Original posting March 16

Cultural Ambassador for Ireland

The Twitterverse is all abuzz with news that Gabriel Byrne has been named Ireland’s new Cultural Ambassador.

And now it has been officially confirmed at RTÉ News:

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 20:12

Actor Gabriel Byrne has been announced as the Cultural Ambassador for Ireland.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen made the announcement in Washington this evening.

Making the announcement Mr Cowen said that ‘Gabriel Byrne is an internationally renowned, award-winning actor and is already well established as one of Ireland’s great ambassadors through his work in film and theatre, as well as his endeavours behind the scenes in supporting and promoting Irish artists’.

Read the complete announcement.

This was apparently announced earlier today on the Charlie Bird Drive Time Show on RTÉ Radio.

The Irish Times [article is now behind a paywall] has more details on long-term plans:

The Dublin-born actor will work closely with the Government and artistic bodies to develop “an artistic vision” that is inclusive of the Irish diaspora throughout the world.

His role will include the creation of a programme of art, ideas, debate and reflection to help foster a renewed cultural relationship between Ireland and America.

Kudos to Mr. Byrne, who will make an outstanding cultural ambassador for Ireland. He has been doing this work for a long time now and it is wonderful to see him be recognized for it.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, actor Gabriel Byrne and
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin
in Washington DC yesterday after Byrne was announced as
Ireland’s first cultural ambassador.
Photograph: Leslie E Kossoff-Nordby 3.16.2010

UPDATE: The Irish Times reports [article is now behind a paywall]:

‘Honoured’ actor Byrne aims to build artistic bridges

“I’m extremely honoured,” Gabriel Byrne began his acceptance speech. It wasn’t the Golden Globe – which he won for his role as Dr Paul Weston in the hugely popular HBO drama In Treatment – but the unprecedented role of Ireland’s cultural ambassador.

Byrne stood on the lawn in front of the Saint Regis Hotel, where the Taoiseach Brian Cowen had just said that Byrne’s appointment will “broaden Ireland’s cultural footprint” and “add a string to our bow in relations with the US”.

The White House, where the Taoiseach will be guest of honour and Byrne an honoured guest tonight, seemed to beckon down the street. The Irish actor wore a silver Claddagh ring, a dark suit, an open-necked pale blue shirt and black suede runners. His blue eyes squinted in the sunlight.

“The worlds of culture and economics may seem to be strange bedfellows,” Byrne said. “Harnessing one of our greatest national strengths, our culture, will give us the strongest possible identification. It will build an artistic bridge between Ireland and the rest of the world.”

UPDATED March 19:

Independent.ie: Ambassador Byrne signs on as Washington DC dons the green [This article is no lonager available on the Internet]

God be with the days when starving artists would go cap-in-hand to the Government looking for a bit of a dig-out. Now the creative boot is firmly on the other foot with the announcement yesterday that actor Gabriel Byrne has been appointed our very first cultural ambassador to the US.

Now it’s the turn of the skint Government to tap into the star power of our actors and writers, and so the Taoiseach took a bit of time out from his round of meetings in Washington DC to unveil the new celebrity ambassador, His Excellency Gabriel Byrne.

The pair strolled across the hotel lawn in the warm afternoon sunshine, and Brian pronounced himself “very pleased” that the Golden Globe-winning actor had agreed to take on this new (non-paying) role.

“It’ll promote the country, our culture and community and Irish arts generally,” he said. He also announced that Culture Ireland will be establishing a year-long festival of Irish Art in the US in 2011.

It’s doubtful that any of us actually know what we are in this post-Celtic Tiger modern world — apart from being skint, but His Excellency has plenty of ideas on the subject.

“We need to redefine the kind of Ireland we want to present,” he explained, “and then interlink that vision with the economy. It’s about connecting the diaspora.”

And he reckons that the artistic community can be relied upon to try and help the country out of the quicksand. “Irish artists have never let Ireland down,” he said pointedly.

Gabriel Byrne and Taoiseach Brian Cowen

More from the Irish Times [article is now behind a paywall]:

To all his roles, including that of the not-so-stable psychiatrist Dr Paul Weston, Byrne brings subtle and rich emotion.

