Between the rolling green hills and rugged coastlines of Ireland lies a country heavy in literature and history.
UNM professors Sarah Townsend and Caleb Richardson are expanding the presence of Irish Studies on campus to gain momentum for this interdisciplinary program.
"Imaging Ireland," a study-abroad program developed by their collaboration, is creating closer ties between UNM and Ireland, while also piquing students’ interest in Irish studies.
New Mexico may seem disconnected from Ireland in distance, climate and landscape, but their common histories create a relevant tie.
Not entirely unlike Ireland, New Mexico’s history includes intersecting religions, cultures and colonial powers.
“People don’t think the Southwest would be the first place to go for Irish Studies, but I think the Southwest actually offers really interesting points of comparison and parallels as far as being able to look at Ireland’s border politics next to, say, Southwest border politics,” Townsend said. “This makes for an interesting and different approach to Irish studies.”
Richardson, a professor of Irish history, said Ireland is “a country that feels both foreign and familiar to New Mexicans,” making it the perfect first step into international travel.
“New Mexico and Ireland can seem quite different from each other, most obviously in terms of climate. Every first-time visitor to Ireland comments on how green the country is, but to New Mexicans, it looks like another world,” he said. “But on the other hand, both New Mexico and Ireland are largely rural areas, with long and complex histories, full of rich local traditions and cultures that outsiders appreciate but often misunderstand.”
The program, "Imaging Ireland," gained its name from the complex history of of the country.
When Ireland became independent from Britain in the 20th century, it created its own identity — all with an imaginative focus.
In this way, the image we have of Ireland is constantly being redrawn through cultural and artistic works as well as historical documents and speeches, he said.
“What piqued my interest in Irish studies was how such a small country has such complex history with colonialism, religion, emigration and nationalism,” said Sam Bowman, a UNM student that attended the session in 2016. “All these elements are major issues we face in our modern world today, and yet Ireland has dealt with these issues for hundreds of years.”
The program began its second year this spring semester and is comprised of six credits — one class in Irish literature and one in Irish history, taught by Townsend and Richardson respectively.
“Irish literature continues to appeal to students who are interested in the intersections between British literature and post-colonial literature a lot,” Townsend said.
She described the literature of Ireland as “heartbreaking, interesting politically, desperately funny and dirty. You get the full gamut.”
At the end of the semester, in mid-May, the students actually visit Ireland for a two-week trip.
Rather than offering a full semester session, Townsend and Richardson felt a short-term program would be more affordable and wouldn’t compromise work and summer classes for students attending.
Because this is a UNM program, they were able to secure funding with help from the Study Abroad Allocations Committee at the Vice Provost's Office.
This year’s trip begins in the northern-most part of the country, a small parish called Gweedore, lush with old buildings, traditional music and culture.
From there, the instructors and students will move to progressively larger cities in an effort to see how global communities have developed in Ireland.
Many of the sites visited will be those studied in Richardson’s Irish history course.
“During our two-week stay in the country, we offer a variety of experiences, ranging from visiting the castle featured in the movie ‘Braveheart,’ to touring sites in Northern Ireland associated with the Anglo-Irish Troubles, to surfing in County Donegal,” Richardson said. “We pack as much activity into 14 days as many programs do in a semester.”
Bowman described the trip as invigorating and surreal.
“As I was sitting on the bus…I was overwhelmed by the intense green colors rushing by me, and then I felt a sense of calm and serenity come over me,” he said.
This trip is just one of the ways in which Richardson and Townsend are expanding the Irish Studies presence on campus.
Townsend said that in 2018, they will be hosting the first of many annual lectures on Irish Studies to create a stronger community of scholars, students and professors interested in this discipline.
Hannah Eisenberg is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.