Omnia Hibernica: how ACIS brought Irish studies to the academy.
IN ANY HISTORY OF IRISH AMERICANA, 1961 leaps out as an annus mirabilis. On January 20 of that year, the United States inaugurated as president the child of immigrants from Wexford and Cork. Not just someone whose family had emigrated from Ireland, like Andrew Jackson or William McKinley, but an offspring of the formerly oppressed native stock. John F. Kennedy, the second son of a millionaire ambassador to the Court of St. James, walked and talked like a Boston Brahmin. But he wanted all citizens to know that he was a fior-ghael, a true Irishman. The Kennedy ascendancy did not change social history' as much as it announced subterranean transformations that were already taking place. Two centuries of social experience that gave us such colloquialism as "thick Mick," "paddy wagon" and "old biddy," had pretty well come to a close. For a new generation Irishness was not a burden but a choice.
Anyone, fior-ghael or not, who chose to know about Irishness in 1961 had to be an autodidact and a determined one at that. The history curriculum of the time so marginalized Ireland, placing it a bit ahead of Albania or Latvia, that a university student would be fortunate to have read one paragraph on the Famine in progress toward a baccalaureate degree. Celtic, or "Seltic," was the name of a basketball team, and most students would be unaware that the ancient Irish language boasted an extensive, artistically complex literature. The esteemed modernists, William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, enjoyed academic acclaim and were often assigned reading for students, but usually shorn of their Irish settling. In the Norton Anthology of that time the monarch of Yeats's "Madness of King Goll" was glossed unhelpfully as a "minor eighth-century Ulster king." That Goll bore an unmistakable resemblance to Suibhne Geilt, "Mad Sweeney," was deemed either unknowable or not worth pursuing.
To pursue self-instruction in Irish history or literature in 1961 called for tenacity and inventiveness, virtues often unrewarded by recognition. Most metropolitan and university libraries shelved few Irish books, and those that could be found were not always reliable. A common item was Seumas MacManus's romantic nationalist The Story of the Irish Race (1921), which asserted credulously that Fionn mac Cumhaill was an historical personage of the third century. Travel to one of the dozen or so major libraries in North America, or a special collection like that of the American Irish Historical Institute, could be rewarding, but most aspiring scholars needed to maintain accounts with Irish booksellers like Hodges, Figgis or Brown & Nolan. Short scholarly articles were difficult to place, often having to horn their way into journals devoted to British history and literature or in Catholic publications, not an ideal forum for discussing Scan O'Casey. The academic labor market still favored the job seeker at that time, but the recent doctoral student with a dissertation in Irish history or literature often found him- or herself at a disadvantage when competing with applicants who had written on English or American topics. How was such a person to use his or her expertise in the classroom? If the young scholar persisted, there was some question whether a published monograph on Robert Emmet or Liam O'Flaherty was a strong asset in arguing for tenure or promotion.
Yet one did not have to have a wet finger in the wind to feel that change was imminent. Postwar prosperity had fostered an unprecedented expansion of campus facilities with thousands upon thousands of new buildings and hundreds of completely new campuses. Student populations in 1961 were not only the largest in American history, but they drew increasingly from segments of society not represented in the class of 1941. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the G. I. Bill, delivered free higher education to all veterans, motivating the siblings and neighbors of veterans to follow the same paths. The 1961 curricula in history and literature, however, remained largely what it had been twenty and forty years earlier and gave primacy to English tradition. The ability to name the six wives of Henry VIII or to explain why Robert Browning's duke had disposed of his young duchess were still the marks of an educated person. Then again, with the advent of the baby boomer generation to undergraduate populations only two years off, there was also a sense that incalculably greater transformation lay ahead.
Conflating change with choice, 1961 was also the year that launched the ACIS. Then called the American Committee for Irish Studies, "committee" implying both small numbers and advocacy, the dual initiations were modest affairs. The newly-founded ACIS co-sponsored two sessions, one at the American Historical Association in Washington, one at the Modern Language Association in Chicago. These were and remain the leading professional organizations for American professors of history and literature, weightily establishmentarian, and before 1968 not the places where anything untoward or newsworthy in the daily press was likely to take place. The AHA hosted two papers, both on Ireland's relations with the Roman Catholic Church. The speakers at the AHA were Robert E. Burns of Notre Dame University, "Parsons, Priests, and the People, 1785-89: The Rise of Irish Anti-Clericalism," and Emmet Larkin then of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "Church and State in Nineteenth Century Ireland." Robert Hall Stewart of Western Reserve University chaired the session, and R. Dudley Edwards of University College, Dublin, responded. There was only one speaker at the MLA in Chicago, Harvard's John V. Kelleher, a name that will appear often in this narrative, speaking on "Early Irish History and Pseudo-History," with David H. Greene of New York University chairing.
