Supporters of the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation celebrated a successful fundraising campaign last Thursday at Samuel Bronfman House to the lilt of an Irish harp.
Federal and provincial cabinet ministers were on hand to present cheques of $500,000 each, and the Irish and British governments were also represented at the event.
David Cliche, Quebec minister of information technology and government services, gave a colourful description of the Irish elements in his family background, and Stéphane Dion, federal minister of intergovernmental affairs, praised the "Celtic Tiger" that business-savvy modern Ireland has become.
When Prime Minister Jean Chrétien visited Ireland last year, the government of Ireland announced a contribution of $200,000 to the campaign, and the university has pledged $500,000 over 10 years. Added to hundreds of other gifts from foundations, individual and corporate donors, these gifts bring the total to $3.3 million.
The campaign was launched four years ago with the aim of promoting an understanding of the Irish community's contribution to Quebec and Canada. Peter O'Brien is chair of the Foundation, former Westmount mayor Brian Gallery headed the campaign, and Michael Kenneally, who has taught at Concordia and Marianopolis College, is the Foundation's executive director.
In the speeches last week, many references were made to our longstanding cultural debt to the Irish. Since the earliest days of North America, there have been successive waves of immigration, peaking during 1845-49, when Ireland was ravaged by famine.
While there was tragedy -- as many as 10,000 died on Gross-Ile and in Montreal of typhus during the height of the exodus -- those who survived prospered and blended in. It is estimated that 40 per cent of Quebecers have some Irish in their background, and between them, Dion and Cliche came up with a long list of politicians with Irish connections -- Ryan, Mulroney, Johnson, Payne, Burns, St-Laurent and Vanier -- plus the great poet Émile Nelligan and the much-loved folksinger La Bolduc, whose real name was Mary Travers.
Concordia's Faculty of Arts and Science has offered courses in Irish studies every year over the last decade, and under the energetic leadership of Professor Kenneally, has presented a steady stream of Irish speakers and film series. As Dean of Arts and Science Martin Singer told the crowd on May 18, nearly 2,000 students have already taken Irish Studies courses.
Now the university will explore the feasibility of creating a formal program in Canadian Irish studies at the undergraduate level. At present, Concordia offers an Irish Studies Cluster, with courses offered in more than 10 departments.
As part of the development of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia, the university will house the 25-year-old Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, the scholarly publication of the Canadian Association of Irish Studies.
In July and August, two courses will be offered, Irish Visual Culture, and The Irish Economy and the European Union, the latter to be taught by a distinguished economics professor from University College Dublin.
The courses offered in the fall will be History of Irish Music, The Making of the Irish Landscape, Contemporary Irish Literature, and Modern Irish. The winter 2001 term will see War and Peace in the Irish Cinema, The Irish Literary Revival, Irish Culture in Canada, and Early Irish Christianity. - BB