BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny T.D., on the opening of the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall, 11 April 2016


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Friends, colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen – members of the board of the National Concert Hall,

When we set out our programme for 2016 we said that we would deliver permanent reminders as enduring physical legacies of 2016.

Centrepieces of this vision include projects such as the GPO 1916 exhibition Centre, Teach an Phiarsaigh in Connemara, the extended Kilmainham Courthouse, the Richmond Barracks restoration project, The Tenement Museum in Henrietta Street, The expanded Military Archive at Cathal Brugha Barracks – and this outstanding project: the refurbishment of the historic Kevin Barry Rooms in our National Concert Hall – the very building in which the 17 year old Kevin Barry enrolled as a UCD medical student, on a Dublin Corporation scholarship.

But there is another kind of legacy we must also create – a legacy of the spirit. And this project is one where we can combine the physical and spiritual legacies of 2016.

Let me say something briefly about the context in which we are here this evening. This is a Decade of Centenaries – a programme to commemorate each step that Ireland took between 1912 and 1922 on our path towards national sovereignty.

At the beginning of 1912, Kevin Barry was a nine-year old boy, a subject of the most extensive empire in the world. By the beginning of 1922, more than a year had passed since he had been hanged for his part in an IRA action on Bolton Street in which three British soldiers were killed – and Ireland was already a de facto sovereign state.

Even a hundred years later, it is almost impossible to understand the full extent of change in Ireland during Kevin Barry’s short life, the many complex strands that made up that change, the trauma and wounds suffered by individuals, families and by society as a whole. But try to understand we must – because history cannot be the property of anyone but must be part of our common heritage, fully embraced and explored – so that we may plan our future in a spirit of generous and compassionate enlightenment.

I think that most of us would agree that this year – the Centenary of 1916 – is proving to be a valuable experience for all of us. A lot has already happened since we set out on this programme.

The national flag has been raised to its rightful place as a widely understood symbol of the aspiration for peace between the major traditions on this island.

The Defence Forces – Óglaigh na hÉireann – have been elevated in public consciousness in terms of their historical origins, their constitutional role, and their record, as our ambassadors, in United Nations peacekeeping.

The general public has been engaged in a shared endeavour to a degree that is unprecedented in the history of the State, in terms of participation in commemorative events but also in the shaping of those events all around the country.

The responsibility for the successful delivery of the Centenary programme was devolved to all 31 local authorities, and out to communities and local history societies and arts groups all around the country, resulting in the delivery of wonderful programmes for 2016.

The schools programme and other initiatives like Proclamation Day have led to an openness and inclusiveness of debate around 1916, our history and national identity, that many did not expect.

The focus on the Proclamation of the Republic has generated a new level of public interest in political values and civic culture.

And so the focus now turns to how best to secure these gains for the public good, how to ensure that we create a legacy that captures the generous and inclusive spirit of this year.

The focus for much of the rest of the year will be Re-imagine – looking to the future – in terms of our culture, in terms of citizenship and equality – and in terms of the privileges and challenges – the rights and responsibilities – that come with national sovereignty. There is no better way to imagine the future than through the arts.

The arts encourage a non-judgmental exploration of feelings as well as facts, allowing a deeper truth – and a deeper understanding – to emerge. The arts allow cultures to overlap and intersect, to find common ground and mutual enrichment.

Aldous Huxley in a famous essay said that ‘all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence. After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’

That, you could say, is the solemn mission of the National Concert Hall – to express, through music, those things that are most profound to the human spirit. I’m certain that the restoration of these wonderful rooms will help the National Concert Hall to meet that challenge – for the benefit of all of us. This, what you see around you, and what will be created here for decades if not centuries to come, is an important legacy of 2016 – for which we are all grateful.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow citizens of our Republic, I need hardly remind you that these rooms are where the Second Dáil met in December 1921 and January 1922 to debate the Treaty. Reading those debates is both exhilarating and sad – exhilarating because of the seriousness of the issues and the immensity of what was happening – sad because of what was to come. The debates are a salutary reminder of the responsibilities borne by elected representatives of the people. We now have to be mindful again of that responsibility.

Thank you.