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The Heights Throughout The Century

Taking A Look At BC's Irish Heritage

For The Heights

Published: Monday, December 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 03:12

Boston College has long retained an Irish heritage, going back to its founding in 1863 by Irishmen Rev. John McElroy, S.J. and Andrew Carney. The original goal of the University was to educate the growing but underserved Irish Catholic population of Boston.

In 1978, the Irish Studies Group of the English, Fine Arts, and History departments sponsored an exhibit called “Celtic Connection 1978.”

 An article from Oct. 23, 1978 describes the event, which stretched out for several weeks and included exhibits, lectures, a Celtic New Year celebration, and a Gaelic Mass.

BC alumnae Maeve O’Reilly Finley established a fellowship to assist students who wish to pursue studies in Ireland. An article from Jan. 21, 1986 describes the fellowship. Kevin O’Neill, history department and co-founder of the University’s Irish Studies program, helped to foster this particular fellowship during his tenure here.

In 2000, BC opened its Irish Center in Dublin. The article in The Heights from Oct. 30, 2000 states that the center would be an advantage not just to BC students studying in Dublin, but also to students studying with BC programs in other cities including Belfast, Cork, Maynooth, and Galway. University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. said to the Boston Herald that the center represented a recommitment to the “homeland of BC’s Jesuit forefathers.”

The Heights ran an article on Mar. 15, 2004 detailing the history of BC’s Irish roots. The article was from the week before St. Patrick’s Day and recounted the University’s beginnings through the founding of the Irish Studies program in 1977 by O’Neill and the late English professor Andre Dalsimer.

The program began with one course on Irish literature and politics during some of the critical years of Irish nationalism.

The program grew over time due to a multitude of courses and a new study abroad opportunity in association with University College Cork. During the 1990s, the University hosted Ulster British Loyalist leaders and ended up playing an important role in the contentious peace process at that time.

Nowadays, there is a Center for Irish Programs at BC that oversees the Irish Institute, Irish Studies, the Burns Library Irish Collections, and the BC-Ireland complex in Dublin.

The Burns Library is particularly well known for its Irish collections, including manuscripts of Irish poets such as W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. Over the years the Irish collections have proven to be invaluable resources for both students and visiting scholars.

In 2005, BC launched an Irish immigrant database to reconnect families with their genealogical roots. The database is located at according to the article about the opening of the database from Mar. 21, 2005.

An article from Mar. 16, 2006 recounts the history of Connolly House, purchased in 1976 and converted into the house of the Irish Studies program in 1996. The article describes some of the interesting features of the house including a locked safe, BC’s only greenhouse, and a large glass window depicting Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Just last January, six BC faculty members were on the list of Irish Voice’s 2012 Irish Educators 100 list. The educators recognized were Leahy; Director of Irish Studies Music and Dance Programs Seamus Connolly; Academic Director of BC-Ireland Mike Cronin; Thomas Groome, theology and religious education department; and Joseph Nugent and James Smith, of the English department.

The article in The Heights from Jan. 16, 2013 describes these faculty members varied roles in preserving Irish culture through music, religion, language, and literature.

Each year, the University’s Burns Library and Irish Studies program sponsors the Burns Visiting Scholar program, which brings in outside experts on Ireland to give lectures and conduct research in Boston.

This year, the program brought in former Irish President Mary McAleese. An article from the Mar. 25, 2013 issue describes the nature of her visit, in which Rev. Liam Bergin, Theology department emeritus, played an important role.

McAleese has had ties with the University for many years, going back to at least 1996, a year before she became president of Ireland, a position she held until 2011.

“The heartbeat of Boston College is Irish indeed,” McAleese said at the opening of the Connolly House as the center for Irish Studies in 1996.

This year, McAleese has divided her time between studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and lectures and research at BC on topics ranging from gender studies to international education to the ongoing Northern Ireland peace process.

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