Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at a Bloomsday Garden Party 2022
Áras an Uachtaraín, Sunday, 12th June, 2022
May I say how welcome you all are this afternoon to Áras an Uachtaráin, as we commence our garden party season. While the first garden party of the summer is always a special occasion, this year’s one is a particular pleasure. The Áras garden parties, like so many other events across the country and indeed the world, had to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021 as we came together as a global community to meet the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus Pandemic. We are delighted to have been able to resume these gatherings this summer and to once more welcome so many of our citizens to come to the Áras and spend an afternoon enjoying this beautiful house and gardens.
Go traidisiúnta, bíonn an chéad chóisir ghairdín ar an lá is tábhachtaí ar fhéilire cultúrtha na hÉireann – Lá Bloom, a mbeidh ceiliúrtha ar fud na tíre an Déardaoin seo chugainn. Is é 2022 comóradh céad bliain foilsiú Ulysses, ag bronnadh tábhacht speisialta ar cheiliúradh Lá Bloom i mbliana.
Our first garden party traditionally marks that most important day on Ireland’s cultural calendar – Bloomsday, which will be celebrated around the country next Thursday. 2022 marks, of course, the centenary of the publication of Ulysses, granting a special significance to this year’s Bloomsday celebrations.
Celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses reminds us of why we must be very grateful to the independent publishers who provide such a vital service to our society by publishing the good, original, thought provoking and, indeed, often eccentric or idiosyncratic work that moves the world of literature forward and enables the discovery and emergence of new and exciting literary voices.
Many of you are here today, and may I take this opportunity to thank you for all you do for Irish society in terms of culture and the promotion of good literature.
The founding, by Sylvia Beach, of the first Shakespeare and Company at 12 Rue de l’Odéon in Paris in 1919 signified a critical moment in Ireland’s literary history. Two years later, as James Joyce struggled to find anyone willing to publish Ulysses, indeed when no English or American publisher would touch his manuscript, it was bookshop owner Sylvia Beach who saw its worth, and taking an enormous gamble sourced typists, subscribers, typesetters and printers in order to bring the now world renowned Ulysses to publication under the imprint of Shakespeare and Company.
Like so many independent publishers Sylvia had the genius that enabled her to view things in a very different way from mainstream publishers; a way that was experimental, creative and audacious. She was not guided by a desire to reach a huge audience, or motivated to publish something because it was financially viable and easy to market.
Indeed at this stage may I say how honoured we are to have Declan Kiberd with us today. Declan, acknowledging in his own words the irony that “a book which set out to celebrate the common man and woman” has “endured the sad fate of never being read by many of them, has written ‘Ulysses and Us’ an expert breakdown of the novel that will allow those whom the book celebrates to reclaim and enjoy it.
Sylvia took what many have called a significant risk on James Joyce, and that is something that many of our independent publishers here today will recognise. For you, publishing is a labour of love, prompted by a desire to identify and promote unusual treasures, to publish that which is unique and exceptional, to provide an outlet for new and different voices, to introduce readers to remarkable and diverse literary talents.
By remaining responsive to those different and original voices, and providing outlets for forms of literature whose audience may be niche, you protect the cultural space and the integrity of the artists who populate it. You publish the poetry, the drama, the untried forms of literary fiction which so enrich that space, and in doing so generously support many of those creatives who play such an important role in our democracy and in our culture.
May I also take this opportunity to thank those who own and manage the independent bookshops which are so important to the cultural life of our nation. Many of you have become deeply embedded into the communities in which you operate, not only selling books but also creating opportunities for engagement between writers and readers, or meeting points for book lovers or aspiring writers who wish to come together in a spirit of shared interest and mutual support.
Our independent bookshops are places in which customers become friends, returning loyally across years and decades, seeking out the books that may be unavailable elsewhere, or recommendations for further reading; they are spaces in which people congregate for readings, and launches, and book clubs and creative writing workshops, thereby bringing culture right into the centre of our communities, to be enjoyed by all. They are so much more than shops and agents of commerce, and they make an invaluable contribution to the development of Irish literature and the encouraging of emerging and innovative literary voices.
I am delighted that many independent bookshops are represented here today. You are most welcome and I am deeply grateful to you all for the valuable contribution you make to the sustaining and developing of Ireland’s literary life and heritage.
May I, at this point, extend a special welcome to Enrico Terrinoni, who last year published an Italian translation of Ulysses. It is both inspiring and remarkable to know that Leopold Bloom’s legendary walk around Dublin is enjoyed by readers around the world.
As always, Bloomsday for both myself and Sabina calls to mind Deirdre O’Connell who would have celebrated her 83rd birthday this week. As founder of the Focus Theatre, Deirdre played her own integral role in the cultural life of our nation. Indeed, I am sure many of you will have your own memories of Deirdre and her much loved and respected theatre. So today let us remember Deirdre and her generous artistic legacy.
May I conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you. A big thank you to Simon Morgan, Noel O’Grady, Camille O’Sullivan, Declan Kiberd, The Stunning and our MC Tommy Tiernan.
Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes.
On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Our thanks for the assistance of the Civil Defence, our friends from St. John of Gods, the Defence Forces, and our Gaisce volunteers.
Sabina and I hope you have a great afternoon. Enjoy the rest of your time here and thank you for coming.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.