Douglas Hyde conference: Galway suffering from ‘economic success’
Without artists ‘there can be no sense of a life lived beyond limiting, stifling boundaries’
Garry Hynes: she said her view of the world was “shaped by my first experience of it in Ballaghaderreen for the first six years of my life”
Galway is an example of places that “suffer greatly from economic success”, Druid artistic director Garry Hynes has said.
Areas of the city were derelict when the theatre company moved there in 1979 and when Alec Finn of the De Danann group opened the Quays Bar.“Now you cannot walk down there. It’s a no-go area from May to September,” she said.
She was speaking at the Douglas Hyde conference in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.
Ms Hynes, who grew up in the town, said her view of the world was “shaped by my first experience of it in Ballaghaderreen for the first six years of my life. So forever and since and to this day when I go to my head for images or ideas they all take place in the landscape of Ballaghaderreen.”
She and her nephew Fergal Hynes recently met the local “town team” in Ballaghaderreen to discuss ways in which it and the locality could be rejuvenated.
“Everyone can see Ballaghaderreen, as a place, is suffering under economic decline” she told the conference.
Brought back life
Reflecting on Tuscany, Umbria and the heel of Italy, she said “they have brought back life in imaginative ways, through restaurants, hotels, the food industry; things we are beginning to know how to cherish in Ireland”.
Unlike Galway, “Ballaghaderreen is a planned town. It has kept its shape as a classic Irish market town”.
More generally, it was her belief that “to reinstall a sense of place we have to look at more than factories or new industry, important as these may be”.
Arts Council director Orlaith McBride recalled at the conference how the centrality of art in Irish national life was “jettisoned at the foundation of the State” despite “a moment at the start of the 20th century when artists were immensely important in our national conversation”.
The cultural focus “which Douglas Hyde himself embodied, and which he understood as a unifying force, was never central to what emerged after 1922. His own resignation as president of the Gaelic League in 1915 anticipated the narrowness of vision which materialised.”
Hyde becoming Ireland’s first president in 1938 “was balm for lingering national bitterness” but “it never fulfilled the potential of culture to reimagine our society”.
Without art, she said, “there is no republic”. Without artists “there can be no sense of a life lived beyond limiting, stifling boundaries. Without culture there is no community, only unconnected settlements subsisting in isolation.”
Donald Trump and Brexit were “the phenomena of angry people, tired of waiting on-hold, no longer believing the repeated message that ‘your call is important to us’, and slamming down the phone.”
Empowerment, “essential in citizenship, comes from culture. It enables our participation in a technological age, which unchallenged only insidiously manipulates passivity.”
Culture “expresses our values in denominations other than metrics or money. It is freedom of speech, without which there is no citizenship. Without citizenship, there is no republic. And there is no republic without art.”