Why Do the Arts Matter so Much in Ireland?
A while ago an young American visitor commented to me how artistic activity – whether in music, dance, literature or the visual arts – really seem important to Irish culture. It felt to him that they were part and parcel of a vital culture and that unlike the USA, arts were not viewed as an elite activity. Creativity and the arts that flourish in its wake are for everyone. While there are some exceptions I would have to broadly agree with my young friend. Historically, there is the precedent of the Celtic Renaissance that rose in the push for Irish independence. This artistic flowering in the late 19th century gave the world the poetry of W.B.Yeats, the Abbey Theatre, Synge’s plays, Joyce’s novels and the art of AE as well as Jack Yeats.
The arts in Ireland really do play a vital part in life even if it begins and ends with learning to play the tin whistle. Many children are given the opportunity to learn Irish traditional music on the tin whistle or penny whistle. And while they may no longer cost a penny, this fine instrument was popular and is affordable to the mass population. Once you begin to get to grips with music then many of the other traditional arts such as dancing and singing follow on during a child’s early years education.
Crafts businesses were encouraged as ways of employment creation in past times, lacemaking being but one example. This looking towards crafts as a way of earning has created a visual arts climate that is practical and where ‘fine art’ and fine craft are closely allied.
Though it is no longer popular to have children learn poetry off by heart, literature has always played a large role in Irish life from the times of the Bards. It was the satire of the bards that was often considered the most lethal political weapon. Poetry still plays a large part in the publishing scene in in an island with less than ten million souls if you consider the number of book publishers noted on Poetry Ireland’s website.
Click on the link below to listen to the poetry, music and song that was offered up at Ballinamore, Leitrim’s Cultural Quarters last September for this rural community’s contribution to the global 100 Thousand Poets for Change event on 29th September 2012. This annual event, started in 2011 in California, rapidly took hold of the imagination of poets, musicians, artists, photographers in over 120 countries. In 2012 this small town in south Leitrim was one of over 800 events where poets and other artists from every genre gathered together to celebrate their aspiration for peaceful and sustainable change for the highest good of the whole globe.
Thanks to Tracy, Mouse, Emmett and Olivia who kept the kettle going and firing around cups of tea and plates of cake. They also donated the Cultural Quarters space for the event. We were also fortunate to have storyteller Susie Minto kick off the evening with a story from Kazakhstan which really embodies the spirit of peaceful and sustainable change theme of the evening. Angela McCabe, Eamon O’Reilly, Hilary Tully, Nararyan Toolan, Tina Rock and host Bee Smith contributed poetry to the evening. Paul Druse, Tony Cuckson, and Cristophe Lombardi gave us tunes. Del Richard and Joanne Lawrie sang their own protest song regarding Fracking (hydraulic fracturing of shale gas) which is happening worldwide and has raised environmental concerns in many countries.
Presiding over the proceedings was a wood carved sculpture of laurel and bog oak by Johnny Smyth of Síonnan, the goddess who gives her name to the River Shannon. Ballinamore being not that far from the source of the River Shannon, the Shannon Pot, this seemed very appropriate.
The evening showed how creativity and the arts plays a vital role in people living in Ireland who are not necessarily professional artists. This is activity that is good for the heart, inspirational for the soul and enlivening of the spirit. It’s not for an elite. It’s for everyone. Creative activity enriches a culture and can be foundational for peaceful and sustainable change.