I’m only half Irish, but I’m belligerently half Irish. Maybe it’s because my parents named me Erin Kathleen Sullivan (I often consider re-adding the “O’” for tradition and authenticity.) Maybe it’s because Ireland has been my favorite travel destination since the wee age of eight, when I kissed the Blarney Stone. (My friends have been feeling the effects of the resulting gift of gab ever since.) Or maybe the childhood trauma of having dozens of family, friends and relatives chant “Erin Go Braugh” into my uncomprehending toddler face later transformed itself into a positive obsession with the land of my forefathers. Whatever the cause, I am sincerely and deeply preoccupied with the great nation of Ireland (and those nine counties that SHOULD be a part of the great nation of Ireland). I read Irish authors compulsively, everything from Oscar Wilde to Brendan Behan to Maeve Binchy. I follow Irish politics, and I do my homework alternately to the strains of “Danny Boy” and Black 47.
So maybe I’m crazy or over-zealous, but the funny thing is, I’m not the only one. I grew up in Los Angeles and went to school with lots of Hispanic and Filipino Catholics. Georgetown is a Catholic school on the East Coast, and therefore, surprise, surprise, has a whole lot of Irish Catholics and Irish Americans. Many of my brethren are as obsessed as I am, if not more so, with the Emerald Isle.
Which leads me to inquire, why does Georgetown offer SO FEW classes dealing with Ireland or Irish Americans? As I was perusing the schedule of classes in anticipation of yet another mind-numbing session of pre-registration, I noticed that not one English or history class next semester has anything directly to do with Ireland. Considering that “Modern Irish” in the Linguistics department is a consistently popular course, one would believe that the demand exists for classes that deal with less obscure subject matter (e.g. Irish writers and Irish history). Consider for a moment some of the great literary figures to emerge from Ireland in relatively recent history: Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Brendan Behan; the list goes on and on. And Irish history, be it Celtic history or studies of the more recent travails of the isle, provides an almost endless source of fascinating subject matter.
But, you respond, Georgetown doesn’t have a lot of classes that students want: film production classes, advanced theatre classes, dance classes, journalism classes, etc. True, but we also don’t have departments or sections of departments for most of those subjects. While I personally believe that we should, it wouldn’t be nearly as time-intensive or costly to insert a few classes about Ireland into the English and History departments’ schedules each semester as it would be to start a whole new, say, Dance Department. The demand for classes dealing with Ireland exists, and the faculty is already there to teach these courses. I’ve heard that there’s a history professor here who, on demand, will sing Irish Republican anthems to her classes, but she only gets to do this in the one lecture of “European Civilization” allocated to Ireland. In the English Department, the Irish authors mentioned above are studied, but they are typically studied in classes ostensibly about British literature or in general survey classes.
Georgetown has a ton of classes about Russia, about Britain, about America, about Asia … and the list continues. Considering the interest displayed by the student body (the number of students applying to study abroad at Trinity or University College Dublin each year, the size of the Irish-American Society or the turnout for the Black 47 concert on Copley Lawn last year), it’s time that Georgetown started offering some courses all about grand ol’ Ireland.