Gabriel Byrne’s speech at the Gateway Ireland event on 26th May in Dublin:

You can also read a transcript of his speech at the bottom of this page.

“We are who we were. We will be what we imagine.” –Gabriel Byrne

The Cultural Ambassador for Ireland demonstrated why he was chosen for the job yesterday in Dublin when he presented at the Gateway Ireland meeting before an invitation-only group of industry representatives and interested artists. Gabriel Byrne’s  speech generated a very positive response (irishauthor tweeted “Seems Gabriel the Good played a blinder”) and the Twitterverse was full of praise for his authentic story and lots of questions about the nature of the project.

Here is a snapshot of the day’s activities, including news reports, audio, videos, images, and tweets.

Irish Times

Generations of emigrants neglected, says cultural envoy Gabriel Byrne [This article is now behind the Irish Times paywall]:

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.

“Don’t worry, ladies. It’s just Dublin’s sun shining extra brightly on my hair
– it is still black!”


Gabriel Byrne beautiful speech. Self  identification w/ Irish narrative creates community, restoring the  Irish spirit. Start with art. #gwirl (tweeted by amcavinchey)

“We are what we were. We will be what we imagine” great quote from Gabriel Byrne, Irish Cultural Ambassador to US at #gwirl  (Retweeted by many, many people)

NoreenBowden tweeted the entire event #gwirl and will post about it in detail soon.

You can read a running account by searching #gwirl in Twitter and going back to the beginning of the day, May 26.  You will find tons of links, opinions, and observations about the project–and some consternation as well.

News reports about the Gateway Ireland Project New website for Ireland to be launched [This article is now behind the Irish Times paywall]

RTE Business: Gateway Ireland Bringing Ireland to the World [This link is no longer available on the Internet]

Breakingnews.IE: Ireland to launch website promoting country

Official Website

The Gate Ireland website no longer exists

Official website for Gateway Ireland : Connecting the Dots. A website connecting Ireland to the World and the World to Ireland, including a page about Guest Speaker Gabriel Byrne:

What can Gateway Ireland do for you?

The Gateway Ireland Project’s proposal for a national website, spearheaded by the private sector and supported by government, will harness the potential of the Irish Diaspora and provide a unique central hub for the promotion of Ireland to the wider world.

What specific things would you like the website to do for you/your organisation?


At the end of the afternoon, Gabriel Byrne joined Drivetime‘s Mary Wilson for an interview at RTE One’s studios.

During the conversation Cultural Ambassador Byrne revealed that he will be curating Irish art exhibitions next year at the The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Lincoln Center and at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. These exhibitions will be designed to travel across the USA in 2011. “My job is to bring together the arts, culture and business,” said Gabriel.

Connecting the dots: Ambassador Byrne and his Moleskine notebook (Jason Clarke)

Transcript of Gabriel Byrne’s keynote by Stella

Gateway Ireland Meeting
Presentation: Connecting the Dots
Gabriel Byrne
26 May 2010, Dublin Ireland

When I was asked to take this job, I had been doing work because it interested me. As Simon says, I really liked the brand. So, I was in New York, in the Irish arts world in New York, trying to find connections in New York between Dublin, Ireland, Galway, Los Angeles, whatever, and I realized that, just as I had a fractured identity, America and the Irish in America also had a fractured sense of identity. They knew of a past, they shared the same history, they sang the same songs. But somehow, there was a disconnect between the island of Ireland and the rest of us, those people who went away. That is why this project is so exciting.

People have used two words this morning, over and over: “diaspora” and “culture.” What does the word “diaspora” mean? Well, it’s a Greek word and it means “a scattering of seeds.” That’s a powerful meaning. Some people would argue, I think, that Ireland forgets about the seeds that have gone away, but the seeds that have gone away have never forgotten about Ireland. Because Ireland is not just a place, it’s a state of mind, it’s a part of your soul that you belong to.

