As we approach St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th March, Irish people around the world prepare to celebrate our National Day. The Irish diaspora is one of the largest globally, and while most people associate it with countries like the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Irish footprint is far more significant than that. The founder of the Argentinian navy, William Brown was Irish-born; the liberator of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins was of Irish descent as were the Spanish Prime Ministers Ricardo Wall and Leopoldo O’Donnell and the French President Patrice de MacMahon. Indeed, in neighbouring Bulgaria the Irish journalist, James Bourchier, has both a boulevard and a metro station named after him, because of his support for that State through his articles in the Times of London in the early part of the last century.
We are very proud that Irish writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature on four occasions – William Butler Yeats (1923); George Bernard Shaw (1925); Samuel Beckett (1969); and Seamus Heaney (1995). Apart from those, a number of Irish writers have also achieved international renown from Jonathan Swift to James Joyce and from Maria Edgeworth to Emma Donoghue. Indeed one famous Irish writer – who never actually visited Romania – Bram Stoker, wrote of a vampire named Dracula whose castle was in Transylvania.
The Irish impact is not confined to politics, journalism or indeed to military men. Irish music and dance are popular throughout the continent of Europe and beyond. The successes of musical groups like U2, the Cranberries and Divine Comedy and of solo acts such as Sinéad O’Connor and Enya speak of the significant talent that has emerged from a small nation perched on the edge of Europe. For those who enjoy Irish music and dance, the spectacular show “Lord of the Dance” will be staged at a number of venues in Romania in mid-April this year. In Bucharest Irish dance is fostered and developed all-year-round by a school of Irish dance called STEYsha. As well as teaching local people of all ages Irish dancing, the STEYsha school also organises an annual international Irish dancing competition which brings in competitors from quite a number of neighbouring countries. As part of our St. Patrick Day celebrations this year, STEYsha will be performing at ParkLake Mall at lunchtime on Saturday, 17th March.
It is through the Embassy’s cultural programme that we reach out to the Romanian people. This year, in the lead-up to and over St. Patrick’s Day, the Embassy placed short extracts of work by contemporary Irish poets in a number of metro stations around Bucharest. We included works by the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney along with extracts from the poems of Paula Meehan, Brendan Kennelly, Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon. The works appear in Romanian with translations provided by a number of Romanian poets, including Mircea Dinescu, Mihai Ursachi, Cezar Baltag, Marin Sorescu and Ana Blandiana.
The contribution of Irish literature to raising the profile of Ireland in Romania is not confined to poetry. It also extends to novels and in particular to the work of James Joyce. Joyce’s most famous novel – Ulysses – is based on the events of one day in Dublin, June 16, 1904. On that date every year Irish people and Joycean scholars throughout the world celebrate “Bloomsday” – named after the novel’s central character, Leopold Bloom. This year the Embassy hopes to celebrate Bloomsday in Cluj in conjunction with the Babes-Bolyai University. We also plan to display the Embassy’s Joyce exhibition there and at other universities including Ovidius in Constanta and in the Palace of Parliament.
The Irish film industry has also had enormous success in recent years, including the films “Brooklyn” and “Room” both of which received Oscar nominations, as did Irish actors and actresses including Daniel Day-Lewis, Ruth Negga and Saoirse Ronan. The Embassy showcases Irish cinema through the European Film Festival held here each May, and the Irish Days film festival which is held in November.
Irish people are also great sports enthusiasts, and we support a wide variety of mainstream sports such as athletics, soccer, rugby, boxing, horse racing and even dog racing. We are also especially fond of our own Gaelic football and hurling. These are less-well-known outside Ireland and we are therefore delighted that a club devoted to Irish Gaelic games has now been formed in Bucharest – “Bucharest Gaels” – and meets weekly for training. They will warmly welcome all newcomers!
I wish finally to thank all those who through their time, endeavours and sponsorship supported the Embassy in its culture programme throughout the past year. I wish you well for the coming year and look forward to working with you again over that time.