President and Sabina host a Concert Celebrating Irish Music Month 2024

Wed 3rd Jul, 2024 | 17:00
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech by President Higgins at a Garden Party & Concert to Celebrate Irish Music Month 2024

Áras an Uachtaráin, Wednesday, 3rd July, 2024

“Where Musical Inspiration Meets Creativity in Local Radio”

A cháirde,

Cuirim fáilte roimh chách oíche inniu do cheolchoirm speisialta an Uachtaráin, ár gcóisir ghairdín dheireanach den séasúr 2024, anseo ar thalamh Áras an Uachtaráin, baile Uachtarán na hÉireann ar fad ó 1938.

May I say how welcome all of you are this evening for this special Presidential Concert, here in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin home of all Presidents of Ireland since 1938, at what is our final Garden Party of the 2024 season.

Sabina and I are so pleased that you who have joined us from the length and breadth of the country. Whether you are a musician or a music lover, our wish is that you all have a most enjoyable time.

May I take this opportunity to thank Niall Stokes from Hot Press – a magazine for which I wrote a regular column from 1982 to 1992 – who is present this evening for all his vital and passionate work over the years promoting Irish music, for his assistance in particular with organising today’s concert and indeed for his continued involvement with Irish Music Month which this year takes places in September.

This is the third year that the Irish Music Month will run. The initiative, backed by 21 local radio stations from all over the country, working with Hot Press, an initiative taken with imagination supported by Coimisiún na Meán through the Sound & Vision scheme, has been a great success and is to be welcomed with open arms, demonstrating how strong, how varied and just how extraordinarily rich our musical talent is in Ireland right now.

A key raison d’être of Irish Music Month is to promote Irish music through a significant increase in the radio airplay of indigenous music throughout the month, across all 21 participating stations, with a New Local Hero Award now a central element of the initiative.

I am delighted to hear that last year’s winner of the New Local Hero Award, Brad Heidi, went to Number 1 in the Irish Breakers Chart with his single “Don’t Let Go”, a song that was strongly supported across all of the participating stations.

May I say that I particularly welcome the renewed commitment this year to ensuring gender-balance amongst those musicians featured in Irish Music Month, as well as the significant increase in Irish music which will be played by participating radio stations.     In combination with the mentoring and advice being provided as part of this year’s New Local Hero competition, these initiatives will ensure that a wide range of dynamic Irish musicians will receive the airplay their work deserves.

This evening we seek to recognise and to celebrate the many different groups, organisations and individual citizens who, through generations, have contributed so much, and continue to do so, to making and delivering Irish music, whether that be as musicians, songwriters, singers, composers or the many who work in the wider music sector, including in Irish radio. 

The love of, and enthusiasm for, sharing Irish music and song has become so deeply ingrained into our Irish culture. It is of us and yet it is of the world.

Music is art, perhaps the greatest of all the arts in terms of its impact, its universality. The gift of song-writing, that craft of making new music that connects, resonates with us, with the human condition, is truly one of the great art forms. 

The importance and respect that we give to our song-writing and our music, our willingness to extend the ability to use the tools and techniques of melody, harmony, lyrics, and form that lie behind so many great songs and pieces of music, is a defining feature of our Irishness. 

Occupying a special place in Ireland, music runs to the essence of our society and is a crucial part of our national identity, culture and heritage, sitting at the nexus of both how we see ourselves, and how the world sees us. It also forms an important economic sector.

While song-writing and the playing of musical instruments have techniques that can be learnt, yet beyond such skills that lie behind the bringing into being and performing of new music, the best music can so often also be the result of a certain intangible alchemy, a magic that stirs the heart as well as the head.

We are so fortunate to have so many gifted musicians, singers and songwriters in this country and all of us gathered here this evening are fortunate that so many of them have agreed to perform here this evening. I thank them all for being with us, sharing their craft and providing us with such memorable music.

I am always deeply inspired to witness the continued growth of the Irish musical family, the new artists now coming to the fore across so many genres and indeed combining genres – from rock and pop, to folk, roots, electronic, rap, hip-hop, and of course our traditional music, that indigenous music of the island that has remained vibrant through the 20th and into the 21st century, despite the homogenising effects of globalising cultural forces.  

Today the diverse cultural backgrounds of so many of our young Irish musicians are helping to forge new strands in Irish music, intertwining their own musical heritage with established Irish forms. This is how Irish music evolves, and develops, constantly reflecting, in this powerful dynamic, the changing society with which it engages.

Today we also celebrate the contribution of our local and community radio stations. When the Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC) introduced a community radio pilot project in 1995, issuing licences to community groups across the country, it was my sincere hope that these new stations would succeed. 
When I appointed the second board of the IRTC in 1993 as the then Minister for Arts and Culture, I suggested that consideration would be given to developing community radio in Ireland. 

I am delighted to see that after many years of piloting and licensing of community radio services by the IRTC and its successors, community radio, which was ultimately provided for on a legislative basis in the Broadcasting Act 2009, is thriving. 