Asked about the “American dream” quality of his success in US cinema and theatre, he replies: “Nothing is as wonderful as it seems . . . Life is a thorny path.”

How will he reconcile a demanding acting career with his new, unpaid role as Ireland’s cultural ambassador? “It’s not going to be a job where I get up at 8am every day and work non-stop; I wouldn’t have taken it on,” Byrne said. “I’ve worked a lot on this for the past three or four years. This appointment makes it official,” he continued. “I didn’t want it to be a political appointment. The cultural agenda transcends whatever happens to the Government over the next three years.”


We might guess that the intersections of art, business, and politics would be messy, so while reactions to Mr. Byrne’s appointment have been uniformly enthusiastic and positive, I did note a naysayer.


Inside View, from Bernie “topgold” Goldbach in Ireland: “The Green Gene is the Creative One” [this link is no longer available]

America is a giant English-speaking market for Irish culture. It’s a market with good will that extends well beyond Paddy’s Day. To a great extent, vibrant Irish culture defines the Republic. I think Irish visual culture makes strong indelible mark on what it means to be Irish. I wish Gabriel Byrne good luck in advancing the cause of Irish culture abroad.

Sinead Ryan, writing for the Herald.ie: “Why Gabriel’s the right man for this starring role in the US” [This article has a survey preceding it and the link usually does not work, so the entire article is presented here]

The excellent appointment of His Excellency Gabriel Byrne as the new Cultural Ambassador to the US prompts the obvious observation: why didn’t we think of this before?

The actor is equally well known on both sides of the pond and his impressive pedigree of 35 films, theatre work and a Golden Globe gives him the credibility to bring the wider Irish arts to America.

He has always claimed something of a fractured relationship with his birth country, finding his true home in New York.

He suffered child abuse at a seminary, became an alcoholic and plays morose, maudlin characters in the main. He has hit out regularly at our health system, child abuse scandals and drinking culture.

“In Dublin, I’m constantly defined by my past,” he has said. “In New York, I have a clean slate.”

But he’s also fluent in Irish, passionate about culture and is determined that Irish film moves on from the leprechaun-loving, Quiet Man-coloured view that we have abroad.

Well, the Drimnagh-born star will now be calling on all those talents to change what he says is America’s “very limited view of Irish art”, claiming it’s all about “Druid, Brian Friel, the Anglo-Irish stew of Yeats . . . and U2”.

Delighted with themselves that they secured such a high-profile person for the job, which is completely unpaid, the head of Culture Ireland said he hopes the ambassador “will develop an inclusive vision that reaches out from the Irish arts community internationally”. Sure, ’tis a long way from the hills of Bracken altogether.

His Excellency


Kevin Doyle, from his blog: “Ambassador Gabriel Byrne and ‘Brand Ireland’…No Thanks

“This selling of a ‘cleansed image’ of Irish art and cultural production as part of Gabriel’s efforts will have an negative impact right now. It will add impetus to the current trend that homogenises and streamline cultural production in this country. Is is already hard for those outside the ‘official’ and ‘accepted’ art production areas to make a living; this will worsen our situation.”

Mr. Byrne has his work cut out for him, but he knows this already. He’s been toiling away at this intersection for a long time now. We wish him all good luck and congratulate him mightily on his appointment. It will be difficult, however, to stop referring to him as “Mad Handsome.” But “His Excellency, the Ambassador” does have a romantic ring to it, yes?

UPDATE March 19 – Ireland’s Arts Council congratulates Gabriel Byrne [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

The Arts Council has sent its congratulations to Gabriel Byrne following the announcement that he is to be Ireland’s first Cultural Ambassador.

Speaking following the announcement, Arts Council Chairman, Pat Moylan said, “I am delighted that Gabriel Byrne has been appointed as our Cultural Ambassador – a role he has been carrying out on an informal basis for many years! I look forward to continuing to work closely with Gabriel, and I know that he will fly the flag for Ireland, and for Irish arts, as only he can.

“This appointment is a clear acknowledgement by the Irish Government that the arts will play a key role in our economic recovery, and I commend the Taoiseach for his foresight and vision.”

