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The focus of the Literature of Irish Exile Autumn School, now in its twelfth year, remains on how emigrants from Ireland have given expression in words to feelings of exile. Part of the programme will take place in the stimulating setting of the Outdoor Museum of the Ulster-American Folk Park. The rest will be in the warmth of the library of the Centre for Migration Studies. The aim is to give members of the public a friendly opportunity to meet and mix with experts on some of the less well-known aspects of 'exile' in Irish literature.
The Twelfth Literature of Irish Exile
Autumn School
Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh - Saturday, 15 October 2011



















A copy of the Full Programme is available in Word or PDF format


(MCMS Library at Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh)
Tea / Coffee on arrival


Welcome (MCMS Library)


Christopher Fitz-Simon, ‘Writing Home, 1849-1864: the letters of Ben Elliott’

Chair: Sir Peter Froggatt
12.00 Discussion
12.30 Lunch (Ulster-American Folk Park Cafe)

Walk in the Outdoor Museum:

  Paddy Fitzgerald and Brian Lambkin with Philip McDermott: ‘Migrants and Language’
3.00 Afternoon Tea (Library)
3.20 Sophia Hillan, ‘Daughters of the House: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland, 1834-1895’
  Chair: Brian Lambkin
4.15 Reception
4.45 Close

Fee: £20.00 stg (£15.00 concession for students, unwaged and senior citizens)
Includes: registration, morning tea/coffee, lunch, afternoon
tea/coffee and drinks reception.

For enquiries contact Christine Johnston on
Tel: 0044 28 8225 6315;
Fax: 0044 28 8224 2241
or by email at

General enquiries:
Centre for Migration Studies,
Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh, Co Tyrone,
Northern Ireland, BT78 5QY,
Tel: 0044 28 8225 6315;
Fax: 0044 28 8224 2241

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Dr Christopher Fitz-Simon, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, is the author of an acclaimed childhood memoir, Eleven Houses (Penguin 2007) that deals with the theme of internal migration. He was born into an extraordinary family, with Daniel O’Connell on one side and Ulster Protestants on the other. Eleven Houses deals with the period of World War II when his family lived in a series of homes in all four provinces. On this occasion he will be reading from the recent find of the letters of his great great uncle Ben Elliott, who sailed from Belfast for the New World in 1848 at the age of seventeen.

Benjamin Elliott was born into a farming family of Scots descent in 1831 at Eldron, Smithborough, Co Monaghan.  His father was Minister of the local Presbyterian congregation.  Due to economic conditions Ben emigrated. His letters are full of the excitement of a young man seeing the world, vividly describing his journey to New York, his search for employment, his work as a labourer, and the relationships which he formed with other Monaghan and Fermanagh people who were despised for being Irish. His fine handwriting gained him a post in a Shipping Office; with that company he sailed for San Francisco to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush. His observations on the four-month voyage include fascinating descriptions of Rio de Janiero, of rounding Cape Horn where sailors froze on deck, of a ghost ship where passengers and crew had starved, and finally of life as a prospector. Working conditions were harsh and he also suffered from fire and tempest – which he describes but never complains about.  When the letters end in 1864 he has taken to farming quite successfully in Sonoma County: but why do these letters – which never cease to look forward to the day when he will ‘return to sweet Eldron Cottage’ -  stop? That is one of the many mysteries of this remarkably colourful correspondence. 

Dr Sophia Hillan, formerly associate director of the Queen's University of Belfast's Institute of Irish Studies, also makes a very welcome return to our Autumn School, having spoken to us about Sam Hanna Bell’s Across the Narrow Sea in 2002, and ‘The Wordhoard of Emigrants and Exiles’ in 2004. Her publications include In Quiet Places: the Uncollected Stories, Letters and Critical Prose of Michael McLaverty (1989); The Silken Twine: A Study of the Works of Michael McLaverty (1992) and The Edge of Dark: A Sense of Place in the Writings of Michael McLaverty and Sam Hanna Bell (2001). Short-listed for a Hennessy Award in 1981, she was runner-up to John Arden in the Royal Society of Literature's first V.S.Pritchett Memorial Award Short Story Competition (1999). Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and  published both in the late David Marcus's New Irish Writing in The Irish Press and his Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, 2004-5.
She will be speaking to us about her eagerly awaited new book, May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland, which is due to be published by Blackstaff on 16 September 2011.

Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight - May, Lou and Cass – were the daughters of Jane Austen's brother Edward, who was adopted by a wealthy relative and took his family name. Jane Austen often stayed with the Knights, and knew the girls well, hearing their reading and teaching them to sew in childhood, then in adolescence bringing them to the theatre and, on one painful occasion, to the dentist. Though they were still young girls when she died in 1817, they never forgot her, and valued her legacy: sadly, however, they seem not to have known of her advice to their cousin Anna Austen, herself an aspiring novelist, not to attempt to write about Ireland, as she did not know ‘the manners there’. Had they known of it, they might have thought twice about venturing there, and if Jane Austen had lived, she might have been most concerned to see May, Lou and Cass spending long periods of their lives in that unknown country, through years of famine and land agitation. It would have been unthinkable to her that all three would be buried in distant Donegal, lying in almost forgotten graves. In her new book, Sophia Hillan, writer and academic, draws on a vast range of previously unpublished diaries, manuscripts and letters from repositories throughout Ireland and England - to tell for the first time the fascinating story of the Knight sisters. Full of high drama –for, like Jane  Austen's novels, the story of May, Lou and Cass has its fair share of elopements, love matches and tragedies – Sophia Hillan's story uncovers a rich new seam of material on Jane Austen and her family, providing a new and intriguing link between Regency England and the turbulent world of nineteenth-century Ireland.


Dr Philip McDermott is an associate lecturer in Sociology and Politics at the University of Ulster. Philip finished a PhD in 2008 which investigated the position of migrant community languages in Northern Ireland at both governmental and community level. He has previously conducted research for the Centre for Global Education, Fermanagh District Council and also at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2007. His first book, Migrant Languages in the Public Space: A Case Study From Northern Ireland (Lit Verlag), was published in 2011.
Dr Patrick  Fitzgerald is Lecturer and Development Officer at the Centre for Migration Studies and Dr Brian Lambkin is Director of the Centre for Migration Studies.