Updated: the unofficial transcript from the unofficial video of Mr. Byrne’s speech is now at the end of this posting. Some audio is missing,  but what’s here is pretty inspiring, so enjoy!

The official launch of the year-long initiative, Imagine Ireland, occurred on January 7 at Lincoln Center in New York City. Gabriel Byrne, Cultural Ambassador for Ireland, spoke and inspired everyone to think about all of the arts, including those from Ireland, of course, in a new and enthusiastic way. Below you will find links to articles about the event in the Irish and US press, pictures from the event, the unofficial video from the event (which has some sound tracking problems, so be warned!), and (soon) a transcript of Gabriel’s speech.

To get things started, though, I thought a reminder of what this is all about would be appropriate, so here is the official website and Gabriel’s welcome at the website.

From the About page [the official website no longer exists]:

A celebration of imagination

This programme of events is a celebration of the Irish imagination. But it’s a challenge too. Imagine Ireland. Imagine.

The Irish have answered that challenge in many different ways, imagining in stone, in words, in music, on film and on the stage. In the process they have enriched the world around us – our art, our writing and music, our theatre and our film.

The creative Irish mind has always found some of its richest inspiration in America – think today of the music of U2 or the writing of Colum McCann. Think too of the plays of Eugene O’Neill and the films of John Ford, whose film “The Quiet Man” is one of the most memorable and influential responses by an Irish American to the challenge to “imagine Ireland”.

John Lennon, the grandson of Irish emigrants to Liverpool, reminded us how the imagination can interpret and reshape the world around us. That audacity is common to many of Ireland’s finest artists. William Butler Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre with the aim of re-imagining Ireland for the twentieth century. James Joyce’s objective in his writing was nothing less than to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”.

That work has been picked up by each succeeding generation and it continues today. This programme is an opportunity to encounter some of that creative daring.

So take up the challenge. Imagine Ireland for yourself.

Gabriel Byrne
Cultural Ambassador for Ireland

Gabriel Byrne attends the “Imagine Ireland” press conference
at 65 Cafe at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on January 7, 2011 in New York City

Images from the Event

Courtesy of WireImage

 CEO Culture Ireland Eugene Downes, actor and Cultural Ambassador
Gabriel Byrne, Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin, writer Colum McCann
and NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
at launch of Imagine Ireland in New York City, January 7, 2011

Gabriel Byrne and Julie Feeney

Gabriel Byrne and Colum McCann

 CEO Culture Ireland Eugene Downes, actor and Cultural Ambassador
Gabriel Byrne, Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin, writer Colum McCann
and NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
at launch of Imagine Ireland in New York City, January 7, 2011

Colum McCann, Gabriel Byrne, Julie Feeney, and someone I do not know. Sorry!

Visit the Gallery to see more event pictures!

The Irish Press

The Irish Examiner: Byrne launches largest-ever scheme of Irish arts events across the US

About Mayo/Local News from the West of Ireland: Irish artists showcase best of Irish arts in New York [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

Irish Times.com: Ambitious display of creative talent asks US audiences to imagine a better Ireland [this article is now behind a paywall]:

Mr Downes said Imagine Ireland “reflects the arc of Irish culture through time, but it is also a highly contemporary exploration of that”.

Over the next 12 months, Mr Downes hopes Imagine Ireland will “preserve this extraordinarily deep circle of influence and identity, and tell the next chapter of that story”.

Politics and religion betrayed Irish optimism about the future, Byrne said. “But there is an optimism about art that is really powerful. When Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre, he saw it as much as a political movement . . . Art is in the end the most powerful agent for change.”

There was something “oddly patriotic” about his friend Byrne’s extraordinary efforts to promote Irish culture, McCann said. He credited Mr Downes with the idea of putting what were “scatter-shot efforts” by himself and Byrne “under one umbrella”.

Irish Central: Gabriel Byrne says Irish have a ‘right to feel betrayed’…Actor speaks out about recession, role art must play

US and Other Press

Broadway World: BWW TV Exclusive: Gabriel Byrne Talks Irish Arts in America

Wall Street Journal: Ireland to Fund Cultural Programs in U.S.

TheaterMania: Nationwide Imagine Ireland Festival to Include Work by Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre, Druid Theatre Company, and More

Irish Stage in NYC: Culture Ireland Launches Culture with Imagination AND Funding

Chicago Sun-Times: $5M grant brings Ireland to Chicago

Masters of Tradition

Masters of Tradition is a collaboration of Irish traditional musicians and sean-nós singers featuring Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionaird, Dennis Cahill, Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Seamie O’Dowd and David Power, solo performers who bring the highest artistic and creative insights to their interpretations and performances of ancient forms. Martin Hayes recorded during a performance at Merkin Concert Hall, New York on January 8th 2011, as part of Imagine Ireland, with an introduction by Eugene Downes, CEO of Culture Ireland.

Transcript of the Launch Event

Rough Transcript from Unofficial Video, provided by Stella

Irish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin:

A very special tribute to our cultural ambassador, Gabriel Byrne. Gabriel has given of his time, of his energy, of his commitment. More particularly, he’s created a vision, his thoughtfulness, and his belief in Irish culture and in the Irish people. And he is the one who is spear-heading this throughout the United States and I want to pay a very, very special tribute and thanks to Gabriel Byrne for taking on this role and for doing it so beautifully and so wonderfully on behalf of the people of Ireland. So to Gabriel, thank you, we really appreciate what you’re doing for Ireland.


