Address at the unveiling of ‘Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn’
Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday, 14 December 2017
Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom féin agus le Saidhbhín fáilte ó chroí a fhearradh romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin. Táimid bailithe le chéile inniu ar ócáid chomórtha an Éirí Amach, mar chéiliúradh ar an méid atá bainte amach againn mar thír agus mar náisiún ó shin i leith, agus i gcuimhne, chomh maith, ar an obair atá le déanamh againn fós chun cospóirí an Fhorógra a chur i gcríoch.
On behalf of Sabina and myself, let me thank you most sincerely for joining us on this joyous occasion, and thank you all for braving the elements for the unveiling of Rachel Joynt’s stunning work –
Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn. There were so many people involved in the creation of this work that we literally couldn’t fit you all in one room in the Áras so this event has been in two parts. Just before the unveiling I addressed over 170 children from seven schools in different parts of our Island, and now I have an opportunity to speak to all of you.
I particularly want to welcome those of you from the Bealtaine Writers’ Group and from the Lourdes Day Care Centre on Seán McDermott Street. You generously gave of your time to work with Rachel Joynt and poet Enda Wyley to share your memories and your perspectives on life in Ireland. Your words and thoughts are now sealed within the Sculpture to be pondered by the children of the 22nd century and your names, like those of each of the children who were with us earlier, will be forever etched on Dearcán na nDaoine.
I would also like to recall Elizabeth O’Carroll who chaired the Bealtaine Group’s input to this project. Sadly, Elizabeth died since the workshop. I welcome her husband Tom who is with us today and thank him for coming. I know that Elizabeth is dearly missed by her family and friends in the Bealtaine Group.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.
Since 2012 we have collectively been engaging in a period of reflection – the decade of commemoration - on the momentous events of a century ago that were to lead to an independent state, the partition of Ireland and eventually the birth of a republic.
As part of this reflection, Sabina and I decided that Áras an Uachtaráin, the seat of the President of Ireland, should mark these centenary commemorations, not only through the hosting of events - which we have done, but also in more permanent artistic interpretations of our contemporary reflection on the past. Next year, we will install an artwork commemorating the 1913 Lockout and today we recall the Easter Rising, with our beautiful new addition to the grounds.
What we sought was an appropriate and permanent tribute to the women and men whose effort and sacrifice contributed so much to Irish freedom and a symbol that would also serve as an inspiration towards realising the promise of a true republic, which remains a challenge for us all.
Today, I would especially like to welcome some of the relatives of the signatories of the proclamation, and of other participants in the Rising who have joined us for this occasion.
Tá fíor-chaoin fáilte rómhaibh a chairde agus tá súil agam go mbraitheann sibh go bhfuil Dearcán na nDaoine mar shiombal oiriúnach den fhís a leag bhur ngaolta ós ár gcomhair an Luan Cásca sin ós cionn céad bliain ó shin.
I hope that what we have achieved with this commemorative work is a fitting tribute to the memory and vision of the signatories of the Proclamation, and all those who stood with them. It is, I think, both an accolade to our shared past and a beacon for a brighter future.
All of us as citizens of Ireland are now living in a context that was shaped by the actions and vision of your ancestors, who with other men and women took to the streets on Easter Monday 1916 to make a demand for independence and to respond directly to the consequences of Imperialism in Ireland.
Those who participated were men and women who risked everything in their different ways, fighting for freedom and inspired by the declaration of a Republic, and the dream of a better, fairer future.
We should not forget that the rebels were a group that had a variety of talents but a shared belief in the independence of Ireland. Amongst their number were socialists, feminists, republicans, devout catholics, protestants, radicals and other ideologists compelled, in their different ways, to dream of an alternative existence to the subjugation of Irish people and their culture and they rejected the imposed deference to empire.
As my speeches last year emphasised, all of the participants in 1916 had come to perceive and recoil from what was a constant theme in the assumptions of the Imperialist mind: that those dominated in any colony such as Ireland were lesser in human terms, in language, culture and politics. The historical evidence for this view was all around, in the circumstances of housing, hunger, emigration, exclusion and language loss. The cultural freedom allowed was a freedom merely to imitate or ingratiate.
While the vision for the future of those we recall and honour today was set out in the Proclamation, it can, I think, only be viewed in retrospect as a challenge to succeeding generations. An ideal that was yet to be achieved.
It was such thoughts and reflections that drove Sabina and I to set down a challenge of our own to artists. This challenge was to capture, in the one work, the foundations we have been bequeathed by that revolutionary generation and those that succeeded it, the part that each of us are called upon, and have the opportunity, to play in our national story as we seek to achieve the promise and potential of the future – ár bhféidireachtaí gan teorainn.
To this end, in 2015 we invited renowned artists and sculptors to make proposals for such an artwork to be placed here in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Each of the sculptors was highly accomplished and all had reputations as exceptional artists who we were confident would bring reflective and imaginative ideas to this project.