The chief exhilaration of both meetings was the mere act of going public, of seeing that both sessions drew large and enthusiastic crowds. Lawrence McCaffrey, then of the University of Illinois and secretary of the nascent ACIS, attended both sessions and worked the crowds to sign up members. By the time the two meetings had ended, the core members assembled from mailings and telephone calls had swollen to eighty-three. By February, 1962, treasurer Emmet Larkin reported that another twenty people had joined, so that there were now more than one hundred members. This was sufficient to incorporate the American Committee for Irish Studies as a nonprofit in 1962. Membership was $2.00 per annum. too.
ALTHOUGH MCCAFFREY is cited only as Secretary of the new organization, and Larkin as Treasurer, they were the movers and shakers that made things happen. Looking over the whole history of the ACIS, one finds their names again and again, playing active roles for more than forty-eight years. A phalanx of others may have raised money, hosted meetings or stuffed envelopes, but they are the Jefferson and Adams of the ACIS, or, better, the Romulus and Remus. Instead of being adversaries or siblings, they have been best pals for more than half a century. Both are historians, although in different fields, and both are the urban-born children of immigrants. McCaffrey's family is from Co. Cavan, and Larkin's father, Emmet Sr., although born in Chicago, returned to east Galway to serve as an I.R.A. guerrilla in the Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War. Both were beneficiaries of the G. I. Bill, McCaffrey serving in the Coast Guard and Larkin in the Army. Academic success came easily to both young men, who progressed through three degrees without unseemly delay, McCafffey at St. Ambrose College in Iowa (B.A.), Indiana University (M.A.) and the University of Iowa (Ph. D.), Larkin at New York University (B.A.) and Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.). Larkin, in addition won a Fulbright to attend the London School of Economics.
At ACIS meetings McCaffrey and Larkin were so often seen together that "Larry 'n Emmet" often sounded like a single entity. "'Larry 'n Emmet' met the ambassador at the reception." "Even 'Larry 'n Emmet' couldn't get coffee before the first session." Forty-eight years after the ACIS launch, they could usually be found somewhere near the lobby or registration desk schmoozing with friends, checking up on former students or hearing reports from the up to eight parallel sessions at any given hour. In person, however, there was an easily discernible ying and yang split between them. McCaffrey is shorter and fairer-haired. His deceptively soft-spoken delivery at the lectern belies the capacity to fire a blistering riposte if provoked. An often smiling demeanor does not mask the pleasure he takes in playing the gadfly. In his several professional assignments, McCaffrey was always a popular undergraduate lecturer. He has never driven an automobile. Darker and taller, the young Emmet Larkin bears some traces of black Irish genes centuries past, and as a young man often wore black as well. A one-time newsie from the streets of Murray Hill, Manhattan, Larkin speaks in tones that cannot be ignored in the most clamorous of rooms. If asking a question from the floor, even in the most ingratiating rhetoric, his voice commands attention. Moving from M.I.T. to the University of Chicago in 1966, where he has labored for more than forty years, Larkin has also been during his professional lifetime the best-positioned historian of Ireland in North America. His work and that of his brigade of worshipful former graduate students also command attention.
The greatest difference between McCaffrey and Larkin runs much deeper: attitudes toward the Roman Catholic Church. The product of Chicago parochial schools, St. Mary's and Leo High, the Irish Christian Brothers school, and a church-affiliated undergraduate school, St. Ambrose, McCaffrey is a lifelong, practicing Catholic layman. His longest professional appointment, twenty-one years, was with the Jesuits at Loyola University, Chicago. In a lifetime of study of Irish Americana he came to see the Catholic element as defining. His seminal study The Irish Diaspora in America (1975) was revised twenty-two years later as The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America (1997). In conversation he often remarks on the condescending sting from the many academics toward Catholicism in general and specific Roman Catholics. Emmet Larkin, the author of a projected twelve volume series on the Roman Catholic Church in nineteenth century Ireland, is an agnostic. Although raised in a household where his mother and sister were practicing believers, young Emmet inherited some of the antagonism toward the Church of his father, the I.R.A. guerrilla, who had been excommunicated, as were all rebels who fought against the Free State. His academic work, beginning with his study of labor leader James Larkin (no relation), intensified his distrust of the Catholic influence in Irish life. In Emmet Larkin's view, the Irish bishops and priests showed nothing but indifference toward the plight of the urban poor and only antagonism to the Irish labor movement, particularly during the 1913 general strike and the employers' lockout. As a professional historian focused on the Church, however, Larkin has often written favorably of Catholicism's power to bring consolation, hope, discipline and cultural and national identity to an oppressed people. And he contrasts the Irish Catholic Church with several Continental manifestations always more closely allied with aristocratic privilege and property. An overheard conversation of January, 2006, dramatizes their differences. The headline of the day was that Samuel Alito had just been appointed to the United States Supreme Court. "Think of it," McCaffrey enthused. "This means that fully five members of the Supreme Court are Roman Catholic," leaving unsaid that the court was once thought a Protestant preserve, just as the most exclusive universities had been. Larkin nodded politely, acknowledging his friend's historical point, but he could not bring himself to say he shared his friend's delight.
