East European Studies Project

Irish Studies in the new European Democracies

Background to the Project
After the events of 1989, universities in the former Soviet bloc became free to chose what to teach their students without Party interference. Now, intellectual life was no longer constrained by national borders. Because of its contribution to twentieth-century literature, and its history and culture traceable back to the ancient Celts of Central Europe, Ireland was one of the countries which university teachers and students were keen to learn more about.

Irish academics visiting the University of Bucharest in the early 1990s discovered there a particularly strong commitment to the idea of developing a specialist course in Irish Literature. Consequently, funding was raised from the British Council and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs for a full-time lectureship in Irish Studies to be established in Bucharest 1993.

Soon it became clear that many other Balkan and Baltic universities were keen to teach Irish literature. As a lectureship for each institution could not be funded from Ireland, interested universities were invited to nominate a member of their own academic staff to be the Irish Studies co-ordinator. Materials to support the teaching of a one-semester introductory course were compiled by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast, and the co-ordinators were invited to Ireland to consult with distinguished academics, North and South, on these course materials.

By the beginning of 1998, fifteen Balkan and Baltic universities were involved in the Irish Studies teaching programme.

Project Management
The Project’s Advisory Group is chaired by Gemma Hussey, a former Minister for education in the Republic of Ireland. Members are drawn from the Irish academic community, the British Council in Northern Ireland and the Irish Department of Foreign affairs .

Development
Several of the participating Balkan and Baltic universities are keen to build on an enthusiastic response to the undergraduate module by offering an M.A. programme in Irish Studies. Preliminary work is now being done on the preparation of materials to support the teaching of modules on:

Irish Literary Issues
Irish Theatre and Film
Irish Poetry
Irish Prose

Collaborating on the outline M.A. curriculum are four of the leading figures in the study of Irish Literature –

Professor Terence Brown, Trinity College, Dublin
Professor Declan Kiberd, University College, Dublin.
Professor Edna Longley, Queen’s University, Belfast
Professor Robert Welch, University of Ulster.
This MA programme is being piloted at the University of Cluj, Romania, in 1999/2000.

Evaluation
Filipina Filipova, University of Sofia

"It started as an optional introductory module in Irish Studies open to students from the second, third and fourth years. The enthusiasm for it was so great that the course size swelled to 22 people although there were expected to be 8 or 10. Over the semester, students did a lot of hard work and independent research on various topics related to the Irish context. It has been a great success.".

President Emil Constantinescu of Romania

Our country will be enriched and embellished by the inspiration and spiritual fire brought by your Project in Romania"

Ioana Mohor, University of Galati, Romania

"The Irish Studies Project has enabled us to enrich the curricula with a most challenging, complex and updated course. The students have found it highly interesting and rewarding, and this is confirmed by their attendance rates, lively seminar discussions and good quality answers in the final examination

Miriam Ksenofontov, Estonian Institute of Humanities

"With the course now running for the second time, more and more students are choosing to do their optional papers on Irish Topics. Other exciting spin-offs have been the translations into Estonian of a Neil Jordan novel and a collection of Irish myths."

For information about the Project, contact

John Fairleigh, Hon. Director,
Irish Studies Project

E-mail: jfairleigh@eircom.net