Here’s an extract from an article that Mick Heaney wrote in today’s Irish Times. I thought I’d share it with you.
” As befits a man who values his poetic vocation as highly as his political ideals, President Michael D Higgins used his inauguration to deliver a speech which fused his two driving passions into a stirring vision of the Ireland he wishes to preside over.
It would be a nation where the “seedbed of creativity” not only enriched our culture but also society and even the economy. The new President praised Irish efforts in the realms of progressive idealism and artistic imagination, speaking of “our humanitarian, peace-building and human rights work”, in the same breath as those creative achievements which have “helped us cope with adversity, soothed the very pain which they describe so well, and opened the space for new possibilities”.
It was, in short, a clarion call that placed the arts at the very centre of Irish public life, an aspiration symbolised by his own election as head of State. But while the victory of such a culturally attuned figure provides an antidote to the fetishistic materialism of the boom, Higgins’s arrival in Áras an Uachtaráin also sends out a misleading signal.
Despite the assiduously cultivated notion that Ireland is a country where culture and politics enjoy a symbiotic relationship, our artistic and political worlds largely exist in a state of mutual misapprehension. Despite sharing a highly visible and growing interface over the past four decades, the two arenas have little in common. Much as CP Snow characterised humanities and science as “two cultures” incapable of understanding each other, so politics and the arts in Ireland remain separate, uncomprehending realms.
Given the historical precedents, this might sound odd. Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, was a pioneering figure in the Celtic revival, the cultural renaissance that inspired many of leaders of the Easter Rising: as Higgins pointed out during the presidential debate on TG4, four of the seven signatories of the 1916 declaration were poets.
More recently, politics and the arts have seemed more intertwined than ever. Since the 1960s, Ireland has become nearly as famous for its pioneering measures in nurturing artists as for its imaginative output. And only last month, at the Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh, politicians and artists were asserting the importance of culture in regenerating the country.
But the relationship between politicians and artists is ambivalent at best. Trumpeting artistic achievements may be a de rigueur exercise for Irish politicians, but it is a recent development, driven as much by self-interest as any cultural awareness… ”
The article continues – read the rest of it in the paper or you can see it on The Irish Times website.