What Byrne has been suggesting for the best part of a decade is an intricate reimagining of what it means to be Irish. No more easy express laneways leading off into mid-air. No more of the lepracorny bullshit. No more dismantling of enlightened social legislation. No more vapid political smiles. No more stunned submission to greed. No more demolition of heritage.
What interests him is the creation of a new bridge to the diaspora – not one that necessarily brings people home, but one that also brings home outwards . To have a properly nuanced debate. A sustained imaginative effort. To stop tapping the Yanks, the Aussies, the Brits on the shoulder: Brother can you lend a dime ?
To recognise that we are shaped, first, by how we see ourselves and then further shaped by how we are seen by others. To create community centres not just abroad but at home too. To swell our lungs. To give recent emigrants a vote, a way to return. To embrace otherness. To question our violence. To dissect our psychoses. To challenge our passivity. To get under the skin. To make an Ireland of the Irelands. All very well and good, the argument goes, if you’re a movie star and you’ve got a pad in New York. But as cultural ambassador for three years, Byrne gave up an enormous amount of his own time and energy – entirely unpaid and largely unheralded by our government – to sow the beginnings of his idea that “culture” isn’t just some grandiose, elitist notion.
Colum McCann, article excerpt, The Irish Times 16/03/2013