Speech at the official opening of the Bloom Festival
Phoenix Park, Dublin, 31 May 2018
Is mór an phléisiúir dom a bheith anseo libh chun an t-aonú Féile Bloom déag seo a oscailt. Tá sé ina dhlúthchuid de saol sósialta na hÉireann agus is ionann oscailt Bloom agus tús an tsamhraidh.
Since 2007, Bloom has provided an opportunity to display the very best in Irish garden design and Irish-grown plants, and to demonstrate the skills of Irish professional horticulturists and landscape designers and all of the possibilities gardens and gardening offer to our citizens, as individuals and in communities. It has, over time, expanded to become an event in which visitors can also experience the diversity and success of Irish artisan food and drinks, from craft beer to gourmet cheeses. Then too there is also the opportunity to witness the creativity of Irish crafts and designs, so Bloom is special - ag freastail ar thrí thrá.
Bloom is now firmly established as the announcement of the Summer to come. All those of us who wish to discover and to admire our country’s wide variety of flowers and planets, fruits and vegetables, and food and drinks can flock to the Phoenix Park. Last year, Bloom attracted over 120,000 visitors. This is of course a tribute not only to the planning and foresight of the organisers, Bord Bia, or to the quality of the participants, but to the passion and interest of our citizens in our native horticulture. Bloom 2018 will feature 21 spectacular show-gardens, over 30 of Ireland’s top nurseries and florists, 100 Irish food and drink producers, cookery demonstrations from many of Ireland’s top celebrity chefs and some 100 retail stands.
Visiting Bloom provides a vital opportunity for all of us to reflect on the sustainability of our own actions, and our own mode of living, as individuals and as a national community. I am speaking not only of ecological sustainability, but sustainability in our economic and social life, and whether we can and will meet the challenge of providing necessary materials and environment to ensure human flourishing in its widest sense. As President, I am fortunate to meet so many of the community groups throughout our country dedicated to answering this challenge.
We are fortunate that Bloom is this year hosting 12 ‘Postcard Gardens’ designed and constructed by community groups and schools from many parts of our country. They are an inspirational example of sustainable communities in action and of the capacity of working the land and tilling the soil to enrich our lives. Each ‘Postcard Garden’ is a demonstration not only of acquired skills, but of the spirit of community, solidarity and companionship that any collective endeavour creates.
The production of food, drink and plants is also a deeply collaborative activity, bringing together those who labour in fields and in factories with those who promote and organise the market. We sometimes forget that such production is embedded in a wider ecosystem, one populated by a massive variety of flora and fauna, from microscopic bacteria, to worms in the soil, to pollinators such as the threatened bee, right up to the Red Deer, Ireland’s largest native mammal. It is vital that we conserve and enhance our biodiversity through appropriate landscape management, in our gardens and on our farms, through the appropriate planting of trees and plants and protection of our hedgerows and ditches, the vital corridors for nature.
I am so pleased that organisations such as An Taisce and Bird Watch Ireland are represented in the Conservation Area and that we are once again joined by Federation of Irish Beekeepers. I do not need to tell gardeners of the vital contribution made by pollinating insects such as honeybees, nor the many small steps that can be taken to make a garden pollinator friendly.
One of the most interesting recent developments has been the re-emergence, in recent years, of a movement of Irish artisan producers who have rediscovered the unique quality and taste of Irish produce, whether sourced from the land or the oceans. Artisan producers combine the traditional and the innovative, fusing together wonderful products made using traditional methods with exciting new ingredients. With so many artisan producers gathered here, Bloom provides a unique opportunity to discover and learn about the process of production itself. You can learn to trace how the food that we eat to the landscape and the importance of the ecology, and the work of the hands that bring it to our tables.
This year the artisans food section includes over 50 cheese-makers producing more than 150 types of cheese, with over 17 new cheeses developed in the past year alone. Every wheel of cheese, every keg of beer, every slice of smoked fish, has been carefully produced, fermented and seasoned by a person rather than a machine. Each artisan producer is passionate and proud about what they produce, especially where the whole family is involved.
Small food businesses are a vital element of our rural economy being not only important contributors to the sustainability but also the future prosperity of the Irish economy. They underpin the wider local community and the image of Ireland as a provider of high quality, innovative and sustainable food and drinks is an invaluable part of our image abroad.
Of course, the origin of this festival lies in its celebration of gardening, and important role as a showcase of Irish garden plants, garden design, and the nursing stock industry.
Amenity horticulture plays an important role in maintaining sustainable rural communities, generating a farmgate value of €71 million and employing thousands of people. Bloom has and continues to make a most profound contribution to the strength and growth of this sector, displaying creative garden designs which do not shy away from some of the great challenges of our time.
This year’s International Women’s Day focused on the rights and activism of rural women, so I was so pleased to see ‘A Woman’s Garden’, designed by Cornelia Raftery and sponsored by GOAL. It is a most fitting tribute to the endurance and resilience of rural women, particularly in Africa where women constitute the backbone of the rural economy. It joins a number of gardens which create spaces in which powerful themes can be expressed in partnership with organisations including the Marie Keating Foundation, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin.
May I take this opportunity to wish all of the garden designers in this year’s competition the very best. I would also like to congratulate all those who have worked behind the scenes to bring Bloom 2018 to fruition. In particular, I wish to commend Bord Bia and the event organisers for their massive efforts. I wish to acknowledge the support provided by the Office of Public Works in providing this splendid backdrop in the Phoenix Park, as well as to all the Government Departments, Semi-State Organisations and the Dublin Local Authorities and the many voluntary organisations that have combined to facilitate the smooth running of the event.
May I wish all those visiting over the next five days the best of wishes for what I know will be remembered by them as a most adventurous and inspiring experience.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh uile agus bainigí sult as an Féile agus bhur gcuid ama anseo i bPáirc and Fhionnuisce.