We were delighted at the positive and enthusiastic response we received. Some of the fourteen artists who submitted proposals are with us today and I would like to thank you all for your engagement and for the truly wonderful and inspiring ideas that you put forward.
We realised from the beginning that choosing between all the profound but very different proposals would require the application of exceptional and experienced individuals who together could discern the most appropriate sculpture for its intended setting. We were so delighted that our first choice of Jury members to oversee this project responded positively to our invitation and gave freely of their time and of their energy.
The formidable minds and talents of Jenny Haughton, Robert Ballagh, Seán O’Laoire and Imogen Stuart were brought together and set to the task of making a very difficult choice, which involved several stages of consideration, interrogation and distillation. The Jury was expertly chaired by Catríona Crowe, under whose guidance this project ran so smoothly.
On behalf of Sabina and as President of Ireland, I would like to thank the jury most sincerely for all your efforts in this endeavour. I know that we set a very challenging brief for you and for the artists but we both think that you made an inspired choice. I hope it gives you much satisfaction to see the People’s Acorn having moved so successfully from concept to realisation.
I would also like to publicly thank the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology for facilitating the participation of Jenny Haughton and apologise to her students if she missed a lecture or two while we kept her busy.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank a small army of civil and public servants who have quietly and efficiently contributed to the successful execution of this project. Much like the entire 2016 commemoration programme, this project has been a demonstration of the very best of our public service and of our public servants. Officials from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht not only helped to secure the funding for the project, but also assisted greatly in its administration.
Go raibh maith agaibh uile.
Our partners in the Office of Public Works were on hand to provide crucial advice and guidance to the Jury on procurement, planning, landscaping, architecture and horticulture. OPW staff oversaw the planning process and worked closely with Rachel’s team during the installation. Like much of what we do at Áras an Uachtaráin, the OPW was vital at every stage of the process.
Gabhaim buíochas leo agus molaim iad.
We are so pleased that the Broadcasting Unit from the Houses of the Oireachtas agreed to record the development of this project from the very start. We have been posting video clips from the workshops with the children and older participants, and of each stage of Rachel’s creative work on the piece, to the installation on the grounds here and even today’s proceedings. I understand that the final programme will be broadcast on Oireachtas TV and we have seen a teaser here earlier.
Ár mbuíochas ó chroí don Ionad Chraolúcháin.
I would also like to thank our own staff here in the Áras for their work on this project and, of course, to the whole team of people who work in Áras an Uachtaráin for making days like today such a success.
Maidir leis an obair féin, Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn. Ní féidir liom a rá ach go bhfuil muid thar a bheith sásta leis.
Rachel Joynt is such a gifted artist and we were familiar with her work for many years. Her idea captured beautifully what we had asked for.
I commend you, Rachel, for this wonderful piece and I thank you.
I also salute Enda Wyley, a fellow poet, for her contribution to this work and thank her most sincerely for the part she played today.
Leo Higgins and the staff at Cast Foundry brought Rachel’s dreams to reality and I thank you all for that. The staff of Saxa Landscaping and Nicholas O’Dwyer Consulting Engineers made sure that the sculpture was expertly installed and will remain accessible to visitors for centuries to come.
As I mentioned earlier, the detail of all this work and the craftsmanship involved has been captured on video. Rachel has also produced a publication and a poster for the children which gives the context of this public art commission and tells the story of Rachel’s idea, the input of the hundreds of children and adults and it also details the creative and fabrication process. It is so important to capture these things. A Dublin based company – Language – helped Rachel to design and produce these documents and I salute them on their excellent work.
I can think of no better soundtrack to this day than that we have already heard and what is promised for later. The uileann pipes,
na píobaí uileann which in Ireland we have taken for granted as a profound acoustic connection to our musical past and a medium of contemporary cultural and artistic expression, have now been recognised by UNESCO and added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
We have heard the pipes wonderfully played by Gay McKeon, Joseph Byrne and Jacqui Martin.
Gabhaim buíochas libh a chairde táimid ag tsnúth le tuilleadh uaibh ar ball.
We are also honoured to be joined by two women who are no less than icons of music in Ireland. We are delighted that Mary Coughlan, Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor are with us today and have agreed to perform for us in a little while. Thank you both most sincerely.
In regard to Dearcán na nDaoine - The People’s Acorn, I will let Catríona Crowe reflect more fully on the piece itself. Suffice to say that in our opinion, it is truly beautiful. Given its symbolism, it is highly appropriate that Rachel chose to involve hundreds of citizens, young and old, in the execution of her plan and gave them the opportunity to include their stories and their ideas in the final artwork.
Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn will now stand in Áras an Uachtaráin as a permanent testament to our shared journey towards a Republic where we all have a place and of which we all can feel proud.
Gabhaim buíochas libh ar fad as teacht inniu agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taithneamh as an gcuid eile den lá.