A central theme of my Presidency has been the importance of discourse, the means by which the exchange of ideas can take place within a community. I believe that the level and quality of how ideas are exchanged and discussed in society is critical to the health of democracy and to the capacity of society to resolve its difficulties and to build a more hopeful future. 

So much of our culture and our communications is in danger of being debased by commercialism and the reduction of information to the level of a commodity which can be priced, bought and sold. More generally we are living through a period in which the discourse is overwhelmingly one of militarism and warmongering, where the notion of peace is seen by some as a naïve utopian ideal. 

Local and community radio can play a huge role in changing the prevailing discourse towards one that seeks peace, one that eschews the bellicose language of war as an inevitability.

Local and community radio is an important example of something rich and vital – the value of communication in society for its own sake, an enriching communication that can be emancipatory. Local radio can help us to rebuild in Ireland a real republic worthy of the name, reconnecting the various discourses in our society, reconnecting our considerations of politics and economics with considerations of ethics and community.

Tá radio áitiúil fíor bhthabhlach i saol muintir na tíre.  Local and community radio stations provide a unique social benefit to the communities they serve, allowing for community access and participation, allowing too for the output of each station to reflect the special interests and needs of its listenership. The support of the radio stations for the Irish language, the arts, Irish music and local community groups is invaluable. The standard of programming is so often exceptional, especially considering the budgets available.

May I acknowledge and thank John Purcell, of KCLR FM and Chair of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, who has been a real champion of Irish Music Month and, indeed, of the public service aspect of what independent radio stations all over Ireland do. 

In addition to the thousands employed throughout the country in radio as well as the thousands who volunteer in community radio, more than 13,000 people are directly employed in the wider music industry itself, making it a significant contributor to Ireland’s economic well-being. Ireland’s music sector is worth close to €1 billion annually to the economy. 

It is important, however, that music, like all art forms, is not viewed as merely a tool of commerce or something that can be readily monetised or commodified, but rather is recognised as having its own integrity and independence, and as an essential component of a democratic society that makes a profound contribution to that society and to our international reputation.

Like many other sectors, music has been impacted in recent years – as a result not just of technological changes, but as a result of the Covid pandemic when artists and cultural practitioners in particular were impacted so gravely – with lost opportunities for performance, concerts and festivals forgone, and of course, we recall the many artists we lost so tragically whom we remember today with great fondness. 

We lost many of the most cherished and influential members of the Irish music community in recent years, and the past 12 months have been particularly tragic in this regard with the passing of Sinéad O’Connor, Christy Dignam, Mark Sheehan, Charlie Lennon, Shane MacGowan and so many more. May I take this opportunity to welcome Shane’s wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, who I’m delighted is with us today.

The influence of those artists lost lives on, in a new generation of musicians.   Many who were influenced by those great artists who have now passed, but also informed by their own personal circumstances and perspectives, continue to push the boundaries of what Irish music can be.

During that difficult, recent chapter of our shared lives when we endured the consequences of a pandemic, which endangered the cultural space and the livelihoods of those who work within it, I was greatly inspired by the many imaginative and inventive ways in which our artistic community continued to forge a positive path, working at the daunting task of expressing the fears and the anxieties, as well as the hopes and the dreams of our people.    

It has also been encouraging to witness the generous and enthusiastic support from our citizens, which has been a testament to the importance of artistic work during particularly challenging and worrying times. The sheer abundance of live performances in recent summers across the country, attracting crowds in their tens of thousands, is a testament to the special place that music holds for us as a people, how much we enjoy the shared, often transcendent, experience of a great live gig.

The digital world has changed music profoundly – how we discover, listen to and access music and, in particular, how artists can earn a living from their music have all been changed utterly by technological changes. Yet global trends are showing how today, 25 years after the first online music-sharing application appeared, we are seeing a musical rebound, both nationally and internationally. Music shops are reopening, there is a resurgence of interest in vinyl records, live performances are thriving, and many are choosing to work in all areas of the music sector that once again provides fulfilling and exciting careers. 

We see, too, new, exciting, innovative artists emerging all the time. Music, like all great art forms, is irrepressible. It will always find a creative outlet and a rapt audience.

May I thank this evening’s artists for giving us the gift of their performance: The Celtic Hotclub, Negro Impacto, Brad Heidi, Susan O’Neill, Aby Coulibaly, Shobsy, HamsandwicH, and Dermot Kennedy. 

I take this opportunity to thank today’s MC Trishanua Archer for doing such a wonderful job, and Philip Sweeney, Joe Bean and the crew from Arcana for the superb sound they have made possible in facilitating our performers and musicians throughout this year’s garden party season.

Today would not have been possible without the efforts of all the Áras and OPW staff who have worked tirelessly to make sure that this, our last garden party, would be such a success and so enjoyable. I thank them as well as our friends in St John of God’s, the Gardaí and our Civil Defence colleagues for their part in making today such a joyful, happy occasion for us all.

Mar fhocal scoir, bain taithneamh as an cheoil, thank you all, once again, for joining Sabina and I for this very special President’s Concert.