American Conference for Irish Studies West

A grant from the BLC made it possible for me to attend and read a paper at the recent 30th Annual American Conference for Irish Studies West, in Santa Fe, NM. The theme of the Conference was “Ireland and the Indigenous,” and papers covered a broad range of topics from Irish grammar in the writings of James Joyce to the politics of memory. My paper examined the Irish language storytelling tradition of Doolin, Ireland. The Conference was well attended, drawing scholars from all over the US and Ireland. It had 10 different panels over its duration, a number of keynote addresses, performances and readings.

I met other Irish language teachers at the conference and it was interesting and beneficial to talk with them about teaching Irish in the US. We discussed how best to frame the language in a cultural context and show its relevance in contemporary Ireland: how to use programs on TG4 and RnaG (Irish-language TV and radio) to help achieve this.  Also, how best to keep up with dialectical changes, new words and slang now that there are more speakers of the language outside the traditional Gaelteacht (Irish-speaking) areas.

One of the most interesting conference papers I thought was “Ernie O’Malley: Republican in Ireland, the US and New Mexico.”  O’Malley’s son Cormac O’Malley of NYU presented the paper. Ernie O’Malley was a leading revolutionary in Ireland’s ‘War of Independence’ and author of’ On Another Man’s Wounds one of the best books on that period of the country’s history. He came to the US after the Irish civil war in 1925 and made friends with several artists and writers here. One of them brought him to Taos, where he got to know DH Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe, Ella Young and others. But what impressed O’Malley most were the pueblo people. He made friends with the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi and was invited to their ceremonies and events. O’Malley saw that the Native American tribes had similar problems to the Irish in relation to language preservation, protecting their worldview and way of life. He seemed more connected to Native American culture than he was to mainstream American culture and for me, this was another twist on the conference theme, “Ireland and the Indigenous.”