Was It For This?


Artist Robert Ballagh

‘I was not at all surprised to read the open letter signed by more than 300 Irish practitioners that was sent to Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan expressing their deep concern and dissatisfaction with the direction that the Abbey Theatre has taken in recent times.

However, I was surprised that the letter did not raise an obvious question: why is the Irish National Theatre, which has an obligation to reflect Irish cultural values, currently being run by two Scotsman?

I suppose if this disconnect was simply a problem for the Abbey Theatre, the situation would not be so serious, but at this moment in time practically every national cultural institution is being managed by an outsider.

For example, 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.

It seems that when it comes to our cultural institutions that warning experienced by our emigrants in the past still holds sway: “No Irish need apply.”

Robert Ballagh,

Dublin 7


Irish Times Letters

Yesterday: Shabbey



Sarah Glennie?

39 thoughts on “Was It For This?

  1. ivan

    It’d be so much easier to take him seriously if he wasn’t channelling Professor Heinz Wolff.

    Who was, as it happens, German.

  2. Janet, I ate my avatar

    could it possibly be the person the most qualified and who has the most experience got the job ?

  3. Joe Small

    Robert Ballagh has a history of being a fairly green Republican. Not sure if he’s a card-carrying member of Sinn Féin though.

  4. George

    I think a tendency has developed in Ireland to hire only people who already have experience at the exact evel of the job and not to promote people or to recruit candidates for whom the job would be a step up. Perhaps this is due to the many years when there was an over supply of candidates during the recession and the experience requirement even for low-level jobs was ridiculous.

    It is hard to see someone getting their first director level job in Ireland with this attitude therefore the recruitment of people from overseas is an inevitable consequence.

  5. Mountain Talk

    Well, don’t worry Bob, your in good hands in the wonderful world of Irish Visual Arts. Where mostly every institution is run by same ppl 20 years minimum. Douglas Hyde > John Hutchison 25years. RHA > Patrick Murphy near 30years, not forgetting the ppl behind the scenes controlling the money. If Arts in Ireland was a political system it’s completely Authorarian. The problem isn’t who’s in. It’s how long. How healthy is the system. No change is fine for a lumber yard but Arts. Some of these tooty-pooters barely understand photoshop nevermind……. Point being, change always means more openess and progressiveness. No change means stall insular protectionism. Any Arts related term shouldn’t be more than 10years max. Doesn’t matter who’s in. In fact the more different the person in, the better.

    1. The Old Boy

      I’m inclined to agree. The great bulk of Irish art, literature and theater is thumpingly mediocre at best, yet the practitioners go about praising each other (and themselves) to the skies, without even a passing regard to quality. Anyone who dissents from the inside is ostracised and anyone criticising from the outside is decried as a leaden philistine.

      There was an article in Irish Times a couple of years ago in which a large number of Irish authors who had reviewed books for various publications were asked whether they would ever write a negative review of Irish work. All but one either said that they would never write a negative review or would decline to review something they disliked. Even by the slackest journalistic code, no-one would print anything in any other section of the paper if that was the writer’s starting point.

        1. The Old Boy

          She was just about the only one, and regularly elicited pompous how very dare she! responses from some literary grandee or other when she punctured yet another dreadful overwrought tome by someone who is very well regarded, don’t you know.

      1. gerry

        There’s nothing wrong with an author refusing to write about a book they don’t like. Its not an author’s job to go around slating other authors. Why would they want to do that?

  6. Andrew

    Oh dear, immigration is bad when it impinges on my domain but good when it’s someone else’s domain.


  7. Eoin

    letter from 300 artists questioning Irish representation at the Abbey theatre – good (so good in fact that the arts council has not at all knee-jerkedly withheld €300,000 of the circa €7.3m of our money it kindly and questionably gives the theatre each year)
    letter from a single artist questioning Irish representation at top of Irish state-funded arts bodies – bad

  8. Termagant

    Well it’s the Irish NATIONAL Theatre, the NATIONAL Gallery of Ireland, representing our NATIONAL culture, surely this is one avenue where nationalism is the right and proper approach.

    1. Cian

      By that argument should we appoint a king to run all of our ROYAL institutions?

      Royal City of Dublin Hospital
      Royal College of General Practitioners (Irish Division)
      Royal College of Psychiatrists (Irish Division)
      Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
      Royal College of Radiologists
      Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
      Royal College of Anaesthetists
      Royal Cork Institution
      Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
      Royal Geological Society of Ireland
      Royal Cork Yacht Club
      Royal Dublin Golf Club
      Royal Dublin Society
      Royal Hibernian Academy
      Royal Hibernian Military School
      Royal Hospital Donnybrook
      Royal Hospital Kilmainham
      Royal Horticultural Society (Ireland)
      Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
      Royal Institution of Engineers of Ireland
      Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland
      Royal Irish Academy of Music
      Royal Irish Academy
      Royal Irish Automobile Club
      Royal Irish Yacht Club
      Royal National Lifeboat Institution
      Royal Town Planning Institute
      Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland
      Royal Veterinary College of Ireland
      Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital

  9. newsjustin

    The whole Abbey thing has an awful smell of “they’re coming over here taking our acting/producing/writing jobs.”

    But clearly that can’t be. Because same-sex, pro-choice, etc, etc.

    1. SOQ

      Oh come on, all he is asking is why ALL of these top end positions have been filled by foreign nationals.

      Do you honestly think the same question would not be asked in GB if the other way about?

  10. Scundered

    I wonder if he also feels that irish people working in the UK shouldn’t be promoted to top jobs? Or is his bigotry just limited to Ireland?

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