Just how Ir­ish are our artists any­way?

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints -

FOR his let­ter last week to

The Ir­ish Times in which he com­plained about some of our na­tional cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions be­ing run by “out­siders”, we should be grate­ful to Robert Bal­lagh.

We’ve been hav­ing a great time look­ing across at the Brex­i­teers, de­spair­ing of what we rou­tinely de­scribe as their “Daily Mail” vi­sion of Eng­land, and think­ing: we’re bet­ter than that.

Now we are re­minded that there are “Daily Mail” ten­den­cies, as it were, to be found in Ire­land too — Bal­lagh is com­plain­ing that in ad­di­tion to the “two Scots­men” (one of whom is ac­tu­ally Welsh) run­ning the Abbey The­atre, “the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Gallery of Ire­land is an English­man, the new di­rec­tor of the Hunt Mu­seum in Lim­er­ick is a Welsh­woman, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Col­lege of Art and De­sign is an English­man, and the di­rec­tor of the Gate The­atre is an English­woman.”

Nigel Farage in­deed, would prob­a­bly hes­i­tate be­fore ex­press­ing his un­hap­pi­ness in this way, about “out­siders” be­ing placed in charge of Great Bri­tish in­sti­tu­tions.

For Bal­lagh, the prob­lem with the “two Scots­men” and their ilk arises from the in­trin­sic na­ture of an in­sti­tu­tion such as the Abbey, which has “an obli­ga­tion to re­flect Ir­ish cul­tural val­ues”.

Ah, our old friend, the “Ir­ish cul­tural val­ues” — as to what these might be, I re­call that the young Bal­lagh was a mu­si­cian with a show­band called The Chess­men, and when he was giv­ing up that way of life, ac­cord­ing to Ir­ish rock’n’roll leg­end, his Fen­der bass gui­tar was bought by one Philip Lynott.

Yes, that would be Philip Lynott who was born in West Bromwich in the United King­dom, whose fa­ther was from Guyana — the same Philip Lynott who formed and be­came a kind of chief ex­ec­u­tive of Thin Lizzy in which the lead gui­tarist was Eric Bell from Belfast, which then, as now, is si­t­u­ated in the United King­dom. Later the most in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful ver­sion of Lizzy would have the Amer­i­can Scott Gorham and the Scots­man Brian Robert­son on gui­tars.

And yet if you were talk­ing about an in­sti­tu­tion which rep­re­sented “Ir­ish cul­tural val­ues” at their most daz­zling and so­phis­ti­cated, not only would many of us be pleased to nom­i­nate Thin Lizzy as ex­em­plars of that, we would ac­tu­ally be deeply of­fended if you left them out. An­other great Ir­ish cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion, U2, were man­aged by a man born in Ger­many where his fa­ther was in the RAF, as was the fa­ther of the English-born Adam Clay­ton.

So it should hardy mat­ter at all re­ally, where a per­son was born or raised, when we are as­sess­ing their abil­ity to ad­vance the cause of Ir­ish cul­tural val­ues — in the the­atre, the most tri­umphant times in the ca­reer of Bren­dan Be­han were over­seen by the English­woman Joan Lit­tle­wood. Bal­lagh him­self worked on

River­dance, which de­rived much of its orig­i­nal en­ergy from the work of the two Amer­i­cans, Jean But­ler and Michael Flat­ley.

In­deed, there is hardly a story of suc­cess­ful Ir­ish art that does not in­volve the “out­sider” in some po­si­tion of high re­spon­si­bil­ity — so if we were re­ally do­ing it right, we would re­alise that the prob­lem is not that there are too many of these out­siders in­volved , but that there can never be enough of them.

Por­trait of Amer­i­can au­thor JP Don­leavy by Robert Bal­lagh

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