seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Eoin McKiernan, Scholar of Irish Studies

eoin-mckiernanEoin McKiernan, early scholar in the interdisciplinary field of Irish Studies in the United States and the founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), dies in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 18, 2004. He is credited with leading efforts to revive and preserve Irish culture and language in the United States.

Born John Thomas McKiernan in New York City on May 10, 1915, McKiernan adopts the old Irish form of his name, Eoin, early in his life. While in college, he wins a scholarship to study Irish language in the Connemara Gaeltacht in the west of Ireland. In 1938, he marries Jeannette O’Callaghan, whom he met while studying Irish at the Gaelic Society in New York City. They raise nine children.

McKiernan attends seminary at Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph’s College in New York, leaving before ordination. He earns degrees in English and Classical Languages (AB, St. Joseph College, NY, 1948), Education and Psychology (EdM, UNH, 1951), and American Literature and Psychology (PhD, Penn State, 1957). Later in life, he is awarded honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland, Dublin (1969), the College of Saint Rose, Albany (1984), Marist College, Poughkeepsie (1987) and the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul (1996).

Passion for Irish culture is the dominant undercurrent of a distinguished teaching career in secondary (Pittsfield, NH, 1947–49) and university levels (State University of New York at Geneseo, 1949–59, and University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, MN, 1959–72). McKiernan serves as an officer of the National Council of College Teachers of English, is appointed by the Governor of New York to a State Advisory Committee to improve teacher certification standards and serves as a Consultant to the U.S. Department of Education in the early 1960s.

McKiernan suggests to the Irish government in 1938 that a cultural presence in the United States would promote a deeper understanding between the two countries, but he eventually realises that if this is to happen, he will have to lead the way. His opportunity comes in 1962, when he is asked to present a series on public television. Entitled “Ireland Rediscovered,” the series is so popular that another, longer series, “Irish Diary,” is commissioned. Both series air nationwide. The enthusiastic response provides the impetus to establish the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI) in 1962. In 1972 he resigns from teaching to devote his energy entirely to the IACI.

Under McKiernan’s direction, the IACI publishes the scholarly journal Eire-Ireland, with subscribers in 25 countries, and the informational bi-monthly publication Ducas. The IACI still sponsors the Irish Way (an immersion program for U.S. teenagers), several speaker series, a reforestation program in Ireland (Trees for Ireland), theatre events in both countries and educational tours in Ireland. He continues these educational Ireland tours well into his retirement. At his suggestion, the Institute finances the world premiere of A. J. Potter‘s Symphony No. 2 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Troubled by the biased reporting of events in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, McKiernan establishes an Irish News Service, giving Irish media and public figures direct access to American outlets. In the 1990s, he is invited by the Ditchley Foundation to be part of discussions aimed at bringing peace to that troubled area and is a participant in a three-day 1992 conference in London dealing with civil rights in Northern Ireland. Organized by Liberty, a London civil rights group, the conference is also attended by United Nations, European Economic Community, and Helsinki representatives.

McKiernan also founds Irish Books and Media, which is for forty years the largest distributor of Irish printed materials in the United States. In his eighth decade, he establishes Irish Educational Services, which funds children’s TV programs in Irish and provided monies for Irish language schools in Northern Ireland. Irish America magazine twice names him one of the Irish Americans of the year. In 1999, they choose him as one of the greatest Irish Americans of the 20th century.

McKiernan dies on July 18, 2004 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. On his death, The Irish Times refers to him as the “U.S. Champion of Irish culture and history . . . a patriarch of Irish Studies in the U.S. who laid the ground for the explosion of interest in Irish arts in recent years.”


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Birth of Brendan Behan, Irish Republican, Poet & Writer

brendan-behanBrendan Francis Aidan Behan, Irish Republican, poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who writes in both English and Irish, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1923.

Behan is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers and poets of all time. He is also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Born in Dublin into a staunchly republican family, he becomes a member of the IRA’s youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. However, there is also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which means he is steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. Behan eventually joins the IRA at sixteen, which leads to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom. He is also imprisoned in Ireland. During this time, he takes it upon himself to study and he becomes a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moves between homes in Dublin, Kerry, and Connemara, and also resides in Paris for a time.

In 1954, Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, is produced in Dublin. It is well received, however, it is the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gains Behan a wider reputation. This is helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language, An Giall, has its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English-language adaptation of An Giall, meets with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, is published the same year and becomes a worldwide best-seller.

He marries Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld in 1955. By early March 1964, after developing diabetes, the end is in sight. Collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar, he is transferred to the Meath Hospital in central Dublin, where he dies at the age 41 on March 20, 1964. He is given an IRA guard of honour, which escorts his coffin. It is described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.