Irish Studies

Irish people like to see Ireland as an exceptional place. Our suffering throughout history is unparalleled. Our monks saved civilisation in the Dark Ages. Our religiosity is incomparable. Our struggle for freedom inspired the peoples of the world. Our sense of fun is unmatched. The complexity of our dilemmas is unsurpassed. The leap we have made from pre-modernity to post-modernity is faster and therefore stranger than that of any other society. And because Ireland occupies a place in the world grossly disproportionate to its population, this sense of uniqueness is often reflected back on us from the outside.

All this is, of course, an illusion…Indeed even the illusion of being exceptional is common enough and most small societies share it.

-Fintan O’Toole, After the Ball

Guilty as charged. With the magnificent megalomania of the miniscule, it doesn’t seem odd to me that any North American university whose navel is worth gazing at offers Irish Studies. But then Darren-in-Vancouver writes of his disbelief that American universities would offer courses in Canadian Studies. Why would anyone want to study Canada, he wonders? I can think of a few reasons. Canada is the most ethnically diverse country there is. It shares a border with the most powerful country in the world, yet chooses to maintain its own moral standards on education, healthcare, and foreign policy, standards which are–screw Chomsky–higher. Its literature is energetic. Its men are devastatingly attractive, except for Jim Carrey. Not to come over all _Bowling for Columbine_, but I’d be happier in an America that turned out more graduates in Canadian Studies.

It’s not just modest, self-effacing Canada. In Jeremy Paxman’s excellent book, The English: A Portrait of a People, he spends most of the introduction explaining–apologetically, by his standards–why anyone would want to write or read such a book. The English do not dissect their Englishness that often, beyond a moving fixation on sit-coms. Yet they are a fascinating people, having had the brass neck to take over the world, and then, like teenage shoplifters, grudgingly hand it back. They display a mixture of traits even quirkier than our own, with the Class System in place of the Catholic Church as the universal fuck-you-up factor.

I would ask why the difference, what makes us so sure we are unique and and worthy of endless study. But, you know, I have navel-gazing books to read.

3 thoughts on “Irish Studies”

  1. I can think of a number of reasons why Canadian studies could be useful for an American university. An interdisciplinary course could touch on a number of areas of joint concern. How about:

    Th longest shared, demilitarized border in the world.

    Largest trading partner for each country.

    Joint stewardship of the most extensive freshwater ecosystem in the world…(the great lakes).

    Sharing the same air we breathe, including the acid precipitation that is continuously polluting our forests and lakes.

    Contiguous ocean fisheries.

    A common heritage of colonial exploitation and manipulation by the two super powers of the 18th century…France and England.

    Not too mention what either Lake George or Old Orchard Beach would do without hordes of tourists coming south over the boder.

    And where would our senior citizens go for cheap prescription drugs?

    And lastly how could a world class engineering school like Rennselaer Polytechic Institute, a top liberal arts college like St. Lawerence University or a bog standard state college like Plattsburgh State field top notch ice hockey teams without an influx of our Canadian neighbors.

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  2. Advice to Visitors to Limerick 🙂
    From Lewis Carroll

    The Beaver’s best course was, no doubt, to procure
    A second-hand dagger-proof coat–
    So the Baker advised it– and next, to insure
    Its life in some Office of note:

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