The ‘Stella d’Italia’ knighthood
Early in 2021, I received a lovely – and most unexpected – piece of correspondence.
It came from His Excellency, the Italian Ambassador to Ireland, Paolo Serpi. He wanted to tell me that I had been awarded the decoration of ‘Cavaliere’ in the Order ‘Stella d’Italia’, by the Italian Government.
The award was being granted in recognition of my ‘role in Irish literature’ and my ‘close ties with Italy and its culture’.
Well. It was quite the moment.
When I recovered from the shock, I felt honoured and delighted. It was such a bright start to 2021 – particularly given the challenges we’d all had to face during the previous year.
COVID restrictions meant that the official ceremony was postponed until the end of September.
The Ambassador spoke movingly of his belief that literature builds bridges between people and nations; that it fosters empathy; and that it contributes to a greater understanding of the challenges we all face in our daily lives.
I continue to feel very fortunate that writing has offered me so many different opportunities over the years to build such a significant relationship with Italy and Italian readers.
Ten years ago, along with the Italian writer, Federica Sgaggio, I co-founded the Italo-Irish Literary Exchange.
This experiment continued for some years and offered the opportunity to several writers – both Italian and Irish – to share their work and introduce different perspectives to new audiences in both countries.
It was a delight to work with Angela Tangianu, during her tenure as Director of the Istituto, and later with her successor, Renata Sperandio.
My collaborations with Renata over several years saw the birth of many initiatives promoting Italian writers, artists, and musicians in Ireland. The launch of the wonderful Dante Summer School in 2019, in partnership with UCD and TCD, saw students and Dante enthusiasts from all over the world taking part – both in person and online.
In more recent times, along with the Italian writer based in Dublin Max Roveri, I’ve had great fun helping to develop the San Patrizio Festival in Livorno, Tuscany – a festival supported generously by Culture Ireland and the Irish Embassy in Rome. St Patrick is reputed to have spent some time close to the port of Livorno, and that was good enough for us…
The San Patrizio Festival has enabled us to showcase the work of Irish writers and musicians in Italy. In 2019, we celebrated the ‘greening’ of the public monuments in the city of Livorno: all of them illuminated in celebration of St Patrick’s Day – a most enjoyable first!
And while the pandemic has made travel impossible for the past two years, we’ve continued to run events on online, and hope to have an in-person festival sometime in 2022.
The Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Dublin now has a new Director, Marco Gioacchini, who has recently arrived and I very much look forward to working with him in the future.
In other news this month, New Island will issue an updated edition of AN UNCONSIDERED PEOPLE.
It was a project that enabled me to interview Irish immigrants in London – those who had left this country in the dismal decade of the 1950s – and capture their stories while it was still possible.
This new edition has a Foreword by Diarmaid Ferriter and a new chapter, in which I outline the economic conditions that led to the further waves of emigration from Ireland in the 1980s and post-economic crash.
It’s going to be a busy autumn.