The whole McCaffrey-Larkin dialogue on the Church has helped shape ACIS discourse. Aggressive anti-clericalism, as one finds often among Irish intellectuals, has been extremely rare. National and regional conferences frequently take place on the campuses of Catholic colleges and universities. Scholars who happen to be priests or nuns participate freely in the organization at all levels, including as members of the Executive. The many roles of the Church in the lives of Irish people and Irish Americans are frequent subjects for discussion. Unlike Irish fraternal organizations, however, the American Committee/Conference for Irish Studies has been a secular organization.
McCaffrey and Larkin were graduate students in their twenties when they first met in July, 1953, while researching their dissertations at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. They hit it off immediately and began a lengthy correspondence when they returned to the United States and started their careers, meeting only at the annual AHA conferences. Even then as documents in Larkin's files show, he was already thinking of ways that Ireland might take its rightful place in the academy. In undated papers from 1952-53, Larkin, then twenty-five, proposed the establishment of an Institute for Irish Studies at some major university. In a 250-word "Prospectus," he argued that massive immigration to the U.S. had made significant as yet unexamined contributions to American life, that the burgeoning of America had deeply affected Irish life, and that England's subjugation of the Irish and Ireland's long effort to free itself of English control had important, also unexamined, reverberations in British history. Lastly, he added that Irish culture, literature and history held a great fascination and charm in themselves that had already attracted scholarly attention in countries where Irish persons were not often found, such as Sweden, Germany and France. A graduate student without connections could hardly bring this vision into being, but Larkin's use of the phrase "Irish studies" was unmistakably prescient; few in Ireland or North America would ever have heard it at that time.
Four years later in September, 1957, McCaffrey was back at the National Library, when he received a dinner invitation from R. Dudley Edwards, Professor of Modern Irish History at University College, Dublin. Edwards (1909-88) had co-founded the Irish Historical Society in 1936, bringing the highest contemporary standards to the field, and was widely admired for his books, Church and State in Modern Ireland (1935) and The Great Famine (1956), co-edited with Desmond Williams. After some complimentary words about McCaffrey and Larkin's scholarship, Edwards suggested that there should be a branch of the Irish Historical Society in the U.S. and Canada and that McCaffrey should set it in motion.
Then an associate professor at the College of St. Catherine in Minnesota, McCaffrey did what he could. A year's appointment at Iowa and a move to the University of Illinois widened his reach. He began by enlisting an older fellow graduate student from Iowa, the avuncular Gilbert Cahill, who had since taken a position at the State University of New York-Cortland. Together with Larkin, this committee of three reached out to what people they knew working in Irish history. They were Thomas N. Brown from the British-Irish desk at the U.S. State Department, later with the University of Massachusetts-Boston [Editor's Note: See the appreciation of Tom Brown in this issue, written by Lawrence McCaffrey], Helen Mulvey of Connecticut College and Arnold Schrier of the University of Cincinnati. Meeting in McCaffrey's tiny room in Washington's Mayflower Hotel at the 1958 AHA, they agreed to work to form a North American Irish Historical Society. Over the next year Larkin, Cahill and McCaffrey had growing misgivings about whether the project could fly. Perhaps there were too few people working in Irish historical studies, if they could be found, and even fewer teaching the subject. So at the AHA meeting in Chicago in 1959 the team began to think about an interdisciplinary Irish studies organization, seeking alliances with scholars in other fields.
Over the entire history of the ACIS, McCaffrey and Larkin were to learn, sessions on all aspects of literature have greatly outnumbered those on historical topics, but there is a perceptible logic in why historians should have taken the lead at the beginning. Selected Irish writers, such as the titans W. B. Yeats and James Joyce, were already being studied under whatever critical school prevailed at the moment, but Irish history was undergoing an intellectual revolution in which all the received wisdom of previous generations, even when held by a few, was being overturned. The revolution was initiated in Britain by scholars like Sir Lewis Namier in such books as The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (1929) and focused on methodology. Through detailed studies of the lives of members of Parliament including such seeming trivia as paid club dues, Namier determined that rival parties, the Tories and Whigs, actually cared very little about ideology. Instead, the two parties could be shown to be collections of ever-shifting small groups whose stances moved on an issue by issue basis. In short, self-interest trumped the parties' professed ideals. The approach was essentially an application of the scientific method in that the researcher put aside preconceived expectations and investigated the widest body of evidence with open eyes, and then based hypotheses on examined hard data. Theodore William Moody (1907-84), R. Dudley Edwards' co-founder of the Irish Historical Society, strongly endorsed Namier's approaches in the journal Irish Historical Studies under his editorship, 1938-77. The single most electrifying monograph following the new historiography was arguably Conor Cruise O'Brien's doctoral dissertation published as Parnell and His Party (1957). The interpretations of post- 1961 American historians of Ireland were often destructive to the pieties of romantic nationalism, frequently espoused by self-taught Irish history buffs in America. As Emmet Larkin has said, "We are all revisionists." Under the more rigorous methodology, the great failure for the historian was to be a partisan, a booster or a fabulist, or in Larkin's damning phrase, "a St. Patrick's Day Irishman."
