Wednesday, 16th June, 2021
On this date, 16th June, every year we honour and remember the great and groundbreaking work of twentieth century literature that is James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ulysses is, of course, Joyce’s re-imagining of an ancient myth recrafted into a unique work that was courageous, mould breaking and would change the path of 20th century literature.
We sadly lost, early last year, Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson and his last surviving direct descendant. Stephen, who had recently become an Irish citizen, was of course the subject of Ecce Puer, one of Joyce’s most beautiful poems. Stephen’s passing has, perhaps, emboldened us to value even more the wonderful writings of James Joyce; writings that will be his lasting and enduring legacy to humanity.
Today, and for the second time, we must come together virtually to celebrate Bloomsday. We have, this past year, been through our own strange odyssey, a journey which has so often challenged us to look at the familiar in new ways, often rediscovering joy and possibilities in unexpected places.
It has been a time during which we acknowledged the fundamental role of the arts in our lives, cultural gatherings continuing to unite us in imaginative and unusual ways.
In acknowledging that fundamental role we are also, of course, obliged to recognise the profound contribution that those who work in the Arts make to our society, a contribution that has not always been given the recognition for its vital contribution to our lives.
Our artists and all those who work in the cultural sphere are among those who have suffered most during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
As silence fell across our theatres and galleries, as our concert halls became deserted, the disappearance of such vital workers from the public world became a real and imminent danger.
So many amongst our artistic community have fought back courageously, ensuring in many inventive ways that outlets for cultural engagement remained available. In doing so they have demonstrated the generous breadth of the cultural space and the rich capacity of the arts to unite us in the most challenging of circumstances.
As we mark and honour the pioneering work of literature that was Ulysses, let us do so by resolving to seize a golden opportunity to commit to supporting our artistic community, recognizing the critical role they have played in creating solidarity during this groundbreaking moment in global history.
Sadly, Covid 19 restrictions have thrown a harsh spotlight on the precarious and uncertain circumstances in which so many of our artists exist, devoid of the dignity, financial security or freedom from fear that is the right of all citizens.
As we slowly emerge from the Coronavirus Pandemic and set about the work of rebuilding and recrafting our society, we must enable our creative community to feel their place in that society is respected, is assured. In imagining and realising a post pandemic future, it is my great hope that it will be one shaped to accommodate and value the Arts, acknowledging their necessary and immeasurable contribution to our society.
Bloomsday is also, of course, an opportunity to reflect on the rich artistic legacy that continues to profoundly influence our artistic world today. Here at the Áras we always remember on 16th June the late Deirdre O’Connell whose birthday occurs on this day and who, as founder of the Focus Theatre, played an integral role in the world of Irish theatre. This year we also remember her fellow founder member and dear friend Tom Hickey who sadly died last month. Sabina and I were privileged to have such friends, we remember them both today, and the indelible imprint they have left on Irish theatre and on our lives.
May I conclude by thanking the talented performers with whom we are sharing this occasion: Brenda McSweeney, Barry McGovern, Margaret Toomey, Noel O’Grady, Eavan Gaffney, Clinton Liberty, John Feeley and Fran O’Rourke.
I hope that all will enjoy these presentations by our artists of whom we are so proud and to whom we are most grateful.
I wish you all a most enjoyable Bloomsday.