UPDATE March 20 – The Irish Times: The man with the key to Ireland’s international cultural relations [Article is now behind a paywall]:

Byrne will be working closely with Eugene Downes, chief executive of Culture Ireland, a State agency that promotes Ireland’s arts and culture internationally and advises on the development of the country’s international cultural relations. “For some time now, we’ve been looking at new opportunities to promote Irish culture abroad,” Downes explains. He sees Byrne’s appointment as helping to “redefine Irish culture in the world,” pointing out “most Americans now encounter Ireland through culture. It’s a crucial way of developing an awareness of Ireland. Culture is a real asset a country has in times of recession, because it’s unique; it can’t be replicated by other countries.”

One of the challenges Byrne faces is that of updating the often-clichéd generic American perception of Ireland. The most recent high-profile example of this is Leap Year , an American-made rom-com set in Ireland, and recently derided by critics for bounding from one terrible cliché to the next. This is a film purporting to be set in contemporary Ireland, yet it includes the line “Top of the mornin’ to you” as a sample of ordinary conversation.

The big announcement
Images from RTE News

UPDATE March 21 – From Independent.ie, Medb Ruane’s article: The art of selling us short: can Gabriel really make a difference? [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

Byrne’s return to TV fame came in the award-winning In Treatment, where he mesmerised viewers as the psychotherapist Paul Weston, whose personal life unraveled while he worked with patients on his couch. The format was old-style fireside story meets ‘what’s-my-life about?’ with Byrne as the curious listener with plenty of questions for himself.

US viewers were hooked after a week of watching it on five successive nights, after the first episode was aired in January 2008. It went worldwide. Byrne is smart enough to know that his first task is to play star so doors can open for other artists and performers. He’s already used his influence to help literally open doors at New York’s Irish Arts Center.

“We need to redefine the kind of Ireland we want to present and then interlink that vision with the economy,” he said. “It’s about connecting the diaspora.”

Redefining that Ireland has to start at home. It means encouraging new voices, ideas, sounds and sights to picture the present and future. Byrne’s appointment may trigger official Ireland to connect what’s happening home and away. Because it makes no sense strategically to drip-feed emerging artists and companies within Ireland if those long-term plans are to pay off.

And The Tribune [This article is no longer available on the Internet] provides a pocket profile of Gabriel Byrne that will make you laugh (“Next time you see an O2 ad on the telly, listen very carefully to the voice-over–that’s the voice of Irish Culture, that is”) and notes that May 12 is His Excellency’s birthday, suggesting it be made a national day of celebration, to which we concur!

UPDATE March 24 –  The Irish Times.com – Pursued by a Bear: With this Cultural Ambassador you are really spoiling us [This article is no longer available at The Irish Times]

So Gabriel Byrne is the new cultural ambassador. And we at Pursued by a Bear do love culture. Mr Byrne will be helping to raise the profile of Irish cultural exports on the international stage, and there’s no doubt the man knows people in places that most people don’t get to. But what do you think? Do we need a Cultural Ambassador? Should we celebrate his appointment, and if we do, what are we hoping it will achieve? At a time when the Government is cutting spending on the arts, does this mark a change in attitude and a new willingness to recognise our cultural currency?…

The Irish Echo Online: Gabriel Byrne is Ireland’s cultural ambassador [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

The world is now his diplomatic as well as artistic oyster. U.S.-based Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was declared Ireland’s global cultural ambassador on St. Patrick’s Day in statements issued in Ireland by arts minister Martin Cullen, and in Washington, D.C. by Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Notice that the ambassadorship is now “global”…

Elaine Nevin, ECO-UNESCO national director meets Gabriel Byrne,
newly appointed cultural ambassador,
at the White House St Patrick’s Day reception

And finally:

The Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild Blog: Byrne New Cultural Ambassador. This article quotes the official statement and adds:

“Let’s hope this new zeal for the Arts from the Irish government translates into better funding in the coming years.”

Cheers to that!

UPDATE April 1 – The Irish Post [article no longer available at The Irish Post website] reports that the reach of the new role of Cultural Ambassador for Ireland is truly global and that Gabriel Byrne is the one and only. We already knew this!

He is Ireland’s new cultural ambassador.

He’s US-based, but it seems Gabriel Byrne will be the one and only.

