Celtic Junction Arts Review

Issue 21, Imbolc 2023

Archiving and Articulating Celtic Heritage
A quarterly publication of CJAC's Education Program

Connected by themes of place, memory, and belonging, we are delighted in this issue to offer a cohesive mosaic of seven articles demonstrating the vitality and forward momentum of Irish culture.

“He was a fair, spare young man, who looked like a stable boy among gentlemen, and a gentleman among stable boys,” wrote Somerville and Ross, the brilliant writing duo of Anglo-Irish women cousins in their witty prose sketch of the horse-dealing Anglo-Irish Flurry Knox in The Irish R.M. (1899). Meeting together for the first time in 1886, the Corfu-born Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and her Galway-born cousin, Violet Martin (1862-1915) over several subsequent decades co-wrote sharply observed stories and novels while staying resolutely at a tangent to the burgeoning Irish Literary Revival.

Two women site side by side with their small dogs, dressed fashionably in 19th century dresses and hats.

Both are extraordinary independent figures. Both employed their irrepressible good humor to capture the variegated social strata of Ireland. Paradoxically, both are deeply rooted to place who felt a sense of belonging in their Big Houses despite their Anglo-Irish social class undergoing a state of collapse and displacement. Mary McCormick’s substantive double portrait is another in a series of comprehensive articles on key women figures in Irish literature that capture insights arising from her fiction classes. This article follows her portraits of Maria Edgeworth, Edna O’Brien, and Sally Rooney.

Since 1973, the renowned Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPNI), brought almost 6,000 children – equally Catholic and Protestant – out of Northern Ireland to stay with a Midwest host family (mostly in Minnesota).  If the Program had not benignly faded away in 2012 following largely the peace dividends brought by the Good Friday Agreement (1998), it would be experiencing its 50th anniversary this year. Jane Kennedy, our colleague and fellow teacher, chronicles the origin and history of the CPNI, and describes the heartfelt and compassionate personal experience of being a host family and offering a connection to Minnesota away from conflict. She will be teaching a class “Away from the Troubles” on this important and heartwarming bridge between Minnesota and Northern Ireland on February 16.

Natalie Nugent O’Shea, Executive Director of CJAC, reports on the sixth gathering – the first full in-person one since 2020 – of the Network of Irish Cultural Centers of North America (NICCONA) in New York. Attendees at this crucial gathering of Irish cultural advocates included the new Director of Culture Ireland, Sharon Barry, and the new Irish ambassador in Washington, Geraldine Byrne Nason. The “purpose of the gathering,” Natalie writes, “was to continue the international work towards the Global Ireland 2025 goal which seeks to double Ireland’s cultural footprint across the world.” CJAC rooted in St. Paul is one of five Midwest Irish centers which are operating 365 days a year as “an archipelago of islands in the Midwest prairies” working nonstop towards that goal of a doubled Irish cultural presence.

This issue’s connecting theme of place and belonging continues in “What the Grandfathers Want.” Amy Elizabeth Robinson, a new writer for the Arts Review based in California and a student in my “Conversational Irish” class in Fall 2022, remembers her deep connection to Ireland and the Burren region, the Aran Islands and County Cavan on her first visit in 2013. Imaginatively, at the urging of her creative writing teacher, she invited “one of my Irish ancestors to keep me company on the journey.” She invokes the spirit of her grandfather who stands at her shoulder as she describes in meditative and sparkling prose “the tricky sense of connection I feel to the land and story of Ireland.”

Wellingtons in water

Maeve Reilly offers an excerpt from her book-length manuscript titled Homeward/Abhaile describing her experience of a deep and living connection to Ireland, its language, landscape, and her family roots in County Leitrim.  She writes insightfully: “And this land I see with more than my eyes. I feel its green pulse. I feel it as some kind of living presence, a consciousness even. It also has an eye, and it’s looking back at me.”

Celtic Junction Arts Center’s flagship dance spectacular Kickin’ It Irish celebrates its tenth season this March. As some of its youngest dancers have grown up with the show, Carillon, our Digital Media Curator, comprehensively depicts why it has “cemented its place as a must-see event for lovers of traditional Irish music and dance in the Twin Cities.” Most importantly, this is a show crystallizing how the extended family gathered under the unique cultural umbrella of Celtic Junction shares its memories, grows friendships, and moves forward together for the next ten years and beyond.

James Joyce found repeated refuge in Zurich, Switzerland. He first visited there briefly in 1904. It was where during the First World War he again sought refuge. Most significantly, he would write twelve of the eighteen chapters of his great modernist novel Ulysses there from 1915 to 1919. He had repeated eye operations there in the 1920s and 1930s, and ultimately passed away in its Red Cross Hospital in 1941. I was delighted to journey in his footsteps for a few days in December to visit its wonderful James Joyce Foundation, to meet its Director, the unstoppable 94 year old, Fritz Senn, and to see the Joyce family grave at the Fluntern Cemetery, and other sites associated with one of Ireland’s greatest writers.

As we begin our sixth year of publication, we continue to present vital new writing engaging with Irish culture and history.

Patrick O’Donnell – Editor, contributing writer, and founder of the Celtic Junction Arts Review;  founder and co-director of the annual Irish Arts Week; and, Director of Education of CJAC’s education program.

Carillon RoseMeadows – Digital Curator of the Celtic Junction Arts Review, occasional contributing writer, and architect of the Celtic Junction Arts Center’s web presence.