Celtic Junction Arts Review
Issue 16, Lughnasa 2021
Archiving and Articulating Celtic Heritage
A quarterly publication of the Irish College of MN
“Santa does not come in a sleigh to Waterford, but in a Viking longboat,” quipped Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, a Waterford man, on inspecting a 1595 Atlas containing a map of Ireland at the Minnesota Historical Society in the company of St. Paul’s Mayor, Melvin Carter.
In the spirit of Ireland’s first President, Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) whose travel diary – including an account of his 1906 visit to St. Paul – was recently published as Mo Turas go Meiriceá 1891-1906/My Journey to America 1891-1906, the Ambassador was traversing the Upper Midwest. Hyde -not yet the first President of Ireland until 1938 – found the initial reception in Minnesota underwhelming and had to find a better hotel. The same could not be said for the Ambassador, sharing with Hyde a scholarly appreciation for Ireland’s literature and history, as a whirligig of sites with Irish connections across the Twin Cities from the University of St. Thomas to the Guthrie Theater to Study Abroad experts at the University of Minnesota to the Celtic Junction itself were ably conjured in a memorable itinerary by his host, Natalie Nugent O’Shea, our indefatigable Executive Director. As we enter our fifth year of publication, this edition of the Arts Review cultural magazine underlines such ongoing diplomatic memories and roots.
Jane Kennedy, a frequent Arts Review writer and teacher of Irish Emigrant History in the Irish College of Minnesota, examines the vexed and partial record of artworks directly connected to Ireland’s traumatic famine experience. The decade from 1845-1855 encompassing the Great Famine/An Gorta Mór of 1845-1852 saw an estimated 2.1 million souls fleeing Ireland with approximately 1.8 million arriving in the U.S. The magnificent cathedral of Saint Paul, the culmination of the efforts of Archbishop John Ireland, a child of famine-era parents, testifies to how that traumatic background could be transcended. She examines how the contemporary artist, Jerry Mulvihill, author of The Truth Behind the Irish Famine: 1845-1852 is working with other artists to rectify those absences.
Lynette Reini-Grandell, a new contributing writer at the Arts Review and a professor colleague of mine at Normandale Community College, traces the incantatory bardic tradition in Irish poetry. She is the winner of the 2015 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for Poetry for her collection, Approaching the Gate and while steeped in her Finnish heritage, she has a deep appreciation for the Celtic poetic tradition. She looks at such Irish language figures as Cathal O’Searcaigh whom she saw recite in Galway in 1999 and Biddy Jenkinson and major international Irish poets John Montague and Seamus Heaney, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Her article emphasizes that the “poet-singer’s function is to remind the listener or reader of the past and present, linking the individual to the larger world, to the nature of existence, which includes beauty, confusion, pain, and even death.”
Another Irish College teacher and champion of the humanizing power of stories, Brenda Hudson provides a poignant account of her immersion in the N4 nonprofit’s story sharing exchange. Co-founded by celebrated Dublin-born and New York-based Irish novelist, Colum McCann to break down barriers and magnify empathy in our beleaguered world, it seeks in McCann’s words to: “fulfill some sort of idea that we all matter in extraordinary ways.”
Continuing in the spirit of Douglas Hyde, Maeve Reilly, a recent Irish College student of the Irish language under the guidance of our Connemara-born teacher, Lavinia Finnerty, offers a new poem Distance in the Eyes of my Great-Grandmother, Lizzie integrating newly learned Irish language phrases and idioms with familial connection. Thus, new writing saturated in the Irish language in 2021 is continuing to articulate the poignant connections between Ireland and Minnesota.
I continue a collaboration with Mary McCormick, the Irish College’s fiction teacher, to investigate aspects of the history of the Irish novel. We examine how the Irish Comic Tradition as outlined by Professor Vivian Mercier permeated the writing of Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls trilogy of novels from the 1960s. Irish wit has deep roots and one of its ablest exponents is O’Brien who followed the example of her master, James Joyce, in employing ironic observation to critique the constraints of 1950s Ireland.
We hope you enjoy this rich variety of articles demonstrating the continuing vitality in our cultural community.
Patrick O’Donnell – Editor, contributing writer, and founder of the Celtic Junction Arts Review; Director and founder of the annual Irish Arts Week; and, Director of Education and founder of CJAC’s Irish College of Minnesota.