There are two things that we possess, two things that I think about a lot, and I think one is our memory, our shared memory of who we are. We didn’t just begin like 20 years ago with the digital revolution. We go back hundreds, thousands of years. We have a civilization that pre-dated Christianity and we adapted to Christianity, we took those ideas and the monks in their round towers weren’t just defending themselves, they were defending the manuscripts, the knowledge that people had gathered up to that time in old stories. And then we moved through oppression, through hundreds of years of oppression, and a Holocaust, and there are people who would debate that word, but I would say a holocaust in 1845, when the Famine happened, and less than thirty years after that famine, that psychic scar on the soul of Ireland, came the generation of Yeats, of Lady Gregory, Edward Martin, Douglas Hyde, Edward Bunting, John Millington Synge, people who imagined a new landscape, a new cultural landscape.

Because Yeats, who was also a businessman, wasn’t just a guy who sat around writing poems. He was actually the manager of the National Theatre and he counted the takings at night-time and he knew the importance of markets. And we may think there is a difference between the artist and the businessman. Well, there are some things that we have in common. The artist, the aim, the function of art is to provoke, to spread ideas. It’s also about taking risk. A businessman will say to you “I took a risk and it paid off, I took a risk and it failed.”

What are artists looking for? They’re looking for markets. What are businessmen looking for? They’re looking for markets. In a way, the cultural vanguard that went out prepares the way for business. So among artists there is a certain tendency, I think, to vilify corporate thinking and corporate investment and so forth as being alien to the spirit of the artist. And there is a suspicion on the part of business that artists just lie around on yoga mats and chant all day. But I think we have much more in common. This forum is about connecting the dots. I think that, if we can get business and the arts to sit down and see what they have in common, it will be an awful lot more than “you have a business” and “you have a painting.” We actually have so much more to offer each other than we take for granted now.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was fortunate, or unfortunate, I should say, to arrive there on the sixteenth of January in 1994. On the seventeenth of January, 1994, there was a massive earthquake in Northridge, in California. I don’t know if any of you have been in an earthquake, but it’s a pretty devastating experience. The day before, people were talking about how the dogs had started to bark in a different way and the birds on the trees had started twittering in a different way, that they knew something that the people in the buildings didn’t know. And that’s what I think the artists do. They are the dogs that bark before the earthquake. They are the birds who are on the trees saying “This is coming.” Because the ideas we accept as business ideas have often been predicted and pre-acted on by artists. You look at someone like Paddy Maloney who, for fifty years, fifty years, has been going around the world playing Irish music. Not just playing Irish music, but collaborating in South America, Russia, China. That kind of global cross-fertilization is essential and cross-fertilization between business and the arts is essential.

I think of home as a place that I carry within me because, as an emigrant, as an emigrant, you no longer belong in the place you’ve left and you don’t quite belong in the place you’ve gone to. But home is each other. The connection that we make with this scattering of seeds, this family that we’ve forgotten about, is a spiritual one. That’s what the arts do, they address things of the spirit and you cannot put a price on the things of the spirit. I don’t mean religion. I mean the things of the soul. And what connects that diaspora, that family, together is a spirit. And what connects them to us is a spirit. And what connects artists to each other is a spirit. And I think that part of the healing that we have to go through, if I can use that word, is that we must, we must look to the spiritual sides of ourselves to begin healing this problem that’s not just economic. And that can be done by, I believe, artists. Artists who provide vision, provide leadership. There seems to me to be a space now at the moment. Historically, I think that that space is recognizable. There is a crisis, there’s a detachment, and then there’s a vacuum between, and that’s where a leader can emerge. Maybe it’s not one leader, but maybe it’s the artist with the help of business who will emerge as the real leaders of the future.

Yes, in 1880, what Yeats created, Yeats and his contemporaries, created was essentially not just an artistic movement but it’s debatable that it didn’t change the political, social, and economic structure of the 20th century. That’s debatable. It may not be absolutely right, but there’s a good case to be made for it. Even Yeats in his old age was wondering if his words had sent young men out to die. The power of his art was so powerful, so strong, that people could go out to die because of it.