Gabriel Byrne, Cultural Ambassador for Ireland:

Thank you so much. Thank you to the Minister for her words, and Eugene and Christine.

It’s very, very exciting to be here this morning and to see the work of the last two to three years becoming real. Imagine Ireland began as an act of imagination and its reference point for me was John Lennon’s anthem to action, “Imagine,” in the belief that, if you imagine something, you’re a great deal of the way towards achieving it.

In Ireland, around the world, we’re justly famous for our tradition. We’ve had a tradition stretching back, pre-Christian, an incredibly sophisticated Druidic society which we don’t know that much about, but from the incorporation of Christianity to the incorporation of other outside influences–the Danish, the Norman, the monumental re-imagining of a language that gave rise to the Anglo-Irish tradition of Yeats, Joyce, Wilde, O’Casey, Shaw, Beckett–a constantly evolving culture. A culture that doesn’t evolve, dies.

We have a capacity to incorporate and to find an authentic voice within ourselves, even in our moments of greatest despair, an inner voice, a spiritual voice in a world that’s maybe been disillusioned or been betrayed by politics or religion. Optimism and hope is provided by the artists, who look back to that past that we’ve inherited that we can draw upon. But our ambition as artists is to find our new authentic voices and this is the generation that’s doing it.

On the one hand, you’ve got The Abbey, who connect Ibsen with our national theatre. Joyce was hugely influenced by Ibsen. “John Gabriel Borkmann,” for example, is a play that may have seemed unfashionable five, ten years ago. Its themes could not be more relevant today. To put Ibsen and The Abbey Theatre together, and to put it on in New York City makes a huge statement.

Every artist has the power to transform reality. That is the reality of politics, the reality of religion, the social reality. In fact, that’s the job of the artist–is to be anarchic, is to question everything and out of that questioning to redefine a new reality and to a great extent the traditional modes of expression. We are now in the age of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and this will change the way we make art, which is in the public domain, and make it as available as possible, to as wide an audience as possible. How could we do that?

[missing audio]

And I thought if we could put those guys on YouTube maybe it will bring a newer audience to the story that we already know. It didn’t cost a lot of money to be honest, but what it did require was imagination. The vision to see the future incorporates the notion of technology. Because what you’re going to see now is the emergence of the arts from Ireland is the rise of a hybrid culture–rap influencing poetry, the visual arts influencing theatre, the cross-over of various forms of expression. You can now go out in a village in Ireland with an Icamera and make your own story.

One of the things that I’m curating this year is an archeological retrospective of Ireland. And one of the things that I’ve suggested to them is that they go out to young people and ask them to make stories about their own place, to make archeology relevant, to make that place that they live in feel that its connected to the rest of the world.

[missing audio]

…and then there was Beckett, Joyce, and O’Casey, and then there was U2, and it kinda stops there. And there was a couple of films made, but that’s not true. Ireland has consistently and uniquely been making art and this platform that we have devised here with this program is a platform for those artists to connect with the rest of the world. Because what great Irish artists do, like any great artist, is they speak from the personal to the universal. And finding our unique voice now, especially in these difficult times, artists can lead the way. In fact, they are leading the way.

[missing audio]

Go to that website because all of the information is there. If you have access to that thing–what’s it called?–anything that gets the message out, send it to your friends, word of mouth, Twitter, you know what I mean, Facebook, all that stuff. That’s the way we’re going forward.

Thanks so much.


  1. Amazing pics , feels like I’m there

  2. THAT first photo, the larger one of Gabriel – he is looking just sensatioal.

    “I want that man!”

  3. This is great news for the Irish and the people in USA. It is wonderful that the Irish culture and art will be shown in USA so many places and with so many artists. Wish I lived in USA so I could attend some of the events.
    I am really proud of the work Gabriel is doing as the Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. He really loves his native country very much.

    • Nora – I can only echo what you just said. This is a fantastic initiative and is so exciting.

      2011 is looking to be a great year for appreciating Irish arts and culture in the U.S.

      Kris (USA)

  4. What a fantastic job you have done, Stella.

    Byrneholics Home Page is definitely the place to find all the good stuff about Imagine Ireland – thanks to your timely and complete postings. It is great to find it all in one place!! Thank you!!

    Kris (USA)

  5. sweetbud

    That first picture, gasp/thud who knows what came first?! Stella, fabulous job–what a thrillin’ year ahead!

  6. Cythandra

    I have to go with sweetbud on that first image being thud-worthy. I think what he’s doing is amazing. I wish other countries would follow his lead. There’s so much amazing art and music out there. Having travelled overseas some, I’ve had a chance to get samplings, but nothing current.

  7. Gabriel is such a pioneer right now – it’s as though he is challenging people to see beyond what the headlines are saying and look to themselves, their inner wisdom, to figure things out and set things right again. I think he is onto something here; I hope that people pay attention to what he’s saying because he explains things with such simplicity and openness. I am reading about the Irish mythical figure Cuchulain at the moment, and the fierce battle he had with his rival (although he was also a friend) Ferdia. This stuff is steeped in vivid imagination – it’s as though it opens up some other vortex of existence in me head ;). This is good stuff that Gabe is doing – and now that movie is underway too, huh? Super. Valentine’s Day, and then St. Patrick’s Day. Sweet…

  8. WIndhover

    I saw “The Cripple of Inishmaan” in Ann Arbor last weekend and enjoyed it very much. I hope everyone checks out the schedule of Imagine Ireland events (imagineireland.ie) and takes advantage of this opportunity, if you’re lucky enough to live near a venue for any of the events.

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