Message by President Michael D. Higgins for the opening of Bloom 2020
Áras an Uachtaráin, 31 May 2020
I have so often described Bloom, together with the Ploughing, as perhaps the events Sabina and I enjoy most. Each year the Bloom Festival has always been such a joyous event, one that symbolises the beginning of summer, long, light-filled days, and all the pleasure and optimism that this time of year brings to us all.
Chuile Bealtaine, bailíonn na mílte duine, idir óg agus aosta, ó fud fad na tíre I bPáirc an Fhionnuisce le haghaidh Bloom, an ócáid íontach bliantúil sin do ghairíadóirí, ghairneoirí agus gach uile duine d'ar ndóigh muidne a bhfuil spéis acu i bplandaí, bia agus an dúlra. I mbliana, táimid ar fad beagáinín uaigneach toisc go bhfuil Bloom, san foirm is gnáthaí dúinn curtha ar ceall.
Each year Bloom attracts people from all generations, but particularly those who may have spent a lifetime working on their gardens, their plants, both indoors and outdoors. They will miss their annual visit.
While Bloom last year achieved well over 115,000 visitors to the festival in the Phoenix Park, this year will, of course, be very different. The COVID-19 pandemic, which for so many of our citizens has had such tragic personal and societal consequences, has also resulted in public health guidelines that require all mass social gatherings and festivities to be either cancelled, postponed or radically reimagined.
I am delighted that the organisers of Bloom have decided on a radical re-imagination, for the joys of nature and gardening, even if they cannot be celebrated collectively, have been one of the pleasures that the COVID-19 crisis has not taken away from us. As part of the simple pleasures of life, closest to nature, they have remained, and many people of all ages have responded to enforced physical distancing by immersing themselves in nature and gardening while they have stayed at home.
This June Bank Holiday weekend, the 'Bloom At Home' campaign aims to encourage the Irish public to come together virtually, while staying physically apart, yet remaining connected so that the experience of Bloom can be celebrated from home.
In addition to highlighting the joys and benefits of gardening and indigenous horticulture, Bloom has also, of course, become a platform for Bord Bia to promote the best of Irish artisan food, not only to raise awareness, but secure commitment around important issues such as climate change and sustainable food production.
'Bloom At Home' will continue to showcase these important topics, along with hosting and seeking your support for some of Ireland’s great charities and not-for-profit organisations which have been so negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
As well as being a social gathering of the year, providing us with a chance to appreciate the joys of gardening and horticulture, Bloom carries a moral message. It reminds us of the need to reflect on the sustainability of our own actions, and our own mode of living, be it as individuals, communities, or as a wider society.
A bit of news about Áras an Uachtaráin, home of the President of Ireland since 1938.
Last year I asked the OPW to commission a biodiversity audit of the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, to ensure that we had the information we needed to manage the grounds in the most sustainable and environmentally beneficial way. This is now underway, and a terrific team from Trinity College has been busy assessing the 130 acres of natural habitats and species diversity across the grounds – an area that contains organic kitchen gardens, formal manicured lawns and wilder, more natural areas.
This research will be made public at the conclusion of the audit later this year. It will boost our knowledge and help us to manage this publicly-owned space for this and future generations.
Sabina and I have gotten to know the grounds of the Áras very well in recent weeks, just as so many people across the country have become so familiar with their own immediate vicinities, be it gardens, balconies or neighbourhoods, as we have all been subjected to what has been described as our shared 'Corona bondage'.
Sabina has made many suggestions in recent years, including public sculpture and memorial trees, and they add to the visitor experience, as well as being important in themselves.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the crisis has been a new-found, or restored, consciousness of the abundance and vitality of nature over these past weeks, as the country slowed down to a quiet hush. The world has never been so quiet in our lifetimes perhaps, enabling us to hear the birds sing their dawn chorus more clearly than ever, and the pollinators have returned in greater numbers, for nature is, of course, oblivious to the crisis that has enveloped us.
There is a great reassurance in this, and a humility necessary that comes from the realisation of our place in the ecosystem, and appreciation for the resilience and renewal of nature, it encourages an acknowledgement that this dark chapter will eventually pass.
Another perverse, if positive, outcome of the crisis has been the reduced environmental pollution and harmful emissions that have resulted from the lockdowns across the globe.
The year 2020 is likely to be a year in which the lowest levels of greenhouse gases will be reported globally, perhaps for many decades. In so many cities of the world, smog has lifted, and the quality of the air has improved.
However, when the crisis is over and we return to our schools, colleges, offices and factories, we must ask ourselves, how can we ensure that we do not revert to where we were before the crisis unfolded?
Public support for environmental issues encourages me to believe that we will not. We cannot permit this to happen. Perhaps the good news is that a new form of collective enlightenment has emerged regarding our shared future on this vulnerable planet; that there is growing evidence that we all desire to follow the path to a just and ecologically sustainable future, with a sustainability in our economic and social life that allows for a nurturing environment which enables human flourishing in its widest sense.
I don’t need to remind gardeners, horticulturists and nature-lovers that you are custodians of the land, and that your actions play a huge role in helping Ireland to tackle the biodiversity and climate change challenges that remain our greatest existential threats; but we all must see our role in facing these challenges, and Bloom across the years has been a powerful educator in that regard.
I wish you all a most enjoyable summer in your gardens, in your fields, on your balconies, celebrating the joys of nature and the feel of the soil in your hands. Let us however think of those who do not have those opportunities. My heart has gone out to them during
COVID-19, and there are lessons for the State and the private sector to learn regarding the assumptions they heed as to what is appropriate housing and access to open space, particularly shared open space.
Guím gach rath ar Bloom 2020 agus oraibhse ar fad atá ag treabhadh libh in bhur ngairdíní, ar bhur mbalcóin nó in bhur gcomharsanacht ag déanamh bhur ndícheall roinnt áileacht nádúrtha a chothú bliain i ndiaidh bliana.