Speech by President Michael D. Higgins Presentation of IFTA ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’
Mansion House, Dublin, 15th February 2018
May I commence by thanking IFTA for inviting me to present tonight’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, and commending them for their valuable work in recognising and rewarding the many talented and creative people who contribute so much to Ireland’s reputation on the international stage.
Tonight I am delighted to have the opportunity to be associated with your acknowledgment of the work of an actor who has made an outstanding contribution to film and stage and has also been an outstanding ambassador for Ireland, not only through his gifted screen and stage performances, but also through his passionate advocacy for the Arts in all their forms.
Gabriel Byrne’s talents first came to the notice of the homes of Ireland through television. Sown in the fields and farmyards of the iconic Irish television drama ‘The Riordans’, from that rich soil his reputation grew and flourished. From a training in some of the great sources of talent, for example the Focus Theatre, Gabriel went on to significant roles in films such as ‘Defence of the Realm’, ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ which established him as one of Ireland’s most successful and internationally respected actors.
Gabriel’s great artistic range and the affective command he brings to every role, whether playing a morally corrupt anti-hero, a well-loved literary giant, a legendary King, an Irish traveller or any of the many roles to which he has brought his unique and distinctive talent, have made a significant contribution to Ireland’s legacy in the world of film.
Gabriel’s ability to fully embody his character, to push their limits, dig deeply into their emotions, explore their vulnerabilities has gifted us with performances that ring with authenticity and invite us to a truth that is emancipatory of feeling. He is an actor unafraid to experiment, to innovate as he challenges and provokes audiences whilst bringing them to new understandings of our human struggles.
Gabriel Byrne’s spirit of transformative thinking, and the moral courage that drives it, extends beyond his film career. I read a description once of Gabriel as someone who ‘agitates with a passion to take on oppressors of humanity and culture far and wide’. That is a very apt description of a man who has always been a brave and outspoken advocate for justice in its many forms; speaking out on behalf of the homeless and the impoverished, asking the difficult questions that are so often the necessary prelude to bringing about positive change and the creation of spaces of culture that can be shared by all.
Our paths have crossed most recently in the appreciation of Eugene O’Neill and George Bernard Shaw.
Irish culture is fortunate to have the privilege of being able to claim Gabriel Byrne as ‘one of our own’ and I take great personal pleasure in presenting him with this greatly deserved award tonight.