So art isn’t something that exists over there, some elite thing that is in the corner there. The reason it became art, our art, our culture, our story, is because when people went away, they sang about home, they sang about the things that meant something to them. It was the expression of their soul and the expression of their spirit. That’s what Irish culture is: it is the expression of our spirit. And as that, it is extremely, extremely precious. The other thing that I would say that we have, we have the memory to tell the narrative of our past, to remember the famine, to remember the struggles that went before that, to know that we are survivors, that we have survived as a people. And we have survived, to a great extent, through the people who went away. They have continued that family into–70 million of them–that’s what Gateway Ireland will do. It will connect that family who remembered the story together and that gives you such a tremendous sense of self-esteem, when you know your story and you know it’s shared with the people around you.

The other thing that you cannot put a price on–and this is the beginning of every idea in this room and beyond–is imagination. When we were sitting by firesides and we were oppressed, the one thing that they could never oppress was imagination. Because we imagined worlds before those times and we are also now in a place where we are being asked to imagine a world beyond this. And if we can remember and imagine…we are who we were and we will be what we imagine. And “imagine” is one of the strongest words in the English language; it is a call to arms. It says “imagine something” and if you imagine something, you’re a good portion of the way towards being there.

I had the misfortune once to play Columbus in not a great adaptation of his life, but Columbus was obsessed by horizons. And when he was in his ship he would say to the guys: “No, no, no, we’re not going to fall off the edge. We’re not going to get eaten by sea monsters. Keep going.” And he forced them over the horizon to confront another horizon, and another horizon. Because it wasn’t just a line between sea and sky. It eventually became land. But my favorite definition of Columbus is one that an Irish guy told me when we were making the film in Malta. He said: “Christopher Columbus. Hmm. He started off and he didn’t know where he was going. When he got there, he didn’t know where he was. And when he came back, he didn’t know where he’d been.” I love to think of that, but…horizon and Christopher Columbus, imagination and memory. And I think if we take anything out of this room, it is that we also have, not just a duty to the future, to preserve the spirit of who we are, but to remember the people who have gone before us.



  1. john kenny

    Dear Gabriel I heard your RTE interveiw on drive time and was blown away at your vision of our indiginous artists and the impact they have globally I have been campaigninig on a quiet level for years and havent let them beat me yet. I like you would like to assist in any wau I can and would be priviliged to assist you our ambassador in any way i can , it is imperitive we drive a positive message to our islanders and that all businesses must assist i n tourism and give our American relatives good value for money , we must also keep prices down even if we do start to pull through as we must learn that exoberent rates bring disgruntled tourists, At your service AMBASSADOR

  2. As usual, great reporting factorygirl and stella. Thank you for keeping my soul nourished!

    • You are most welcome, twomoons.

      And, fearful as I might be of “teasing,” I should tell you that Gateway Ireland says there will be video posted to YouTube (or possibly elsewhere. We must wait and see) in a few days. We will, of course, add links as soon as they become available!


  3. Thanks for sharing these news.
    I am really very impressed by the work Gabriel is doing.
    He is such a creative and hard working man. Ireland must be
    very proud to have an ambassador like him. The world needs more
    people like him, people that can lead other with their visions
    and their creative mind.

  4. Stephanie

    What beautiful pictures and beautiful words I have received today in the Home Page.
    Thanks a lot for sharing Lara and Stella!!!!

  5. great job girls ! really nice picture :D

  6. What a wonderful speech. Makes me wish I was Irish. Actually, I think I am, maybe 1/64? I like to think I have some connection to him. Hope he has great success in his endeavors.

  7. I just listened to the videos and didn’t want them to end. I do feel that perhaps, at this very moment,he is now doing what he was ‘called’ to do with his life. It just feels like he has arrived; arrived at where he was meant to be, and that all the work that has made him famous was all prep for the journey he is on in his life right now. When I listen to him speak, largely without notes, it all just flows so naturely from his lips. There is only one way you can give a speech like that, and it’s if the content of your message is an intimate part of who you are, and indeed it is. (Hope that doesn’t sound too corney…just how I felt watching it.)

    • Absolutely, twomoons! This is it. We are watching a culmination. It is awe-inspiring and pretty amazing. I feel corny myself, saying that, but it is true. This next year is going to be something! :-)

      • Its nice to hear him emphasize Spirituality! I was a bit worried about him a few years ago when he seemed to be veering toward atheism instead. Obviously Mr. Byrne is on a quest, and now that he has a platform besides just his acting career (Cultural Ambassador of Ireland), he can make a real difference in a wider area of the world than before. With such power comes responsibility, and i think he is now wise enough to use this power in helpful ways. Excellent speeches!

