In the first place I would like to thank Jack Harte the current chairman of the Board of the centre who’s commitment to it in recent years is unparalleled and who initiated this celebration. He was among the first to advocate a centre for Irish writers. In 1991 he negotiated with Mat McNulty a joint project, An Irish Writers’ Centre. Mat was then in the process of setting up the Dublin Writers Museum next door. For some time Jack had been concerned about the facilities and services available for Irish writers. He founded the Irish Writers’ Union in 1987. He secured from the government a commitment to make a building available for such a centre and got a promise of some funding from the National Lottery too. Jack came forward again in 2009 when the Arts Council ceased to support the centre and it was in danger of foundering. His skill and determination has given it new life.
It is more than twenty years since I first became involved with the project that was to become the Irish Writers Centre. Mat McNulty whom I knew through Skal, the fellowship of people working in the Irish tourism and hospitality industry was responsible for drawing me in. As CEO of Dublin Tourism he had already put his mark on Malahide Castle, The Martello Tower in Sandycove, associated with Joyce’s Ulysses, and Shaw’s birthplace in Synge Street and helped to save them as part of our cultural heritage. But he was especially interested in the Georgian period, its buildings and furniture. These two beautiful Georgian buildings were in peril. They had been vacated some years previously by the VEC who had moved their marketing school to larger premises on Mountjoy Square. Their peril proved an opportunity for Dublin Tourism to restore the buildings and to give them a new future in the Dublin Writers Museum and an Irish Writers Centre. It was Dublin’s year as European City of Culture. The project would provide “a hub and a centrepiece to make access to our rich literary heritage more accessible and more tangible”. Dublin needed and deserved a museum to honour its many writers of world renown and the whole of Ireland would benefit from a centre to promote its writers and help improve their craft.
I was excited by the possibility of assisting the project by lending some paintings to complement the building and enrich the experience of visiting it and working in it. The humane influence of the paintings would help to transform an empty house into a home for writers and contribute to the efforts of the team which was being assembled to work here. Dublin Tourism had managed the restoration of the buildings. Its subsidiary, The Writers Museum, next door was involved in the development. In those days before the Centre was up and running there was a very close connection between the museum’s building and the centre’s; an interconnecting door on the second floor opened to a push and the director of the museum oversaw this building
too. That is how the paintings came to be given on loan to Dublin Tourism – Dublin Writers Museum but with the intention that they were to be placed in the Irish Writers Centre. The loan became a gift when a few years later I had become ill and faced my own mortality. I believe now that my involvement in that giving contributed in no small way to my management of the illness and thereafter to resume collecting paintings again.
The pleasure of collecting has many aspects. There is the chase, the search, the finding, the badgering, the bargaining, the negotiating of terms, the acquiring. There is the delight in the acquisition, its installing at home, enjoying its presence. There is the study and understanding of its background, its style, its creative process, the acquaintance with the artist, sometimes developing into friendship. But then there is the added delight if sharing one’s pleasure with friends and others, in sharing paintings which have become precious and personal. Those who really enjoy art invariably wish to expand their appreciation and introduce others to the experience. have been greatly enriched by those who have generously influenced me in the past and I’m immensely grateful to them for that. These beautiful paintings have given me great joy over many years and it has meant even more to me that I have been able to share them with the people who frequent the centre. I am grateful for that too. I hope that they will inspire many more in they future as the centre goes from strength to strength.
Towards concluding may I also be bold enough to suggest to the Minister responsible for the Arts, Minister Dennehy, that he might look to the vacant derelict buildings on this side of Parnell Square to restore and develop them as the major centre for services to Irish literature. The old parliament buildings serve their present function very well and thousands of people, Irishmen and tourists, visit them every day in the course of their banking, business and private to enjoy and admire them and appreciate their history. I find it a welcome distraction in dealing with my own sorry finances when I
And then finally, I would like to thank Sarah Symes and her colleagues, all of whom work voluntarily here who have organised the event. I offer a special word of thanks to the artists whose works form part of this collection, the first paintings I purchased and among them those who have participated in the evening, those who responded to the paintings in poetry and prose; and you who have come and by your presence have honoured me greatly. You make me realise all the more that in giving I am really the recipient. Thank you.
Frank X Buckley
24 November 2011