In seeking cohorts for the new enterprise, Larkin approached David H. Greene of New York University and John V. Kelleher of Harvard. Greene, an eighteenth-century specialist, was widely known for 1000 Years of Irish Prose (1952), edited with Vivian Mercier; it had achieved astonishing market penetration and was often used as a textbook for self study in Irish literature. Kelleher, a dazzling polymath, held a unique endowed chair at Harvard and had such clout with the University that he convinced it to hire short story writer and high school dropout Frank O'Connor to teach creative writing. McCaffrey sent announcements to leading journals of history and literature, emphasizing the new venture's interdisciplinary purpose.
The ACIS's unofficial existence began in 1960 when volunteers took offices and their names were printed on a letterhead. Gilbert A. Cahill (1912-85) was named president, Kelleher and Greene were vice-presidents, Larkin became treasurer and McCaffrey secretary. Offices were divvied up without much deliberation, but the assignments have much to tell about how the ACIS would take shape. No one was from an institution known to have a large Irish-American student population, like Notre Dame, Boston College, Catholic University or Villanova, although those schools would soon have an emphatic presence. Instead, Irish scholars emerged from wherever they happened to have pitched their tents. This was also true of the first generation of stalwarts to join, Thomas Hardy critic Harold Orel of the University of Kansas, folklorists John and Betty Messenger of Indiana University (later of Ohio State), and political scientist Alan Ward of the College of William and Mary. It was also notable that the sole Ivy Leaguer did not automatically go to the head of the roster. McCaffrey and Larkin's unwillingness to assign themselves the top slots signaled a resistance to governance by clique. As so often happens in the course of human events, several factions or coteries have tried to control policies or programs or offices over the years, and there have been bruising battles with volatile personalities, but once terms of office were limited to two years, no one has been able to reshape the organization around a single personality. Cahill's selection as president demonstrated that the top officer need not reside in a major research institution to do important work. More than a decade older than McCaffrey and Larkin, Cahill had recently published a well-argued essay, "Irish Catholicism and English Toryism, 1832-1848" in the selective Journal of Politics (vol. 3, 1957, pp. 62-76). His home base usually known as "Cortland State" (it has had a series of official names) is a former teachers' college in a Central New York rust-belt town with a minuscule Irish population. Through Cahill's influence, Cortland State hosted two national conventions, 1968 and 1978. Cahill brought in his younger colleague in literature, Robert E. Rhodes, a later ACIS president, 1985-87, and for whom the Rhodes Book Prize in Literature is named. Cortland State would also be the alma mater of Maureen O'Rourke Murphy, another later president, 1987-89, and one of the most visible and beloved personalities in the ACIS over four decades.
IRISH HISTORY, IRISH LITERATURE, Irish music, Irish art, Irish archaeology and certainly the Irish Language were all known subjects, even if they were rarely taught in North America, but "Irish studies" was something that had to be defined as the ACIS developed. In 1961 academic disciplines still tended to be discrete, and inter-disciplinary approaches were looked upon with suspicion. Why should Joyceans, the most secure academics in the young ACIS, feel they have anything to gain from hearing about excavations at Newgrange or the flourishing butter export trade of eighteenth century Cork? And so it was with the major European nations. In 1961 an American student might study the languages or history of France, Germany, Spain, Italy or Russia, but there was little effort to coordinate the two disciplines and anything beyond that was a gratuity, perhaps a picture of Filippo Brunelleschi's dome in an Italian grammar text or a sampling of native foods to raise spirits at exam time. The notion of integrating all studies appears to have begun in Scandinavia, where folklore and oral tradition were important components in national identities. It is from the north of Europe that the concept enters North American academic discourse. The Society for Advancement of Scandinavian Study was established at the University of Washington in 1911. Implicit in the name is a sense of advocacy, with the word "advancement," because Scandinavian history and literature were generally marginalized in the academy. Immigrants from Norway, Sweden and Denmark suffered little discrimination, however, and many of them enjoyed economic and social success in the New World. Their Society was well-funded and their journal Scandinavian Studies was also launched in 1911. In most of the articles from the first few decades, we find that "studies" means the parallel examination of history, literature, linguistics and perhaps archaeology with very rare interactions between the disciplines. The cultures of East Asia also suffered neglect in North American universities, a lacking addressed by the founding thirty years later of the Association for Asian Studies in 1941. Its journal, Far Eastern Quarterly, is now called The Journal of Asian Studies. Once again the rubric "Asian studies" allows a forum for parallel discussion of, say, Japanese literature and Korean history, not that the two fields have anything to say to one another.
