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Univeristy hosts Irish studies conference

Lisa Schultz | Thursday, April 14, 2005

While every Notre Dame student can claim to be Fighting Irish, some can actually say they received a true Irish education.

Founded in 1993, the Keough Institute for Irish Studies has been garnering attention for the University recently as people gain understanding of what Irish Studies means for Notre Dame students.

“[Being an Irish Studies student is] not just getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day,” director and co-founder of the Keough Institute for Irish Studies and English professor Christopher Fox said. “It’s a serious enterprise.”

The Institute is a serious enough enterprise to catch global attention. When the Associated Press released “Notre Dame Fosters Irish Language Revival,” it ranked No. 7 on the top ten most popular links for the week of March 17-23 on CNN.com.

Interest stems from what Fox calls the “third generation factor.” Irish American immigrants were taught they were not going to make it in America if their Irish identity showed through, Fox said. Now, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are seeking out the culture they lacked.

Curiosity about Irish Studies is evident on campus. In the last four years, enrollment in the minor has increased from 13 to 61 students. In the 2004-2005 school year, over 900 students took courses within the Department of Irish Language and Literature.

Irish Studies at Notre Dame is distinct from similar programs at other universities because Irish Language and Literature is its own department as of this school year.

Through generous grants, beginning with a 2.5 million dollar donation from Donald Keough in 1993, the Institute has grown tremendously. Seamus Deane, who Fox calls “the Irish intellectual,” co-founded the institute and has attracted top professors in the world to the Keough Institute. These professors are now faculty within the Department of Irish Language and Literature.

Fox said he and Deane intended to create a truly international program.

“We wanted to make Ireland, not Irish America, central,” Fox said.

Creating an authentic international studies program has been accomplished by putting Irish, which is now a minority language, at the forefront. Students in the Irish Studies Minor Area Studies Program must begin by taking three Irish Language courses.

“[Notre Dame’s program] puts teaching of the Irish language at the heart of the academic experience,” Irish Studies Program director and history professor Éamonn Ó Ciardha said.

The Irish Studies minor also requires students to take four other classes in anthropology, English, Irish language and literature, film, television, and theater, government and history. In the spring 2005 semester, courses ranged from “Irish and American Dance” to “Irish Gothic From Union to Troubles.”

“[The Irish Studies minor] provides a wonderful avenue to exposure to all parts of Ireland,” senior Maeve Carey said.

Carey spent the spring semester of her junior year studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. She took classes at University College Dublin in history and politics and took two classes through the University of Notre Dame’s Keough Center in Dublin.

Each year, approximately 70 Notre Dame students – 15 of which are Irish Studies minors – study in Dublin, according to Ó Ciardha. In addition to study abroad opportunites, the Keough Institute also typically awards five summer internships, two of which are reserved for students with a minor in Irish Studies. Carey was an intern during summer 2004.

“I lived in the heart of Dublin with five other Notre Dame students and worked in the press office of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs,” Carey said. “Dublin had become a home away from home.”

Exposure to Irish and European politics gave Carey some insight to writing her Capstone Essay, the final Irish Studies minor requirement, which is fulfilled senior year. The goal of the 20- to 30-page essay is to link the student’s major to their Irish Studies minor. Carey said her paper bridges this gap well.

“My major is political science, so I am writing my Capstone about the changing American role in the Northern Ireland peace process since [Sept. 11, 2001],” she said.

The Keough Institute also has about 20 graduate students in four different disciplines. Grad students have an opportunity to study in Ireland through the Irish Seminar, which is also run by the Keough Institute and usually attracts 30 to 40 international graduate students.

What began as a small Notre Dame project more than a decade ago has now become an increasingly comprehensive international program, making Notre Dame a landmark of Irish studies in the United States.

“This is the University of Irish America,” Ó Ciardha said.