a society.
Collaboration will be key to the success of the Creative Ireland Programme – whether between central and local government, across embassies and consulates, between universities and state agencies, or between creative artists and industry. What we need and what we want to see is an ecosystem of creativity embedded in our daily lives.
The Creative Ireland Plan is built around five pillars, and the first pillar – importantly – is all about enabling the Creative Potential of Every Child. Our ambition is that, by 2022, every child in Ireland will have access to tuition and participation in art, music, drama and coding. I am happy to tell you that we are making good progress in our plan to expand the role of artists in the education system – and a comprehensive Creative Children’s Plan will be published later this year.
Pillar 2 – Enabling Creativity in Every Community – is about bringing the creative power of culture to every corner of Ireland – a direct successor to the 2016 centenary local programme. Every local authority was asked to set up a Culture Team to implement the Creative Ireland Programme at local level and devise a Culture and Creativity Plan for 2017.
Roscommon County Council was among the first in appointing a Culture Team with members drawn from varied backgrounds in the arts, heritage, libraries, the community and enterprise. The Culture Teams are an extremely important part of the Creative Ireland Programme. They support collaboration, and help align work plans and strategies.
Pillar 3 focuses on investing in our Creative and Cultural Infrastructure – making our cultural patrimony accessible to everyone. Again we will be launching a Capital Investment Plan for the culture and heritage sector later this year.
Pillar 4 focuses on making Ireland a Centre of Excellence for Media Production – and we are developing new initiatives to drive this sector, including publishing an industry-wide, long-term media plan for Ireland.
Pillar 5, which is the outward looking piece of Creative Ireland – is about presenting a coherent representation of Ireland to the world – telling the world that Ireland is the place to come to if you want creative things to happen – whether as a student, an investor or a visitor. We have developed a new comprehensive portal www.Ireland.ie that acts as a first port of call for anyone with an interest in Ireland.
You can see therefore that Creative Ireland is bold and ambitious, and we have set ourselves some challenging targets, but work is already well advanced in meeting these goals.
Throughout the lifetime of the Creative Ireland Programme, the people of Roscommon will have more opportunities to get directly involved in creative activities and more opportunities to be part of the vibrant culture of not only Roscommon, but of the entire country.
In May – under Pillar 2 – the Roscommon Culture and Creativity Plan for 2017 was launched which illustrates so much of what the Creative Ireland Programme is about: community, local empowerment, participation, and collaboration.
This Plan – in setting out the beginning of Roscommon’s part in this five-year journey – will support the creative potential of all who live here in this county. Reading through it, I was fascinated to see the broad and interesting variety of initiatives, events and festivals that take place in Roscommon every year.
I know this plan is but the forerunner to Roscommon’s Five Year Culture and Creativity Strategy to 2022, which will be put together over the autumn, and I look forward to seeing it when it is published.
This conference will explore the value of cultural activity and culture’s role as a driver of economic and social development and of personal and collective creativity. Arts and culture are necessary for the robust functioning of any modern society and for underpinning individual wellbeing. Participation in arts and culture is instrumental in developing individual and collective creativity. This conference will hopefully inform how Roscommon embraces these ideas, and give them structure, and value for future generations.
Let there be no doubt – the Creative Ireland Programme will bring about real and substantial change. We expect Roscommon to be at the forefront of that change – and that means continued support of artists, creatives, events and initiatives – here on the ground – for the good of all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen – a huge amount of work has already been done under the ambit of the Creative Ireland Programme, but in truth this is just the beginning. We are doing something very ambitious – seizing a moment, responding to a widespread sense of hope in our country that with returning prosperity we can do better this time – that we can invest in ourselves, and especially in our children.
Soon after Hyde was elected as President of Ireland, Harry Kernoff, a leading Irish modernist painter, produced a design for a stamp that featured both George Washington and Douglas Hyde as the respective first presidents of their newly independent nations. This design – now in the National Gallery – emphasises Hyde’s role – often overlooked – as Ireland’s first first citizen.
Understanding Hyde is essential to understanding our distinct identity and culture. The Douglas Hyde Conference ensures Hyde’s legacy is not only perpetuated but also – as an expression of the cultural vitality of Roscommon since 1988 – is something of which you can be very proud. It is one of those golden threads that links Hyde with Roscommon, Hyde with modern Ireland, and now Hyde with Creative Ireland.