Real dialogue between disciplines begins with American studies, which developed in a collaboration between Harvard and Yale Universities in the 1930's. Henry Nash Smith wrote the first dissertation in American Studies at Harvard in 1940. Titled The Virgin Land, Smith adapted the famous "thesis" of Frederick Jackson Turner, that American character had been formed by interaction with open spaces, the "frontier," as it was once called. Smith's argument tended to elevate novelists like James Fenimore Cooper, out of favor with contemporary readers, but Smith did indeed present new ways of looking at a huge body of literature. The Virgin Land was not published for another ten years but it became a commonly required text for students in those decades of growth, the Fifties and Sixties. The American Studies Association was chartered in 1951, with a journal, American Quarterly, and currently has about 5000 members. For all that American studies has to contribute it remains a diminutive sibling of American history and American literature. Novelist Tom Wolfe (b. 1931), who chose the field as his major while at Yale, frequently speaks of his training with derision, "I hold a degree in something called 'American studies,'" as if it were an ill-defined weak sister.
THE FIRST CITATIONS of the phrase "Irish studies" date from the first decade of the twentieth century, denoting the philology of the Irish language, what we would today call "Celtic studies." Academic acceptance of the study of the Irish language, even if pursued by a tiny number of students, probably stems from its enjoying the imprimatur of Continental universities. Following Johann Kaspar Zeuss's epoch-making Grammatica Celtica (1853), scores of German, French and Italian academics built that field of Irish studies, and the results of their labors are still with us. These were the people who decided that the narratives of early Ireland should be classed into three cycles, the Mythological, Ulster and Fenian. The first chair of the Irish language in the United States was funded by the Ancient Order of Hibernians at Catholic University of America in 1896. This was only three years after the founding of the Gaelic League in Ireland (1893). In 1896 also Fred Norris Robinson (1871-1966), holder of the Gurney Professorship in English Philology at Harvard, began to offer instruction in Old Irish and continued for the next forty-three years, sending out dozens of students who then offered instruction at intervals all over the United States. Shortly before Robinson retired, a Boston attorney and philanthropist named Henry Lee Shattuck (1879-1971) was visiting Ireland where he shared a lengthy conversation with Douglas Hyde, playwright, poet, translator, co-founder of the Gaelic League and then President of Ireland. He praised Robinson's work and lamented that it might not continue. In 1940, through the offices of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, Shattuck donated $51,410 to establish a chair for the study of Celtic Language and Literature. Kenneth H. Jackson of Edinburgh became the first chair of the department, which has been offering instruction in Old and Modern Irish ever since, along with lesser emphasis on the other Celtic languages. Following Harvard and Catholic University's lead, other major universities such as the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, City University of New York and UCLA, offered regular instruction in Old Irish and even more institutions did irregularly. The rigors of mastering Old Irish, with its notorious irregular verbs, have meant that those who succeed with it often feel more scholarly kinship with masters of other early languages, such as Old Norse, Old Church Slavonic or Sanskrit, than with people devoted to Irish culture written in English from recent centuries. The cost of admission to this club is high. A substantial number of Old Irish scholars have, nonetheless, participated on ACIS programs over four decades. And the ACIS has reserved seats on the Executive for Celtic Studies and Irish language specialists. But discourse on Irish language scholarship, Old and Modern, has tended to run in separate channels. Many Irish language specialists have felt more at home in the Celtic Studies Association of North America, CSANA, founded in 1976, or The North American Association for Celtic Languages Teachers, founded 1994.
The study of other fields of Irish culture had more difficulty entering academia. Some of this story is well known. Cardinal Newman's short-lived Catholic University of Ireland contracted Eugene O'Curry (1794-1862) to deliver the seminal Lectures of the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (1855-56, published 1861), but much of the recovery of distinctive Irish culture was led by ambitious often patrician amateurs like the fanciful "historian" Standish James O'Grady (1832-1915) and two of his admiring readers.
We all know of the labors of Lady August Gregory (1852-1933) and William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), neither of whom could qualify for a university position. Yeats forged a usable literary past with the discovery of early nationalist poets like James Clarence Mangan (1803-49) and persuaded fashionable English readers that there was much literary merit in Irish Fairy and Folk Tales. A lack of certification in the Irish language did not prevent Lady Gregory from introducing large audiences to Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) or Fenian heroes in Gods and Fighting Men (1904). UCD graduate James Joyce (1882-1941) studied the Irish language extra-murally and discovered the beauties of James Clarence Mangan's poetry on his own. When the study of Irish history was addressed by academics, there was some question whether it was really Irish. Trinity College's great W.E.H. Lecky (1838-1903), from a Unionist landlord family, may have refuted the calumnies of Hibernophobe historian A. J. Froude in five magnificently documented volumes, but they were first issued as part of the eight-volume History of England in the Eighteenth-Century (1878-90).
