Ambassador Kitano's Speech at the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens (Presentation of Foreign Minister's Commendation to Ms Agnes Aylward and Unveiling Ceremony of the plaque commemorating HIH Princess Takamado’s visit)

Mayor of Waterford City and County Cllr Joe Kelly, Minister Mary Butler TD, Ms Agnes Aylward,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today for the Unveiling Ceremony of the plaque commemorating the visit of Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado and the presentation of the Foreign Minister’s Commendation to Ms Agnes Aylward.  Since opening in June 2015, the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens have become a symbol of the cultural links between Japan and Ireland. Lafcadio Hearn is better known in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo and it was on a visit to Tramore in 2012 by his great grandson Koizumi Bon that the idea of creating a memorial garden in the place where Hearn spent summers as a child came about. Ms Agnes Aylward, whom we are here to honour today, spearheaded the project with the support of Tramore Development Trust, Waterford City and County Council and local volunteers and with financial support from Waterford Council, the Japanese JEC Fund and a number of Irish and Japanese businesses such as SMBC. The construction of the Gardens began in June 2014 and was completed in just a year.

Since these gardens opened in 2015, they have offered people in Ireland a wonderful opportunity to learn about Lafcadio Hearn’s unique connection with Japan.  At the same time, many Japan-related events held here have given visitors an insight into Japanese culture and history.

One of the high points in its six-year history was the visit of Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado. During her visit to Ireland in July 2017 for the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland, Her Imperial Highness visited the Gardens to plant a tree. I am deeply grateful to Her Imperial Highness for the visit and her continued support for the friendship between our two countries. I am delighted to be here for the unveiling of the plaque commemorating her visit.

On 20 August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan announced that Ms Agnes Aylward had been awarded with the Commendation of the Foreign Minister of Japan. This decision was made in recognition of Ms Aylward’s outstanding contribution to the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan and Ireland. I am delighted about this wonderful decision because I know first-hand of her dedication and contribution.

Ms Aylward is soft, but determined. She has a strong will to make an idea into reality. She took the idea of re-developing the sloping location with a magnificent view to create the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens and, through her efforts, they came into existence.

She is calm, but passionate. She has an attachment and affection for all things related to Lafcadio Hearn and is tireless in promoting matters related to him.

She is modest, but has tremendous organisational ability. It requires a lot of energy and skill to move forward with the construction and ongoing development of a place such as these Gardens. Since opening, there have been additions, such as the Summer Pavilion and Japanese Tea House.  The Gardens have moved from being managed by the Tramore Development Trust to becoming an independent entity - the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens CLG. This all speaks to Ms Aylward’s organisational ability.

The Japanese Gardens where we are all gathered together here now are the result of all Ms Aylward’s dedication and contribution. I would like to congratulate her on this commendation from the bottom of my heart. It is a great pleasure for me to have this moment here in her hometown of Tramore together with her family, friends and colleagues.

One of the things I love about these gardens is that 11 phases of Lafcadio Hearn’s life are used in its design. In fact, life is a sequence of phases. Sometimes we face a turning point in our life. Sometimes we come across challenges. Then in trying to overcome them, we move on to the next phase. Life flows in phases and it is an evolution in phases. I congratulate Ms Aylward and the Gardens on where they are now and I hope they will move ever forward in their next phases. In concluding, I look very much towards the continued success of Ms Aylward and the further development of the Gardens.

Thank you very much for your attention.