Cultural institutions


Sir, – That was a strange letter from Robert Ballagh (January 10th) with his “No Irish need apply” comment thrown in.

I presume he would not apply his observations to the London-born duo of Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir or indeed to the American-born Éamon de Valera. I doubt too that he would apply it to Edinburgh-born James Connolly or Liverpool’s Jim Larkin.

This Monday we will mark the centenary of the Democratic Programme agreed by the First Dáil, principally written by that patriotic servant of Ireland, the Liverpool-born Thomas Johnson.

My own father was born in England. I am very glad that he came to Ireland to live and dedicate his entire working life to the country.

We should welcome diversity while celebrating our own culture. They are not mutually exclusive. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.

Sir, – The letter sent to the Minister for Culture, the Arts Council and the board and directors of the abbey theatre by theatre practitioners of course merits serious consideration across a wide range of stakeholders.

I am, however, quite dismayed to read Robert Ballagh’s letter regarding the nationalities of various heads and directors of what he calls “national cultural institutions”. I have no doubt that Mr Ballagh understands very well that Ireland has a number of designated “National Cultural Institutions”, and I am equally sure that he knows, for example, the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork (an aforementioned National Cultural Institution) is run by, to use his own language, an Irishwoman. So, at best he is simply incorrect when he says “no Irish need apply”.

Mr Ballagh doesn’t limit himself to the non-Irish-born in National Cultural Institutions however, decrying the positions in other arts and cultural organisations such as the Gate Theatre, NCAD, etc, held by UK-born directors. By this logic leading Irish directors in the UK (and beyond) should then all be sent packing home to Ireland. The Wigmore Hall and the Edinburgh International Festival, to name just two, would be much the poorer for it.

More importantly, at a time when the world is experiencing a deeply disturbing rise in the very worst of the extremes of nationalism and tribalism in the age of Donald Trump and Brexit, I am truly depressed to read such a letter from one of our most (rightly) celebrated artists. The concerns raised in the letter sent to the Abbey have nothing to do with where its directors were born, and in my view this kind of rhetoric does a disservice to the Irish “cultural values” of which Mr Ballagh speaks. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – Robert Ballagh makes a perfectly reasonable point in asking why so many of Ireland’s cultural institutions are run by outsiders – it’s a valid perspective to want to keep vital national roles for citizens. However, it’s also entirely logical for it to be argued that we value our cultural institutions so highly that we seek the best and the brightest from wherever in the world to oversee and steward these precious assets.

Further, Mr Ballagh’s maxim may very well militate against talented Irish individuals on the international stage. Indeed, to emphasise his discomfort with the present situation, he points out that the Abbey’s directors are Scottish. If Scotland took on board Mr Ballagh’s logic, then we would not have the directors of both the Edinburgh Fringe and International Festivals – Scotland’s two key cultural roles – run by Irish nationals. – Yours, etc,