The worth and beauty of Irish history were recognized readily by Scandinavian academies, but there is some question how much influence European antecedent had in North America. Swedish linguist Carl Marstrander compiled the first fascicle, the letter E, for the Royal Irish Academy Dictionary of the Irish Language in 1913, sixty-three years before native lexicographers completed the task. Scandinavia's most eminent folklorist of his era, C. W. von Sydow (1878-1952), took a keen interest in Irish subjects, wrote commentaries on them, including the Tain, and encouraged his students at the University of Lund to uncover secrets buried in Irish tradition. It was at Uppsala University in 1950 that Birgit Bjersby produced The Interpretation of the Cuchulain Legend in the Works of W. B. Yeats, arguably the world's first dissertation in what we now call Irish studies. Written in English and co-published in Philadelphia, her study was reprinted four times here, rare for any dissertation, and is still shelved by more than one hundred libraries in North America. Bjersby, later Bramsback (1921-95), went on to a long and prolific career, and became active in IASAIL (founded 1970), the International Association for the study of Anglo-Irish Literature, later IASIL, a friendly rival of ACIS. There had been so much activity in all northern academies in the in eventful year of 1961 S. B. Liljegren published a short pamphlet outlining part of its history, Irish Studies in Sweden. Emmet Larkin's 1952 prospectus for an Irish institute cited the recognition given to Ireland in Sweden and elsewhere, but in interview today he and Lawrence McCaffrey say their founding of ACIS did not draw upon any Scandinavian examples.
Apart than the high place given to the Irish language, for a handful of select graduate students, other subjects had more of a struggle for recognition. This despite such prominent advocates as Theodore Roosevelt, who while a sitting president (1907), advocated the academic study of things Irish in the pages of the popular Century Magazine. An admirer of Lady Gregory and Emily Lawless, Roosevelt also gave a series of speeches urging the study of Irish literature and history at such venues as the meeting of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and at Holy Cross College.
Roosevelt's call was not answered for nearly twenty years until the Belfast-born poet and playwright Joseph Campbell (1879-1944) settled in New York City. Best remembered for the words to the song "My Lagan Love," Campbell had immersed himself in every aspect of Irish culture. A Catholic with strong nationalist sympathies, Campbell played a subsidiary role in the Easter Rising and had been interned for eighteen months by the Free State government before arriving in New York in 1925. After giving a lecture on the "Timelessness in the Irish Epics" to an audience of one hundred at the National Arts Club, Campbell moved to establish the School of Irish Studies--an Irish Cultural Centre. It would be housed at 6 East 12th Street just off Fifth Avenue but affiliated with Fordham University. Of more than a dozen persons cited as the coiner of the phrase "Irish studies," claims often made in obituaries, Campbell's seems to be the strongest. With his wide-ranging energies, he was a one-man anticipation of the ACIS. He offered instruction in Modern--not Old--Irish, seminars on interpreting contemporary Irish plays and offered concerts of traditional Irish music alongside European chamber music. Campbell offered courses of instruction with titles like, "Irish Dramatists from Congreve to O'Casey," "The Hidden Ireland," "Folk and Fairy Tales of Ireland," "The Irish Note in Edgar Allen Poe," and so on. The New York Evening Journal featured these efforts in news stories, and Campbell even appeared in radio broadcasts. But the School for Irish Studies was not a paying concern. Campbell did not have what we call today a tenure track position, and his salary was barely subsistence. He was forced to take on adjunct teaching at nearby New York University and eventually was reduced to pawning his old watch for $12.00 to keep food on the table. More irksome, the School for Irish Studies was not represented on the Fordham Examining Committee.
Despite his financial distress in the midst of the economic Depression, Campbell still enjoyed some upmarket connections, escaping for a while on a fellowship to the Macdowell Colony in New Hampshire. He continued to publish poetry and prose and in 1934 launched The Irish Review, an illustrated monthly that lasted through two issues. The School for Irish Studies limped along until 1938, when affiliation with Fordham ceased. For one more academic year Campbell ran the school independently, with lectures held at the American Irish Historical Society. In summer, 1939, with the school twice failed and Campbell in desperate circumstances, the poet, now sixty, returned to Ireland, a few weeks before the Nazis invaded Poland.
