“Swift” Speaking by The President of Ireland

michael d higgins

When our daughter was young, Barry would often read aloud to her. He once read an excerpt from “Gulliver’s Travels” and she giggled incessantly upon realizing what “making water” meant, bright child that she was. The next few hours found her laughing and repeating the phrase. I’m not entirely sure that’s what we wanted her to most remember (Or repeat. In front of her grandparents!), but she has never forgotten it.

While in Ireland recently, we were offered the opportunity to attend the Swift Satire Festival in Trim. It was a pleasure made doubly so by the President of Ireland who is not only a leader, but a scholar, giving the festival’s inaugural address.

The president spoke eloquently and with fervor about Swift, a man who had also been the dean of a local church in Trim, a town more recently distinguished for having the castle used in the movie Braveheart. (Pictures to come.)

Higgins ended his speech with a word to writers, one I shared today with my students, and one I take to heart:

“Without the engagement and passion of people, without the raised voice of the intellectual and the poet, without the willingness to engage in public discourse at the price of personal risk, without the willingness of the powerful and the well connected to feel such a thorn or scruple as will impel them to disturb the composure of their class and peers and go on to champion the cause of the marginalised and the excluded, we will not have a society which is worthy of the support and allegiance of all of the citizens.”

At the conclusion of his speech he shook hands with a few of his listeners. My husband and I were happily among those. Sad to say, our hands were too occupied to use our camera to record the event. But what’s the chance we’ll ever forget it, anyway?

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