CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

March 14, 2002 Graduate students delve into irish history



by Frank Kuin

Irish history was celebrated at Concordia two weeks before St. Patrick’s 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 were discussed.

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 masculinity.”

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 conference’s 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 Mary’s University’s D’Arcy 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 to it.”

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 Centre’s outlook, one of the day’s 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 Concordia’s 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,” he said.

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.