        • I don’t mean to start an argument here, but I don’t think he stopped being spiritual because he felt more atheist. these are not antinomic notion.

          • Aragarna: my point is that he is emphasizing Spirituality more now, and seems to not to be leaning so much towards atheism as he seemed to be before. I suppose one could be a spiritual atheist – though I would find it hard personally. But, if that is your belief system, of course that is fine. No argument here.

  8. Stephanie

    Great speech Mister Byrne.
    My sincere congratulations for your words.

  9. For me it was clear, the spirituality Gabriel Byrne was talking about is one of non-religious nature, he was emphatic about that himself. He was talking about the “spirit of Ireland” as an abstract notion that seem to connect and bring Irish people together even if they are scattered all over the world. It also seems to bring other non-Irish people towards Ireland. For instance, I feel connected to Ireland even though I’ve never been to Ireland, I’m connected to the “Irish spirit” through Irish arts and culture and Irish people I admire and it has absolutely nothing to do with being religious, atheist or anything, really. In a similar fashion, you can connect to other people through love and friendship and again, abstract notions/feelings/inspirations that are not attached to religious or non-religious principles you might have.

    • iamyuneek

      I just managed to see these, I was away and Ipad doesn’t allow you to download stuff like Media Player…silly Steve Jobs! I was so frustrAted that I couldn’t watch for the last 2 dyas! Anyway, my grandfather was Irish (from Drogheda, about 60 miles North of Dublin and 50 miles south of Belfast,)but sadly I never knew him, his family (my mother and 9 siblings) were raised in Cornwall in the west of England, and I was born in London, and at that time of course, Cornwall was so far away it might as well have been a foreign country, in fact when we went there for our holidays they called us Londeners “fereigners :-) it took 8 hrs by car down the A1.

      The interview was amazing, he spoke with such clarity and vision. Gabriel says he’s a fractured Irishman, but fractured or not fractured, homesick or not homesick, he has said in the past that he does not think of Ireland now, in the same as he knew it as a young man; having gone back to England many times to visit family I believe it is possible that he loves Ireland almost as much (if not more) than he did as a young man, just in a different way,

      Gabriel is the Ambassador, and so should he be, long may he reign.

    • Lara: I’m not talking about religion here either. I’m a confirmed agnostic. And, my Spirituality has literally saved my life. To me, the connections I feel, the Love I feel is my definition of God, or Goddess if you will. And, I don’t expect anyone else to have these same definitions, and I definitely do not consider it a creed or religion.

      My point is, I’m so glad that Mr. Byrne now seems to be feeling much more connected Spiritually.

  10. Elisabetta

    Hello girls,
    I just wanted to say that only 10 years ago Gabriel Byrne claimed, in the special contents of the dvd Stigmata, “…I am catholic”…
    It is very strange to me that he passed form this to atheism, what happend to him in these years??

  11. Well, Elisabetta, I cannot speak for Mr. Byrne, but I can say for myself: I was an observant religious person for many years, then I lost my parents. Having no children, I wandered away from it all. Now I am just a nice person (most of the time). I think these things happen. Check out some of the more recent articles on our website and I think you will learn more about Mr. Byrne’s spiritual evolution over these last years….


  12. Pingback: | Gabriel Byrne » The Byrne-ing News Summer Edition

  13. Bit late coming in on this post, but just to say that Gabriel is a breath of fresh air when it comes to Irelands relationship with it’s diaspora. His words are genuine and he is totally in tune with the way things are and with what needs to be done. A great ambassador.

    • Hi, Mick!

      You are never too late to comment on his excellency, the Ambassador! :-) And I’m glad to hear you say he is “in tune” with the diaspora. I have that feeling, too.

      There is more on the homepage now about the launch of Imagine Ireland today. We are all pretty excited, as you might guess. This is going to be a great year for Gabriel and for the Irish arts, here in the US and in Ireland. As someone on Twitter just said: Go Team Ireland!

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