Generations of emigrants neglected, says cultural envoy Gabriel Byrne


IRELAND HAS neglected generations of emigrants and there is a disconnect between the people who live in Ireland and its diaspora abroad, actor Gabriel Byrne has said.

Byrne, who was appointed Ireland’s cultural ambassador in March, said his personal experience showed that Irish emigrants were often defined by their cultural identity and by the experiences of generations of emigrants who had gone before them.

Addressing a seminar organised by the Gateway Ireland Project, which seeks to unite the Irish diaspora through a global website, he said it was an “exciting development” which could help bridge the understanding between Irish people who live at home and those who live abroad.

Irish-Americans had a “fractured sense of identity”. They knew our past and shared the same history but there was a “disconnect” between the island of Ireland and those of Irish ancestry who lived abroad. “We are survivors, we have survived for a great extent through the people who went away,” he added.

Byrne told the gathering that the word “diaspora” meant the scattering of seeds in Greek which implied a flowering, but Ireland had “forgotten about the seeds that had gone away”.

“The seeds that have gone away have never forgotten about Ireland because Ireland is not just a place, it is a state of mind, it is part of your soul that you belong to,” he explained.

Byrne was appointed cultural ambassador for Ireland arising out of the Farmleigh forum last September where business, political and cultural leaders met to try to come up with ideas to plot a way out of the country’s economic difficulties.

He said that he was surprised at the number of doors it has opened for him already. “I have also had to learn a little bit of diplomacy,” he remarked.

Byrne believed there was a false conflict between the arts and business, with artists tending to vilify corporate thinking while business people suspected artists of lying around all day.

He said that artists were often in the vanguard and prepared the way for political and economic change, citing the example of the Celtic Twilight revival of the 1870s which led to a new sense of nationhood in Ireland and had long-term political consequences.

Artists and business people took similar risks and were looking for new markets for their products.

“If we can get business and the arts to sit down and see what they have in common, it would be an awful lot more than you think. They have so much to offer each other.”

Keynote speaker Simon Anholt said Gateway Ireland would help the international perception of Ireland which is slow to change as it is for many countries.

Anholt, an international expert in the perceptions of national identity, said the image of Ireland abroad was often old-fashioned and behind the times.

However, there was also a good side to it as the economic implosion in Ireland and the financial scandals would not have any impact on how foreigners saw the country.

He also explained that Irish people were “very good at being Irish” in constructing a perception for themselves abroad which foreigners could readily understand in a similar way that the Italians could do. It was something that very few countries in the world could do or get away it.

Kingsley Aikins of the Ireland Fund said Ireland should follow the example of India which has granted an Overseas Citizen of India status to 500,000 of the Indian diaspora living abroad.

Ireland in a click: Website aims to be first port of call for all things irish

A NATIONAL website for Ireland, one of the first of its kind for any country in the world, will be launched next St Patrick's Day.

The idea of a portal with economic, cultural, political and sporting links for Irish people at home and abroad and those interested in Irish issues arose out of the Global Economic Forum at Farmleigh last September.

A feasibility study which was funded by businessmen Denis O'Brien and Dermot Desmond and Riverdance founder John McColgan with support from Google and Facebook has been completed and the website, which has four full-time employees, will be developed in time for its global launch next March.

The Gateway Ireland website does not have a website address yet but Mr McColgan, the chairman of the Gateway Ireland advisory group, said he was talking to The Irish Timesabout which owns the domain name. He said it was the "obvious choice", but there were at least another half-dozen options they could use.

The website will have a series of global, language-specific "electronic embassies" which will be staffed by people who will translate content on the site into the language of that country. The website will be privately owned and run, but will be endorsed by the Government.