Traolach Ó Ríordáin
The College of Humanities and Sciences [CHS], under the auspices of the English Department, offers a minor in Irish Studies that provides students with access to instruction, study and research in the fields of language, history and literature. CHS partner with the College of Visual and Performing Arts [CVPA] to investigate and celebrate the artistic and cultural achievements of the Irish in the fields of music, theatre, and dance. This interdisciplinary and inter-collegiate collaboration brings together leading scholars in the humanities and the creative arts to create an integrated academic and artistic approach to the study of Irish culture. Such collaboration ensures that students receive an in-depth understanding and training in Irish Studies as well as a broad-based exposure to that vibrant and imaginative culture that continues to unite and inspire the people of the United States and Ireland.
History: A key objective of this minor is to build on the high quality of scholarship produced by past and present faculty and to enhance the reputation of the University of Montana as a center of excellence in history, literature and language. Professor David Emmons scholarly work, The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875-1925, not only made a critical intervention in the field of Irish studies, but brought to light the vast corpus of primary material relating to the Irish experience in America and the need for further research and publication in this area. The nature and quality of the sources has in many ways shaped the intellectual direction of the Irish Studies program which now focuses much of its resources on investigating the imperatives of Irish American culture and identity and the ways in which emigrant community impacted the political, cultural and social life of Ireland.
Literature: Closely allied to the study of history is the study of literature in both the English and Irish languages. Irish writers in the English language such as Joyce, Beckett, Yeats and others form a core of writers whose work has been of great importance to contemporary canons of Irish literature. Courses in the Irish Studies Minor will also focus on the contemporary conflict in Northern Ireland; such writing confronts the ravages of sectarian violence, but also increasingly represents the hopefulness of the peace process and its model for tolerance and multi-ethnic inclusiveness. While work of this kind in Ireland has an ancient pedigree, Northern writers have not yet been fully embraced by the aristocracy of Irish letters. These custodians of the canon find that the literature of the North casts light on an Ireland many would prefer kept in the shadows. Students of this course will find many of their preconceived notions about Ireland profoundly shaken by the 'Northern voices.'
This minor assumes a pioneering role in offering students the opportunity to study the literary tradition of the Irish language, the oldest vernacular literature in Europe. Stretching back nearly 2,000 years, it records the history of a people and expresses with eloquent defiance the response of the Irish to their traumatic and turbulent experience of conquest and colonization. By providing students with access to the literature of Gaelic Ireland in translation, the University of Montana stands alone as the only institution west of the Mississippi to offer such courses.
Language: This minor is unique in the West for the centrality it accords Irish Gaelic culture in general and the Irish language in particular and in so doing places the University of Montana alongside the University of Notre Dame as the only two institutions in the country with this emphasis. While this commitment may be seen as a logical extension of UM's long involvement in the promotion of the Irish language, it is also true that the need to investigate the place of the Irish language and culture in the formation of the Irish identity in America is an equally important consideration. The dearth of investigative research in this area can be traced to a lack of scholars familiar with the Irish language. This minor proposes the first step towards producing a future crop of scholars with the linguistic training necessary to engage this important aspect of the Irish historical experience.
This minor also recognizes the need to accommodate a growing local and nationwide demand for instruction in the language. Indeed, it was in response to this demand that the University initially got involved in teaching Irish and became aware of the great need for teachers. This minor takes a bold step in meeting this need by providing students with intensive courses designed to produce fluent speakers and competent teachers of the language.
Theatre and Film: The Irish tendency to defy norms and conventions has seen a body of progressive work emerge in drama and film that is much sought after as both a subject of study and a source of entertainment. It is the aim of this minor to bring together the artistic and imaginative impulse that has shaped theatre and film in Montana and Ireland in a manner that is not only intellectually rewarding for our students, but will also be appealing to the community.
Music and Dance: Irish traditional music and dance have been part of the culture in Montana since the first immigrants from Ireland settled in the state. The University of Montana draws on this tradition to introduce student to the different forms of dance and the various instruments and styles of Irish music. Local musicians and dancers are joined by guest artists from Ireland to provide students with a richer experience and finer appreciations of these aspects of the Irish tradition
Research: The University of Montana is committed to supporting primary research in the field of Irish Studies and on building on the foundations laid by earlier scholars.
- The Gathering: The main research project of the program is The Gathering: Collected Oral Histories of the Irish of Montana. This project is designed to attain two objectives: The first is to record the history, culture and traditions of the Irish of Montana and to draw on this resource to preserve and foster Irish culture in the state; the second is to record concepts of identity and chart any shifts in these concepts from generation to generation.
- Electronic Irish Research Experience [EIRE]: This initiative seeks to make available online and in digitized format the primary materials relating to the history of the Irish that are currently held in the Mansfield Library, the Butte Silverbow Archives, the Montana Historical Society and in other repositories around the state. The object of this project is to enable scholars researching the history of the Irish in America to access and include the Montana record in their study.
Finally, the minor takes seriously the status of Ireland as a colonized country--a "training ground" for the British Empire"--where strategies of conquest and colonization were first employed and tested. Studying the Irish experience will deepen students' understanding of the dynamics of colonization and cultural destruction, particularly as it applies to Native American peoples.