Campbell's legacy did not vanish, however. His friends Padraic (1881-1972) and Mary (1887-1957) Colum initiated courses in Irish literature at Columbia University after World War II and continued with interruptions for many years. Before their emigration to the United States in 1913, both Colums were well connected with Dublin's leading literary lights, as they remembered in Our Friend James Joyce (1958). From surviving anecdotal information, it appears that Mary was the more dynamic lecturer, but as a literary jack of all trades, poetry, drama, long and short fiction, biography, folklore, juvenile literature, Padraic enjoyed immense credibility. Nonetheless, Columbia did not see fit to award credit toward a baccalaureate degree for the Colums' effort. Such was the fate of perhaps one hundred courses of instruction, such as those given at the Eire Society of Boston and others whose records are fugitive, from the late forties to the beginning of the sixties. Padraic Colum aided this effort by producing commercial trade books that were, in effect, informal texts for in or out of a classroom, like the Anthology of Irish Verse (1922 and constantly reprinted) and the Treasury of Irish Folklore (1935). The Devin-Adair company had quite a list of useful titles, such as Kathleen Hoagland's 1000 Years of Irish Poetry (1947) and Devin Garrity's 44 Irish Short Stories (1955). Prodded in part by Campbell and the Colums' examples, David H. Greene, one of the founding officers of the ACIS, began to offer credit courses in Irish literature in English in the early Fifties. Greene's efforts were coeval with pioneers in other prestige universities like Northwestern, Princeton and Harvard, which anticipate the founding of the ACIS.
PREDATING GREENE'S COURSE by one year was the one offered by John V. Kelleher of Harvard. Unique in at least a dozen ways, Kelleher held an endowed chair, where he enjoyed carte blanche to offer the instruction he felt there was needed. Kelleher was not an organization man and even while an officer of the fledgling ACIS, he played a lesser official role than McCaffrey and Larkin in moving the apparatus. Through his long career at Harvard, and also through presentations at ACIS forums, however, Kelleher more than anyone else defined what Irish studies could be. The excellence of his scholarship and the brilliance of his insights validated the premise that Irish studies would attract top of the line performers and not just the amateurs and buffs who often gravitate to new fields emerging from the margins.
Few lives cry out more loudly for biography than that of John V. Kelleher (1916-2004). If a Boswell missed his chance, there is still time for another Brenda Maddox. He is dead now only five years, but younger scholars must find incomprehensible that Kelleher was the most formidable figure in the field when he held only a B.A from Dartmouth, and he published only one scholarly book, a 290-page collection of his essays, when he was eighty-six. Further, many of those essays, belying their gem-like precision, were written to satisfy specific, demanding invitations, several of those from the ACIS.
Kelleher's name entered ACIS lore early. In the same summer of 1957 when R. Dudley Edwards recommended that there be a North American branch of Irish Historical Studies, Lawrence McCaffrey also visited the home of short story writer and critic Sean O' Faolain (1900-91). O' Faolain told McCaffrey to enlist Kelleher, then only forty-one, to get the effort moving. O'Faolain would later declare, "No one in Ireland knows more about Ireland." In Kelleher's lifetime that claim was not gainsaid or second-guessed.
Although he was born in the industrial melting-pot of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a city where 51 nationalities spoke 45 different languages, Kelleher knew Irish from the cradle, instructed by his Cork-born grandmother, who died when he was six, and later by an Augustinian priest named Daniel J. O'Mahony. By gaining scholarships and working as a carpenter and roofer, he put himself through Dartmouth, where he immediately demonstrated academic distinction, often by knowing more than his instructors. A year after graduation he went to Harvard as a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows, where he studied Old Irish under Kenneth Jackson in the newly established Celtic Languages Department. Success at Harvard came straightaway, and at age twenty-six he was asked to give the Lowell Lectures in fall, 1942; his chosen topic, Modern Irish Literature. That led to his election to the Society of Fellows, established by president A. Lawrence Lowell as an alternative to a Ph.D. program. Twenty-four of "the most brilliant young men that could be found" were encouraged to follow studies where there was no pre-existing field and, presumably, there was no one under whom to study. About this time Kelleher also became fast friends with Harvard College treasurer, Henry Lee Shattuck, the same man who had funded the Celtic Languages Department a few years earlier. Shattuck would be Kelleher's constant benefactor, supporting him in new directions he was to chart, but the two men were also the closest of friends, so much so that Kelleher is a principal source for the older man's biography (J. T. Galvin, The Gentlemen Mr. Shattuck, 1996).
World War II was raging and Kelleher was called to serve in military intelligence at the Pentagon, assigned to the Korea desk. The time was by no means a detour from his career path. Kelleher often remarked on how impressed he was in seeing that the concentrated, sustained efforts of many scholars; especially linguists, working nearby, had broken the German and Japanese codes. A comparable effort focused on the puzzling documents of early Ireland could yield wondrous results.
After the war and before settling in at Harvard, Kelleher and his friend biographer Richard Ellmann toured Ireland, mostly by bicycle, in a kind of personalized postgraduate seminar. The country, still poor and quiet, left many doors open. They met Georgie Yeats, Maud Gonne, Jack B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O'Nolan, C.P. Curran, Samuel Beckett, as well as two writers who would become lifelong associates, Michael O'Donovan (Frank O'Connor) and Sean O'Faolain.
