Celtic Junction Arts Review

Irish College of Minnesota Registers 300th Student

By Patrick O'Donnell

The Chapel of St. Patrick in the former Irish College of Paris.
The Chapel of St. Patrick in the former Irish College of Paris.

The Irish College of Minnesota – the educational wing of the Celtic Junction Arts Center – was inspired by two models: first, it takes as a template the centuries-old Irish Colleges that sprang up across Europe in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in response to England’s ruthless colonization of Ireland. This European network of Irish Colleges proved to be a remarkably resilient and determined structure that successfully preserved and promoted Irish identity, heritage, history, language, and writing. 

“That the Celtic Junction community would be interested in classes on Irish culture was no surprise, but the response has been overwhelming.  The growth of our educational programming, particularly for the Irish language, has been exponential.”

Natalie Nugent O’Shea

Patrick ODonnell at grave of Samuel Beckett
Patrick O’Donnell at grave of Samuel Beckett

The genesis of the Irish College format was inspired by a research visit to Paris, France, by Patrick O’Donnell funded by Normandale Community College to sites and locations associated with such Irish and American writers as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The concept was crystalized by his visit to the former centuries-old Irish College of Paris on the Rue des Irlandais (‘the street of the Irish’) in the artistic and scholarly Latin Quarter. It is now the Irish Cultural Center so in a neat reversal of history, it seemed appropriate to O’Donnell to add the ancient tried-and-tested structure of an Irish College to St. Paul’s burgeoning and energetic cultural center and this was agreed to by Natalie O’Shea and the CJAC board. 

Courtyard of the former Irish College of Paris.
Courtyard of the former Irish College of Paris

The second model is more contemporary: it is the Irish-language colleges that pepper Ireland’s Gaeltacht regions mostly along its west coast as described by Lavinia Finnerty, the Irish College’s Connemara-born language teacher. Guided by these models, we offer college quality programming for community audiences across the year with classes ranging from the Irish language, mythology, history, art, literature, musicology, spirituality, and wellness. As Brian Miller, Director of the Eoin McKiernan Library states: “The classes offered through the Irish College are the perfect match for the Eoin McKiernan Library space. The library celebrates Eoin’s legacy as a champion of Irish culture, history and language through its collections and how perfect to host programming that engages students in these areas at such a high level.” Our students cross many generations and come to learn about their Irish heritage. They take classes in everything from the Irish language, to how to draw Celtic warriors and goddesses, to how to appreciate the innovative comic fiction of James Joyce. Our structure of very short (one session), short (two session), medium (four-six sessions) and lengthy (six-ten sessions) classes taught by content experts across so many different facets of Irish culture make us wholly unique.

Over the period from August 2017 (our first quarter consisted of only two classes) to December 2019, the Irish College has successfully presented 44 classes and served just under 300 registered students (298). Beginning in fall 2018, we doubled the number of classes offered by changing the schedule to 6:30-8:00 and 8:00-9:30 p.m. instead of holding classes from 7:00-8:30 p.m. This effectively “double deckered” and doubled our schedule’s offerings. 

Irish College of MN celebrates their 300th student!
Lavinia Finnerty, Sue Clarke, Natalie Nugent O’Shea, and Patrick O’Donnell
Patsy OBrien
Patsy O’Brien teaching his Rory Gallagher class.

Our Winter quarter of 2020 with sixteen classes was the most offered so far. We hit an important milestone with our 300th registered student, Sue Clarke, who began in January 2020 taking her Irish class. We began holding classes during the day time on Thursdays also in January 2020 and expanded our offerings in the evening to include Irish rock music with Patsy O’Brien’s course on Cork Blues legend, Rory Gallagher and during the day on Thursday with Julia Van Etten’s course on marketing “The Brand of You.” Our brilliant Irish language teacher Lavinia Finnerty also offered a Thursday morning class on “Blessings and Curses” in the Irish language: a feast of choices were presented! The Irish College hopes to expand with more day-time classes over subsequent quarters.

We have engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership with David Gardiner, the new Director of the Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas and have presented Colloquia with the annual O’Shaughnessy Poetry Prize winner since 2019. As part of the 2020 Irish Arts Week from April 17-28, we are offering our first immersive weekend of Irish language learning at four levels from beginners to advanced enthusiasts and we’re also offering once off classes soon. Please check out the Celtic Junction’s website (www.celticjunction.org) for further information on our quarterly schedule of classes and our involvement in the Irish Arts Week.