by Frank Kuin
Irish history was celebrated at Concordia two weeks before St. Patricks
Day, as graduate students from Canada and the United States descended
on the university to present papers on topics ranging from the Great Famine
to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
At the eighth annual History in the Making conference, organized by graduate
students in the History Department, such figures as the loyal Orangeman,
the stereotyped Irish Paddy and the Irish immigrant to Canada
Guest speaker Nancy Curtin of Fordham University even compared 18th-century
Ireland as a whole to a kept woman. In a lecture on Republicanism,
Anti-Colonialism, and Gender in Late 18th Century Ireland, she contrasted
colonial degradation in Ireland to British imperial
The conference had as its theme Irish Studies in Historical Perspective
to honour the establishment at Concordia of the Centre for Canadian Irish
Studies, said Christian DesRoches, one of the conferences organizers.
The Centre for Canadian Irish Studies, started in late 2000, is shifting
into gear this year with the introduction of two new programs: a Minor
and a Certificate in Canadian Irish Studies. Both programs, comprised
of courses offered by 10 departments (mostly within the Faculty of Arts
and Science), are starting in the fall.
Their introduction is a boost to Irish studies in Canada, said Professor
Michael Kenneally, interim director of the Centre. Other Canadian programs
include one in Celtic Studies at the University of Toronto, which has
ancient Ireland as its main focus; and Saint Marys Universitys
DArcy McGee chair in Irish Studies, which concentrates on language.
Our program is unique because it has a focus on modern Ireland and
the Irish in Canada, Kenneally said. We also have a specific
mandate to reach out to the Irish community and make the program accessible
That mandate was reflected in the fact that the History in the Making
conference attracted not only graduate students from Ontario, New York
and California, but also several interested Irish Montrealers.
Also in keeping with the Centres outlook, one of the days
seminars had The Irish Experience in 19th Century Canada as its theme,
highlighting the expanding field of studies of Irish-Canadian culture.
Brenda Goranson, a PhD student at McMaster University, presented a paper
on the Orange Order in Upper Canada, probing the question of how the Protestant
order known best for its marches to commemorate the 17th-century
Battle of the Boyne was successfully transplanted to Canada. Toward
the close of the 19th century, Orangeism had become so successful that
it was represented in almost every settled township in Ontario and lodges
in Canada outnumbered those of the Irish parent.
Goranson attributed that success to several factors, including the social-network
function of the Orange Order to arriving immigrants and the anti-Catholic
fervour that swept Canada in the late 19th century. She was enthusiastic
about Concordias dedication to Irish Studies. The current
mood is very encouraging, especially with the opening of the Centre here,
she said. Irish Studies in Canada are in need of much work.
Bruce Retallack, a PhD student at the University of Toronto who presented
on cartoon stereotypes of the Irish in Canada between 1840 and 1914, agreed.
The variety of perspectives represented here is really spectacular,
In his paper, illustrated by slides of ape-like representations of the
thick-waisted and simple-minded Irish Paddy, Retallack argued
that cartoons of the Irish in Canada differed from those in Britain and
the U.S. Here, the stereotype was often blended with that of the French-Canadian
habitant, as both groups of Catholics were perceived as a joint
threat to the social order, he said.