Commencing his forty year career at Harvard in 1947, Kelleher held rank in Irish Literature and History but initially voted with the departments of English and history. At first he taught courses from the English canon, his survey of eighteenth-century poetry being especially popular with students. When Shattuck endowed his chair in 1960, Kelleher became Professor of Modern Irish Literature and History because Old Irish was the province of the Celtic Department. In 1967, his position was retitled the Professorship of Irish Studies, reflecting Kelleher's use of that phrase over the previous fifteen to twenty years. His usual assignments entailed three courses that had little in common with one another. In the fall of 1975, for example, he lectured to about forty graduates and undergraduates on the major twentieth-century Irish literary figures, Yeats, Joyce, Synge, O'Casey and soon. In the evening Extension school, before as many as one hundred people from the community, he lectured on Irish political and social history since the Flight of the Earls, which included the flourishing butter trade in eighteenth century Cork. His position called for the guiding of master's theses and doctoral dissertations, such as one by a promising student named Helen Hennessy Vendler. And Kelleher was always approachable to inquiry from outside the university. While Emmet Larkin was at M.I.T., 1960-63, he met with Kelleher for a weekly private seminar.
Left out of this account is the aspect of his person mostly likely to strike any listener on first hearing: his extraordinary stammer. One of his most admiring students, essayist Roger Rosenblatt, said it was "discouraging and, at times, heartbreaking to see him struggle with his tongue, as if it were a snake filling his mouth, merely to get it to lie still and allow him to speak his mind." Kelleher's uninterrupted speaking voice was a mellifluous baritone that was well-suited to song, during which he shed the stammer. A combination of a near operatic voice, his tall, athletic frame and dark Irish good looks made him a formidable figure at the lectern. Even allowing for the authority with which he spoke, his manner riveted the listener and created an implicit bond. Sensing what must have been a lifetime of frustration, from playground taunts and on, the listener was immediately drawn to Kelleher's side. To listen to him was to join irresistibly in his quest, if only until the end of his delivery. The stammer did not keep him from his duties in the classroom although he once contemplated leaving teaching and sought therapy. He never shirked faculty chores, and served many years on the usually fractious admissions committee. When one examines for comparison the career of Irish novelist Richard Power (1928-70), whose slight speech impediment prevented him from having an academic career, despite many honors and a degree from the Iowa Writers' School, one realizes that if circumstances had been different, Kelleher would not have had a career as a professional scholar. Without having become a member of the Society of Fellows, John Kelleher could never have been Kelleher.
True to O'Faolain's encomium, Kelleher embraced all things Irish, omnia Hibernica: Old Irish irregular verbs and Mr. Dooley, Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah and the printed sources for Finnegans Wake. Unusual for academics of his time he was well-versed in popular culture and, unprompted, could call off from memory lines from Le Puritain, Jeff Musso's 1938 French language adaptation of Liam O'Flaherty's The Puritan. His lack of more extensive publication is explained in part by his devotion to a huge project he knew could not be completed in his lifetime. Inspired in part by his work at the Pentagon in World War II, it is a kind of unified field theory of early Ireland. He sought to verify and coordinate many documents from pre-Conquest Ireland, the several annals, genealogies, regnal lists and especially the greet pseudohistory, the Lebor Gabala Erenn, the Book of Invasion or Conquests, what Patrick K. Ford called "a masterpiece of muddled medieval miscellany." The examination of each text might require years of exacting study, perhaps without immediate reward, with the progress of one worker building on the findings of a predecessor. Kelleher compared the labor to the erection of a coral reef. Making a contribution might exhaust a single small creature, but the totality would be hard and permanent.
Kelleher delivered what long-term ACIS members regard as the single most memorable presentation of the organization's history, "Irish History and Mythology in James Joyce's 'The Dead.'" It was April 25, 1964, at the second national ACIS conference, in Urbana, Illinois. Put most simply, he argued that just as Joyce had drawn on Homeric parallels in composing Ulysses, so he had earlier drawn from the Old Irish narrative Togail Bruidhne Da Derga, "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel," in the writing of the concluding story of Dubliners, "The Dead." In copious detail at once breath-taking and commonsensical, Kelleher points out that the peremptory Gaelic enthusiast Miss Ivors functions symbolically as the not-to-be-put-off Cailb, and that when Gabriel Conroy goes to Gresham Hotel he is entering a red-brick edifice with a single door and eight windows on the ground floor and nine windows on the two upper floors, making it a type for the hostel of Da Derga, the red man. The historical elements of his analysis relied on his and Joyce's knowledge of ancient and modern local place names. The essay, later published in The Journal of Politics and as an ACIS reprint, reached a wide readership, demonstrating that it was impossible to know what James Joyce was about while separating him from his Irish context. Celtic scholars generally had little time for modern literature written in English, and until this time the swarming army of Joyce critics could get away with ignorance of things Irish. Kelleher had crossed disciplines to give us something unanticipated and new. It was the signal of what Irish studies could deliver.
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|Title Annotation:||American Conference of Irish Studies|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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