*** NOTE ***
By Anna Sarkissian
It takes more than one person to lift an idea off the ground. As Michael Kenneally, interim principal of the newly created School of Canadian Irish Studies learned, it takes political will, institutional support and significant interest from the community.
Those elements were aligned as the school was officially launched last week at a celebration featuring high-profile guests with Irish roots including Premier Jean Charest, former Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Premier Daniel Johnson.
Two hundred people gathered in the chapel of the Grey Nuns Mother House for the event, emceed by Canadian Irish Studies Foundation Chair Brian Gallery. “It was very gratifying,” Kenneally said.
Quebec’s thriving Irish community has a history of supporting initiatives tied to the old country. Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the oldest parade of its kind in Canada, dating back to 1824. The ever-popular Cine Gael Montreal Irish series which screens films at the J.A. de Sève Cinema is now in its 18th year. Kenneally also organizes a well-respected lecture series that has seen over 170 cultural figures, academics, writers and politicians visit Concordia since its inception.
The Canadian Irish Studies Foundation, under Gallery’s leadership convinced 600 donors to contribute. Significant additional funding came from the provincial and federal governments, the Irish government and the university, which supported the project every step of the way.
Since the first courses in Irish literature and history were offered in 1991, attendance has increased year by year. In 2002, Concordia launched the Centre for Canadian Irish Studies, which evolved into the School of Canadian Irish Studies this summer.
Ireland may only have five million people, but it truly punches above its weight, according to Kenneally. The same is true for the school; there are 23 scholarships already established, in addition to a Chair in Canadian Irish Studies, occupied by Kenneally, a Johnson Chair in Quebec and Canadian Irish Studies, an Irish historian and regular visiting scholars.
Students from all Faculties can register for courses spanning 12 departments across two Faculties and focus on Ireland’s complex history and rich culture, as well as the contribution of Irish immigrants in Canada.
“Irish studies is not simply about Ireland. It’s about subjects such as cultural identity, colonization, rebellion, reconciliation and other issues embodied by Ireland’s story,” Kenneally said.
Doctoral candidate Heather MacDougall agrees. Though she’s not Irish, she became interested in Irish cinema while working at a film festival in Northern Ireland. She is working on her PhD in Humanities and is studying the role of the Irish language in Irish cinema. Next semester, she will be teaching a course on film culture in Ireland.
“I didn’t know a lot about Ireland when I first went there. I was a complete blank slate,” she said. The strength of the school lies in its interdisciplinarity, she added. “We can easily collaborate with people from other fields, which is a real asset when you’re doing research.”
In Kenneally’s speech at the launch, he said, “These accomplishments have been achieved as a result of the extraordinary collaboration between Concordia University, several governments and the Irish community in Montreal and across Canada.”
Find out more about the School of Canadian Irish Studies.