President Michael D. Higgins talks culture with an Undertone

Mayor of Derry, Colr. Martin Reilly and his wife Bronagh meet President Higgins during his Presidential garden party. (160713JC8)
Mayor of Derry, Colr. Martin Reilly and his wife Bronagh meet President Higgins during his Presidential garden party. (160713JC8)

The President Michael D. Higgins, has hosted a garden party with a difference for Derry at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin.

The party, which had a distinct City of Culture theme, hosted Derry’s new Mayor and performances from punk legends, The Undertones, Soak and Mairead Carlin.

Whilst there, Michael Bradley, local broadcaster and bass player with the Undertones, seized the opportunity to hear some of the President’s thoughts on the role of culture in Ireland.

President Higgins said: “Doire Colmcille or Derry or Londonderry - whatever you want to call it, illustrates something for me that’s very important as well. In a way, a space is only a space but it can be different places for different people, it depends very much on the story that is poured into it,” the President said.

“Also, as different narratives co-exist in the same space they become different spaces, different homelands as it were. What you have to do is to realise the incredible possibilities that are there when people are able to share a sense of intimacy in a place where they know they’re different and they know, in fact, that they remember differently.”

Illustrating his point, the President continued: “Writers look at it like that, poets and musical composers look at it like that, because one of the things that I suppose strikes one immediately is that music has never known any boundaries at all.

“The arts community are the same, they are a migrant community in every sense, they go from city to city and people are listening in and listening to soul or blues. That is really something really profoundly human.

“I’ve always been attracted to both the vulnerability and the power of the Cultural area. There’s nothing like it. I’ve gone on stage myself to read poems with musicians and I think it’s a great test, because you’re waiting to go on and if you’re any good at all, you’ll be feeling a bit nervous!”

Speaking of his long relationship with Dublin’s Cultural scene, Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, went on: “Part of the reason I was able to function as well as I did twenty years ago during the four years I was Minister for Culture in terms of the theatres that were built and funding that was given was because I had a very long friendship with unemployed actors and writers and musicians and I had an idea of their world.”

President D. Higgins will visit the city again next month.

“I’m very much looking forward to Derry,” he adds. “I’ll be there in August and I’ll be delighted to be there.”