Higgins arrives in Brittany for Celtic festival

Tribute to Heaney and parade of Celtic nations will be hightlights of the event

President Higgins with his wife Sabina on an official visit to Festival Interceltique de Lorient, France, and to First World War commemorations in Liege and Mons, Belgium. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

President Higgins with his wife Sabina on an official visit to Festival Interceltique de Lorient, France, and to First World War commemorations in Liege and Mons, Belgium. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

President Michael D Higgins arrived in Lorient in Brittany yesterday as guest of honour at the Festival Interceltique’s “Year of Ireland”.

Culture Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs have each provided €30,000 to support the festival.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht helped festival organisers contact Irish artists.

Mr Higgins’s attendance is the result of his personal friendship with France’s socialist defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Mr Higgins and Mr Le Drian struck up a friendship when they were mayors of Galway and Lorient respectively.

Lorient has been twinned with Galway since 1975.

The highlights of 10 events in which Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina will participate will be the Glanmore gala concert, dedicated to the memory of Seamus Heaney, tonight, and the parade of Celtic nations tomorrow.

Seamus and Marie Heaney moved to Glanmore, in Wicklow, in 1972.

Mr Higgins has chosen to read Heaney’s poem The Given Note, about a fiddler on the Blasket islands who retrieves the fairies’ tune “out of wind off mid-Atlantic”.

Piper

Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn and his quartet will play at tonight’s concert.

Rock group The Strypes, Mary Black, the Dublin Legends, Dervish and the New Ross Pipe Band will perform during the 10-day festival.

Mr Higgins visited the National Maritime Museum and the French East India Company Museum at the Citadelle de Port Louis in Lorient yesterday.

He will open the “Galway, Gateway to Connaught, Dream of Stone” exhibition of contemporary art at the Le Faouedic gallery this morning.

Veteran Galway artist and gallerist Jane Talbot will guide Mr Higgins through the exhibition, in the presence of Galway’s recently elected mayor Donal Lyons.

Mr Higgins will visit the Irish pavilion and stands, where he will sample Irish beef prepared by the local chef Matthieu Fontaine.

Lieut Commander Bernard Heffernan will hold a reception for Mr Higgins on board the LE Niamh, the third largest of eight Irish naval vessels.

Resurgence

After the Grande Parade des Nations Celtes tomorrow, Mr Higgins will meet local GAA members – all of whom are French – at Pádraig Larkin’s Galway Inn.

The GAA is undergoing a resurgence on the continent. Half of France’s 20 GAA clubs are in Brittany. Mr Larkin, who is from Galway, has lived in Lorient for more than three decades.

This 44th Interceltic festival is expected to receive 700,000 visitors over 10 days. Ireland was honoured twice before, in 1999 and 2005.

Irish ambassadors to Paris attended in the past, but Mr Higgins’s visit is the first by a high-ranking official from Dublin.

Azilez Gouez, the Breton chief speechwriter Mr Higgins hired last year, has travelled with him.

Mr Le Drian extended a personal invitation to Mr Higgins when they met at a ceremony honouring Mr Higgins at the Arc de Triomphe last year.

The two men dined together last night and Mr Le Drian will see Mr Higgins off at Lann-Bihoué airport when he departs for first World War commemorations in Liège and Mons, Belgium, tomorrow.