A new chapter in the relationship between Ireland and Scotland opens tomorrow with the launch in Glasgow of a fabulous celebration of the arts which bills itself as The Irish Scottish Cultural & Literary Festival.
Trasnú-Comar, which translates as crossing in Irish and Gaelic and is the brainchild of the Belfast-based literary journal Irish Pages, will set the heather on fire with 40-plus events throughout the week.
It’s no coincidence that this blossoming of cultural friendships across the Straits of Moyle comes on the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, that landmark peace deal which, as Senator George Mitchell observes today, ensured that thousands live among us who would otherwise have perished in our conflict.
For while the Good Friday Agreement showed tremendous vision in looking at the multiplicity of relationships across Ireland and between these islands, it also put on a platter the possibility of deepening ties of kith, kin and culture between Ireland – and particularly the North of Ireland – and Scotland.
I am delighted to do my own bit to set this harmonious hare running by saying a few words at the launch of Trasnú-Comar tomorrow (Monday) in the great city of Glasgow in the company of Scotland’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell and the perspicacious plenipotentiaries at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs who have sponsored this coming together of our literary lions (and lionesses).
Mr Russell doesn’t mince his words when it comes to Brexit. He told the Scottish Parliament recently: “We need to stop the damage that Brexit is likely to do to Scotland, and we need to make it absolutely clear that those people who seek to impose Brexit on a country that did not vote for Brexit are the people who are doing down Scotland, damaging Scotland and damaging every sector of Scotland. By their works you will know them, and the works are the works of the Tory party.”
On Thursday, I will have the opportunity to visit another great city, Buffalo, New York, where Senator Tim Kennedy will deliver on a pledge to bring together people of goodwill who are interested in building bridges of mutual benefit with Belfast. We will focus in particular on links between innovation hubs in Belfast and their Buffalo counterparts and the upcoming participation of the University at Buffalo in the Belfast Basketball Classic. My journeying will conclude on Friday at the Division of Global Affairs of Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey where I will address their 2018 Global Affairs Conference.
While in Newark, I hope I get a chance to say hello to the city’s inspirational mayor Ras Baraka who, in the HBO documentary ‘Brick City’, delivered the unforgettable ‘This is not normal’ speech to chastened pupils after an attempted murder attempt on a schoolboy. I cited that powerful speech (which you can view by clicking on image below) in my catalogue essay for the ‘Tears in Rain’ exhibition of art relating to our conflict.
Buffalo, Newark, and, indeed, Glasgow, are navigating the challenging crossing towards a brighter shore. That’s a journey Belfast is all too-familiar with so why not make the crossing together?