The Irish Government told The Irish Post this week that they will not complement the new role with a “similar” British posting because the position is a “worldwide one”.

Culture Ireland said there were no plans to appoint a second ambassador to Britain, or anywhere else, despite the fact that appointee Gabriel Byrne spends most of his time in the United States.

And despite the existence of Britain’s huge Irish population, Madeline Boughton from Culture Ireland said: “There are no plans at present to appoint a second cultural ambassador specifically for Britain or any other region.” Culture Ireland also described the request for the designation of a second position in Britain as “interesting”.

See what you get when you read all the way to the end of the posting!? Yes.

Thanks to everyone for pictures and links!


  1. This is good news for Irish culture and for all of us. Gabriel has showed us before that he is a very talented and creative man, and I am happy to read about this new “role” he has got. I just hope that he will also find time to be an actor, because he is a wonderful actor.
    There is one other actor in the world I admire very much besides Gabriel Byrne and that is Robert Redford. I think it is so wonderful that intelligent, creative actors and artists contribute so much to the world as both Redford and Gabriel is able to do! They share from their experience, creativity and talent.

  2. I think this is simply a long-overdue affirmation of the role that Gabriel had ALREADY carved for himself with his work promoting the Irish arts abroad.

  3. I’m listening to a podcast of the RTE radio news from yesterday, from a link that Lara published on Twitter: http://www.rte.ie/podcasts/2010/pc/pod-v-170310-fullprog-56m51s-morningireland.mp3

    • I thought that he sounded incredibly confident in this interview…he is happy, I can hear it in his tone.

  4. Stephanie

    Congratulations mister Byrne.
    You are a great actor and you will be an excellent ambassador.

  5. Just bursting with pride here in gorgeous Canada. Really, I feel teary and immense satisfaction that the perfect person was chosen for this.

    I have not been on here in weeks, and just have to say WHAT AN AMAZING WEBSITE!!!! I cannot recall ever seeing a more magnificent fan site. It’s amazing what a few of you do to keep us all informed and it shows a special love for Gabriel. My sincere gratitude for this visually stunning website.

  6. I agree with twomoons, he sounds real happy and confident with this new announcement.
    And of course he is the right man for the job!

    My only concern is that how in the world is he going to have any time left for acting?! According to the web he is all over the place!
    He must live his life in a suitcase…maybe thats why he has sold his house in Brooklyn…

    But I am really proud of our MAN :-)

  7. of course I respect Kevin Boyle’s opinion, but he sounds to me just an angry man. I don’t think Gabe’s appointement is really relevant in a anti-capitalist/anarchist debate.
    seriously, Ireland has been selling its cultural identity for ages…

    it seems to me that Gabriel just does what other celebrity activists do today, which is : use the system. Politicians love the glamour of Hollywood, and they have the power. so this just gave some official legitimity to what Gabriel has been doing for years. it shines a light on his cause, shows how serious is the action and the will to tighten the links between US and Ireland which will probably help finding money to finance projects.
    and I do think Gabriel is the right choice to protect “those outside”.

  8. Windhover

    Thank you, Stella and the gang, for another gem of an article. Loved the interview with Charlie Bird: just to listen to someone who thinks in books and speaks in paragraphs…I’m wiffy. Also nice to hear Mr. Cowen give Gabriel a shoutout (at 19:44) at the White House assembly.

  9. Hey Folks:

    I think this is exactly the kind of thing Gabriel is talking about doing with all things Irish Arts in America……


    Love Ya!

    • Yes, TwoMoons. I think you are right. As he says in the interview, technology can allow everyone to be in the same room at the same time. That’s why we love the Internet! :-)

  10. Congrats Mad Handsome!! :D
    He speaks so so very well.
    Never ceases to impress with his artistry of words.

  11. Patty Whelan

    As a committee member of the Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade we would like to obtain a contact number/email address. The theme of our parade this year is “Celebrating the Arts of Ireland”. We may be small but we are mighty! Last year an estimated 60,000 lined the streets of Dennis and Yarmouth to cheer the participants. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi, Patty! Thanks for dropping by. I have written you privately with what I hope is some good contact info for Mr. Byrne. I think your cause is certainly worthy! Good luck and Happy Holidays!


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